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:
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!