Backyard Poultry

Adding a Vegetable Garden to Your Hobby Farm

Hobby Farm : Hobby Farming

Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.

Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

Planting a garden is the best of both worlds – you get fresh veggies for your family and food for your backyard animals. Whether rabbits, goats, chickens or other animals, fresh garden vegetables are a great treat or healthy addition to their regular diet.
Home-raised milk, eggs and meat are wonderful things, but wouldn’t it be nice to feed your chickens and other animals vegetables from your garden? Adding a few treats to your garden can make your summer feeding schedule way more fun.

Veggies are always good, right?

Actually, that’s not true. Some vegetables can be harmful or lack nutrition for a wide variety of animals. For example, tomatoes are great for animals, but the stem and leaves can be toxic. For rabbits, carrots are a common treat or snack, but in reality, they can cause weight problems – when fed in excess they provide too much sugar and lack nutritional value.
When testing out new garden items with your animals, try each food individually so you will know how your animals will react. If you provide new foods in a mix, you won’t be able to tell which food did and didn’t respond well to an animal. As a rule of thumb, any food with high sugar content isn’t good for your animals. Most animals prefer carbohydrates and fiber, especially when they are easy for animals to digest. You can cut them up into smaller pieces or grind them up in a mix (once you’ve confirmed they work for your animals) for higher digestibility.
The bottom line is, do your research and ensure it’s safe before adding new garden items to your animal’s diet.

More treats aren’t always better 

The more treats the better, right? It’s a similar feeling with animals and humans, but treats from the garden can get excessive quickly, affecting your animal’s health and digestive systems.
Too many treats can dilute the nutrition from the complete feed you use and can start to affect the nutrition your animal is absorbing. Treats usually have a high-calorie count, causing your animals to gain weight and become reliant on sugary, high-calorie treats for energy. To prevent nutrient dilution, provide a complete feed for at least 90% of your animal's diet. The remaining 10% can be filled with treats, table scraps or scratch grains.
Chickens and ducks will only eat to fill their caloric needs. However, goats, pigs and rabbits will eat more than they need, meaning they could fill up on treats and not eat enough of their nutritionally-based complete feeds. Treats should be used as a reward, rather than a supplemental feed. Don’t be afraid to also use some of their complete feed as a small treat too. Most animals will be just as happy and come running for their regular food as a treat.
Green veggies can also be a great treat alternative – they’re fresh and different but healthy for your animals.

Two for one

Your garden doesn’t only help you feed your animals, but your animals can help your garden, too!
Composting chicken manure and other wastes allows you to repurpose products typically viewed as unusable, leading you one step closer to creating “the self-sufficient backyard.”
Because chicken manure is naturally high in nitrogen (which means it needs to be composted before being used as a fertilizer), setting up a composting system is a great way to break it down into fertilizer for your garden. Composting chicken manure also transforms waste such as sawdust, dry leaves, newspapers, vegetable scraps and other compostable materials into valuable organic matter for your garden.
By reducing waste, you can make your garden more sustainable and feed your garden with the manure and other waste the animals produce. It’s a win-win.

Weeds and bugs? No way

Looking to keep harsh chemicals out of your garden? Chickens love eating insects and weeds. Letting your chickens into your garden can greatly reduce the number of unwanted plants and pests.
But keep in mind, “weed” is a relative term to your chickens. What you consider to be a valuable garden plant or something you want to save for yourself, they might see as a tasty treat! The same principle goes for insects. When chickens begin eating insects, they may prey on valuable pollinators. Fence your garden, or parts of it, to protect it from curious chickens. Limiting their time in your garden can also be a great method – only open the gate for an hour a day to keep the snacking to a minimum.
Animals are also a great end-of-season clean-up crew. There are many animals that eat weeds, leftover plants, over-ripe produce and mulch, and they double as great snacks for your animals at the end of the growing season. They will eat and clean up all the debris while fertilizing your garden for next year.
Feed your family and your animals with your garden this summer. Whether as treats or part of a complete diet, fresh vegetables are a great way to keep your animals healthy and wanting more.
Happy growing!

Related Articles:

Chicken Treats: Are They Good for My Laying Hens?
Free Range Chickens: Tips for the Garden and Backyard
How to Get Started Raising Backyard Goats
Composting Chicken Manure
What to Feed Chickens: Chicken Treats to Feed and Avoid
Basics of Good Rabbit Feeding