I started growing sorghum by accident after it self-seeded in my vegetable garden. I’m positive the seed hitched a ride in the garden mulch I used recycled from our chicken pen. There’s nothing better on the garden and around plants than used mulch from the chicken pen mixed with manure!
Anyway, I decided to let a considerable amount of sorghum continue to grow in my vegetable garden (about 35 plants) to see how it would do and in the view to using it as a supplementary feed for my chickens. I thought, feed seed – organic – why not…? Poultry feed isn’t overly expensive, however, as we all know saving costs where we can (especially when it comes to self-sufficiency) is a good thing and I’m always looking to supplement my commercial poultry feed with our own home-grown stuff to make it go further. Not only that, freshly home-grown feed for poultry can be produced free from chemicals and be fed to the birds when it’s in optimal nutritional condition.
Sorghum grows surprisingly fast and it’s well adapted to many climates but it does particularly well in hot, humid conditions, which makes it a handy crop to grow in those areas where other traditional grains are difficult or impossible. Sorghum also happens to be native to Australia (where we live) and this plant (grass to be specific) had no trouble in our subtropical summer growing strong with large heads of brown to maroon coloured seed and it seemed our chickens were in for a great feed from our big grain bounty.
Apparently, sorghum can be toxic to animals if eaten green or underdeveloped and some varieties can even contain toxins when ready for harvest. Therefore, it’s prudent to only grow sorghum you know is ok for animals to eat and to also wait until the seed is fully ripe. So when the seed ripened and I could see it was ready for harvest I simply cut the heads off and left the stalks to re-grow and re-grew they did with a second crop almost as good as the first sprouting from the cut plants only a few weeks later! I never gave the plants any extra attention or fertiliser all I did was let them grow in an abandoned bed with last seasons soil.
In the end, I was quite pleased about growing a free crop in a bed without any extra effort required but if this were to become a regular way of growing extra feed for my chickens (for free) they’d have to eat it first so I guess the proof was in the eating. And, as it turns out whilst my chickens (and ducks) showed some interest in the sorghum grain, they weren’t overly fussed and practically snubbed it. Yes, over time the heads of grain eventually got picked through and eaten but that was with the help of some wild birds as well; therefore, I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say growing sorghum for my hens was a complete success because obviously it wasn’t…
Then I got to thinking perhaps the reason why the sorghum seed ended up mixed in with the mulch was because my chickens didn’t like eating it? Chickens don’t miss much – they can spot a grain a mile away so it’s unlikely they were overlooking the sorghum by accident; and, on closer examination of the feeders I could see the sorghum seed was one of the main grains left for last.
Furthermore, there are several commercial brands of chicken feed which openly stipulate on the bag “sorghum free” or “low in sorghum.” I asked two different feed suppliers (one whom I knew quite well) and neither could give me an exact reason as to why chicken feed manufacturers would deliberately limit sorghum in their products. One of the suppliers guessed manufactures didn’t use much of this grain as sorghum was considered low grade and cheap and the other supplier suggested chickens just don’t like it much… That’s probably the bottom line.
Maybe chickens have an inbuilt mechanism to somehow know what grains are good for them and what might be potentially harmful – I’m not sure (probably) but I do know my hens don’t like sorghum so I won’t be wasting my time and garden space growing sorghum in the future.
Feel free to leave a comment below or join our forum I have started a discussion about sorghum here on our sister site Self Sufficient Culture.