Chickens are omnivores, so any fodder and forage system needs to include protein sources, this could be naturally occurring insects, farmed insects (such as soldier fly larvae or maggots etc.), meat scraps (fresh or cooked is recommended – not spoiled) and fish scraps.
In their natural environment chooks will forage, eating a wide range of foods. Providing an area where they can scratch for insects is very important and could be in the form of a compost heap, mulched area or leaf litter under trees. Allowing plants to seed or drop fruit and providing a range of low growing leafy plants should also help in creating a sustainable food system for your chooks. Though it is important to make sure that you have the balance of chooks to feed availability right, as chooks can quickly strip an area of feed. While it is possible to remove bought grains or pellets from your chook’s diets, this should be done slowly and you must make sure they have adequate protein and feed available. Supplementation may be necessary if your egg count drops, the shells soften (calcium), during their molt time (protein), as they need more food while growing new feathers or over winter if feed availability drops.
It is important when choosing what to plant that you try to provide sources of leaf, fruit, berry and seed fodder or forage over the whole year. This is where for late Autumn and into Winter, Feijoas, Crabapples, Persimmons and, for warmer areas, Tamarillos are good choices for fruit. While Tree Lucerne and Karamu can provide leaf forage, in conjunction with the other annuals and perennials. Also be aware that in cooler climates the natural availability of insects also decreases, this is where stored foods are useful in covering any shortage. Grains, seeds, corn or maize and pumpkins can be grown, harvested and stored to feed out over these colder months.
Annuals and Perennials
Plants such as Chicory, Plantain, Minutina, Cocksfoot, Sorrel, Dandelion, Subterranean Clover, Red Clover, Beets are hardy and have tap roots or vigorous roots that will quickly regrow the leaves which are eaten. They can be either sown in trays that can be placed in the chook enclosure and then removed, sown in an area that can be grazed but allowed to recover or on the outside edge of your chook fences. Most vegetable scraps or trimmings, (Brassicas, salad greens etc) and weeds from your garden, such as Chickweed, Cleavers, Purslane and Stinging nettles, can also be fed to chooks, rhubarb leaves being one exception, as they are toxic. Please read this for more toxic plants...
Comfrey has mixed reports on its safety as a fodder/forage plant, but as over use of any food can have detrimental effects I would suggest that you simply use it in conjunction with other fodder/forage plants as it also has many benefits. Other plants which could be used are NZ spinach, Raspberries, Currants, Sunflowers, Jerusalem Artichokes, Amaranth, Nasturtiums etc.
Trees and Shrubs
Most fruit trees, Apples, Crabapples, Pears, Plums, Peaches, Feijoas, Persimmons etc. can be used in a chook fodder/forage system but there are a few other trees that really stand out, Mulberries (edible berries and high protein leaves), Tree Lucerne (high quality leaf fodder and edible seeds) and Karamu (edible leaves and seeds and also a NZ native). Deciduous trees also have the benefit of creating leaf litter which encourages insects into the environment, providing another food source for the chooks.
Thanks to the Homesteading New Zealand Members for sharing their chook photos.