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.



Sprouting Seeds for Chickens

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Even in winter time you can do some sprouting seeds for chickens to give them something fresh to eat and to keep them from getting bored. They may want something green to eat but without lots of leftover greens from your veggie trimmings they have to wait until spring. Sprouting seeds provides the greens that help chickens stay healthy in the winter season and it gives them entertainment. I know. Chickens aren’t very bright, bless their hearts. But sprouts have seeds attached and then there’s the green part so they’re happy.


You can easily grow sprouting seeds for chickens at home without any special equipment. There are two basic ways of doing it.

1. Get a shallow shoebox or an old egg carton and fill it with dirt. You’ll need a few because you’ll want to plant fresh every three days or so to ensure a good supply. Moisten the dirt with plenty of water and sprinkle the soil with the seeds of your choice, pressing them gently into the dirt with your hands.

Place the box or carton under a light source out of cold drafts and keep the soil moist with sprinkles of water. Try to keep them warm. Once the sprouts grow to about two inches long go ahead and either set them in the coop for chicken-tainment or cut them off to eat yourself.

2. Get a large mason jar and poke several holes in the lid with an ice pick (or if you want to get fancy use a piece of screen or a double layer of cheesecloth).

Put the seeds in your jar, fill with water to cover the seeds, and let them sit overnight. The next morning pour out the water and put the jar in a window (no drafts, try to keep the jar moderately warm) until you see sprouts. Rinse them a bit and aerate them each morning so they don’t get moldy on you. Once the sprouts are to the desired length toss them out with your chicken’s morning feast or eat them yourself. I suggest keeping several jars going at a time. Chickens seem to enjoy this method the most because they can eat the little crunchy seed ends. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time with it because I usually forget to rinse my seeds and they get moldy on me which is why I do little compostable flats of sprouts.

When buying seeds make sure that they are either listed for sprouting or you find them for direct eating such as in a bulk bin at the grocery store. Seeds made for planting are often treated with chemicals.


Best seeds for sprouting


Oat Groats

Do you have a favorite sprouting method or sprouting seed? How about a tip to give chickens fresh greens and entertainment in the dark months? Tell us in a comment below!

Winter Poultry Care

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Now that most of us are starting to feel the chill of winter we’ve made sure we have a cozy warm environment for ourselves. But what about your chickens? How are they holding up?

Ideally, your chickens have gradually gotten used to the cold as temperatures began to cool down throughout the fall. Overall, chickens are pretty hardy and naturally well insulated enough to handle winter. It’s the extreme – or sudden and unexpected temperature drop – that can really cause the problems.

That said, you do want to make sure your coop is draft free but still has some ventilation to get rid of moisture that builds up. If there are drafts or you get hit with a couple of sub-zero days, consider covering the north and east facing sides with temporary insulation, such as the plastic you use for windows, old tarps, blankets, quilts, corrugated cardboard, or bubble wrap (I’ve personally found that bubble wrap works better than the plastic kits sold at the hardware store). You can get inventive here and experiment with different materials you might come across. If you have a chicken run, put up a temporary wind block on the north and east sides as well. Again, this can be as simple as cardboard. Do keep in mind: chickens love to eat Styrofoam (go figure – never been tempted to try it myself) so if you use it, cover it with something. It won’t hurt them but you’ll end up with no insulation very quickly once they discover it!

If you’re desperate and don’t have electricity in your coop, you can fill plastic bottles or jugs about 75% full with very hot water. Don’t fill them completely so they’ll have room to expand if they freeze. Secure the lids and put them in the coop. They’ll provide a little extra heat for a short time.

Make sure your coops are predator proof since there’ll be hungry varmints on the prowl this time of year and make sure your feed is secured from rodents. If I was a rat and I knew there was a big bin of chicken feed I’d go for it so lock it up tight and in something that is chew proof, like a galvanized metal tin of some sort. Usually they are easy to find at the farmer supply stores.

Your chickens may not be able to get their usual dust bath due to frozen or muddy earth, provide them with an area filled with either wood ashes or sand. Throw in some diatomaceous earth to further help prevent parasites. If you’ve got the space, a shallow kid’s swimming pool works well as a container.

Since daylight hours are so short, birds spend more time on their roosts. If you use dropping boards, clean them more frequently.

Open the coop door and give your chickens the option of going out on sunny days, even if it is cold. Be aware that too much time spent standing or walking on the snow can cause frostbitten feet. You’ve probably heard before that applying Vaseline (or Bag Balm) to your birds’ wattles and combs can prevent frostbite. But according to University of Kentucky, it works in mild cold but does nothing when temperatures are sub-zero for a few days. When you do apply it, use just a thin layer. You can even coat their legs if you feel they’re at risk.

One of the most difficult aspects of winter can be dealing with frozen water. You can keep a spare one or two inside and switch them out as each becomes frozen. You can also add a mix of boiling water and cool water every few hours (the end result should be warm – not hot). Another trick is to put a warm brick or rock inside the waterer. It’s also okay to remove the waterer from the coop overnight to keep it from freezing. Your flock will be asleep and they don’t get up in the night for a snack or drink! Add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to their water to boost their immune systems. Vinegar freezes at 28 degrees so it may also slow the water from freezing.

Happy hens are healthy hens. And food treats and diversions do make them happy. Not that we’d ever spoil our birds (wink!) but if you’re so inclined, cook them up a nice hot mash or some oatmeal. If you’re using the oven, roast them a squash or pumpkin. But you don’t have to cook specifically for them. Just warm up the leftovers you were going to feed them anyway. Plain yogurt (especially if you can get it cheap when it’s near the expiration date) is good. Throw in a bunch of kale, which is extremely nutritious and winter hardy plant. Hang up a cabbage for them to peck at. Offer healthy treats like sprigs of millet, sprouts (easily and cheaply grown on your kitchen counter), whole or rolled oats, and sunflower seeds. Scratching for these in the litter provides hours of fun as well. Throw in an armful of hay. You can make a homemade suet block like you’d give the wild birds by using leftover cooked fats mixed with seeds, nuts and/or dried fruits. Give them a little snack before they roost for the night and they’ll have a bit more fuel to keep them warm. Sprinkle some garlic and kelp powder on top of their food for an immune system boost.

For more ideas, check out some of our past articles and tips:

(Ventilation and Insulation Tips):

(Fall and Winter Checklist):

(How to Winterize Your Waterer):

(Raising Chickens in Cold Climates):

Wishing you good luck this winter,


AgriCast Digest E07: Interview with Doug Kaufmann Part I

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We are very pleased to announce the release of our two part interview with Doug Kaufmann from the long running investigative health television program Know The Cause. Mr. Kaufmann was one of the first voices on TV to talk about functional medicine. He specializes in fungus, molds, and yeasts and the effects of such on the human and animal body.

The interview was intense, with really great information given by Mr. Kaufmann, and ran over the allotted 20 minutes to an hour! Since it ran over, but there was so much great stuff we decided to cut it in half to make it more palatable for our listeners. We know your time is valuable, so it’s down to a more manageable half hour for each section.

In this session, Gabrielle talked about the beginning of Mr. Kaufmann’s show and some general health questions as well as the nature of fungi, yeast, and molds. Listen up, kids! It’s more interesting than it might sound!

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A Guide to Feeding Chickens

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In order for them to live up to their full potential, your backyard chickens must eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet.  Layers need the right kind and amount of feed to lay quality eggs. Broilers need the right kind and amount of feed to gain weight in a healthy way.  This is slightly more complicated than merely picking up a bag of feed at your local farm supply store.  Chickens can benefit greatly from foraging as well as from some table scraps. Other table scraps are toxic to chickens and if your birds are given these common items with their daily meal, it’ll ruin your day. How can you know just what to feed your flock?

Type and Amount of Feed Changes Over Time

Chick starter feed, with a protein level of 20 to 22%, is required for chicks from hatching until they are 6 weeks old. After that, pullet grower feed is the way to go. This has 14-16% protein and you feed this to your layers until they are about 20 weeks old. After 20 weeks and for the duration of your chicken’s life, feed them layer feed. Grains like corn or barley can be substituted for part of your layer feed.

How much should you feed your birds? Resist the urge to feed too much. While some backyard farmers prefer to leave out a constant supply of food, this is really not the healthiest choice for your birds. Feed several times a day and not in between. This will also reduce the risk of attracting pests like rats and mice. Young chicks will eat about 2 to 2.9 lbs of chick starter feed for their first six weeks. For the entire pullet phase, your growing chicks will eat a total of 12-13 lbs of feed. Layers then consume 1.8 to 2.4 lbs of feed each week for the remainder of their lives. Like people, there will naturally be periods when your birds want to eat a bit more or a bit less.

Broilers are different. From hatching to six weeks, a growing broiler can be expected to consumer 30-50 lbs of broiler starter feed. Then, from six weeks until slaughter, they’ll consume another 16-20 lbs of broiler finish feed. Talk to knowledgeable staff at your local farm supply store to find just the right feed for your flock and for advice on feeding should you have any questions.

Scraps—To Feed or Not to Feed

Table scraps alone are not a well balanced diet for your chickens, but they can be a wonderful treat if fed in moderation. Many sources suggest waiting until your birds are 3-4 months old before you begin feeding them table scraps because before that they desperately need the high protein levels found in chicken feed in order to grow and develop properly. Most vegetables, both cooked or raw, are perfectly safe to feed your chickens and offer some great nutritional value too. Bread, grains, oatmeal, cooked meats, and most fruits are safe too. Chickens love table scraps!

Don’t throw your flock every single kitchen scrap you have, though. Raw potato skins are toxic to chickens. Avocado skins and pits can be fatal too, as can chocolate.  Garlic and onions won’t hurt your birds but can seriously affect the taste of your eggs. As a rule avoid giving your chickens processed foods, greasy foods, spoiled or rotten foods, or raw meat. Got it?

Foraging for Healthier Eggs and Meat

One great benefit that free-range chickens reap is the ability to forage for plants, insects, and worms. This means added nutrients. Birds allowed to forage are believed to produce healthier, better quality eggs and meat. Still, these birds require a healthy diet of chicken feed and can also benefit from scraps.  Foraging will probably have more benefits for your backyard than for your chickens, but it is still highly beneficial.

Feeding Your Chickens

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Chickens are well known for their ability to finish off table scraps, their love for bread crusts, and their tendency to eat everything from Styrofoam to grain. Yet, table scraps alone are not enough and can sometimes be dangerous. In order to produce eggs or meat, chickens need a nutrient-rich diet. Not all chicken feed is created equal, and the type of feed you provide depends on whether you are raising your poultry for eggs or for meat, their age, and to some extent their breed. Resist the urge to dump all your table scraps into your chicken coop, keep a lookout for dangerous food items or garbage in your hen’s living area, and feed your birds a well-balanced diet so that they’ll live long, productive lives.

Photo by: tripu
Photo by: tripu

What To Look For in Chicken Feed

When looking for the perfect chicken feed, keep in mind that it should contain protein, calcium, and phosphorus. A young broiler (meat chicken) needs feed with 23% protein, 0.9% calcium, and 0.5% phosphorus while an older broiler (6 weeks to finish) requires 10% protein, 0.8% calcium, and 0.5% phosphorus.[i] The requirements for broilers are different than the requirements for layers. Do your research and make sure that your feed fits the needs of your chickens based on their purpose, breed, and age. No matter the brand, compare ingredient lists. What is the feed made of? How much protein, minerals, grit, vitamins, carbohydrates, and calcium are in the feed? Just as human food is available in a vast array of qualities and quantities, chicken feed varies too.

What Types of Feed Are Available?

Farm supply stores stock a variety of ready-to-use chicken feeds from brands such as Poulin Grain, Purina, High Flyer Layena, Kent, Evergreen, and Blue Seal. Local feed mills sell their own mixes at a reasonable rate, too.

It’s also possible to feed your chickens without store-bought feed. Plan ahead so that all of your chicken’s nutritional needs are met. For protein, chickens enjoy earthworms, alfalfa, duckweed, and comfrey. Carbohydrates are important too, especially for layers, and chickens like eating a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods: vegetable seeds, wheat, oats, rice barley, and more. Stale bread and grain are also good sources of carbohydrates. Herbs and vegetables are good for calcium.

How Much To Feed

Feeding chickens is an imprecise art, because how much they eat depends on a wide variety of factors.  Chickens eat more in cold weather than in hot weather and even different amounts depending upon the breed. If your chickens are extremely active, they’ll be hungrier than more sedentary foul. From hatching to harvest, a broiler will consume approximately 12 lbs of feed. A layer will consume about ¼ lb of feed daily throughout her life. These are estimates, of course, and vary by bird. While figuring out your bird’s dietary needs and intake requirements, one could fill the feed dishes so that there is food available all day or use a multi-day feeder.

What About Those Table Scraps?

Chickens will eat practically anything that is in front of them, so one must be careful with what’s available to the flock. Garbage can easily be ingested and harm the bird. Chickens are great for eating table scraps, although there are some things you shouldn’t feed them. Don’t feed them apple seeds, egg shells, chocolate, processed foods, mushrooms, potato peels, garlic, raw meat, dried beans, avocado skins and pits, or onions. Don’t give your chickens food that has spoiled, either, because spoiled food produces toxins. Chickens love fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as bread, cooked meats, oatmeal, and grains like rice and wheat.  Just like for humans, a well-balanced diet is important for optimal health. The better you feed your birds, the longer and healthier lives they will live.


[i] Fantastic Farms. What Do Chickens Eat? A Guide to Chicken Feed.