Can Chickens Eat Barley Grass?

Can Chickens Eat Barley Grass? My Funny Story Finding Out



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Let me tell you about the time I tried feeding my chickens barley grass clippings. I had just planted a new patch of barley in my backyard coop.

It started sprouting up quickly, with tender green blades carpeting the dirt. Well, being the lazy farmer I am, I got the bright idea to start tossing some of those fresh clippings to my chickens. I figured it would save me a trip to the feed store. Free food, right?

So I loaded up a bucket with barley grass clippings and brought it over to the coop. I flung big handfuls into the run, expecting the chickens to come running.

But you know what?

Those silly birds just gave me blank looks. They didn’t go anywhere near the grass! They just scratched around in the dirt, ignoring it completely. I even tried picking up individual blades and offering them. But my chickens just turned up their beaks at it.

I was so confused.

Don’t chickens eat grass and greens? But for whatever reason, my ladies wanted nothing to do with the barley grass. That’s when I realized I had a lot more to learn about chicken nutrition!

Why Don’t Chickens Like Eating Barley Grass?

Can Chickens Eat Barley Grass?

Turns out, chickens can be pretty picky about the types of greens they like to eat. While most backyard chickens will happily devour fresh shoots of wheat, oats, and rye, barley grass doesn’t seem to interest them in the same way.

I’ve offered my flock barley grass clippings a few times now, and their reaction is always the same – they just walk right by it! Some will take an initial curious peck. But after tasting it, they lose interest. Clearly the flavor and texture doesn’t appeal to them.

Occasionally one brave chicken will eat a blade or two. But most bypass the barley grass altogether. They’d much rather munch on tastier treats from the garden like tomato greens or fresh clover.

Now don’t get me wrong, barley grass isn’t toxic or unhealthy for chickens. But they just don’t find it very palatable compared to other foraging options out there. If barley grass was the only thing available, chickens could survive on it. But given the choice, they’ll opt for something yummier!

Why Don’t Chickens Go Crazy for Barley Grass?

Can Chickens Eat Barley Grass?

After seeing my flock’s lack of interest, I did some research into why chickens aren’t crazy about barley grass. Turns out there’s a few reasons:

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First, barley grass has less protein than wheatgrass and other cereal grasses. Protein is important for chickens’ growth and egg production. Wheatgrass has about 30% protein, while barley grass contains only 15-20%. That lower protein content makes it less appealing.

Second, the texture of barley grass is thicker and tougher than the tender new shoots of wheat and oats that chickens love to munch. The soft, fragile blades of wheatgrass are like chicken candy. But the firmer, chewier strands of barley just aren’t as enticing.

Finally, barley grass has a more bitter, strong flavor compared to the sweet taste of fresh wheat shoots. Chickens have sensitive taste buds, and the strong barley flavor is just not their favorite. The more mild sweetness of wheatgrass is much more to their liking.

So for those reasons – lower protein, tougher texture, stronger taste – chickens generally find barley grass less appetizing than other forage options. It’s just not their preferred snack.

Can Chickens Eat Regular Barley Grains?

Can Chickens Eat Barley Grass?

After my chickens turned their beaks up at barley grass, I wondered – what about just feeding them plain barley grains instead of the fresh grass? Turns out, the answer there is YES!

While chickens may not find barley grass particularly delicious, they WILL happily eat processed barley seeds. Feeding backyard chickens whole barley grains can provide some good nutritional benefits. Let’s look at a few:

First, barley contains about 12% protein. That’s more than whole corn at around 9% protein. So barley packs a bigger protein punch, which is great for egg layers.

Second, the fiber content of whole barley grains promotes good digestion and prevents issues like impacted crop. The insoluble fiber helps things moving smoothly through the digestive tract.

Finally, barley contains lots of important minerals that chickens need – like calcium for strong eggshells, magnesium for enzyme function, iron for oxygen transport, and zinc. So it adds more micronutrients.

The key with feeding whole barley grains is to have them crimped, rolled, or ground so they are easier for the chickens to digest. The abrasion helps break down the fibrous hull.

I like to scatter some rolled barley grain out in the run for my girls to enjoy snacking on throughout the day. It provides a nutritious blend of protein, carbs, and minerals.

How Much Barley Can You Feed Chickens?

When adding rolled or crimped barley grains to your chickens’ diet, you’ll want to stick to recommended amounts.

Most experts suggest limiting barley to no more than 20% of the total feed ration for adult chickens.

For young chicks under 12 weeks old, barley should make up only 5% or less of the diet.

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Free-choice feeding of barley grains is not recommended, as chickens tend to overindulge on rich grains when allowed unlimited access.

A good rule of thumb is 1-2 tablespoons of barley per chicken per day for full grown hens.

You can mix the dry barley grains right in with their scratch grains or layer feed blend.

When sprinkled as a supplemental treat in their run, scatter thinly to prevent gorging.

Monitor your chickens’ weight and egg production when introducing barley.

Reduce amounts if their egg laying drops off or they put on excess fat.

The key is moderation, as too much barley can throw off the nutritional balance.

But fed in reasonable amounts, barley makes a healthy addition to most backyard chickens’ menu!

Can You Feed Chickens Malted Barley?

Malted barley is barley grain that has been allowed to sprout and begin germinating.

This malting process activates enzymes and makes the barley’s nutrients more bioavailable.

Many chicken keepers wonder if they can feed their flock malted barley.

The answer is yes – malted barley can be a nutritious treat for backyard chickens in moderation.

It’s higher in protein, vitamins, and minerals compared to plain barley grains.

Many commercial chicken feed blends include small amounts of malted barley.

When sprouted, barley becomes softer and easier to digest.

So malted barley may be better tolerated by young chicks.

Chickens enjoy pecking at the sweet, malty sprouts.

But limit intake to no more than 15% of feed to prevent excess fat gain.

Consider sprouting your own organic barley at home for the freshest results.

Simply soak and rinse the grains until small sprouts emerge after a few days.

Then air dry the sprouted barley before feeding to your flock.

When fed in moderation, malted barley can be a valuable addition to your chickens’ diet!

What About Feeding Chickens Barley Hay?

In addition to barley grains and grass, chickens can eat another form – barley hay.

Barley hay is made from the mature, dried barley plant, cut before the grain heads fully form.

Chickens that forage on pasture may nibble on barley hay bales placed out by farmers.

The hay provides fiber and cellulose that can aid digestion.

But nutritionally, barley hay is lower in protein and calories than the fresh grass or grains.

Most chickens won’t gain much nutritional value from isolated barley hay.

Now a hay and grain mix with protein concentrates added in can be suitable.

Chopped barley hay may be included in small amounts in pelleted feeds.

Allow access to hay bales for pecking activity and fiber.

But don’t rely on barley hay as a sole food source.

Fresh grass, sprouted grains, and Commercial feed will provide more complete nutrition.

Think of barley hay as just one component of a varied diet.

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Can Chickens Eat Pearl Barley?

Pearl barley is a processed form of barley that has been polished and steamed.

This process removes the fibrous outer hull and creates a rounded “pearl” shape.

Pearl barley cooks faster and has a milder flavor than whole barley.

But is pearl barley safe and nutritious to feed chickens?

The answer is yes – in moderation, pearl barley makes a fine addition to the flock’s menu.

It can be fed raw or cooked.

The pearling process does strip some nutrients like fiber and B vitamins.

But protein, carbs, and minerals remain.

The softer texture may be easier for chickens to digest.

Mix a handful or two into warm mashes in winter for extra energy.

Or sprinkle some pearl barley into the run in summer for free-choice snacking.

Steamed pearled barley sprinkled with herbs makes a nutritious warm treat too.

Just feed pearl barley in moderation, not as a sole diet.

And introduce slowly to chicks under 12 weeks.

In reasonable amounts, pearl barley can give your flock’s feed a polished nutritional boost!

Growing Barley Grass for Chickens

Even though chickens may not go crazy over eating it, growing barley grass can still be useful for your backyard flock.

Letting chickens graze on tender new sprouts provides environmental enrichment.

And the fresh greens offer some vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Barley grass is easy to grow right in the chicken run.

Simply spread barley grain seeds in a shallow tray of potting soil.

Water lightly and place in direct sun until sprouts emerge.

Once several inches tall, place the tray in the run for pecking and grazing.

Re-seed trays every 1-2 weeks for a continuous supply.

Chickens may not eat barley grass in large amounts.

But nibbling fresh sprouts is good supplemental nutrition and activity!

The Bottom Line: Should You Feed Barley to Chickens?

In summary, here’s my experience with barley for chickens:

Fresh barley grass clippings don’t really excite chickens. The flavor and texture just isn’t their favorite compared to other forage options. They will usually pass it by.

However, processed barley grains make a tasty addition to their diet! Cracked, rolled, or crimped barley provides extra protein, fiber, and micronutrients. It mixes well into a balanced feed blend.

So while barley grass may not thrill your flock, don’t write off barley altogether! Toss some processed barley grains into their feed for nutritional variety.

Hope this helps explain chickens’ feelings on barley, grass and grain! Let me know if you have any other chicken feeding questions. Happy flocking!

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