Monday, April 19, 2010

Growing green chickens

There is a lull in the garden at this time of year. As the summer breathes her last sigh, the beds are chaotic with lanky half dead tomatoes, basil going to seed and the last few brave flowers on the zucchini and capsicum. It seems there is little to eat at the moment but with the recent rains, my ‘chicken’ bed has sprouted madly. Two weeks ago I planted (if you can call banging seed heads together over the garden bed ‘planting’) the bed with coriander, mustard greens, rocket, parsley and Chinese spinach.

My chickens lead a penned life and so can’t forage for fresh greens. I try to address this by planting forage plants along the fences. They nibble on comfrey, red clover, silver beet and fennel. They get handfed other greens that grow wildly such as upland cress, nasturtium and dandelion and other useful ‘weeds.’

In summer when extra green feed is scarce I grow oat or wheatgrass in trays and in autumn fatten the roosters on sprouted lupins. The wheatgrass is grown from wheat soaked overnight then sown in seed trays in a commercial potting mix. When it reaches 10cm high, I put the tray into the pen and watch them graze. Before they begin to scratch and dig the seed out, I take it away. The wheatgrass will regrow in a few days. Two trays rotated allow ten chickens to graze every second day. I have a friend who grows his in half circle hanging baskets which he hangs on their fence, which prevents the scratch attack from happening.

To make the lupin sprouts, the lupins are soaked overnight and laid on kitchen paper which is kept moist until the first leaves are seen in 3 or 4 days. The sprouts are then vitamised with bran, bread scraps or stale biscuits. For some reason, they won’t eat them without putting them through the blender. Just too spoilt, I guess. Sprouting the lupins increases the protein content as well as giving them tasty greens.

I have just raided the chicken bed for our dinner, using the thinnings of mustard greens, coriander, baby nasturtium leaves and upland cress. They will make an ever so trendy green salad. In posh shops they are known as ‘micro herbs’ and command a massive price per kilo. They are not hard to grow so I guess it’s the fussy washing you pay for. The chickens won’t mind, they are all busy picking over the newly pulled sweet corn!
go well,

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