One year when I stumbled upon ‘chicken forage blend’ seeds, I snapped them up. A seed pack specifically blended for my hens to forage? How cool was that? And because the price was right (under $10 for a pound of seeds), I ordered up five pounds and dreamed of my chickens frolicking through their own garden.
One of the first things I wanted to do that spring after the big move was to plant the chickens their garden. My neighbor/friend/landlord tilled me up a large space behind the bee hives and I eagerly scattered seeds. My hens came up behind me and gobbled them up as fast as they could (some people say chickens are a direct descendant of dinosaurs. I think they are a mutation of piranhas with legs, inhaling everything in sight in a fraction of a second.) That was not exactly what I had in mind for a foraging garden, but I sprinkled seeds liberally, hoping the chickens wouldn’t find them all before they had a chance to grow.
As it turns out, lots of seeds survived and before long I had a thriving chicken garden with tiny blue flowers blooming prolifically throughout.
The problem was: The chickens didn’t like the garden (the ingrates!). The bees and butterflies loved it. But my hens acted like it wasn’t even there. (Maybe this was because not only do they have acres to roam freely on, but they also discovered the neighbor’s bird feeder, so they weren’t lacking for things to eat, nor for variety). And not ever having a chicken forage garden before, I didn’t even know what to do with it (if there is something to do). It seemed like a failed experiment.
At least as first.
One day as I passed by the garden, I reached out and plucked a round, dried seed pod from a withering plant and squished it between my fingers. Tiny brown flax seeds tumbled out. FLAX! I’d never grown flax. I buy flax. I eat flax. I had just harvested flax seeds! I started gathering the flax pods, crushing them and sprinkling the seeds back into the chicken garden area. The chickens rallied around me, snacking on the seeds I scattered. We had a happy afternoon in the foraging garden while I smacked open seed pods and they greedily consumed the contents.
The problem was: My idea of a chicken foraging garden didn’t include me harvesting the seeds and hand feeding them to my birds (spoiled though they are, I do have my standards). And as cool as it was to be growing flax, the thought of harvesting those tiny little seeds for myself also seemed a bit daunting.
I resigned myself to the fact that the bees and butterflies loved it, and the tiny blue flowers were pretty but the ‘chicken forage’ part of the chicken foraging garden was a bust.
Fast forward another week or so…
Things have finally turned around. My hens figured out how to harvest their own flax seeds and I can often find them hanging in the chicken garden, foraging for seeds. Yay. Success.
After the first year of this experiment, I decided the chicken forage garden is dual purpose. Early on it feeds the pollinators. Later in the season, it feeds the chickens (and wild birds). At first I’d envisioned a big salad for the hens to snack on all summer. That’s definitely not how it happens (at least with the sorts of seeds I plant). But it still helps out a bunch of living creatures around here and that makes it worthwhile!
PS If you’re interested in some chicken forage blend seeds of your own, here’s where I got mine.