It seems like chickens will eat just about anything, but can they eat leaves and is it good for them?
While you may find chickens devour the leaves (and well the entirety of the plant) for just about everything you grow in your garden or flower bed, leaves are not a great source of nutrients (fall leaves) for chickens and should not be considered a food source for your flock.
Now, of course, it begs the question … if they can’t eat them, are they dangerous?
Can I Add Fall Leaves to My Chicken Run?
I feel like I am the bearer of bad news all over the place today, you can’t feed fallen leaves to your chickens and no, fall leaves do not make a very efficient bedding option for your run or coop.
Leaves are Non Absorbent
You may notice, as you rake the yard, that your chickens and children are eager to jump in your neatly raked pile of leaves.
While they are entertaining, and a freshly raked leaf pile is an excellent source of new feasting, leaves do not absorb water, they repel it.
As such, leaves used as bedding and fodder in your run will actually be counter productive when trying to keep the area dry.
Leaves Compost Quickly
Leaves make excellent compost, this is one of the benefits of using your fallen autumn leaves as a type of mulch on your gardens.
They break down readily and add much needed nutrients to the soil.
But, because they breakdown fairly easily, they contribute to quite the mess in your run and can actually become a problem if used in your coop.
Autumn Leaves Contain Little Nutrients
As diligent backyard chicken owners, we are constantly on the lookout for things that will improve the health and wellbeing of our flock. It’s why we choose to supplement our chicken feed with garlic and mealworms, or why we opt for Diatomaceous Earth as a natural source of protein, antibiotics, and mite treatment.
Fallen leaves are void of most beneficial nutrients and therefore aren’t recommended as a source of food for your chickens, which is fine because most chickens won’t bother to eat them.
What if You Still Want To Use Leaves in Your Chicken Run?
Technically, that is up to you, and I will admit, we have a massive Ash tree that is growing in the back corner of our run (well, we have that tree for now, it is coming down thanks to the Emerald Ash Borer *sigh* at least we will have ample firewood) and we don’t rake the leaves out of our coop.
To maintain cleanliness and to avoid clumping of wet leaves together, I would recommend mulching your leaves which helps to avoid mess and clumping of wet leaves together.
What Can You Do With Autumn Leaves?
Hey, I get it, you don’t want to waste a perfectly good resource like leaves by bagging them and throwing in the trash.
There are some great ways to use leaves on your homestead and make the most of what’s left of the nutrients in autumns bounty.
This is what we do most with our fallen leaves.
Because we have heavy winters and the weight of the snow and the leeching of nutrients during the spring thaw, we routinely rake our leaves and add them to our garden beds at the end of the season.
This provides nutrient rich compost support to our soil and helps to prevent erosion in our beds by effectively insulating the ground layer during the winter months.
Every spring we add some aged manure from our neighbours farm and we turn the garden mulch over to really support good growing conditions in our beds (this is a favourite time for our hens because who doesn’t love freshly turned dirt).
Admittedly, compost is not something I’ve mastered as it is quite an art to develop a living and thriving compost so … take my advice with a grain of salt here and do some added research in compost management.
But, composts need a certain amount of brown inclusion (dried leaves, cardboard etc) to maintain healthy bacteria and moisture levels.
Adding fallen leaves is a great way to support a healthy compost – note do not add all your leaves at once, your compost should be a lasagne of sorts, combining brown, green, and scraps.
There are all sorts of vegetables that can be grown in cooler climates and that benefit from a little insulation.
Produce like carrots, garlic, and even bulb flowers can be insulated and protected from harsh conditions by a good layer of fallen leaves.
Conclusion: Are Fall Leaves Good For My Chickens
While fall leaves provide little nutritional support for your chickens and aren’t a great alternative to traditional bedding options for your flock, fall leaves can provide entertainment for your flock and can be a valuable support on your backyard homestead.