Buying grain for your livestock can add up – ask me how I know.
This year, we decided to do something different – we planted a garden to grow greens for our rabbits and chickens.
It’s been a success and now we have enough free food for everyone to have an extra bite every day – and it’s lowered our overall feed bill.
(Want some help with growing a garden? Grab my #1 Amazon best-selling book about organic gardening, Organic By Choice: The (Secret) Rebel’s Guide To Backyard Gardening – now available in paperback!)
We even have one rabbit who is picky about his feed – if it’s not exactly the right brand, he won’t eat it.
With the help of all the greens he’s been getting, his weight has picked up – and even on his snootiest “it’s not perfect so I won’t eat it” day, he’ll still chow down on fresh greens.
We’ve been using 5-foot by 10-foot raised beds similar to this one, which allows for 50 square feet of space devoted to growing. You can easily replicate this amount of space in your own backyard.
What should I grow for free food?
Glad you asked! We’ve had the best luck growing greens – they don’t take that long to mature (30-60 days, depending on variety), and you can grow a lot in a small space.
This year, we’ve been growing:
- Parsnips (we get the roots, the rabbits get the greens)
- Turnips(same idea as parsnips)
Some other options include arugula, carrots, and chard. Since rabbits can’t digest cabbage that well, avoid feeding it to them – use it for sauerkraut instead.
Bear in mind that you can’t necessarily replace ALL of your rabbits’ or chickens’ diet with greens, unless you can grow a large quantity. You will still likely need to supplement their diet with pellets and hay.
For your chickens, you can just bunch the leaves together and allow your hens to peck at the treat as a form of entertainment.
For ducks, your best bet is to tear the leaves up and toss them into a clean pool water for your flock to dig out – they’ll love it! Ours look forward to their “treat” every day (shhh….don’t tell them it’s good for them!)
How much space do I need?
In a 1-foot by 5-foot area, we’ve grown enough turnip greens to feed our 30 rabbits a healthy supplemental meal every day.
The amount of space you will need depends on what species of animal you’re feeding as well as how many – it’s best to start small and build up from there. You can experiment, weigh your harvests, see how your animals do with it, and scale up from there.
This fall, we will be devoting about 200 square feet to growing and overwintering greens for our rabbits.
Even if you have just a small space, for example, a table like this, you can still grow something – and anything is better than nothing! It adds up after a while.
Trust me when I say that getting their greens is the highlight of our rabbits’ day – they look forward to it, and it provides some excitement during an otherwise dull afternoon.
I’d like to hear from you!
Do you grow greens to feed your rabbits and chickens? What are your best tips? Leave a comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.