Johnson grass (Sorghum
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.
in pastures or tractors.
Are the chickens not affected by the hydrogen cyanide, or something?
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.
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.