What Kind of Grass is Best for Chickens?

If you’re wondering what kind of grass is best for grass-fed chickens, the answer is, “green grass.”

What I mean is, lush green grass is loaded with vitamins and is has lots of available nutrients, but as it fades to brown, it becomes more and more useless to chickens. Chickens aren’t ruminants and can’t digest cellulose, so it’s the soft, green, palatable grasses that count.

Lush spring pasture is the best, of course, and that’s easy enough. The trick is providing green grass year-round, or close to it. Cool-season grasses will stay green all winter in mild climates, and warm-season grasses will stay green all summer when the cool-season grasses have all browned off.

Wheat and oats make great pasture for poultry until they die in the summer. Perennial fescues aren’t my favorite grasses, but they hold up well year-round, and (as it turns out) poultry don’t mind endophytes the way cattle do, so the biggest black mark against fescues simply isn’t relevant with poultry.

I’ve even heard good things said about crabgrass as a poultry grass!

And let’s not forget clovers. In a lot of climates, Ladino clover is considered the best, partly because it provides good nutrition (vitamins and protein, but few calories, just like grasses), and partly because its season is later than most grasses, giving lots of summer greenery when the grasses have faded.

So, remember, focus on stuff that stays green first, and worry about the details later, if at all. Most henyards will require a mix of species for long-season greenery.

And for the complete word on green feed for chickens, you’ll want to read Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser. Heuser was a poultry science professor at Cornell University, and he wrote this poultry nutrition book right at the tipping point — just after poultry nutrition became fully understood (with the discovery of vitamin B12), but just before the move to factory farms. So the book has a small-flock, traditional mindset that matches the mindset of today’s dedicated hobbyists and farmers like us, while still being modern and trustworthy. And it has a whole chapter on green feed! It’s a big book, very detailed and thorough, and (unlike more recent books) was written with the intelligent layman in mind. This book can open up new horizons, while saving you from the many feeding blunders that people make.