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Duckweed as chicken feed


Along with black soldier fly larvae and growing our own grains, duckweed is at the top of our list for this year's chicken feed experiments.  This little plant was a ubiquitous part of my childhood since it grew wild in the ponds I played in.  I transplanted some into my own backyard water garden by the simple method of scooping a few leaves up into a quart jar and emptying them into their new home.  Given full sunlight and still water, duckweed will grow like crazy until it coats the surface of a pond and has to be scooped out to make room for other plants.  Suffice it to say that duckweed is easy to grow and doesn't need much infrastructure after the original pond-building.

What I wasn't aware of at the time is that duckweed is extraordinarily high in protein.  You'll remember from my chart of protein content in chicken feed ingredients that corn is 9% protein and dry-roasted soybeans are 37% protein.  Well, depending on who you talk to (and presumably depending on the species of duckweed, since there are several), duckweed is 30 to 50% protein.  Wow!  I've read that duckweed can make up to 40% of a chicken's diet, with 25% being more optimal --- that means we'll be paying 25 to 40% less for chicken feed once we get our duckweed operation up and running.  One study suggests that duckweed may be best fed dried and I can envision drying stations where I just scoop duckweed out of the pond and toss it on a table in our hot summer sun.

Duckweed likes high fertility water, but that's pretty easy to achieve.  Some folks take the graywater coming out of their kitchen sinks and channel it into duckweed gardens --- the duckweed cleans the water while producing free chicken feed.  In my backyard water garden, I just threw several goldfish in the pond and the fish poop was sufficient to keep the duckweed growing like crazy.  If you are able to get your fish to reproduce (which mine did after a year or two), then you could even give your chickens a fish now and then as an even higher boost of protein.

Speaking of water and chickens, don't forget that your hens need clean water.  Our automatic chicken waterers are full of clean water to keep your chickens healthy.

This post is part of our Homemade Chicken Feed series.  Read all of the entries:

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Have not seen you comment on this recently. Any luck with this? How about the Soldier fly larva? thanks, brett

Comment by brett Monday afternoon, July 11th, 2011

I grew some duckweed last summer, which was as simple as throwing a start in a kiddie pool of water. The problem came when I pulled some out to give to our chickens. Every one turned up her nose! I guess duckweed would work if our chickens were really hungry, but doesn't seem to be a top choice, so I won't be growing it again.

We were itching to give black soldier flies a try this year, but ended up not having the food scraps for it. We teamed up with a local school to get their cafeteria waste this past winter, but the food quality was so low that our worms wouldn't eat it! We had to throw in the towel before black soldier fly season rolled around, and we just don't have enough food waste to start a bin otherwise. I'm still hoping to someday find a source of more high quality food waste to give them a try.

Comment by anna Wednesday afternoon, July 13th, 2011
How do I process duckweed to achieve maximum protein content and add it to feeds? What is the correct ration in a 100?
Comment by Lutalo Bbosa Dan late Friday night, August 20th, 2011
I can't really answer your question because, as you'll read in my previous comment, our chickens didn't take to the plant. However, what I've read has suggested drying your duckweed, so that would be a good place to start.
Comment by anna Monday evening, August 22nd, 2011
I have read that drying duckweed in the shade (not in direct sunlight) significiantly increases the protein level. Also adding urea fertilizer to the duckweed pond also helps to elevate protein levels.
Comment by Beau early Friday morning, July 4th, 2014

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