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Growing Green Feed for Poultry
Growing Green Feed for Poultry

Growing Green Feed for Poultry

Agricultural Extension Service, State College of Washington, Pullman, WA, 1944

As pastured poultry becomes more readily recognized as superior in every way, understanding the options and concerns in the production of suitable pasture is of paramount importance. The article which follows was obviously written for 1944 Washington State specifically, however much of the information is universal in nature. You will of course need to do your homework on regional variations and opportunities but doubtless there is good material here to either add to your knowledge or get you started. (Note: the emphasis placed on cautions about frozen succulents is ours.) We hope to see more small and mid-sized poultry elements on mixed crop and livestock farms everywhere. SFJ


There are certain cultural methods which must be followed to secure satisfactory stands and maximum production from pastures, regardless of the section of the state in which the poultry enterprise is located.

Seedbed Preparation: A good seedbed is of primary concern in establishing forages on poultry ranges. Performance of the pasture will depend largely on the care and thoroughness of seedbed preparation. Small-seeded crops such as alfalfa or the perennial grasses are best established on a firm, fine textured, and moist seedbed. Packing the finely pulverized seedbed will bring the soil particles into close contact with the small seeds. This will result in good germination because of rapid moisture absorption. A desirable seedbed can best be secured on land that has been cropped to annual or inter-tilled crops the year previous to planting the pasture. When permanent pastures must be reseeded, it is advisable to grow an annual or inter-tilled crop on the area before attempting re-establishment of the perennial crop.

Early spring seeding is recommended for the perennial grasses and legumes. The most satisfactory method of preparing a seedbed is to plow the area in the late summer or early fall, leaving it rough over winter. Cultivation should begin as early as possible the following spring and the soil should be worked sufficiently to destroy any weeds on the area. Two or three cultivations usually will be needed to kill existing weeds; this will leave the seedbed in the proper condition for seeding. Additional cultivations may delay seeding to such an extent that summer drought may reduce stands.

The seedbed for crops like cereal grains and sunflowers does not need such careful preparation. These crops are relatively large seeded and consequently are less difficult to establish. Plowing, followed by disking or harrowing, usually will be sufficient to put the ground in satisfactory condition for seeding. Since seeding of such crops as sudan grass is delayed until late spring, additional cultivations may be necessary as weed growth develops.

Fall seeded crops should be planted on summer fallow since soil moisture is the limiting factor in securing stands. Late summer rainfall will not be adequate, except in occasional years, to assure establishment of fall seedings on areas that have been cropped during the current season.

Seedings may be made at any time during the season that water is available, in irrigated sections. The application of water following the seeding operation is necessary for the establishment of the new range. Irrigation should be continued as needed after the pasture has been established.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry

Seeding: The time for seeding the various crops in Eastern, Central, and Western Washington is shown in Tables 1, 2 and 3. It should be emphasized that these are optimum dates for seeding. Climatic conditions may vary so much from year to year that it may be advisable to seed earlier or later than the dates given. Practical experience and results of study at the various Experiment Stations in the state have shown that the dates given are best for securing satisfactory stands.

Seed may be drilled or broadcast. Drilling is recommended if the equipment is available and the fields are large enough to make the use of a drill economical. This method has the advantage of placing all the seed in the soil at a uniform depth. It is recommended that the drill be equipped with packer wheels or that the ground be rolled after seeding to remove air pockets and to bring the soil into close contact with the small seeds.

The seed may be broadcast by hand or with the “whirl-wind” type of broadcast seeder on small areas or when a drill is not available. It is advisable to divide the seed into two equal portions. One lot should be broadcast over the area at right angles to the other. This will result in a more uniform distribution of the seed. The ground should then be harrowed lightly to cover the seed and rolled with a cultipacker or heavy roller. Small seeded grasses and legumes should be covered with less than one inch of soil, regardless of the method of seeding. Cereals and other large-seeded crops may be covered two inches deep.

When legumes are included in the pasture mixture they should be inoculated with the proper nitrogen-fixing bacteria if the legume has not been grown previously on that area. Suitable inoculants can be obtained from the Division of Agronomy, Washington Agricultural Experiment Station, Pullman, or from seed dealers.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry


Poultry pastures must be kept in a green, succulent, growing condition to be of maximum value for poultry feed. Most forage plants are highly palatable in their early stages of growth but become coarse and unpalatable as they develop to the blossom or heading stage.

The utilization dates suggested in Tables 1, 2, and 3 provide sufficient time between seeding and use for the crops to become firmly established under average conditions. After grazing is started the annual pasture crops should be utilized heavily since it is not possible to maintain such pastures in a succulent condition once they have started to head or blossom. However, if the annual cereals and sudan grass can be kept from developing stems, they furnish good pasture for a considerable period during the summer. It may be advisable during the course of the grazing season to increase or decrease the number of birds on the range according to the condition of the forage plants. If it is not possible to increase the number of birds on annual pastures which are being under-grazed, they should be clipped or grazed with other livestock to prevent the plants from heading and to stimulate new growth.

Succulent greens that have been frozen will make poultry sick. Care should be used to prevent birds from ranging on greens that have frozen and thawed, and none should be carried to birds in that condition.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry


Most permanent pasture plants are small-seeded and rather slow in becoming established. Use of these pastures during the year of seeding should be delayed until the plants are firmly rooted and growing vigorously. Turning birds into a perennial pasture too soon after seeding may result in poor stands as many plants will be killed by trampling and others will be pulled out by the grazing birds. Late fall grazing of new seedings should be avoided. It usually is necessary to mow new perennial pastures once or twice during the first year to control weeds. This mowing should be done when the weeds are flowering or before seeds develop. The cutter-bar of the mower should be set three or four inches above the ground to cut the weeds with a minimum of injury to the young forage plants.

The maintenance of perennial pastures in a high state of production the years following establishment is very important. Portions of perennial plants, usually the roots and crown, remain alive over winter. Even during the dormant period these living parts need some food material for various life processes. The first growth in the spring must come from food stored in the roots. Unless perennial forages are given an opportunity to store food during the late fall, they may not survive the winter, or at best, spring recovery will be slow. As a result, yields the following year will be low, and in some cases stands may be so reduced that reseeding may be necessary. It usually is necessary for perennial plants to have a month of growing weather without grazing, before the first killing frost, to store sufficient food in the roots for use during the winter period.

If the pastures make considerable growth before spring grazing is started, they should be mowed so that fresh, succulent growth will be available to the birds. The mowed material may be put in the silo, cured for hay which can be subsequently chopped, or in the case of alfalfa ground into meal. The number of birds in the pastures during the grazing season should be regulated to avoid overgrazing. If the number of birds is so small that they cannot utilize the available feed in the pasture, then these pastures should be mowed at intervals or grazed by other livestock to keep the forage in a succulent condition. Pastures to be used by growing turkeys may be profitably grazed by livestock until the poults are old enough to be turned on the range.

Roosts, feeder, and range shelters should be moved to new locations in the pasture each week during the grazing period to prevent killing the grass. At the time the roosts and shelters are moved, the droppings should be collected and removed from the ranges if there is evidence of disease or parasites in the flock.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry


The condition of the pasture will be the most important factor in regulating the number of birds that can be carried per acre. One acre of alfalfa grass pasture maintained in a vigorously growing condition will supply sufficient green feed for approximately 125 growing turkeys, 400 growing chickens or 200-300 laying hens. With these figures as a guide, the carrying capacity of other crops listed in Table 1, 2 and 3 can be estimated by referring to the columns on yield. The carrying capacity of the different crops, together with the probable dates of utilization, should be considered in determining the crops and type of rotation used.


Irrigation is necessary in Central Washington to provide good pastures for poultry. Irrigation used to supplement the natural rainfall in Eastern and Western Washington will greatly increase the production of succulent green feed during the dry summer period. If irrigation is used, light, frequent applications should be avoided. The soil should be thoroughly soaked to a depth of one or two feet with each irrigation for the most economical use of water and proper root development of the pasture plants. Water should be applied as often as necessary to keep the pastures green and succulent. Poultry should not be on the range when the water is being applied.


Poultry raisers in some areas may have available certain green feeds other than those suggested in Tables 1, 2 and 3. Lawn clippings, if cut short and used fresh, can be an important source of green feed for poultry. In areas where cabbage and cauliflower are arisen commercially, the green leaves remaining after the removal of the saleable portion may be used for poultry feed. These leaves are succulent, high in nutritive value, and are readily eaten by all classes of poultry. Where pea vines can be used directly from the vines they offer a source of green feed for a short time. Sprouted oats or barley are a source of green feed during the winter months, especially for laying hens or chicks. The amount produced will be limited by the space available for the germinators. The germinated grain should be fed when the sprouts are from two to six inches long.


It is possible to have succulent feed for poultry during the winter months by proper storage of certain crops. Surplus forage from the annual or perennial pastures may be stored in the form of silage or fields may be seeded primarily for this purpose. Good silage can be made from grass-legume mixtures, corn, sudan grass, cereals, and millet. The grasses, including cereals, should be cut when the first heads appear and the legumes in the early blossom stage. The green material going into the silo should have between 60 and 70 percent moisture. Since most forages will contain 80 percent moisture when cut, they should be allowed to wilt thoroughly before being ensiled. It is essential that the silo be airtight and that the silage be firmly packed at the time of filling.

Silage is fed at the rate of three to four pounds per 100 laying birds per day; turkeys can be fed from 10 to 12 pounds per 100 birds per day. It is necessary that at least two inches of silage be removed from the entire surface daily to prevent spoilage. The number of poultry and other livestock should determine the diameter of the silo, while the length of the feeding period would govern the height.

Root crops such as carrots are an important source of succulent feed for the winter period. These root crops should be dug before frost and the tops removed. They should be allowed to dry thoroughly on the ground and then placed in cool, dark, well ventilated storage. If adequate storage space is not available, the roots may be placed in a pit and covered with straw. Any injury to the roots due to freezing or handling will reduce their quality. Most successful storage has been on slatted floors which allow for ventilation through the pile of roots.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry

Special Considerations for Eastern Washington: The grazing period for each of the crops, as given in Fig. 5, is based on the average dates of the last killing frost in the spring and the first in the fall. This grazing period may be shortened or lengthened depending upon the occurrence of these frosts in any one year. Rainfall received during September will have a marked influence upon the amount of grazing obtained from the pastures during the fall. In years when summer and early fall rainfall is light, there will be a shortage of green feeds, unless irrigation is practiced.

Tall, coarse growing crops such as sweet clover and sunflowers are used largely for turkey pasture. Second year sweet clover should be clipped frequently during the season to prevent its becoming so tall and coarse that only a small amount can be used by growing turkeys.

Fertilizers are not generally recommended for the crops listed in Table 1 in Eastern Washington. Droppings and litter can be spread on fields used to produce succulent greens that are fed in the yard or house.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry

Special Considerations for Central Washington: The period of utilization of the various pasture crops shown in Fig. 6 is based on the assumption that irrigation is used in all cases. The grazing season may be shortened or lengthened depending upon the time frosts occur.

It is often possible to grow two crops on the same field in one year in Central Washington. For example, sudan grass or Swiss chard may be grown in the same field that was seeded to fall cereals the previous year.

Swiss chard can be seeded in the spring and the crop harvested at various times during the grazing period.

Kale is an excellent late fall and winter pasture for growing turkeys, except when cold weather is more severe than normal. When cut and fed in the poultry house the use of this crop can be continued through the winter into the early spring in normal years.

Corn and sunflowers are recommended for turkey pastures. These crops are rather coarse growing and for most efficient use should be cut so the birds can get at the entire plant.

Production of alfalfa or legume-grass mixtures can be increased or maintained at a high level by the application of 125 pounds of treble superphosphate and 200 pounds of ammonium sulfate per acre, or comparable amounts of other nitrogen fertilizer, broadcast in the early spring. For various leaf crops such as kale and Swiss chard, the equivalent of 400-500 pounds of ammonium sulfate and 80-100 pounds of treble superphosphate per acre should be broadcast and disked in before seeding. Cereals and row crops respond well to an application of 200-250 pounds of ammonium sulfate or its equivalent per acre.

Growing Green Feed for Poultry