Napier grass, also known colloquially as elephant grass, is a type of grass indigenous to Africa that is renowned for its immense height, easily topping 6 ft.
This is certainly a novel characteristic, but Napier grass is a significant crop, used as both animal feed and as a natural component in pest control protocols. Interesting stuff, but what we need to know is this: can our chickens eat napier grass?
Yes, chickens can eat napier grass, but on a limited basis. Chickens may eat it as cuttings or when it is very young, as the mature shoots are likely to be too tough for chickens to handle.
Napier grass also produces few seeds on an intermittent basis, meaning these will not be a reliable source of nutrition for chickens that would forage on it.
Napier grass is commonly used as an ornamental plant in some parts of America, but in other parts, it is seen as an invasive pest.
In any case, it is good to know that your chickens can get a little bit of nutrition out of it at various phases of growth, or if you want to put in a little work in preparing it for them.
Keep reading to learn what you need to know about feeding napier grass to your chickens.
Chickens Will Probably Only Eat Napier Grass as Cuttings or When Very Young
As noted, the mature shoots of napier grass are tall, tough, and stringy, making them more difficult for chickens to eat.
This isn’t the kind of grass that grows on your lawn! This means that if you want your chickens to be able to enjoy this grass, you will likely need to provide it in the form of cuttings or let them eat the young sprouts.
Alternatively, you can harvest the grass and chop it up into small pieces to make it easier for your birds to eat it.
In any case, it is also a good idea to provide your chickens with access to other sources of food and water, as they will not get all the nutrition they need from the grass alone.
While napier grass is not poisonous to chickens, it is important to note that it can cause digestive issues if eaten in large quantities.
This is because the grass contains high levels of fiber, which can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.
Health Benefits of Napier Grass for Chickens
Napier grass does have some health benefits for chickens, as it is a good source of vitamins and minerals.
In particular, it is high in vitamin A, which is essential for vision, immunity, and healthy skin and feathers. It is also a good source of calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and eggshells.
In addition, napier grass contains high levels of antioxidants which can help to protect chickens against disease. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful in treating respiratory infections.
Keep in mind that these health benefits are only present in small quantities, so don’t expect napier grass to work miracles! However, it can provide a little boost to your chickens’ health if they eat it on an intermittent basis.
Can Chickens Eat Napier Grass Raw?
Yes, and this is the best way to allow them to eat it. Raw napier grass will have the most nutritional value.
Can Chickens Eat Napier Grass Cooked?
Yes, but there is not a good reason to cook it unless you are dead-set on feeding them mature grass while making it as easy as possible for them to eat it. Cooking grass will reduce the nutrient content, so it is not the best option.
Beware of Pesticides and Herbicides on Unknown Napier Grass
Another possible concern if you are going to allow your chickens to eat napier grass is the potential presence of pesticide or herbicides on the grass itself.
This is not a common problem, but it is something to be aware of if you are not sure where the grass came from.
Napier grass may be treated with pesticide in order to protect it from harmful pests or as a one-two punch in an agricultural pest control plan.
Herbicides might be used on the grass to kill it off in areas where it is not wanted, or else might be absorbed as runoff from other nearby applications. Neither of these chemicals is good for your chickens.
Both types of chemical have been linked with severe health issues and tend to build up in living tissue over time, causing all sorts of problems.
Birds are exposed to these chemicals when they eat insects or plants that have been treated with them.
Health problems associated with ingestion by birds include liver damage, kidney damage, and respiratory problems.
In some cases, exposure to pesticide and herbicide chemicals can cause cancer, reproductive harm or even be fatal.
If you are concerned about this, you can take steps to ensure the safety of the grass by testing it for pesticide and herbicide residue, or only feeding grass to your birds that you know is untainted.
Caution: Beware of Molds and Fungi
While napier grass is perfectly safe for chickens to eat, it can harbor harmful molds and fungi if it is not fresh.
These can cause serious health problems in your birds, including respiratory infections, digestive problems, and even death.
To avoid these issues, only give your chickens fresh napier grass. If the grass is wilted or otherwise not looking its best, it is best to avoid feeding it to your flock.
How Often Can Chickens Have Napier Grass?
Napier grass is generally healthy and wholesome, but it should only be a supplemental food for your flock.
It is not nutritionally complete, and overconsumption is linked to constipation and other issues in chickens.
Generally, it is best to offer napier grass to your chickens a few times per week in small quantities. This will allow them to enjoy the health benefits without risking any digestive problems.
Preparing Napier Grass for Your Flock
The way you give napier grass to your chickens is determined by the maturity of the grass. If you are feeding young, tender shoots, they can be given to your chickens whole, often by allowing them to graze on them.
However, if the grass is tall and mature, it will need to be chopped up into smaller pieces so that your chickens can eat it.
You can chop napier grass by hand or hack it up with a trimmer to make the process quicker. Once it is chopped, you can mix it in with other foods or offer it to your chickens on its own.
Can Baby Chicks Have Napier Grass, Too?
Baby chickens may have napier grass, but very sparingly and only when they grow up a bit. It is a good idea to wait until chicks are around 6 weeks old before giving them napier grass, and even then it should only be in small amounts.
You should also only allow them to try the youngest, tenderest green shoots, as mature grass will be too hard for them to handle unless chopped up into a confetti-like texture.
Keep in mind, baby chicks have very delicate digestive systems and as always are vulnerable to crop impaction and choking.
Napier grass, like most “leafy” greens, should be given to them only sparingly and under close watch.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.