Duckweed as chicken feed


Along with black soldier fly larvae and growing our own grains, duckweed is at the top of our list for this year’s chicken feed experiments.  This little plant was a ubiquitous part of my childhood since it grew wild in the ponds I played in.  I transplanted some into my own backyard water garden by the simple method of scooping a few leaves up into a quart jar and emptying them into their new home.  Given full sunlight and still water, duckweed will grow like crazy until it coats the surface of a pond and has to be scooped out to make room for other plants.  Suffice it to say that duckweed is easy to grow and doesn’t need much infrastructure after the original pond-building.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time is that duckweed is extraordinarily high in protein.  You’ll remember from my chart of protein content in chicken feed ingredients that corn is 9% protein and dry-roasted soybeans are 37% protein.  Well, depending on who you talk to (and presumably depending on the species of duckweed, since there are several), duckweed is 30 to 50% protein.  Wow!  I’ve read that duckweed can make up to 40% of a chicken’s diet, with 25% being more optimal — that means we’ll be paying 25 to 40% less for chicken feed once we get our duckweed operation up and running. One study suggests that duckweed may be best fed dried and I can envision drying stations where I just scoop duckweed out of the pond and toss it on a table in our hot summer sun.

Duckweed likes high fertility water, but that’s pretty easy to achieve.  Some folks take the graywater coming out of their kitchen sinks and channel it into duckweed gardens — the duckweed cleans the water while producing free chicken feed.  In my backyard water garden, I just threw several goldfish in the pond and the fish poop was sufficient to keep the duckweed growing like crazy.  If you are able to get your fish to reproduce (which mine did after a year or two), then you could even
give your chickens a fish now and then as an even higher boost of protein.

This post is part of our Homemade Chicken Feed series.
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