Chickens in the compost?

by Michelle
(Austin)

Question

Chickens in the compost: We have 5 chickens under the age of 2, on a regular diet of organic feed.

They spend the night locked up in their coop, but during the day they have access to the compost heap and they're in it a good deal of the time.

Of course the compost heap contains our kitchen scraps, and the occasional moldy piece of fruit, cheese or bread does wind up in there.

Is that dangerous for chickens? Should I not be putting moldy things in the compost bin if the chickens are gonna be messing around in it?

Answer
I am of the opinion that chickens can handle most things that are in a compost pile. I’ve seen them dig up cat droppings and the craziest thing I’ve seen them eat is glass.

I lived on a property, where my chickens free ranged, that had quite a bit of broken auto glass on the ground mixed with gravel.

I would have had to keep them penned to prevent contact with the glass, and never suspected they would eat any of it.

I was horrified that they pecked at the glass and extremely surprised to find well worn, no sharp edges left, like beach glass, in their droppings.

There were no signs of blood in their droppings, no illnesses, and no dead chickens (other than predator killed) for the 10 years there. (Our new home is without broken glass.)

My chickens love to go to the orchard in the late fall and peck at rotting fruit. Though I would never recommend feeding moldy items to chickens, they seem well able to handle it.

You might want to bury extremely moldy items, but that’s no guarantee they won’t dig it up or find something worse.

They can pick up intestinal parasites from other animal droppings in compost or in the field, so it’s always a good idea to monitor their droppings and treat for worms if needed.

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Plants for chickens

Question
Plants for chickens: Have new coop and run but will also let chicken free range when able to. Are there certain plants that are good for chickens or that they are attracted to.

Need to do some landscaping and wanted to include "chicken friendly" landscaping.

Answer
I find the favorite free ranging area of my chickens is the lawn. They don’t like it freshly mowed but about 6 or more inches tall.

Letting grasses grow long enough to seed provides good food for chickens and is healthy for the lawn.

I’m not sure what kind of landscaping you have in mind, but you may do a lot of work just to have the chickens dig it all up.

My chickens go where they want and do what they want much of each day. They turn gopher mounds into dust bath pits, they scratched though a planter area with large ferns and turned them to mulch, but spend most of their time pecking and scratching in the lawns for seeds, grasses, roots, bugs and worms.

They have about 2 acres of grassy area outside their ¼ acre grassy pen. There’s another 3 plus acres that is pretty natural. They have access to it, but seem to prefer the open grass areas by the house and orchard.

When considering planting for chickens, I think the best efforts would be a vegetable garden. They love tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, corn, berries, leafy greens and most things we like to harvest from a vegetable garden.

Feeding them from this bounty is very healthy for them and cost effective. If they have access to the garden you can count on them digging up young plants and root crops, so the garden should be protected from them until it’s mature or even until fall, when most plants are done, and you can let them have at it. They will fertilize as they go.

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