Supplementing Chicken Feed With Mast
Whether your chickens are free-range or confined to a run, you can reduce feed costs and add variety to your chickens’ diets with fruits and nuts from mast-producing trees. Though fruits, nuts, and other forms of mast are not an adequate ration by themselves, they are an excellent supplement to a regular ration, and your chickens will enjoy foraging for goodies if they are free-range and being served treats if they are confined.
Chickens will eat almost any type of fruit except citrus and if you have a both free range chickens and a berry patch, you may already have found yourself fighting with the birds for your berries! Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, serviceberries, and more will all be devoured with enthusiasm by your chickens. (Note: raw elderberries may be toxic in large quantities, but our hens loved them and never displayed any ill effects with moderate consumption.)
Mulberries are also a huge hit with chickens and mulberry trees are a particularly good choice to plant in or near a chicken run, because female trees will drop fruit for most of the summer, providing a free and delicious treat for your chickens with no effort on your part.
As long as it is not moldy, fallen fruit such as apples and pears is another treat that they will enjoy. Chickens will also peck at crabapples, though you may need to chop a few in half to catch their interest first.
Chickens can eat leftover or stale cooked nuts as long as they are not moldy. (If the nuts are salted, be sure to rinse them before giving them to your birds.) Raw nuts such as pecans, acorns, and hickory nuts should be crushed a little before serving to them. They especially love acorns with worms in them.
Be cautious about serving chickens black walnuts (Juglans nigra) with the shell or planting black walnuts anywhere near a chicken run, as the shells and leaves are toxic to some livestock and reports are mixed about whether they affect chickens or not.
Some chicken owners have even started planting “chicken gardens” to allow their birds to forage freely and supplement their diet with wild foods. Chickens are also easily incorporated into many edible forest garden and edible hedge designs.