The best dual-purpose plants for the chicken run

Dine a Chook's top 10 plants for the chicken run 

Chickens with access to forage, interesting hiding places and plenty of shade, are happier, healthier and more productive. 

Choosing plants that serve multiple functions in the chicken run is a great way to save time, space and money!

Keep your chickens happy with our favourite dual-purpose plants for the chicken run. These plants for the chicken run provide shade, forage, hiding places and amusement! 

Here's our top 10 best plants for shade and forage in the chicken run.

The 10 best dual-purpose plants for the chicken run

1. Mulberry

Mulberries will grow in most areas of Australia, producing a large shady tree with plenty of nice hiding spots for chickens. Because mulberries are deciduous, they allow sunlight into the run in winter, helping to prevent parasite build ups in the soil. 

Chickens love mulberries and will quickly clean up any fallen fruit, as well as munching on the leaves. Mulberry trees appreciate the fertiliser the chickens provide too!

2. Moringa

Moringa oleifera will grow everywhere from the tropics to semi-arid areas. It is fast-growing and, like mulberries, also deciduous. Moringa trees are often used as a hedge or windbreak.

Moringa is sometimes called the 'miracle tree' because all parts of the plant are edible. The leaves contain up to 38 % protein, making them excellent forage. There are many scientific studies looking at moringa and most have found that, when fed to chickens, it improves performance and health. 

3. Banana

Chooks love bananas. They also love foraging among banana trees, which seem to stand up well to the scratching. Our chickens even eat the banana suckers, which helps keep the plants in check. 

Banana trees love rich, moist soil. They tend to thrive in the chicken run, especially if they are situated to catch the run-off from the coop. Bananas provide excellent shade and can be used as a windbreak or coop insulation. 

Spent banana plants are most often cut down. The decomposing trunks can be left in the run to become excellent habitat for insects, adding another foraging opportunity to the coop.

4. Choko

Chokos love rich soil, so they are another plant that will thrive in the coop run-off. They do need a strong structure to grow over, as they’ll pull down your average chicken wire fence. But if you have a solid, old-fashioned chicken coop (for example, steel and corrugated iron) then it’s perfect for a choko vine. 

Growing a choko over your chicken coop (if your coop is strong enough) provides insulation from extremes of heat and cold, as well as extra shade in summer. Chooks like to eat the leaves and growing tips of the plant. Even if they won’t eat the fruit raw, most chickens like it cooked. 

5. Tree lucerne

Tree Lucerne is a fantastic plant for temperate areas. It tends to have drooping branches, making nice little caves for chickens to hide in. The leaves contain 20-24 % protein, making them excellent forage. Tree lucerne is also great for bees but it really isn't suitable for heavy soils and tropical or subtropical climates.

6. Tamarillo

Tamarillo is a quick-growing, shrubby tree that will provide dappled shade. It produces fruit within a couple of years. With the correct pruning, a tamarillo can be encouraged to branch or sprout multiple trunks, like a pomegranate, for chickens to hide within.

7. Lemon grass

If our chickens have a favourite nesting place, it’s definitely under the drooping leaves of the lemon grass. Don’t let that put you off though! This quick-growing grass provides excellent shade in summer and enough weather protection that we had a chicken raise a brood of 16 there, undetected and perfectly healthy! 

Lemon grass establishes easily, with roots strong enough to hold off foraging, scratching chickens. The chickens don't love the forage, but the shade benefits and hardiness make lemon grass a worthwhile plant in the chicken run.

8. Arrowroot

This clumping plant looks a little like a canna lily. It grows well in full-sun in tropical and subtropical areas. Chickens enjoy the leaves and, once established, the plants will stand up to foraging and scratching. The clump of arrowroot is one of our chooks' favourite places on a hot day!

9. Passionfruit

Like chokos, passionfruit vines need a very sturdy structure to grow on. They aren't the chooks favourite forage option, but the vines love rich chicken run soil and, if they are in a sunny spot, they will reward you with plenty of shade and fruit. Like chokos, passionfruit vines can provide excellent shade and insulation for the chicken coop.

10. Wattle

Not all wattle seeds are edible, and some are actually posinous. But any of the wattle varieties that are used for human consumption are also good for chickens. The seeds are high in protein and the hardy plant will provide good dappled shade. 

There are wattles native to all areas in Australia, so it is recommended to get a variety from your area. This is better for your local wildlife and the plant will perform better. If you visit a local native plant nursery, they will be able to advise you on which wattle varieties are edible and local.

Notes on planting in the chicken run

When planting in the chook run, keep in mind that chickens will scratch up pretty much anything, and particularly newly planted earth and mulch. So no matter what you plant, it either needs to go outside the chicken coop fence, where it will provide all the benefits but be protected from being dug up, or it will need some protection. 

Chickens will eat some plants to death. But most of these trees and vines are large enough to stand up to foraging chickens once they are established. However, the roots of these plants will still need some protection from scratching.

Protection can be wire mesh on the ground around the plants to stop the chickens from scratching, or even rolls of wire if you are too lazy to cut and peg the mesh. Piles of wood offcuts or large sticks will work, as long as the chickens can't move them. A tepee of sticks close together, a wire mesh fence or a tube of PVC at the very base of the plant, all work to deter chooks. Even an old bucket or dog’s safety collar from the vet works really well because you only need it to protect the ground until the ground cover grows back and the roots of the plant are established.

More DIY ideas for the chicken coop

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia