This is the second part of my introduction of how we use 'greenfood', forage aka free organic food for our poultry. If you have just arrived on this topic and want to go back to the beginning then Part One can be found here. Below is our hen Dorothy a year on from her arrival, older, larger and wiser. In the background you can see our neighbours' ducklings, we had moved them over for a holiday, as they were having 'pecking order' issues at home.
Big Dorothy - A Cautionary Tale
This is a proviso I'm adding to my thoughts on forage, sharing my experience of having observed the behaviour of a bird seeing unlimited free forage for the first time in her life!
Bringing in forage - What, Where from and When
The other variable on plants is stress, this can cause changes in the chemical make-up of a plant and in, for example drought stress, high levels of nitrate. Stress to a plant can also cause it to increase its potential to produce anti-nutrients or insecticides, with which to protect it in its weakened state from predators. However nitrates are mostly of danger to ruminants and hens can certainly detect the bitter taste of certain toxins and anti-nutrients but it is better to be safe and not pick in times of drought.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
In the normal way a hen would forage in a forest, an open meadow or hedgerow, she would be able to pick and choose very freely and easily from a whole myriad of forage. If like me you are having to bring forage in then the key to this is variety. As the 15th century botanist and philosopher Paracelsus, often referred to as the father of toxicology described it:
'Everything is poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose makes a thing non-toxic.'
As an illustration of this, a paper I read recently, experiments to the trialling of dried chickweed as a leaf meal for farmed Tilapia was found to be not as successful as hoped because of an increased level of oxalic acid in the plant material. This is why I believe forage needs to be as varied as possible and why I am so lucky to have the mowings from a meadow rather than a lawn. I also plan each year to have all kinds of additional and forest garden forage which allows my birds to pick and chose what and when to eat. This is particularly important for me in the Winter, when neighbourhood forage is rarer and grass, when available less nutritious but there are still a lot of choices out there and many people are only too glad that you are saving them a trip to the dump. Witness the above photo taken this morning of my birds enjoying the bounty of a friend's sweepings from a wild garden.
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All the very best,
Learning from the past. If you are setting up a forest garden to run your poultry through it, you are probably going to be short of certain wild pasture elements...read more