If your livestock and poultry have lots of room to roam on pasture they will consume a variety of plants, including many weeds. Weeds contribute vitamins, minerals, protein and other things that grass forages may not add to the diet. Animals that are confined to pens or coops however, may not have the advantage of eating weeds. You can give them what they like and need by bringing certain weeds to them. Weeds can help cut feed costs and in the event of a scarcity of hay or forage, knowing what weeds are safe and beneficial to feed can be a real life saver.
Some beneficial, common weeds for feeding livestock and poultry are listed on the next few pages. Remember that all weeds that you feed should be gathered from areas that have not been treated with weed killers and other pesticides. You should also avoid collecting weeds along roadsides as they are often contaminated with lead and other pollutants or will have been sprayed with pesticides.
Penned animals not used to eating fresh greenery should have weeds added to their diet in small quantities, gradually building up the amount, so as not to upset their digestion. And during drought and hot weather certain weeds may build up nitrates which can cause problems for some animals if they build up in the blood. Since normal forage may be gone during a drought it’s tempting to add lots of weeds but keep most weeds to a small part of the diet in these conditions.
There are some weeds that are toxic to animals so read these articles if you plan to begin using weeds as animal feeds.
When left to their own instincts animals which have abundant greenery available to them will generally pass up toxic weeds, but animals that are hungry or that are penned up and craving greenery may eat weeds that are toxic. Don’t feed weeds unless you are sure you identified them correctly.
Most greens should be served as fresh as you can get them. Never feed moldy weeds to livestock, this can cause serious health problems or death. Some weeds, especially those that have hairy, rough leaves are liked better if they are dried like hay before being presented to animals.
Some animals will turn up their noses at certain weeds and refuse to eat them. They may change their mind if offered the weeds several times or see other animals eating them. But sometimes an animal just won’t accept a certain weed.
Feeding weeds can help you get rid of pesky weeds around the property, add variety and nutrition to animal diets and save on feed costs. It takes a little time to gather weeds of course, but its well worth the effort.