Hardy Bamboo and Chickens are an ideal combination. Whilst bamboo doesn’t provide food for chickens, it does provide an ideal environment for them, and for the insects that they love to feed on.
Perhaps I should rephrase that. Bamboo isn’t known as a chicken food, but nobody told my chickens. They seem happy to browse on the young tender leaves. Here at the Sustainable Smallholding we are growing Hardy Bamboo. and keeping chickens, but the combination of the two is something that I’m really looking forward to.
The Domestic Chicken
The domestic chicken is descended for the Jungle Fowl. Like its ancestor, the chicken likes cover from the air, and a deep leaf litter, in which it forages for insects.In the UK climate, most of our trees and shrubs lose their leaves in Winter. Not hardy bamboo. It keeps its leaves, shedding them periodically throughout the year, or as a response to stress. This makes it ideal for chickens. it provides cover from predators, and from the weather. At the same time, the structure of hardy bamboo provides ideal habitat for many types of insect, providing a protein rich food for the chickens.
Types of Bamboo
The picture above shows one of my chickens in front of a nursery patch of hardy bamboo. There are four distinct species in this clump. Bottom right is Pseudosasa japonica, also known as the arrow bamboo The name comes as it has no nodes on the stem, allowing it to be used to make arrows. P. Japonica is a very hardy bamboo, and forms a dense clump. it can become a bit of a thug, and will eventually need cutting back hard to keep under control. The canes can reach 14 ft in height, but are often 10 ft or less. Like all hardy bamboo, the canes become more rigid after three years. This is the ideal time to cut them, and use the canes in the garden.
To the right of the clump you may be able to make out a couple of spindly looking shoots. These are Semiarundinaria fastuosa. This is a running bamboo, very upright, and like all hardy bamboo in this country is edible. The tall wispy plants were originally identified as Phyllostachys viridiglausescensby an expert. However he was working with a tiny twig, and I now think that this is P. nuda instead. Phyllostachys nuda is a particularly useful running bamboo. It’s particularly hardy, and excellent to eat. I have two varieties of it planted in my Forest Garden, and two nursery plants, waiting to grow and divide.
Hardy Bamboo for Smaller Gardens
For a small garden some of these hardy bamboo varieties may be too big, but there are a lot of smaller bamboo varieties that would be ideal.The picture below is of Fargesia robusta. This is another hardy bamboo, and forms a clump of attractive culms. These grow above head height. The picture below shows a juvenile plant that is about 2 ft tall.
One the right edge of the picture is a clump of Fargesia utilis, which I got free from a friend. This is planted in my Chicken Scavenging System. It is possible to find hardy bamboo species that are smaller than this. I have two, both of the genus Pleioblastus. The first, P. fortuneii is a 3ft tall, variegated, clumping bamboo. Mine were divisions made from a potbound, garden center plant, sold as P. variegatus. The second is P. pygmaeus, which is an even smaller hardy bamboo, useful for ground cover. It can be mown with a lawnmower, or scythe.
These bamboo are small enough to be grown in any garden, and can be cut and used as mulch, or even chicken bedding.
In the second part of this article I’ll take a look at some of the other hardy bamboo that can be used with chickens.