Save Money on Feeding Your Chickens

Share on Pinterest all want to save money. Part of the reason some of us raise chickens is to have healthy eggs or meat for cheaper than we can buy at the store. But buying feed can cost a lot more than you expected. And honestly, some of the feed you get is just like buying junk food for your birds: it’s full of cheap stuff to fill them up, doesn’t provide a lot of vitamins and still costs a lot. Kind of like getting your kid that $4.00 box of breakfast cereal (hello, Cocoa Pebbles – I’m talking to you!).

First, let’s remember chickens are omnivores so they eat meat and vegetables. When you let them free range they’re eating bugs and grasses (and sometimes your strawberry patch but that’s another story…).

Just like with your kids you need to make sure treats come after a balanced meal and don’t fill their little bellies up enough to replace the protein and calcium they need in their diets to make eggs or meat and maintain their overall health. Ideally (and this is according to the “experts”) leftovers should never be more than 20% of their whole diet and should be portioned out so it’s only what they can finish within 20 minutes.

Now…let’s go back to us real life poor folks. I will pay for a decent feed for my egg layers – I don’t want junk in there so I look for something that doesn’t have by-products or anything I can’t identify near the top of the ingredient list. However, I can’t afford to pay for organic feed either. So, I’m looking for a reasonable compromise.

httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0Kids Won’t Eat It? Try the Chickens

To start with, you can obviously feed them your family’s leftovers. Pretty much anything goes here as long as it’s not spoiled food. You shouldn’t give them things high in fat, sugar or salt because (again, just like your kids) it’s gonna fill them up without providing nutrition. And their bodies are a lot smaller than ours so a little can have a big impact. That said, I’m guilty of giving my birds leftover birthday cake (it was going to get thrown away!). So we don’t have to be the food police but do use common sense: obviously, I’m not giving them cake every day.

Any scraps you don’t eat, are perfectly fine to give them, including chicken. You should also include any of the scraps you create from preparing fruits and vegetable. They can have the peels and the bad spots (as long as there’s no mold). Keep a bowl, small bucket, disposable foil pan – whatever works for you – in your kitchen and make a habit of throwing all your scraps and plate scrapings into it. Stick it in the refrigerator and feed them some every day.

If you have more eggs than you can use, cook them up and feed them back, shell and all. Just crush them up so they don’t recognize them and end up becoming egg eaters. If you can get yogurt or any other fermented dairy product cheap, I’m a big believer in the benefits this brings to chickens. I’m not talking about the Yoplait stuff with the sugar and flavors added but the plain yogurt that contains live active cultures. I start my chicks on it and swear by the benefits. 

chickens-874507_640What They Can (and Can’t) Eat  

The only things you have to completely avoid are banana peels, avocado peels, coffee grinds (use those in the garden instead), green tomatoes, uncooked beans and chocolate. Yes, it is okay to feed them cooked poultry although some people find it a bit creepy. In fact, any cooked meat, even on the bone is fine; just throw away the bones when they’re done so you don’t risk attracting rodents.

If you’re a hunter, you can feed your birds anything your family doesn’t eat. I’d say the same if you fish but just watch because “they say” that eggs and meat can take on the taste of what they’ve eaten. I’ve always fed my birds a LOT of garlic and no one’s ever said, “These eggs/meat taste garlicky”. But maybe it hasn’t been enough to affect that. I don’t know how much is “too much” but if you have extra fish (or fish scraps) go ahead and feed them as a good source of protein and minerals, especially omega 3.

If you have a good sized flock, you may want to look into getting scraps from a local restaurant, deli, grocery, co-op or farmer’s market. One great idea I’ve heard is asking for the leftover pulp from juice bars (think of the nutrition there!). The trick though, is to be able to use these up before they go bad. Some businesses can be too overeager and end up giving you what should have gone in the garbage – spoiled, rotten, moldy food which, same as if you ate it, will make your chickens sick. So the responsibility falls on you to go through those scraps and make sure they’re safe. If you do make a partnership with a business, you have to keep up your end of the agreement to pick up the food on the set day and time. This can be beneficial but can also end up making more work for you as well. Weigh it out carefully or maybe see if a friend will split it with you if there’s too much for you to use.

DSC03397Add in Vitamins – Cheaply

Another trick is stretching your feed by adding other vitamin-rich things to it, like sunflower seeds, whole or rolled oats, whole wheat, or millet. Check with your local feed store or co-op and then figure if it saves you money to supplement with these. You can also feed them as “scratch” – toss them on the floor of the coop or run or outside and they’ll have a good old time pecking for them. And by the way, make sure your feed is pellets rather than crumbles; they’ll waste a lot less.

Plant a little extra in your garden (or start a garden if you don’t have one) of the high producing things like squash and give the leftovers or the ones that are too big to the chickens. If you have anything with a hard outer rind, make sure you cut it in half for them to get at the inside. Hit up your friends who garden as well – everyone is sick of zucchini after a while and they might be happy to find someone to unload a few to! Greens and turnips are also good choices to plant. Kale will winter over plus you can cut it and it will grow back as will a lot of other greens. You can’t go wrong though with greens, melons and squashes. As an added benefit, during the hot weather, the melons will help cool them down and the greens provide them with entertainment, year-round. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are good cheap fillers, too.

9303178020_531542966e_nTake Them Out to Eat

Let your birds free range, if they can do it safely, even if it’s just for a short time every day while you supervise (and laugh at them. I promise, you’ll enjoy it!). If not, toss them your weeds and grass clippings (as long as they’re not sprayed with pesticides, of course) or consider a movable coop.

And think of your chicken run as a way to help, too. A lot of the “chicken experts” point out a dirt chicken run is bad: it ends up completely covered with droppings and becomes a breeding area for disease. Instead, cover it in a thick mulch (leaves, hay, straw, grass clippings, wood chips) and the area stays cleaner, the droppings turn into compost which then give you worms and other insects for your chickens to eat. Plus they’ll be much happier with an area to scratch in.

A lot of people I know feed their flocks cat or dog food because it’s high in protein and you can get it cheaper than chicken feed. Chances are you’re trading off more junk for the lower price. Something very important to consider is that pet food is not made for animals we’re going to eat – it’s got meat in it, usually in the form of “animal by-products” (could be bones, feathers – who knows?). And this could carry disease. If anyone remembers “mad cow disease” that’s how it began. Better safe than sorry.

And don’t forget to always feed oyster shell separately for the calcium laying hens’ need. Otherwise, they’ll tend to overeat their feed to make up for the calcium loss and cost you more in the long run.

And For Those Who Want to Experiment… silkworm-931555_640

I’ve read a lot of stuff about how you can completely do away with store bought feed. So for those of you with more ambition, here are some interesting resources you may want to check out:

Harvey Ussery has been around for years advocating the “grow your own feed” idea. He’s pretty scientific in his research:

Justin Rhoades is more of a newcomer to the chicken movement but he’s got plenty of ideas you may not have thought of (like growing your own maggots):

Good information from a farmer who’s been doing it for years:

Fermenting your chicken feed:

Using Sea Buckthorn:

Using Comfrey for chickens:

Sprouting grains for chickens:

Growing fodder for your chickens:

And some of our older posts on feeding:

There’s a lot of ways you can use to save some money when feeding your flock. Let us know what’s worked for your flock.



Homemade Chicken Feed (You Can Do It. Yes YOU!)

Share on Pinterest

Those of us who are extra picky about what goes into our bodies (especially via our chickens) have probably played around with the idea of making our own chicken feed.

Ideally, chickens deserve pasture and plenty of it. Rooting around for bugs, worms, and the spare blade of grass makes them happy and healthy, which in turn makes us the same. But when the sunlight goes dim and the nights lengthen, the blades of grass usually shrivel and turn brown. Those lovely little insects and worms get more difficult to find since they’re further underground, which makes our chickens sad.

Or perhaps you don’t even HAVE pasture land for your chickens! That’s a common problem for urban farmers. The ¼ acre per hen goal isn’t always possible.

Then there’s costs to consider. Trying to purchase organic, non-GMO feed without corn or soy can be a nightmare. If you aren’t lucky enough to be able to purchase it from your local buying club via Azure Standard, then you have to mail order it. The shipping often costs as much as the feed itself.

A frugal person with a DYI attitude will turn to making their own feed. The benefits are numerous. Cheaper, better for your chickens, and you can even add supplemental herbs to the feed to increase nutrition and prevent parasites.

First things first, keep your weeds.

Do you have nettles overgrowing patches of your yard? Dandelions? Alfalfa grass (avoid the GMO variety of this). What about that pest to all farmers, pigweed (or lambsquarters as they’re also called)? A great solution is to let them grow tall, harvest them, and feed them to your chickens. With lambsquarters, the chickens don’t have much of a chance in the early spring because I beat them to the punch and eat at least half of them myself. They are a darned tasty substitute for creamed spinach!

Later in the fall months of course, weeds don’t taste as good for human consumption. This is prime time for letting the chickens at them, as well as storing them up for the winter months. After you harvest, simply hang them up to dry and grind them for a supplement. These are all ‘weeds’ that happen to be very nutrient dense. The seeds of lambsquarters are even called ‘fat hen’ in some places, and for good reason. Even the Romans would make cakes from those nutritious seeds to eat on their long marches.

SOME of the wonderful weeds that may grow in your yard near the flock:

  • lambsquarters

  • nettles

  • dandelions

  • comfrey

  • plantain

  • cleavers

  • mint

  • mullein

  • catnip

  • wormwood (great for worms, who’d have thought!)

Until you can harvest your weeds, you can purchase bags of nettle and dandelion from places like Mountain Rose Herbs. They’re fairly cheap and you can get huge bags for not that much. A one pound bag is enormous and will last you all winter for most smaller flocks.

Recipe for homemade chicken feed:

6 cups oat groats
4 cups hard red wheat
4 cups rye
2 cups black oil sunflower seeds
2 cups soft white wheat
2 cups split peas
2 cups flax seeds
1 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup kelp granules
3 TB sucanat (molasses granules)
2 TB garlic powder
1/2 TB cayenne pepper powder
½ cup fennel seeds
1 cup dried nettle leaves
1 cup dried dandelion leaves

I generally give the grit and such separately, but throw in as much as you like if you add it directly to the feed.

The garlic and cayenne in this will help prevent internal and external parasites, including worms. The nettle and dandelion leaves will add extra nutrients, as will the kelp. Not only that, but the fennel seeds are enjoyable for the chickens AND they boost egg production.

You may have to tweak this recipe for your own flock. Some flocks aren’t partial to peas, for example! Maybe they want something else and you need to find another protein source. But this is a good standard layer feed. If you want to add some hot water and cook it up for them as a mash, they’d probably love it even more. Especially in the winter months.

If you’re looking for resources, try Azure Standard for grains. Mountain Rose Herbs tends to carry all the other things at very reasonable prices and great quality. I’ve even ordered bulk from Whole Foods of all places and it was quite reasonable. Generally WF gives you 10% off if you purchase a ‘case’. They usually just charged me what it cost them to purchase the bags of grains or whatever else I purchased.

For a good starter blend, take the recipe above and remove the cayenne and reduce the garlic by half. Take out the nettle leaves as well since chicks don’t need that much calcium. Add 2 cups of lentils to the batch. Grind it all up so it’s a fairly homogeneous crumble that can be eaten by chicks. For grower, do the above but also remove half the split peas and make it a bit more chunky so they can have fun with it. Simple enough to do.

The protein in the first formula is about 18%, the starter formula is 19.8% approximately, and the grower feed version is about 17% give or take. If you want to lower the protein content you can. It depends on your flock’s needs. I found a really great calculator tool here.

And if you’re not quite sure how to figure out the percentages of protein to overall calories, there’s an easy formula for it. Find your grams of protein and times it by 4. Then divide protein by total calories, then times that all by 100. So it would look something like this:

731 grams of protein * 4 = 2,924

2,924 / 14,771 total calories = .197955 * 100 = 19.79% protein

With luck, you can not only use the above homemade formula for your chickens, but you now have the confidence to do this on your own!