Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Johnson grass for chickens

Johnson grass

Johnson grassJohnson grass (Sorghum halepense) is considered one of the ten worst weeds in the world...and our chickens love it.  The large, clumping grass is native to the Mediterranean region, but has been introduced nearly worldwide.  Not only does Johnson grass spread like mad, horses and cattle can die after eating wilted, frosted, or drought-stressed foliage due to the leaves' high hydrogen cyanide content.  Unwilted leaves produced during cloudy weather can cause bloat because of nitrates in the grass.

There's one clump of Johnson grass at the edge of our chicken pasture, and our chickens peck it bare every time they're present.  Given the species' relationship to sorghum, I suspect the chickens are attracted to sweetness (although I haven't nibbled a leaf to test my hypothesis out.)  Or perhaps the draw is the high protein content --- 9 to 15.5% of the dry weight.

Despite its rating as a weed, Johnson grass is planted in many southern pastures, and there are even named varieties available.  Our plant is so hardy that a couple of weeks' rotation away is enough to let new leaves shoot up from the roots, giving our chickens an eternal buffet.

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure our chickens' beloved grass clump is Johnson grass, but I suspect it is due to the large leaves.  I'm hesitant to tell anyone to plant Johnson grass in their pasture for all of the reasons mentioned above, but my chickens tell you to go for it.

Our chicken waterer never spills in pastures or tractors.

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Are the chickens not affected by the hydrogen cyanide, or something?
Comment by irilyth [livejournal.com] late Friday morning, August 26th, 2011
I couldn't seem to find the answer to that question anywhere. They certainly don't seem harmed, but it's also possible that our plants haven't been stressed enough to produce much of the poison. A quick search of the internet suggests that birds should be harmed just like mammals, but I don't know enough to be sure.
Comment by anna Saturday afternoon, August 27th, 2011
Since you are waiting past the 7 day new growth restriction the only other thing you have to worry about is if it gets stressed and wilted. Other than that it seems to he all good.
Comment by Danno Friday afternoon, July 1st, 2016

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