Greens In Winter

Providing greens year round to your backyard flock keeps them healthy and busy. Here at Little Pond Farm, it’s as easy as letting the chickens out of their pen to forage in the yard, and tossing vegetable scraps from my kitchen into the compost pile – which is located inside the fenced area. (It’s my lazy chicken keeper’s compost method.) But, since we’re in the midst of an extreme winter, with three feet more precipitation than average, and the compost pile looks like a four-foot high snow cone, (a frozen mountain that the chickens do not scale) I bought some cabbages to hang in the coops. That kept the girls happy and busy for awhile, but the snow is still on the ground, and, like our snow plowing budget, the cabbage games fund has been used up.

So, I went to Whole Foods Market, where they have greens of every hue and texture. They’re winter greens, and even more expensive than basic green cabbage. But, the guys who work in the produce department curate the displays with artists’ eyes. No wilted or crumpled leaves are allowed. If I do my shopping early in the morning while they’re replenishing the greens, they’re happy to give me the discards – and chat a bit about chickens and goats, which makes everyone smile. One tells me about a grandmother’s chickens, another about a neighbor who milks two goats. Checking out, the cashier eyes the box of greens and I say, “it’s for my chickens,” and she says, “oh, I’ve always wanted chickens!” More smiles.

My goats also need greens, but unlike the hens, they refuse anything less than perfectly crisp. I rummage through the box and find chard up to their standards. They chomp and burp and head butt with happiness.

Candy comes over to see what the commotion is about. Usually she can’t reach their outside feeder, but with the snow, she’s able to share. Thanks Whole Foods!


  1. I have defective hens. I put in the cabbage ball and they completely ignored it. They won’t touch romaine trimmings from when I make a salad. I’ve tried many other greens trimmings and even some fresh mixed bagged lettuce. The completely ignore them. Tomatoes are another story. Those they love. Apples too. Cooked carrots, maybe, raw no. Now if I have mixed lettuce coming up in the garden and they happen to evade the fence, they mow them down to a nub. High brow tastes, they only like the micro-greens. LOL.

    It may be that being in California and our winter just means more rain they don’t get as starved for greens. They get to eat the lawn most every day. One area is completely down to the tiniest nubs of grass. I hope it recovers, but not sure it will. All summer long they just kept the grass cut. Last fall they then mowed it down to the dirt.

    Based on your previous suggestions about taming: I’m now able to pick up 3 of 4, so I’ve made a lot of progress! Thanks for the idea of getting down on the ground with them.

    • Scott, I’ve heard of chickens that don’t like cabbage. Maybe mine are influenced by the rabbit? :) Am very happy to hear that you are now able to pick up some of your hens. Great!!!

  2. HAHAHA…I do the same thing at the grocery store. I feel a little like a bag lady but hay it works.
    First egg of the season today!!!!!!!!! yah spring must be coming.

  3. Hrumph! My grocery store says NO to giving out the discarded produce. Apparently because they can’t be sure you’re not feeding people with it and then blaming the store if someone gets sick. I resort to buying kale, collards and green cabbage and sprouting seeds and beans for them.

  4. Anna don’t know what state your in but in Missouri a few years ago the state past a law that protects grocery stores, restaurants and food pantries from such law suits, yes food pantries could be sued. There are things they have to do to make sure “not ready for prime time groceries” are not contaminated but they can now donate to food pantries without fear. I volunteer once a month at my church’s food pantry and the food we recieve is amazing. It’s hard to believe it just went into a landfill before. Prior to the law any extra eggs I had could not be accepted either, go figure.

    • Thanks Ken, your post triggered a Google search and look what I found on the ConsumerReports website: “For many years, supermarkets were reluctant to donate perishables because executives worried about lawsuits stemming from consumption of bad food—even if spoilage occurred after the products left the store. But the federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which was signed into law in 1996, allayed many fears by shielding companies from liability as long as the food was donated in good faith.” So I Googled again (isn’t it funny, you “Google” something but you don’t “Yahoo” it or any other search engine for that matter. I love Google.) Anyway, that Food Donation Act is everywhere on the internet; I’m going to print it out and see if that helps with the produce manager. Wish me luck!

  5. Some supermarkets sell their food waste (or give it) to pig farmers. The produce department guys appreciate it if you are there when they are trimming the greens – it’s easier for them if they hand you a box from the store area. Once the discards go into the back of the store, they’re quickly mixed up with the other garbage.

    • I was there as they were chanigng out the veggies and got a resounding “no” from the manager. But I’m going to try again. I only have 12 chickens! It would be about 6 bunches a week.

  6. I hope this can be a warning for you. I hung a cabbage in my coop yesterday, this morning I found my wyandotte pullet hanged and dead. I had actually tried my best to make it safe by not making a slip knot or too far off the ground. She somehow got her head through the loop and twisted herself. I will feel guilty for this for a long time to come. It is my fault and her loss is great. I want them all to be safe, but they are like toddlers. You must be careful all the time, and then try not to blame yourself. I’ve been doing this for decades and this is the first time this has happened. From now on, they will get their cabbage as a soccer ball, on the ground. I hope this saves at least one little hen.

    • Oh, Lucy, this is awful! I have thought about that and worried that it could happen. Perhaps we should all switch to cabbage soccer. I am so sorry. You can do something for years and not have any problems, and then one thing like this happens and you realize that you’ve been lucky in the past.

  7. the problem is, I thought about it happening and did everything I could to prevent it. Now this morning I find this terrible thing and feel guilt to the pit of my stomach. I found her less than an hour ago and I am in shock. I hoped that other Henkeepers would know how I feel and understand. Thanks Terry, and I hope my experience prevents it from happening to others. It will prevent much saddness.

  8. A very wise person has told me not to blame myself, that accidents happen. That makes me feel better. A cup of hot chocolate, a visit with my girls to tell them everything will be okay…and their favorite treat of chopped fresh onions. I will figure out how to give them their cabbage treats…maybe a new sort of holder. In the meantime, I will use the intensity of this experience when I write a short story! Thanks for this network, Terry. It is useful in more ways than you realize \\^..^//

  9. That is terribly sad. I am so sorry for you loss. Absolutely not your fault. Thank you for the caution that we can heed.

  10. Lucy, maybe just a garage sale cake pan will do.
    Wow onions, my hens turn their little beaks skyward.

  11. Thank you, for your commiseration and for helping me understand it was an accident. I now have a very large stainless steel bowl that will work for the time being. I had draped the cord out of the way, but this little hen must have gotten tangled as she flew off the roost. It is a lesson learned for sure. I am thinking a lightweight chain would work, but don’t know how to put the cabbage on the end of it…
    Yes, Ken, my hens love, love onions, and garlic. They even eat the papery skins…hate carrots. The first thing they go for in the old garden is the chive tops and leftover scallions. We have two feet of snow still on the ground here in Mont Vernon, NH, so I often chop a bowl full of onions and mix it with their cracked corn. They smile for me, as best they can! :-)

  12. Lucy, here’s something I’ve learned to be wary of – scallions and leeks that the hens try to gobble down from the garden. Years ago, I had a hen try to down one, and I found her in distress, with a tip of a leek hanging out of her mouth. I pulled and pulled and what she swallowed must have been 14 inches long! So, I don’t bother to chop most veggies – but I cut anything long, tough and stringy.
    My hens, BTW, vote with Ken’s. They hate garlic and regular onions. Why she went for that leek, I’ll never know…

  13. Oh, thanks for that information Terry. I will be extra careful of that now. I try to chop things when I think they are too tough. I haven’t seen the hens actually pull up a scallion, but they love to nip the ends off the tops. I know that they can get compacted crops by swallowing long blades of tough grasses, too. Always something, isn’t there! I was told one time, in response to an article I did against dubbing, that I was one of those people who treat their chickens like Disney characters. Supposedly caring if animals are happy and safe is against good “business” guidelines. I cannot toughen my heart or ignore my empathy, and treat animals as units of profit. Sigh. I won’t dress them up in little gowns, but I want them to be happy in a safe world, or I am not doing my job as henkeeper. Thanks for everyone’s support today.

    • It is so hard to anticipate all the ways animals (and children…I’m a teacher) can find to endanger themselves. My dad has kept a small herd of goats for about 20 years in the same pasture, and everything is well maintained. Nevertheless, few months ago he found a nanny goat who had managed to push her head under the wooden gate and then scoot and twist until she choked herself. There were acorns all over the place, but apparently she wanted the ones on the other side of the fence. He was just sick about it, especially since he was nearby the whole time but did not hear anything. He has reworked the gate, but, if you keep animals for very long, things like this are sadly bound to happen. You just have to know that you did the best you could to keep them safe.

  14. No, to treat a chicken like a Disney character is to negate the animal-ness of it. A good hen keeper (or horseman, or dog trainer, or anyone who cares for animals) is one who recognizes the nature and needs of that animal and tries to fulfill that while having the animal fit in with it’s human’s life. There’s a big difference. (I feel a blog post coming on….)