Chicken Fodder & Forage System

Chicken Fodder & Forage Systems

Many agricultural systems will spend the equivalent amount of money on chicken feed as they get back for eggs and meat, thus any further labor or energy inputs are actual losses. Oikos Network is currently planning and designing small scale forage systems for providing most of the required nutrients for backyard chickens on site. Further design considerations seek to limit labor and move towards self-maintaining systems.


Chickens will naturally eat foods such as berries, seeds, greens, shelled nuts, insects, larvae, small rodents and lizards, and even mycelium.  Some examples of chicken foods that we’re experimenting with include Mulberry, Siberian Pea Shrub, Insect & Larvae Breeders, and more. We also seek to create rainwater catchment systems and low maintenance pen management.


Here is an initial brainstorm of various types of plants that we hope to experiment with as chicken feed.


#1 – Leguminous trees and nut trees – (ex. Black Locust Tree, Siberian Pea Tree, Black Walnut etc.)

Pods/seeds and nuts will fall and make high protein chicken feed. Nuts can be gathered, cracked, and fed to chickens.

#2 – Fruit trees  – (ex. Apple Trees, Pear Trees, Cherry Trees, etc.)

Fallen fruit will attract insects and larvae & thus chicken food. Chickens will break the life-cycle of many harmful insects, such as the coddling moth.

#3 – Large Berry Trees (ex. Mulberry Trees, Japanese Dogwood, Seabuckthorn/Seaberry, Serviceberry/Saskatoon, Staghorn Sumac? etc.)

Tall mulberry trees will grow too large for easy harvesting, however, they provide a huge sources of fallen berries and seeds.

#4 – Berry Bushes  (ex. Gooseberry, raspberry, currants, blackberry, autumn olive, etc.)

Although many of these berries are precious human food, sometimes we can’t get all of them, sometimes some fall to the ground, in which case chickens can be allowed to forage through the berry patches after we’ve had our share.

#5 – Root Crops (ex. Sunchokes/Jerusalem Artichoke, nut sedge/chufa)

Sunchokes make a great abundant source for chicken food. They grow easily in Zones as cold as 3 and up to zone 5 or 6. One plant can yield 5-10 pounds of edible tubers as people food, but can also be shared with the chickens. They also store very well through the winter so would make a good food supplement throughout the winter months. Chufa nuts will be an experiment food source for chickens.

#5 – Herbacious Perennials (ex. Bocking 4 Comfrey, Horseradish, Stinging Nettle, Sorrel, Good King Henry etc.)

These plants are tough perennial plants that naturally die back in the winter. They produce abundant greens for chicken food, but will probably need to have a break from exposure to the chickens so that they have an opportunity to bounce back. Stinging nettle will need to be cut and steamed (or maybe dried) in order to destroy the stinging hairs, but makes a very nutritious fodder plant.

#6 – Reseeding Annuals (ex. Quinoa/goosefoot/lambsquarter, mustard, orach, borage, mallow, purple loosestrife etc.)

These plants will need to be protected during initial growth and exposed to chickens after they produce seed. Some seed will also need to be saved or protected for the following year. Some of these plants can be quite aggressive and may need to be cut and fed to chickens before they can self-seed prolifically (ex. purple loosestrife) 

#7 – Ground Covers (ex. Clover, Chufa/Nutsedge, Tough Grass Mix, Strawberries, Vetch, Trefoil, Yarrow, Cow Pea etc.)

Like the herbaceous perennials, groundcovers will need time to rest after exposure to the chickens. The timing of rotation will be something for further investigation. Groundcovers that also produce seed or fruit (ex. strawberries, vetch etc.) for chicken fodder ought  to be protected enough before they fruit so that they can produce sufficient fodder. 

#8 – Various other “Weeds” (ex. Dandelion, chickweed, purslane, plantain/Plantago major, dock, etc.)

#9 – Other plants (ex. bamboo, grapes, hardy kiwi, parsnips, ? )

#10 – Other food sources (ex. insects & larvae, kitchen scraps & compost, small rodents, mycelium & mushrooms etc.)


Here are the 15 chicken forage plants that we think are the best candidates for nutritious and abundant chicken forage food (not including grass):


#1) Large Mulberry, #2) Black Locust or Honey Locust, #3) Black Walnut, #4) Siberian Pea Tree, #5) Seaberry/Seabuckthorn, #6) Apple Trees, #7) Sunchokes/Jerusalem Artichoke, #8) Stinging Nettle, #9) Lambsquarter, #10) Purslane, #11) Bocking 4 Comfrey, #12) Autumn Olive or Goumi, #13) Wild Grape Vine or Hardy Kiwi, #14) Dandelion or Chickory, #15) Clover


Here are a few links that provide some ideas and examples for the type of chicken forage system that we hope to implement.


Survival Food Forest With Chickens: Zero to 10 Years Tour

Chicken Tractor on Steroids  (Trailer)

How to Grow Chickens Without Buying them Grain By Only Feeding them Compost (Trailer)

Full Length Geoff Lawton Videos (you have to sign up to view the full length films)

What to Plant so you Don’t Have to Buy Chicken Feed Ever Again

Providing Natural Poultry Feed

Using Chickens to Control Pests in a Food Forest 

Permaculture Poultry 

Insects as Animal Feed

Best Chicken Breeds