Backyard Chickens / Nutrition

Sowing the Chicken Salad Bar

Sowing a bed of cover crops for chicken grazing

My chickens free-range in the backyard most of the day, with unrestricted access to the vegetable garden. I don’t fence or otherwise protect my raised beds, and they’ve been very good about our unspoken “beaks off” policy when it comes to my vegetables.

The trick? Giving them a “salad bar” that they can call their own, a foraging pasture that grows in a 4×8 raised bed next to their coop.

Ahead of the rain today, I scattered several handfuls of seeds and lightly raked them into the soil. The varieties I sowed (White Dutch clover, Medium Red clover, Dwarf Essex rape, Austrian Winter pea, and buckwheat) are not only some of the chickens’ favorite greens to snack on, but they also make excellent cover crops.

Read more: Cover Cropping the Easy Way: How to Grow Field Peas for Fertilizer

And the seeds themselves? Well, since I feed my chickens a mix of seeds and grains, they went crazy thinking I was super spoiling them!

Chickens love to graze on cover crops

Cover crops are also known as green manure, a type of plant grown to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. The cover crop is usually grown for one season, then cut down right after it flowers (but before it sets seed) and either left in place or dug into the soil.

Legumes, such as peas and clovers, enrich your soil by converting nitrogen in the air into nitrogen for the soil. Non-legume cover crops, such as buckwheat, spread so fast that they’re great at smothering weeds before those pesky things have a chance to germinate.

I’m not sure if this bed will always be a chicken salad bar, but if and when I decide to turn it over into a vegetable bed, I know the soil will be rich and ready to plant. In the meantime, I’ll be letting the cover crops flower abundantly in the spring to attract pollinators to the garden. A win-win-win!

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • Kathleen
    December 6, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    I can’t believe your yard looks so nice with three chickens free ranging all day! How did you get them to only eat from one veggie bed? It’s amazing! Are your chickens a ‘neater’ breed or something like that? I love mine but they have absolutely trashed the back yard, I can’t keep up with the mess they make :-p

    • Linda Ly
      December 7, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      LOL, the chickens have their own expanse of yard that’s separate from the vegetable and herb gardens. I only let them come up to the vegetable garden at the end or beginning of each season to let them eat the leftovers and scratch for grubs. I also have a foldable pen that I move around the yard when I want to confine them to a certain area.

      • Kathleen
        December 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm

        Oh that makes sense!

  • Cary Bradley
    December 16, 2012 at 4:54 am

    Hi there!  I just found your blog through Baker Creek FB link to your adorable pug eating broccoli leaves and think I may not be up for air for a while.  Please tell me where you purchased your chicken’s White Dutch clover and Medium Red clover seeds.  I’m planning to spoil my girls this Spring!  (Very familiar with Baker Creek but don’t recognize those foil packets, Johnny’s?)  Thanks for your oh so fun blog!  Congratulations!!!

  • Melissa
    September 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    That’s great advice, thank you. I have also planted buckwheat, plus flax, comfrey and mustard to keep my new girls happy.

    I absolutely love your Tiki Coop, and envisioned a outback/homestead style for my yard….but almost ashamed to admit we have sprung for a pre-fab  model that we can get up sooner.

    As it’s spring down under, I am thrilled to finally be making three new additions to my family this weekend.  Myrtle, Joy and Biddy will be moving in.  I am naming my new feathery girls after my nanna and her sisters.  
    However, it seems your ladies are named after supermodels? Hahaha! Do they lay for no less than $10000 a day?

    • Linda Ly
      September 4, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      LOL… more like 10,000 bugs a day!


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