Livestock Research for Rural Development 21 (7) 2009 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Upgrading the scavenging feed resource base (SFRB) for scavenging chickens; Part I. Preferred perennial species

I Simons

26 Trost Street, Helidon, QLD, Australia 4344


A way to improve the diet for a flock of scavenging chickens is to plant a food forest consisting of perennial trees, shrubs and climbers which produce seeds, fruits and foliage that the birds can eat. That is, upgrade the scavenging feed resource base (SFRB). The chickens’ instinctive food preferences must be considered when upgrading the SFRB. This study investigates their preferences. The seeds of acacias (wattles) were considered to be a promising starting point because most of their seeds are high in protein. Poultry choice tests using the acacia seeds of different species were conducted. The tests were extended to cover the seeds and fruits of other perennial species. Those species which the chickens ate or ate avidly are listed. The non-preferred species will be listed in Part II.

Keywords: Perennials, poultry, preferences, protein, seeds


“Throughout the world the need to intensify and improve the efficiency of livestock production practices in a sustainable manner that reduces the dependency on external inputs, while conserving the natural resource base and promoting biodiversity, has been widely recognized”  (Kudo 2000). This call to move away from a dependency on external inputs makes much sense in this time of increasingly expensive fossil fuels.


In the case of free-range, foraging chickens, a way to reduce ongoing external inputs is to upgrade the birds’ SFRB. This can be done by planting a collection of fruit-producing perennials (Samnang 1998), (also including seed-producing perennials). Such a “food forest” of trees, shrubs and climbers should aim at yielding the quality and quantity of food (seeds, fruits, leaves, and attracted insects and other small creatures) that the birds need to eat.


The whole concept of chickens foraging from the food forest relies on their ability to select a balanced diet. This ability has been demonstrated by a number of workers (Pousga et al 2005). Given a choice of various foods, individual birds in a flock are able to select a diet to suit their individual needs.


In the developing world, the low crude protein levels in the SFRB of village scavenging systems are a limiting factor (Roberts 1999). It has also been argued that the dominant deficiency in the diet of the scavenging chicken is energy (primarily carbohydrates and fats) (Kyvsgaard and Urbina 1996).  Notwithstanding, the emphasis in this study is on developing a food forest which provides a sufficiency of protein.


When selecting the types and numbers of plants for the chickens’ food forest, the relevant factors to be considered are:

The present study concentrates on this very last point.


Fruits are poor in protein (Schabacker 2003, Smith et al 2007). Alternatively, seeds are generally considered to be high protein food (Sachiko et al 2001). From this viewpoint, wattles have an advantage. The average protein content of acacia seed ranges from 17 to 27% (Simmons 1999).


The objective of this study was to conduct poultry choice tests, using the seeds of various perennial species. The tests have the underlying assumption mentioned earlier: if offered a choice, chickens have the ability to select various feed ingredients in accordance with their individual needs and production capabilities (Pousga et al 2005).


Considering wattles; “the seed is generally a good poultry fodder” (Nugent and Boniface 1996). Further, bearing in mind the general properties of wattles: quick growth, drought tolerance, and the high protein content of their seeds, the first series of tests was done using wattle seeds. Secondly, the seeds of other perennial seed-producing species were tested. Finally, the tests dealt with seeds contained within the fruits of berry-producing species. In this case, the berries were usually eaten whole; thus, the chickens automatically ingested the enclosed seeds.



The variety of chickens taking part in the study was Inghams Hisex ‘red’ laying pullet. 90 birds were involved in the tests.


The chickens’ preferences need to be considered in the light of other feed that was always freely available to them: commercial laying pellets (minimum crude protein 16%, maximum crude fiber 8.5%), shell grit, granite and coarse sand grit, and a seasonably variable SFRB (derived from a ha developing food forest).


Further, it is important that a surfeit of other food was available to the birds during choice tests of this type. The chickens had to be under no coercion to eat tested seeds/fruits that would harm them.  


The choice of species for seeds in this category was primarily determined on the basis of their ready availability. Seeds were taken directly from plants, collected from underneath plants, or obtained by purchase. [Prickly acacia (Acacia nilotica) – an obvious species for testing (Le Houerou 1980) – was not included, because of its status as a “weed of national significance” in Australia.]


Each seed sample was about 5g and was presented early in the morning. Mostly several samples for each species were tested. However, in a few cases only a single sample was presented. The eating preferences were recorded, being selected from one of the following four preference indicators: “ate avidly”, “ate”, “ate reluctantly”, and “did not eat”. These indicators were determined according to the following schedule:

Any remaining seeds were withdrawn at the end of the day, at sunset.


Other seed-producing perennials


The choice of species for seeds in this category was made primarily on the basis of ready availability. That is, either as seeds taken from plants, collected from underneath plants, or purchased. [For this reason, there were some obvious omissions, e.g. black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) (Nugent and Boniface 1996) and saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) (Nugent 1999).]


Each seed sample presented was either about 5g, or in the 90-100 seed range, depending on the source or size of the seeds. Mostly several samples for each species were tested.  The eating preferences were noted using the schedule given above. The results were recorded.


Berry-producing perennials


The choice of species was made based on the ready availability of fresh fruits. Each sample usually contained 90-100 berries. Mostly single samples for each species were presented.  The eating preferences were again noted using the schedule given above, and the results recorded.





The seeds of 43 species of acacias were tested. Results for species that recorded in the ate/ate avidly range are given in Table 1 below.

Table 1.  Wattles in ate/ate avidly range

Species  name

Common name


   Acacia aneura


Ate avidly

   Acacia binervia

Coast myall


   Acacia baileyana       

Cootamundra wattle

Ate avidly

   Acacia colei               

Cole’s wattle

Ate avidly

   Acacia dealbata          

Silver wattle

Ate avidly

   Acacia deanei               

Dean’s wattle


   Acacia decurrens         

Black wattle

Ate avidly

   Acacia drummondii     

Drummond’s wattle


   Acacia elata

Mountain cedar wattle


   Acacia falcata              



   Acacia fimbriata

Brisbane golden wattle

Ate avidly

   Acacia holosericea         

Soapy wattle


   Acacia ligulata             

Dune wattle, wirra

Ate avidly

   Acacia neriifolia           

Oleander wattle


   Acacia perangusta

Eprapah wattle


   Acacia podalyriifolia

Queensland silver wattle

Ate/ate avidly

   Acacia pycnantha         

Golden wattle

Ate avidly

   Acacia simsii                  

Heathlands wattle

Ate/ate avidly

   Acacia tumida                         

Pindan wattle

Ate avidly

Acacia tumida was initially tested, but recorded a low preference score. It is suspected that the seeds purchased, were not in fact those of Acacia tumida. Another batch of seeds was subsequently purchased from a more reliable source. These were eaten avidly. This species was expected to show promise, since it had previously been noted as “producing … protein rich seeds for poultry feed” (Pasternak 2005).


In the case of Acacia podalyriilfolia and Acacia simisii, where several samples belonging to each species were tested, the results varied.  Different samples gave either an “Ate” or an “Ate avidly” indicator.  In these cases, an “Ate/ate avidly” preference was recorded.


Other seed-producing perennials


The seeds of 102 other seed-producing perennial species were tested. Results for species that recorded in the ate/ate avidly range are given in the following Table 2.

Table  2.  Chickens’ other perennial seed preferences in ate/ate avidly range

Species name

Common name


Alphitonia excelsa

Red ash

Ate avidly

Brachychiton populneus



Chamaecytisus proliferus


Ate avidly

Convolvulus erubescens

Australian bindweed


Cupaniopsis parvifolia

Scrub tuckeroo

Ate avidly

Desmanthus virgatus

Dwarf koa


Hardenbergia comptoniana

Native wisteria


Indigofera australis

Southern indigo

Ate avidly

Macroptilium atropurpureum


Ate avidly

Manihot esculenta



Podalyria sericea

Silky pea


Pultenaea villosa

Bacon and eggs


Rhus lancea

African sumac

Ate avidly

Sophora fraseri

Brush sophora


Spartium junceum

Spanish broom

Ate avidly

Toechima tenax

Brush teak


Berry-bearing perennials


32 berry producing species were tested. In order to provide a useful, concise list, only those recording “ate avidly” are given in Table 3 below. This table also includes the season of fruiting in SE Queensland.

Table 3.  Chickens’ “ate avidly” berry preferences

Species name

Common name

Season of fruiting

Ardisia crenata ‘alba’

White coral berry


Dovyalis caffra

Kei apple


Dovyalis rhamnoides

Common dovyalis


Enchylaena tomentosa

Ruby saltbush


Ficus hillii

Hill’s fig


Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’

Chinese holly


Jasminium suavissimum

Native jasmine


Ligustrum lucidum

Broad-leaved privet


Lycium ferocissimum

African boxthorn


Maclura cochinchinensis

Cockspur thorn


Mammillaria (9 species)



Morus nigra



Muntingia calabura

Panama cherry


Rauvolfia tetraphylla

Be still tree


Rauvolfia verticillata



Solanum aethiopicum

Love apple


Solanum aviculare

Kangaroo apple


Solanum rantonnetii

Paraguay nightshade


Solanum seaforthianum

Brazilian nightshade


Syzygium leuhmanii

Small-leaved lilly-pilly


J.R. Smith gave privet (species not specified) a glowing report as chicken feed (Smith 1987). In the present study, initial tests showed that the chickens did not eat the berries of broad-leaved privet (Ligustrum lucidum) – a common local weed. In later tests, tho, the chickens’ preferences varied.  The results progressed thru the three categories “Ate reluctantly”, “Ate”, and finally “Ate avidly”.  However, the latest tests invariably recorded an “Ate avidly” result. Hence, this species is included in Table 3 above.


It is evident in this case that familiarity is a factor that has skewed the results. A hint of this skewing was noted in the tests with some of the wattles, where early tests recorded lower acceptability than later ones.


Foliage of perennials


It was observed during the study that the high protein leaves of some perennials were eagerly sought from the food forest by the chickens:  kudzu (Pueraria montana), cassava (Manihot esculenta), African boxthorn (Lycium ferocissimum), ombu (Phytolacca dioica) and dwarf koa (Desmanthus pernambucanus). The literature clearly indicates that these plants have high protein foliage (Kidd and Orr 2001), (Awoyinka et al 1995), (McGregor 2003), (Di Maro et al 1999, Cook et al 2005).



The significance of this work lies in the resulting lists of perennial species that can be planted to upgrade the SFRB for a resident poultry flock. Such species could be useful constituents of a food forest growing in a comparable climatic environment.


Further studies on this subject could well investigate the following areas:


Awoyinka A F, Abegunde V O and Adewusi S R A 1995 Nutrient content of young cassava leaves and assessment of their acceptance as a green vegetable in Nigeria. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 47: 21-28


Cook B, Pengelly B, Brown S, Donnelly J, Eagles D, Franco A, Hanson M A, Mullen J, Partridge B F, Peters I J M and Schultze-Kraft R.2005 Factsheet. Desmanthus pernambucanus. Tropical forages. Centre for Biological Technology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland.          


Di Maro A, Valbonesi P, Bolognesi A, Stirpe F, De Luca P and Siniscalco Gigliano G 1999  Isolation and characterization of four type-1 ribosome-inactivating proteins, with polynucleotide:adenosine glycosidase activity, from leaves of Phytolacca dioica L. Planta 208(1): 125-131


Kidd K A and Orr D B 2001 Comparative feeding and development of Pseudoplusia includens (Lepidoptera : Noctuidae) on kudzu and soybean foliage.  Annals of the Entomological Society of America 94: 219-225


Kudo H 2000 Foreword. Mulberry for animal production. FAO animal Production and health paper no.147.


Kyvsgaard N and Urbina R 1996 Supplementing poultry diet with tree leaves of seeds – on-farm research in Nicaragua. Livestock Research for Rural Development  8(1).


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Nugent J 1999 Permaculture plants: agaves and cacti. Sustainable Agriculture Research  Institute, PO Box 10, Nannup. WA 6275, Australia.


Nugent J and Boniface J 1996 Permaculture plants: a selection. Sustainable Agriculture Research Institute, PO Box 10, Nannup, WA 6275, Australia.


Pasternak D 2005 Transforming agriculture in the Sahel through tree-crop-livestock systems: a concept note, ICRISAT-Niamey, BP 12404, Niamey, Niger.


Pousga S, Boly H and Ogle B 2005 Choice feeding of poultry: a review. Livestock Research for Rural Development 17(4)


Roberts J A 1999 Utilisation of Poultry Feed Resources by Smallholders in the Villages of Developing Countries In:  Poultry as a tool in poverty eradication and promotion of gender equality - Proceedings of an ARDAF Workshop, March 22-26, Tune Landboskole. ARDAF.


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Schabacker J 2003 Influence of plant polyphenolics on Caco-2 shells. Birds and berries workshop, 8-10 January, 2003, Internationales Wissenschaftsforum der Univarsitat Heidelberg.                                                           


Simmons M 1999 Acacia – an introduction. Australian Plants Online No.16: 23 Dec issue.


Smith J R 1987 Tree crops: a permanent agriculture. Island Press.


Smith S B, McPherson K H, Backer J M, Pierce B J, Podlesak D W and McWilliams S R   2007 Fruit quality and consumption by songbirds during autumn migration. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119: 419-428

Received 18 March 2009; Accepted 19 March 2009; Published 1 July 2009

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