can chickens eat shepherd's purse

🌿Garden Goodies: Can Chickens Feast on Shepherd’s Purse 🐔



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The other day I was out in the flock doin’ my usual checks when I spotted something that made me do a double take.

Ol’ Bessie was pecking away at something low to the ground and I got a little closer to see just what had caught her eye.

Wouldn’t ya know – it was a strange little plant I’d never laid my peepers on before! I rushed in thinking she may have got herself into a spot of trouble but she just kept on chomping away like nothing was out of the ordinary.

Well, I’ll be danged if that didn’t give me an idea and get me wondering – just what else will these feathered critters consume? Always a hoot finding out!

Not only will chickens happily eat shepherd’s purse, it’s actually good for them and contains valuable nutrients.

Now you’ve got me curious – let’s dig a little deeper into this peculiar plant and see what else I can learn about using it to feed our fine feathery friends.

A Funny Little “Feedbag” Plant

can chickens eat shepherd's purse

Shepherd’s purse goes by a few different names like stitchwort or pepper-and-salt but its scientific name Capsella bursa-pastoris is about as straightforward as they come.

literally translating to “shepherd’s bag.

” Now ain’t that a hoot! Really conjures up an image of some weary old shepherd pulling out this funny leafy pouch to chow down during his travels.

And the reason it got that name is plain as day once you get a gander at it – its seed pods look just like a drawstring bag or purse dangling off the stem.

Another name folks use for it is “pickpocket” on account of how its clinging seeds seem to sneak into your pockets and clothes.

Makes me laugh just thinking about it!

The plant can grow upwards of 2 feet tall with spoon-shaped leaves along the stem and those distinctive tear-drop shaped seed pods that hang down.

The leaves and lower part of the stem tend to have a reddish tint too which I suppose gave it another name – “pepper-and-salt.

Its abundant white flowers bloom from spring through fall depending on where in the country you are.

Once pollinated they develop those dangling seed pods that really make it stand out.

Shepherd’s purse is considered a winter annual which means it completes its lifecycle within a year, typically germinating in fall and flowering the following spring through early summer before going to seed.

Then it will die off but not before dropping those sticky burrs all over to disperse new seeds and propagate itself wherever it can find sunny, moist soil to take root in.

Being such an opportunistic plant, it tends to pop up anywhere it can which is why it’s labeled as a common weed.

But as I was about to find out, our chickens sure don’t seem to mind it one bit! In fact, they seem quite fond of its little leaves and seeds.

So maybe calling it a “weed” ain’t entirely fair – more like a handy wild forage for our feathered friends if you ask me.

The Scoop on Shepherd’s Purse

can chickens eat shepherd's purse

Did you know it’s been used for hundreds of years as a natural remedy to stop minor bleeding and reduce heavy periods?

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Pretty cool how nature provides all these remedies just waiting to be discovered! The website also said chickens will happily peck at Shepherd’s Purse, though too much can act as a laxative so you’ll want to only offer it in small amounts at first.

After reading more, I learned Shepherd’s Purse is packed with vitamins A, C and K as well vitamins B1, B2, and B3.

It also contains minerals like zinc, calcium and iron which are all important for strong bones, healthy feathers and metabolism.

Fiber, protein and antioxidants round out its nutritional profile.

Seems like a superfood for chickens if you ask me! Way better than just giving them corn all day.

Where to Find It

can chickens eat shepherd's purse

Being a prolific seed producer along with its ability to spread via rhizomes underground, shepherd’s purse establishes itself pretty much anywhere it takes a liking to.

Out here on the farm I’ve noticed it dotting gardens, lawns, field edges, roadsides, really just about anywhere sunlight reaches and moisture gathers.

Its rapid germination in fall makes it one of the first plants to carpet bare soil come spring too.

As a cool season annual it thrives in the cooler months from early spring through fall.

You’ll find it happily carpeting the landscape from Canada down through most of the U.S.

and into Central America and Europe too depending on latitude.

Basically put, if chickens are your location, chances are good you’ve got shepherd’s purse growing somewhere nearby!

Since it’s such a hardy pioneer plant, shepherd’s purse will eagerly colonize any disturbed soils whether that’s from tilling, flooding, grazing animals or other disruptions that expose mineral earth.

One of the neatest places I’ve seen it establish is along sandy shorelines where waves regularly stir things up.

Talk about resilient!

Tips for Feeding Fido Shepherd’s Purse

Now that I knew chickens could eat Shepherd’s Purse, I had to give Olive and Pebble a taste.

The best way is simply plucking some fresh leaves and seed pods from your own organic plants and tossing a small handful into their regular feed each evening.

No need to overwhelm their systems – start with just a tablespoon or two at first feedings.

Pay close attention for signs of tummy troubles like diarrhea which means you’re giving them too much too fast.

Ease up on the portion and slowly increase it over a few weeks as their digestive tracts adjust.

You also want to make sure any Shepherd’s Purse you collect is from a pesticide free area so no nasty chemicals enter your chicken’s feed.

Olive gobbled her portion right up but Pebble acted a little unsure at first.

After a few minutes of watching Olive though, curiosity got the best of her and soon she was pecking away too! It adds variety to their day and extra nutrients without breaking the bank.

After a couple weeks with no issues, I upped their portions to a couple good handfuls each feeding.

Tips for Encouraging Consumption

Now that you know chickens enjoy shepherd’s purse and it provides nutritious forage, here are some tips that may help entice your flock into giving it a try if they haven’t already discovered its tasty delights!

First off, collecting a generous handful and directly offering it to them is a surefire way to generate interest.

The novelty of something new combined with your involvement will peak their curiosity.

Just be sure to thoroughly rinse any pesticides or debris from commercially-grown plants first.

Wild foraged specimens should be clean already.

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Another tactic is scattering picked leaves and Seed pods around the outer perimeter of their run or in empty scratch areas so the chickens happen upon them during natural foraging behaviors.

The motion and smell should draw their attention.

If they sniff but don’t immediately eat it, trying mixing a small amount into their regular feed.

The scent and taste infusion may encourage sampling in a familiar context at mealtime.

Going halfsies with their standard feed is a gentle introduction.

For continuous long term foraging, transplanting or direct seeding a small patch within fenced off chicken areas allows them continual self-harvesting.

be sure to pick and throw in extra handfuls during the setting process as well for an established food source.

Drying bunches of freshly picked shepherd’s purse then crumbling and sprinkling it over feed provides a similar effect with extended shelf life.

Great for supplementing winter rations when green options are scarce.

Preparing Shepherd’s Purse for Storage

If you find an abundance of Shepherd’s Purse while foraging, it’s smart to preserve some for winter months.

One of the easiest methods is air drying.

Simply bind bunches of freshly picked leaves and seed pods together with string and hang them upside down in a dry area with good airflow like the garage or unfinished basement.

It takes about 1-2 weeks for them to fully dry out.

Check on them daily, gently separating any leaves that touch so air can circulate better.

Once completely crisp but still green, remove the rubber bands and pour the dried goods into an airtight glass jar.

Store in a cool, dark place.

For the dehydrator method, carefully spread single layers of leaves or pods onto dehydrator trays, leaving a little space around edges.

Dry on low heat (115°F max) for 12-18 hours until completely dry and crumbly.

Shake trays occasionally to loosen pieces and rotate trays for even drying.

Once fully dehydrated, break or cut any large pieces to fit into sterilized jars.

Fill to the top, securing lids on tightly before storing.

These preservation methods ensure Olive, Pebble and your own winter salads stay colorful and nutritious all season long.

Eating Shepherd’s Purse Yourself

Never one to miss out on a tasty treat, I had to give Shepherd’s Purse a try for myself after learning humans can eat it too.

The young spring leaves have a pleasantly peppery flavor that adds zing to salads.

I sliced some ultra-fresh leaves thinly to top my morning eggs.

A few pods got a light sautee in butter as a side dish another night.

Both preparation methods really allowed the plant’s natural flavors to shine through without overwhelming other ingredients.

Dried seeds and flowers can be infused in tea as well.

I simmered some for 10 minutes then strained and sweetened the brew with honey – a satisfyingly potent cup that warmed me up on a chilly evening.

Shepherd’s Purse provides valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants whether eaten raw or cooked.

Next time you’re out harvesting for your flock, be sure to grab an extra handful for yourself.

You might just find a new favorite ingredient!

Using Shepherd’s Purse for First Aid

It’s fascinating that Shepherd’s Purse has been relied on for centuries as a medicinal herb due to its styptic properties.

Simply putting fresh leaves on minor cuts or grazes helps stop bleeding quickly.

Some people even chew up a few leaves, pressing the pulpy wad directly onto larger abrasions.

Within minutes bleeding noticeably reduces as compounds in the plant constrict blood vessels.

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No need for harsh chemical antiseptics – nature provides effective first aid right in your backyard.

Herbalists also recommend an infusion made from dried flowers or leaves as a topical solution for minor wounds.

Simply seep 1-2 tsp of dried plant parts in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes.

Allow to cool then soak sterile cloth strips and apply directly to cuts or sores several times daily.

For all its usefulness as chicken feed and culinary herb, knowing Shepherd’s Purse can effectively prevent excessive bleeding has added protective benefits.

I feel much safer foraging and gardening knowing this weed’s secret first aid powers grow so close by!

Growing Shepherd’s Purse as an Herb Crop

Seeing how much Olive and Pebble enjoy Shepherd’s Purse, I thought about growing some as an herb crop to ensure a steady supply.

Its low maintenance qualities make it a perfect addition to my garden.

In late winter I tilled a small patch of soil, adding compost and my own worm castings for nutrients.

Seeds went directly into ground 6-8″ apart mid-February once soil warmed up a bit.

Germination only took about 10 days of mild temperatures.

Within 6 weeks I had a thriving 3’x4′ patch bursting with leaves ready for harvest.

Cutting frequently encourages bushier regrowth all spring.

Shepherd’s Purse self-seeds prolifically so some gets “accidentally” dropped each year to volunteer naturally again the following season.

Now I’ll always have a homegrown supply for years to come!

Companion Planting with Shepherd’s Purse

Since Shepherd’s Purse thrives almost anywhere, it’s wonderfully adaptable to different companion planting scenarios.

As a cover crop it protects soil from erosion while enriching it with nutrients.

Peas and beans enjoy its supporting structure for vines to climb.

Garlic and onions deter some pests Shepherd’s Purse may attract.

Lettuce, carrots and other veggies benefit from its allelopathic properties which deter competitors from crowding their space.

Flowers like calendula, nasturtiums and marigolds attract beneficial insects when interplanted.

At the forest edge, Shepherd’s Purse stabilizes disturbed earth under trees while providing food for wildlife.

Thanks to its undemanding nature and multitude of uses, there’s truly no wrong way to work Shepherd’s Purse into many types of gardens, landscaping and habitat areas.

And you can always feast on the extra harvest yourself or share with your chickens!

Medicinal Uses of Shepherd’s Purse

Delving further into Shepherd’s Purse’s history as a medicinal herb revealed many other ways it’s been traditionally used to support health.

Dried capsules taken in tea or capsule form are renowned for regulating women’s cycles by reducing heavy bleeding.

Some herbalists even recommend it for menopausal difficulties.

Clinical studies also point to compounds like polyphenols acting as mild diuretics, lowering blood pressure.

This makes an infusion potentially helpful for heart conditions like arteriosclerosis or edema.

Topically, dried powdered herb can be sprinkled on wounds, fungal infections or inflammatory skin issues like eczema as an antiseptic antifungal agent.

Milk thistle and Shepherd’s Purse combination packs synergize liver protecting effects.

Knowing nature provides such multifaceted remedies in our own backyards, I feel lucky to have this herb growing freely all around.

My chickens enjoy its benefits, and perhaps its mild medicines will aid my family someday too.

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