Can Chickens Eat Grass? What You Need to Know

Lawn Grass (image by Hans, Pixabay)

Article Summary

  • Chickens do not need grass to survive because their main diet should consist of balanced layer feed, but fresh grass can be offered as a supplemental treat.
  • Potential risks of feeding grass include reduced nutrition intake, pesticide exposure, parasites or bacteria, grass toxicity, and choking hazards.
  • Offer fresh grass or clippings 2-3 times per week for confined chickens, and adjust frequency based on their health and digestion.

Chickens are natural foragers that enjoy pecking and grazing on a variety of plants. As chickens explore their environment, they will nibble on grass, weeds, leaves, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. But is grass good for chickens? And what type of grass can chickens eat? Let’s explore the pros and cons of feeding grass to chickens.

Do Chickens Need Fresh Grass?

Chickens do not need grass to survive. Their main diet should consist of a balanced layer feed that provides the nutrition they require. However, chickens enjoy fresh greens and grass can provide certain benefits when fed as a supplemental treat. The fiber and nutrients in grass can aid their digestion and provide antioxidants. Small amounts of fresh grass can also fulfill a chicken’s natural desire to forage, graze, and peck.

Is It Safe for Chickens to Eat Grass?

Eating grass is generally safe for chickens. However, there are some precautions to take when offering grass to your flock:

  • Only feed grass from areas not treated with herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, which can be toxic to chickens.
  • Avoid grass that may be contaminated with dog/cat feces, engine oil, or other chemicals.
  • Introduce new greens gradually to avoid upsetting their digestive system.
  • Grass can harbor parasites or bacteria, so feed in moderation.

As long as the grass is from a safe foraging area, most types of grass can be fed to chickens without issue. Monitor their droppings when introducing new greens to ensure normal digestion.

What are the Benefits of Feeding Grass to Chickens?

Amberlink Rooster Crowing
Amberlink Rooster Crowing

Here are some of the top benefits of supplementing your chickens’ diet with fresh grass:

  • Nutrition: Grass provides vitamins A, C, K, E, and B complex, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, iron, zinc, manganese, and selenium. The antioxidant lutein may also improve egg yolk color.
  • Fiber: The fiber in grass aids digestion and can discourage picking/pecking behaviors.
  • Foraging Opportunities: Grazing satisfies a chicken’s natural foraging instinct and allows them to exhibit their normal grazing, pecking, and scratching behaviors. This promotes healthy activity levels.
  • Cost: Allowing chickens to graze fresh grass is frugal and sustainable. It also reduces feed costs if used as a supplemental feed.
  • Flavor: Free-ranging on grass and weeds contributes to richer, more flavorful eggs and meat.

When fed as a treat in moderation, grass offers an excellent source of nutrition, fiber, and foraging enrichment for backyard chickens.

Are There Any Risks Feeding Grass to Chickens?

While grass has many benefits, there are also some potential risks to consider:

  • Reduced nutrition intake: Chickens may fill up on grass and then not eat enough of their balanced feed ration. Monitor to ensure they still consume adequate layer feed each day.
  • Pesticide exposure: Only allow chickens to graze in chemical-free grass areas to prevent toxic poisoning.
  • Parasites or bacteria: Grass can harbor parasites like intestinal worms or bacteria like salmonella. Rotate grazing areas and feed grass in moderation.
  • Grass toxicity: Some ornamental grasses may actually be toxic. Refer to the list below for safe grass varieties to feed chickens.
  • Choking hazard: Long, stringy grasses could potentially pose a choking risk. Chop longer blades into smaller pieces.

NOTE

With proper precautions, the risks of feeding grass are low. Pay attention to their full diet and stick to grasses known to be edible for chickens.

What Kind of Grass Can Chickens Eat?

Most types of grass are fine for chickens to consume in moderation. Some grasses chickens enjoy include:

  • Ryegrass
  • Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Orchard grass
  • Timothy grass
  • Fescue
  • Bermuda grass
  • Quackgrass
  • Wheatgrass

Avoid ornamental grasses. Also, use caution with grass that has gone to seed, which may get stuck in their crop. Introduce new grass slowly to observe any digestion issues.

Below we’ll explore some of the most common grasses found in lawns and fields and their safety for chickens.

Do Chickens Eat Grass Clippings?

Yes, chickens can eat fresh grass clippings in moderation. Grass clippings provide a readily available source of greens that chickens can graze on. Just be sure the grass was not recently treated with any lawn chemicals. Avoid feeding clippings that are moldy or decomposing. Introduce grass clippings slowly mixed with their regular feed to transition their digestion.

Can Chickens Eat Johnson Grass?

Johnson grass contains sorghum that can contain cyanide and prussic acid. So, raw Johnson grass is not considered safe for chickens. However, once the grass has matured and dried out, the toxin levels are reduced. Johnson grass hay is often fed to livestock. But it’s best to avoid allowing chickens to graze actively growing johnson grass.

Can Chickens Eat Grass Clippings From the Lawn?

Yes, chickens can eat fresh grass clippings from the lawn in moderation. Just avoid any lawn areas that have been treated recently with herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Introduce lawn clippings slowly. Good lawn grass varieties to feed chickens include fescue, ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and Bermuda grass. Monitor your chickens after introducing grass to check for digestion issues.

Can Chickens Eat Lemongrass?

Lemongrass is safe for chickens to consume and provides extra nutrition. It contains antioxidants, vitamins A, B6, C and folate. Lemongrass aids digestion and has antimicrobial properties that can support chicken health. Feed lemongrass in moderation, as chickens may ignore other nutrient sources if they fill up on this tasty treat.

Can Chickens Eat Quackgrass?

Quackgrass is not toxic and chickens can eat it. However, quackgrass is very hardy and spreads rapidly. It’s considered an invasive weed in many areas. Be cautious feeding quackgrass as it may take over your entire yard. But as an occasional treat or supplemental forage, quackgrass is fine for chickens to graze on.

Timothy Grass - The Grass Species The Timothy Hay is Derived
Timothy Grass

How to Feed Grass to Chickens?

Here are some tips for offering grass to chickens:

  • Allow free-range grazing on safe, chemical-free grass areas. Rotate pens to prevent bald spots.
  • Cut longer grass with scissors into smaller pieces to reduce choking risk.
  • Place clippings or grass in a tray or feeder to avoid waste.
  • Mix chopped grass into their feed for an easier transition.
  • Grow trays of wheatgrass, rye, or oat grass inside for winter foraging.
  • Hang fresh grass bundles inside their run for pecking and entertainment.

When introducing grass, start slowly with small amounts mixed into their feed. Then gradually increase the ratio of grass as they adjust. Free-range grazing provides the most natural foraging experience.

How Often to Feed Grass to Chickens?

Chickens should not eat grass exclusively. Grass should be fed as a supplemental treat a few times per week in addition to their complete feed. Chickens that free-range will naturally graze grass and plants daily.

Confined chickens can be offered fresh grass or clipping 2-3 times per week…

For confined chickens, aim to offer some fresh grass or clippings 2-3 times per week. Observe their droppings to ensure the increase in fiber isn’t causing issues. Adjust the frequency and amount of grass as needed for optimal health and digestion.

Can Baby Chickens Eat Grass?

Baby chicks under 4-6 weeks old should not eat grass. Chicks eat a special starter feed that provides crucial protein and nutrients for growth. Grass may be too harsh on a baby chick’s still-developing digestive system.

Once chicks are fully feathered and 6 weeks or older, they can start to nibble on grass. Introduce grass gradually mixed into their feed. By 16-18 weeks, pullets can forage on grass more regularly. But continue providing a complete chick grower feed until 20 weeks for optimal development.

Chicks and Hen Feeding Together
Chicks and Hen Feeding Together

In summary, most types of grass offer a beneficial source of forage for chickens when fed as a supplement. Allowing chickens to graze on fresh, chemical-free grass provides fiber and nutrients and satisfies their natural instinct to peck, scratch, and graze. Just be mindful of potential risks and feed grass in moderation as part of a balanced diet. With proper precautions, grass can be a nutritious treat for your flock.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to feed chickens grass?

Yes, it is generally safe to feed chickens grass. In fact, grass is a natural and nutritious part of a chicken’s diet. It provides essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals, improving their overall well-being. However, ensure that the grass is free from pesticides or other harmful chemicals before offering it to your chickens.

Do chickens need fresh grass?

While not a strict necessity, fresh grass is beneficial for chickens. It offers a source of entertainment, encourages natural foraging behavior, and provides additional nutrients, like other plants. Incorporating fresh grass into their diet can enhance their overall health and happiness, but it should complement a well-balanced poultry feed.

When can chickens start eating grass?

Chickens can start eating grass when they are a few weeks old. As young chicks, they primarily rely on chick starter feed, but gradually introducing small amounts of fresh grass can begin around 6 weeks of age. Monitor their response and digestion, ensuring the grass is finely chopped to avoid any choking hazards.

Do chickens get nutrients from grass?

Yes, chickens do get valuable nutrients from grass. Grass contains essential vitamins like A and E, as well as minerals such as calcium. These nutrients contribute to the overall health of chickens, supporting bone development, feather quality, and immune function. However, grass should be part of a balanced diet that includes commercial poultry feed.

Can chickens eat wet grass?

Chickens can eat wet grass, but it’s advisable to offer it in moderation. Wet grass may clump together, posing a choking hazard. Additionally, damp or moldy grass can be harmful. Ensure the grass is fresh, clean, and free from contaminants. If you provide wet grass, monitor the chickens to prevent any adverse reactions and adjust the quantity accordingly.