- How I Decided What Would Go Into My Homemade Chicken Layer Feed
- Organic Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe (That Won’t Break The Bank)
- 1. Gather Your Ingredients
- 2. Sprout Your Seeds
- 3. Create a daily ration
- 4. A note about fermenting
- 5. Adding supplementary ingredients
- I’d like to hear from you!
- Subscribe To Our Newsletter
- Insects as Treats and Protein
- How to Grow Your Own Organic, Non-GMO Chicken Feed!
- DIY Chicken Feed: Learn About Growing Natural Chicken Feed
- Why Grow Natural Chicken Feed?
- How to Grow Chicken Feed Yourself
- 15 Plants To Grow That Will Lower Your Chicken Feed Bill
- If you’re interested in cutting your chicken’s feed bill even further, check out this page to learn more:
- Growing Chicken Feed The Easy Way
- Chicken Feed Ain’t ‘Cheep’
- Plant Seeds of Change
- Improving Your Pasture (or Run)
- Growing Chicken Feed
- Growing Chicken Feed Indoors
- Plants for Chicken Runs
- Include Your Orchard
- Recommended Plants for Chicken Feed
- Better Food Equals Better Nutrition
- Why Chickens Scratch
- Which Plants Make Good Greens?
- Chicken Runs and Garden Plots
- Growing in Trays
- Better Greens for Birds
- 8 Herbs and Plants to Grow for Chicken Treats
- 7. Mint
- 8. Lemon Balm
- Extra plant ideas for chicken treats:
- Greens You Can Plant for Your Chickens
- Connect With Us!
- Basic Chicken Gardening Guidelines
- Great Crops For Your Chickens
- Poisonous Plants To Avoid
- Plant With Caution
- Herbs For Birds
- Top 9 Veggies To Plant For You And Your Chickens This Autumn
- Download Your Ebook Now
- Garden Betty’s Homemade Whole Grain Chicken Feed
- Why make your own whole grain feed?
- Is a whole grain diet a complete diet?
- Why soy-free and organic?
- What does it cost? Is it worth all the work?
- How do you find the ingredients?
- Okay, now how do you store all those ingredients?
- How do you switch from crumbles/pellets to whole grains?
- Recipe, please!
- Feed Sources
- Lock & Lock Bulk Storage Bin | Lock & Lock Square Tall Food Storage Container | Buddeez Plastic Storage Container for Pet Food (similar) | Iris Nesting Airtight Pet Food Container | Tubtrugs Storage Bucket | Miller Baby Fig Feeder (similar) | Little Giant Galvanized Hanging Feeder | AniMed Pure Brewers Yeast | Starwest Botanicals Organic Kelp Granules | Scratch and Peck Feeds Oyster Shell | Scratch and Peck Feeds Grower Grit
- Important Information
- I Recommend this Pre-made Chick Starter Feed
- Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe with Fish Meal
- Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe (No Fish Meal)
- Formulating Your Own Chicken Feed
How I Decided What Would Go Into My Homemade Chicken Layer Feed
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Have you ever thought of making layer feed for your chickens, but were too afraid to try? Me too. But after some research and thought, I’ve found that it’s not as hard as I thought to make your own homemade chicken layer feed.
I’ve had my girls, Lucy and Ethel, since 2012. I was so ecstatic to get them and, if I say so myself, we’ve made each other very happy for the past three years. They have, believe it or not, done a lot for me and my homestead, especially before we moved. Of course, they have laid hundreds of eggs for me (red sexlinks lay large brown eggs for about 2/3 of the year), but they have also turned my compost, taken care of pests in my garden, and provided me with one of the best manures a gardener could ask for.
Because they have been such faithful farm helpers, and because they provide some of the eggs for our farm and family (we do have 3 other inherited chickens who also lay), I find myself wanting to make sure that they get nourished well. I would like them to be able to eat organic and non-GMO, as well as get the proper amount of protein. I would also like for them to be grass-fed, but during this season all the forage is dying off…not to mention that because we are new around here, we are not sure of who their predators might be, so they are pretty much stuck in the coop until we can build them a proper run.
Because organic and grass-fed is harder to do than non-GMO at this point, I’m starting with eliminating corn and soy from their diet through making my own layer feed. (I am also starting to sprout organic hard red wheat for them, but that’s another post.)
Honestly, formulating homemade chicken layer feed for them wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I read some articles on what chickens need and how to make your own chicken feed, as well as blog posts on how other farm bloggers were doing theirs. I copied copious notes into a spreadsheet where I was able to keep track of which of my animals could eat each type of grain, what the grain would do for them, what the percentage of protein was, and other such information that would eventually help me to be able to mix a 16% whole grain feed for my laying hens.
I also looked up every grain that I was able to obtain in my area on a site called GMO Compass (no longer available) to make sure that none of them were GMO. I was pleasantly surprised that many GMO grains are not readily available to the public. For a long time, I thought EVERYTHING I was eating was GMO, but after some research, I see that not much of what I eat has been genetically modified. I’ll end this sidebar now, but if you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them. Here is the recipe I have come up with so far to make your own chicken feed.
Homemade Whole Grain Layer Feed
Category: Chickens, Pets & Livestock
- 10 cups pearl barley – good for energy
- 5 cups hard red wheat – good for energy
- 5 cups hulled millet – rich in amino acids
- 4 cups oat groats – B vitamins, calcium, fiber, energy
- 5 cups split peas – high protein
- Mix all of these grains together, and switch your hens to it over 3 weeks. This recipe makes 13.84 lbs, 16% protein.
Powered by Zip Recipes 6.1.5 https://stonefamilyfarmstead.com/homemade-chicken-layer-feed/ Copyright Stone Family Farmstead, 2015
The total cost for the full recipe (in my area–I got my grains at Winco) is $8.31, or .60/lb. The cost of serving per chicken per day is .15 (1/4lb) x 5 chickens = .75/day to feed the girls. The non-organic non-GMO feed that I am switching them from costs .25/chicken per day. My savings is .10/hen or .50/day total. This will likely vary in your area, but the formula for figuring out how much your homemade chicken layer feed will cost will be the same. All you do is add up the cost of all the ingredients, then divide by how many pounds you get. This will give you the cost per pound. You can further divide it to get the cost per serving.
Granted, there are more ingredients involved in the commercial non-GMO feed, which I’m planning to add to my next batch (they are still getting those ingredients while they are switching over the next few weeks). The ingredients I’ll add are food grade diatomaceous earth (1/4 cup), garlic powder (1/4 cup), and kelp (1/4 cup). The amounts that I will add will not raise the price of the feed by much, though I haven’t yet figured them into the end total. The diatomaceous earth is awesome for keeping bugs out of the feed, but it is also said to help keep worms at bay. The garlic powder is a natural wormer (it is toxic to parasites) and is an immune booster. The kelp contains plenty of needed vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and salt in the right amounts for a chicken’s diet. It also promotes laying, and is responsible for that nice, dark yolk which indicates a nutritious egg.
Another issue to address is that it’s sort of hard to nail down the exact percentage of protein that each grain really is, so there is definitely some digging to do. In this Mother Earth News Article, the author explains that we should count ALL grains as only 10% protein. I didn’t do that, I got my percentage range from different articles on the internet and chose the low end of each one for good measure. As I mentioned in another post, I will also be supplementing this homemade chicken feed with homemade milk kefir, as well as sprouted wheat seed (sprouting ups the nutrient content–including the protein–in wheat according to this article). I’ll know if adjustments need to be made in an upward direction (protein-wise) if laying drops off, I think. I’ll be watching! Now go make your own homemade chicken food for laying hens and see what happens!
This recipe has been updated.
See my New and Improved Homemade Whole Grain Layer Feed recipe.
Read more on Feeding Whole Grains to Chickens (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)
If you enjoyed this post, please share so others can too!
Organic Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe (That Won’t Break The Bank)
Table of Contents (Quickly Jump To Information)
Of course most people are interested in feeding their chicken flock a homemade, organic, non-gmo feed – you are what you eat, after all – but if you’re anything like me, the expense is out of your reach.
Until now. I’ve cracked the code on creating a homemade organic feed recipe your chicken will love, and your wallet will love it too. I’ve done it by pairing together two time-tested ideas, and the result is a huge amount of nutrients for your chicken with less cost.
I do keep a couple bags of commercial food on hand – sometimes this or that ingredient takes a while to get to us, and the flock still needs to eat!) You’re probably thinking, “Whoa, wait. You write books that tell readers to rely on a good layer ration. What gives?”
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It’s true, I do tell readers to use brand name products. I’m a realistic person who’s here to help people – sometimes homemade products just aren’t for some chicken owners.
READ NEXT: 8 WAYS TO SAVE MEGA BUCKS ON YOUR CHICKEN FEED
Not everyone has the time or energy to research and mix a homemade organic chicken feed recipe, and commercial grains are formulated to give your flock the optimum amount of nutrients.
If you can afford to pay the high price for commercial organic grain, there’s nothing wrong with going that direction. Your chicken will get her basic nutritional needs met, and live a happy, productive life.
However: In my experience, what you’re really paying for is marketing. And if you use organic commercial chicken grain, you’re really going to break the bank.
So I’ve been testing a homemade recipe that still will let you throw organic chicken feed to your hens without breaking your wallet. Here’s my homemade recipe and method to creating an organic chicken feed that will help them stay healthy and produce great eggs and meat.
1. Gather Your Ingredients
The first question is to address the ingredients for your homemade chicken feed. You need ingredients that will provide the right protein, vitamin, and mineral content for your flock.
A note about corn: Although corn is a great source of energy, it’s nothing but empty calories. It’s pretty much a cheap filler companies use to extend their ingredients that provide value. Can you raise a chicken on corn successfully? Yes. And there’s plenty of people who do it. But it’s not right for my flock because there’s other, better, things to feed them that are just as cost effective.
This homemade recipe leaves out corn, although a handful to your chicken’s dinner during the winter, if you live in a cold environment, will do some good since they’ll need an additional source of energy to help them stay warm.
READ NEXT: 10 ABNORMAL CHICKEN EGGS YOU NEED TO KNOW!
For my basic homemade chicken feed recipe, I use:
- Wheat (hard or soft, winter or spring – it doesn’t matter)
- Mealworms (live or freeze dried)
- Sesame seeds or sunflower seeds
A note about where to buy your grains: I do purchase my grains from Amazon. There’s no way around it for me because there’s no place local to purchase organic grains. Period. I included the links above for your reference, but you should always check to see if you can purchase them for less near you.
You can do the research about the ingredients for this organic mix here, but you’ll find when combined, this recipe yields between 16 – 18% protein – for a growing pullet and a layer, that’s the optimum amount of protein.
Both wheat and peas are great for protein (wheat has about 17% protein while the peas are about 24%). The oats are an excellent source of fiber in a homemade recipe, while the sesame and sunflower seeds are great for fat.
There’s some controversy about the amount of mealworms a chicken should eat. Given the ability to forage, hens will consume large quantities of bugs – which are almost pure protein.
However: If a chicken eats too much protein, she can develop kidney and other problems. When it comes to mealworms, add a 1/2 cup to their daily ration to start with, and let your chicken tell you if she needs more. If they seem like they need a protein bump, add another 1/2 cup or so of the meal worms.
While I believe it’s best to offer live mealworms, not everyone has the time or energy to raise them for a homemade recipe (or the desire, they’re bugs after all!). That’s okay – Freeze dried ones provide a nice protein bump to your homemade grain too, and they’re easier to store.
2. Sprout Your Seeds
This is where the real savings comes in. When you sprout your wheat into fodder, you automatically unlock nutrients, and create a homemade chicken feed that’s easier for your flock to digest. In other words, more of the nutrients become bioavailable.
The first time I sprouted seeds, it was revolutionary. Mind. Blown. A tiny berry in the recipe became something much more nutritious and valuable than it was before.
You can read my recipe to sprout fodder here. For homemade chicken feed, I recommend soaking the grains (also known as berries) for 24 hours, then allowing them 3 days to sprout.
You can sprout them longer than 3 days, but you might run into issues with mold. After 3 days, they’ve started to sprout and unlock the grass, but they haven’t turned into a moldy mess that might make your chickens sick.
Once your grain has turned into fodder, you can feed the same weight or volume amount – which ends up being less seed overall.
And the berries have turned into something more nutritious that it could ever be as just a seed. Depending on the type of peas you purchase, you can sprout your peas as well. (Note, if you purchase split peas, you won’t be able to sprout fodder).
I don’t recommend sprouting oats. In my experience, by the time the oats actually sprout (it can take a while), they tend to be moldy. That being said, it’s perfectly fine to soak them overnight. (If you want, you can substitute the wheat for barley in your recipe – barley is hard to come by in my region, which is why I use and recommend wheat.) Before you feed your hens their ration, mix your sprouted seeds with the remaining ingredients.
3. Create a daily ration
Because everyone has a different amount of chickens, it’s hard to give you exact recipe. For 5 chickens, however, in my experience, the following recipe works well for each meal:
- Sprouted seeds (5 cups)
- Peas (2.5 cups)
- Oats (2.5 cups)
- Sesame Seeds (2 tablespoons)
- Mealworms (1/2 cup)
While this homemade recipe usually works well, you might need to scale up or down a bit depending on your flock’s needs, and whether you allow them to forage.
4. A note about fermenting
If you want to ferment your homemade chicken feed, you can leave the wheat soaking for another day or so. You will get bubbles what let you know the fermenting is taking place, and the berries will still sprout while submerged.
As with anything fermented, let your nose be your guide – if it smells funny or rancid, toss it. Wheat that’s properly fermented will smell something like fresh bread or slightly like beer. I don’t recommend letting it soak for longer than an additional 2 days. You will unlock a lot of nutrients as it ferments, but if you wait too long, you can run into other issues.
Make sure you keep your fermenting vessel covered and completely under water. You can ferment the peas as well, following the same steps. Here is my guide to fermenting chicken feed which works for my organic homemade chicken feed recipe or commercial feed.
5. Adding supplementary ingredients
You can add your supplementary ingredients to your homemade chicken feed, such as kelp, garlic, or oregano right before you feed your hens. Just mix them in as you normally would.
I’m a big supporter of giving all three of those supplements to your chickens in a homemade recipe – kelp especially will help ensure your flock gets an iron boost, and the garlic and oregano are great for their antiseptic and immune boosting properties.
This homemade organic chicken feed recipe has been successful for me – I hope it is for you, too!
I’d like to hear from you!
Have you tried making your own homemade organic chicken feed recipe? What have you tried? Email me at or comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.
SummaryRecipe Name Organic Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe Published On 2015-07-09 Preparation Time 0H10M Cook Time 0H Total Time 0H10M Average Rating 3.5Based on 29 Review(s)
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Insects as Treats and Protein
Whether you are looking to cut down on feed expenses, give your chickens more of what they need, or looking into sustainable practices for prepping, making your own chicken feed can be a smart practice to posses.
In this ultimate guide to making your own chicken feed, you will learn everything you need to know about your chickens’ nutritional requirements and how you can meet them without purchasing commercial feed or supplements.
So, let’s get started!
Understanding Chickens’ Nutritional Needs
It’s important to acknowledge the elephant in the room before we dig into the nutritional needs of our feather friends:
Chickens aren’t what they used to be. We’ve been feeding our chickens commercial feed optimized for performance for a long time. Chickens have been bred for fast growth and commercial operations.
What I’m getting at, is chickens aren’t as easy to feed as they used to be…and generally it’s all our fault.
Luckily, some breeds are hardier than others, and these are the chickens you should consider if you want a more sustainable, eco-friendly, flock.
The Best Chicken Breeds for Self-Made Chicken Feed
If you want a hardy breed, that isn’t a picky eater, take a look at these chickens:
- Orpingtons – Buff, Black, or Lavender Orpingtons are an excellent breed that is dual-purpose and easy to please.
- Rhode Island Reds – Rhode Island Reds are prolific layers that won’t complain or pick through the feed you’ve so-lovingly mixed for them
- Easter Eggers – Easter Eggers are fantastic foragers and hardy chickens that can survive some of the toughest times.
Broiler vs Layer
You may have noticed that I did not list Broiler chickens as one of the best chickens to feed a homemade mixture of feed. This is because of their high-protein dietary needs. You would be running in circles trying to make sure cornish-crosses are getting what they need, and financially it probably isn’t worth it.
Layers, on the other hand, still have protein needs, but they are not as dependent on it as the commercially bred broiler chicken.
So, make it easier on both you and your chickens and stick with breeds that are still considered to be quite hardy, and not overbred.
Chicks vs. Adults
This guide is mainly about feeding adult chickens, however, much of the feed here is going to provide young chicks with the nutrition they need.
With that being said, you can always add more protein to a developing chick’s diet to help them grow up healthy and strong.
General Nutritional Needs
When making your first batch of chicken feed, you don’t want to cut any corners. For a well-rounded diet your chickens will need the following nutrients in their feed:
- Carbs – Carbohydrates help give your chickens plenty of energy—something they need to keep warm in the winter and keep scratching in the summer.
- Fat – Another energy source, fats keep your chickens’ bodies in prime operating condition
- Protein – Muscle, and molecules need protein to synthesize and repair
- Vitamins – Everyone needs an extra boost of vitamins to grow and develop and chickens are no exception. Both vitamins and minerals are essential for layers and meat chickens.
- Minerals – Minerals contribute to normal body systems and functioning. They help your chicks grow into happy healthy adults.
Keep in mind that these are the basics. Your chickens need water, grit, and need to enjoy some greens and treats from time to time as well.
Mixing Your Own Chicken Feed
So, what are the actual food items that you should mix into your feed to meet your chickens’ nutritional requirements?
Well to get you started, here is your first recipe for chicken feed:
Create your base:
- 8 lbs Corn: Corn is great…in moderation. It’s affordable, and can be found anywhere. Chickens love corn and it gives them the carbs (and fats) they need.
- 8 lbs Field peas: Field peas are also fairly easy to come by. Adding peas gives your chickens more of the protein they need to get them through the day.
- 6 lbs Wheat: May improve digestion and help prevent coccidiosis. Wheat also provides chickens with carbs and protein.
- 1 lbs Oats or barley: Oats and barly provide chickens with protein and are interchangeable with each other. You can use either oats or barley depending on availability. Some people even sprout their own fodder from barley to give their chickens some extra greens (think: vitamins and fiber).
Note: Oats and barley should not exceed 15% of a chickens diet.
- 1 oz Fish Meal: Gives chickens an omega-3 kick as well as additional protein.
Add the following, if you’d like to supercharge your chickens’ feed:
- 1 oz Salt or Mineral Salts: If your chickens are confined they may need minerals added to their feed. Free-range chickens often find what they need on their own, but just to be sure, you can add minerals.
- 1 oz Flaxseed: Another omega-3 boost for your chickens and for you! More Omega-3s in your chicken’s diet means more in your breakfast eggs!
- 1 oz Kelp – Kelp makes up for the missing vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your chickens may be lacking in their feed.
- Crushed Eggshells: You can use oyster shells or your own hens’ crushed, baked, eggshells to provide them with the calcium they need to produce tough eggs.
Crushing egg shells in tiny bits for calcium to feed back to flock
And don’t forget to give your chickens:
- Oyster shell: Provides calcium for stronger eggs
- Grit: Helps your chickens digest their feed
- Diatomaceous Earth: Prevents external parasites
Note: Grit and oyster shells are not one and the same, so be sure your chickens always have access to grit (otherwise they are basically unable to digest their food properly).
Your chickens will appreciate it if you can grind your ingredients down a bit. They like to eat crumble, after all, so take some time to grind the feed. Grinding will also prevent picky eaters from sorting through the ingredients and picking only the “good stuff” and throwing the rest into their water fonts.
If you have trouble finding these ingredients or would like some help determining ingredient ratios, your local feed mill can custom create a feed (and grind it) to your liking. Yes, it may be more fun to mix your feed in your own little granary, but there’s nothing wrong with enlisting some help. Often times, feed mills have nutritionists on hand to help you create the perfect feed mix based on your chickens’ needs.
Who doesn’t love to watch their chickens munch on some special treats from time to time?
You can either raise your own mealworm as a fun protein-packed treat for your chickens, or you can order dried worms online.
Raising your own mealworms is actually pretty simple, and costs much less than purchasing dried worms from the ag store. Follow our guide here on how to do so.
There’s a whole niche of people out there that love to raise these little buggers and all it takes is a few tubs of oatmeal, some fruit, and cardboard. Add your worms and maintain your little farm.
Your chickens will feel like it’s Christmas day every time you throw them some of these munchies.
There’s a sense of pride that goes along with mixing and growing your own homemade chicken feed. Whether you decide to take the plunge will depend on the access you have to the resources needed, your budget, and the amount of time you are willing to spend on mixing the feed.
How to Grow Your Own Organic, Non-GMO Chicken Feed!
Keeping a flock of laying hens is a fun way to provide a homegrown protein source, put kitchen scraps to good use, and produce far more beautiful and nutritious eggs than those found in supermarket chains. But raising chickens – especially on 100% organic feed – can get expensive. And in much of the country, the free range experience that gives chickens such a nutritious diet in the summertime almost completely goes away once the ground is covered with snow. The more limited diet can also affect how well chickens weather the cold, both physically and psychologically – their body temperature is higher when they receive a more well-rounded diet, and they’ll be happier with more interesting food. So we’ll talk about three easy ways to save money on feed and supplement the grain your layers need with a healthy diet of greens, grains, veggies and seeds all year round.
Sprouted Grains & Seeds
In fall, winter, and spring in particular, chickens can benefit hugely from some fresh greens—and this is when sprouts come to the rescue! Sprouting helps unlock protein and nutrients in dry grains and seeds, and makes them much more digestible for chickens. It’s also economical – just 1 tablespoon of some varieties can turn into a quart or more of sprouts. There’s no soil, and the chickens will eat the entire plant, root and seed, so there’s no waste. And lastly, it’s super easy—just soak, rinse, and feed the finished crop to your chickens in 3-6 days. Our favorite choices for sprouted chicken feed are:
Wheatgrass, sunflower seeds, corn, peas, soybeans and oats can be soaked in a bowl, then spread into a tray or container with drainage holes and rinsed daily until sprouts are 4” tall. Then simply dump out the tray and watch your chickens feast!
Alfalfa, red clover, and mung beans are grown similarly, but usually in a quart jar using a sprouting lid.
Chickens love leafy greens – especially tender ones like chard, frost-bitten kale, spinach, and the leaves of many specialty greens like amaranth, spreen and orach. Some of these plants do double-duty – you can harvest greens for the chickens during summer, then allow annuals like amaranth and orach to produce their hefty seedheads in the fall, and save the seeds for a winter feed supplement.
Storage Grains & Seeds
Many crops can be grown expressly for a winter feed supplement in the form of sprouted seeds or grain.
Mammoth sunflowers, amaranth, orach and corn are great choices if you don’t have a combine or other method of threshing the seed. Once the seedheads are dry, seeds from these crops can be easily harvested by hand.
If you have a thresher, or are willing to try threshing by hand, you could try growing wheat, buckwheat, oats or rye for winter sprouting grain.
Both pumpkins and winter squash provide an excellent source of delicious, nutritious food for chickens all through the winter. Plus, eating pumpkin or squash will help your chickens produce exceptionally deep orange yolks. You can grow these on the side of a compost pile or a corner of the yard covered with cardboard for an easy, low-budget way to grow a lot of chicken food. Just be sure to cure your crop properly before storing in a cool place with moderate humidity for the winter.
DIY Chicken Feed: Learn About Growing Natural Chicken Feed
At one point and time there was a common idiom, “will work for chicken feed,” which basically means a person would work for little to no compensation. Anyone who owns chickens knows that the idiom doesn’t really apply to raising a flock. Sure, they do a lot of work, such as lay eggs and turn our compost, but they still need to be fed and chicken food ain’t cheap! That’s where DIY chicken feed comes in. Yes, you can grow your own chicken feed. Keep reading to find out how to grow your own natural, homegrown chicken feed.
Why Grow Natural Chicken Feed?
Many people who raise chickens allow the chickens to roam free range. That’s great if you have sufficient land, but even so, during the winter months the chickens still need to be fed. This can get pricey, especially if using organic food.
Then there are the burgeoning legions of city folks who are trying their hand at raising their own poultry. These folks can let their chickens run amok, but most people don’t. Why? Because while the free-range poultry can keep the weeds and pests down, they will also eat everything out of the veggie garden and pretty much destroy turf. Bye-bye nice yard.
So while allowing the chickens free range to munch at will is ideal, it isn’t always practical. That’s why you need to grow your own natural, homegrown chicken feed.
How to Grow Chicken Feed Yourself
If you do have a veggie garden, grow a little extra for the flock. They love leafy greens like:
- Radish tops
- Beet tops
- Bok choy
While you’re growing extra greens for the flock, grow some pumpkins or winter squash for them as well. These will provide nourishment through the winter months when other natural food is scarce.
Also, grow amaranth, sunflowers, orach and corn for your feathered friends. Once the seedheads are dry, you will have nutritious seeds from these crops that can easily be threshed by hand and stored in airtight containers for the winter.
Once the garden is ready to put to bed, it’s time to plant a cover crop such as rye grass, alfalfa, or mustard. This will become a double benefit. It will improve the garden soil for next year but with no extra work from you! Allow the chickens to process the cover crop for you. They will get unending delicacies as they work the ground, all while they till the soil, add manure, and eat up pests and weed seeds. When planting time comes, just rake the area smooth, add a layer of compost and you’re ready to plant.
Lastly, during winter months, or anytime really, you can start batches of sprouts for your flock. They will love the fresh greens. Sprouting unlocks the protein and nutrients in dry grains and seeds and makes them more digestible for chickens. Plus, it’s pretty cheap. One tablespoon of some crops makes a quart or more of sprouts.
Some sprouted foods to try are:
- Sunflower seeds
- Soy beans
Just soak the seed in a bowl and then spread it out onto a tray or a container with drainage holes. Rinse them daily until the sprout are 4 inches (10 cm.) tall and then feed them to the chickens. Alfalfa, red clover and mung beans can also be used as sprouts but these should be sprouted in a quart jar with a sprouting lid.
15 Plants To Grow That Will Lower Your Chicken Feed Bill
We’re getting close to planting season again. I’m trying to plan ahead and really work towards getting our chickens food growing right around their coop.
Because, I think you might have noticed, chicken feed is…
E. X. P. E. N. S. I. V. E. !
Especially when your chickens aren’t laying any eggs! 🙁
It seems as if they won’t give up their finicky laying patterns. One year the summer was too hot, and they didn’t lay. The next year they kept laying right through the summer and stopped for the winter.
Sometimes I find myself wondering about them.
I really get tired of buying all their feed, because I know WE DON’T HAVE TO!
I’ve done lots of reading up on it and I’m convinced we really don’t need to be buying their feed. There’re so many ways to cut costs on your feed bill. Today I’m going tell you about all the amazing things you can grow for them.
Disclosure: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links, meaning I may get a small commission if you make a purchase. Read the full disclosure here.
A lady bug on some buckwheat flowers.
Here’re are 15 things you can grow as chicken food. Things you can plant in your chicken garden. Free food & shade for your chickens in the edible landscaping right outside their coop.
But it’s better than that! Many of the things I’ve listed below are perennials (meaning they grow for years with little maintenance) or hardy self-seeding annuals.
Once you plant them there’s little work on your part to keep them thriving. And they will continue to feed your chickens for years.
Growing your own chickens food will save you money and keep both you and them happy. 🙂
Do you know what NOT to feed your chickens?
Here are 11 things not to feed chickens in a easy-to-reference chart! Download Your Own Copy Now!
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Weeds, Cover Crops & Grains
Weeds and cover crops can be some of the BEST things to feed to your chickens. They’re high in nutrients and many are good for giving you the lovely dark orange egg yolks. There is no reason to skip these. They’re cheap and easy to start planting. Buy a few seeds, plant & water, and your up & running. You may even have these growing in your yard right now! Let your chickens go get them, or chop them down and take them to your chickens.
15. Dandelion: weed
14. Stinging Nettle: weed & herb
13. Comfrey: cover crop & herb
12. Burdock: weed & herb
11. Yellow Mustard: herb & vegetable
10. Alfalfa: cover crop & herb
9. Clover: cover crop & herb & grain
8. Buckwheat: cover crop & grain
7. Amaranth: grain & greens
A large squash harvest from the summer of 2016 (this year 🙂 ) Chickens love squash!
Pretty much if you can grow it and you can eat it so can your chickens. They would love any squash, potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, etc. from your garden. There are a few things they can not eat, but not much. Here’re few really great things to feed them…
6. Peas: vegetable
5. Sunflowers: seeds & make sure to feed the leaves and stalks to your goats or compost them.
Dandelions relatives are great for chickens.
Fruits and Berries
The best for last! These are perennials, meaning plant them once and they’ll keep producing for years. I suggest you plant them near your chicken coop. Once the fruits are ripe I would go in and gather whatever you want and then let the chickens get what you miss. For some fruits this will work better than others. The chickens might get all your blackberries because they’re so low, but you should be able to harvest a good amount from your trees before they drop for the chickens.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Mulberries and can’t wait to try them! It sounds like they provide TONS of both fruit and shade. A+!
4. Elderberries: small tree or shrub (equals shade) & fruit
3. Blackberries: fruit
2. Figs: tree (means shade) & fruit
1. Mulberries: big tree (lots of shade) & berries
I hope this list was helpful. Now you can get out there and plan how to get your chickens food growing right outside their own coop.
I hope you see there are more benefits to this than simply cutting your feed costs, which by-the-way, would be enough in and of itself…
But by planting food for you chickens you are:
- Creating shade
- Encouraging beneficial insects
- Improving of fixing your soil and the microorganisms in there
- And making it over-all a nicer place to be & see!
I can’t wait to get these growing for our chickens! At least when they stop laying we aren’t paying tons to feed them (And buying eggs form the grocery store). 🙂
Be sure you know what you feed your chickens is safe for them to eat. Download this chart, or read more about it here.
Do you know what NOT to feed your chickens?
Here are 11 things not to feed chickens in a easy-to-reference chart! Download Your Own Copy Now!
Psst! Just so you know you are also signing up for my email list. You can unsubscribe at any time.
If you’re interested in cutting your chicken’s feed bill even further, check out this page to learn more:
10 Ways to Save Money on Your Chicken Feed Bill
Growing Chicken Feed The Easy Way
Chicken Feed Ain’t ‘Cheep’
In some places, “chicken feed” is an old slang term meaning “cheap.” That certainly isn’t true today—especially for those of you who feed an organic, soy-free, and corn-free formula to your precious flock. While working for chicken feed may not seem like a good trade-off for you, starting small is the best way to know if growing your own feed is right for you and your flock.
This does not mean becoming a grain farmer. Forget about rows of waving grain, harvesting, threshing, and storing. Do it the easy way: Do it one step at a time and set up systems that require minimal labor.
Plant Seeds of Change
If you are using cover crops in your garden, you can actually save work and money—just by choosing seed that is chicken friendly. Many gardeners and homesteaders prefer to keep the flock out of the garden most of the time. But, when winter cover crops are ready to be tilled in (or mowed down for no-till cultivation), the chickens can process that ground for you.
They love doing this work because they eat like little kings and queens! They will also clean up any pests. Any permanent plantings or crops that are still in the ground can be protected from the chickens with row cover or bird netting. So, while the chickens clean and manure the garden, they are getting fresh grains, legumes, greens, and protein.
When planting time comes, just rake the area smooth, add a layer of finished compost, and you are ready to plant. The layer of finished compost covers the raw manure just enough to keep it from splashing up onto the spring crops and keeps any manure just below the top surface where microbes can process it into nutrients for the plants. This system mimics nature and optimizes the health of your garden ecosystem.
Feeding a Grain Diet? Read This: “Ferment Your Feed for Healthier and Happier Chickens”
Improving Your Pasture (or Run)
While your chickens are busy preparing the vegetable garden for spring planting, you can start another tasty surprise for them in their pasture or in the greenhouse. A chicken pasture can be created from any unused lawn area or weedy meadow. If you don’t have the extra space to create a chicken pasture, an ordinary chicken run can be improved using these same techniques.
First, cover the area with any organic material you can find—cover all exposed ground with wood chips, hay, spent crops, etc. This layer of organic material keeps bare ground covered and creates a base for recycling manure. Keeping the surface moist as it breaks down attracts more insects for the chickens to eat, and preserves beneficial microbes and nutrients in the finished compost.
A mulched surface is healthier for the flock, is better to walk on for people tending the chickens, and prevents valuable manure from drying out and blowing away. Consider, too, that a barren, empty chicken run is a haven for neurotic behavior in the flock. Busy chickens are happy chickens, and when there are bugs to catch or prize morsels to scratch up, pecking a hole in a neighbor’s head becomes a lot less interesting—it’s simple chicken nature.
Growing Chicken Feed
Create small patches of seeded forage, protected by a length of fencing that is wired into a circle. Remove the fence when the plants are ready for use as fodder. A height of 4 to 6 inches of growth is optimal for maximum health benefits.
The seed mix you use can be varied according to the season. This system is perfect for small flocks, because the fodder will be consumed before it becomes overly mature. This system is also helpful for those with a large pasture, because you can test different seed before you commit to planting your entire pasture with it—which can be costly.
If your chickens are as silly as mine are, a test is always a good idea.
Growing Chicken Feed Indoors
If you have a greenhouse or a cold frame, flats of fresh fodder can be started every two weeks for a steady supply of fresh greens any time of year.
Garden centers have begun to sell small trays of chicken fodder as treats for pampered backyard chickens in urban areas. But if you germinate your own seeds to make starts for the vegetable garden, a chicken smorgasbord is cheap and easy.
You need seeds, some trays, and some ordinary potting soil or just your own compost. Germinate the seeds and add a mild liquid fertilizer when the fodder reaches about 2 inches tall. At 4 to 6 inches, carry the tray out to the chickens and watch those little rascals party!
See a Working Indoor Fodder System: “Indoor Fodder System: How to Grow Food in Small, Dark Places”
Plants for Chicken Runs
If a chicken run is the only space available, grow sunflowers along the fence line. Seed for black oilseed sunflowers is inexpensive when purchased in bulk. Protect the young plants with chicken wire, or plant them on the other side of the fence. When they mature, store the heads and use them to treat the chickens throughout the year. The natural seed heads are feed and container in one!
Sunflowers are the perfect fodder crop where space is limited, because they have such a small footprint. In urban areas, sunflowers are considered attractive even by neighbors who object to the appearance of food crops like corn and squash.
If you have children to entertain, try planting a sunflower circle with a spiral tail for an entrance in your yard. It makes a wonderfully shady clubhouse during the summer months. When the sunflower heads are harvested and the stalks are cut off at ground level, it completely disappears—though the memories live forever for your little ones.
Include Your Orchard
Homesteaders love to run their chickens through the orchard to collect insects and eat dropped fruit, but what if the orchard was planted with the chickens’ arrival in mind?
My orchard is kept heavily mulched and is regularly planted with seasonal crops. When winter greens are spent, the chickens are happy to help with the cleanup. During the hottest part of summer, the orchard becomes a shady place to hunt grasshoppers and gobble up tired bean plants.
If your orchard is covered with grass, consider planting chicken fodder instead. The diversity will improve the environment for the trees and keep the soil from compacting. Each plant adds a benefit to the soil and the overall ecosystem of the orchard.
I always plant winter squash in the orchard. The large roots of squash travel far and wide, so after the plants are harvested the roots break down and leave organic material available for the fruit trees’ roots. The soil’s water retention is improved as well. The nice big pumpkins store all winter, so the chickens have access to fresh, living food when there isn’t much growing in the pasture. You get all that, just for planting two or three seeds.
Recommended Plants for Chicken Feed
The following list of plants should help you get started. These plants are chosen because they provide valuable nutrition to the chickens, allowing you to cut down the feed bill. Experiment with other plants that are good for chickens and grow well in your area.
Orchard & Pasture
Forage Circles & Seed Flats
Better Food Equals Better Nutrition
Regular consumption of fresh greens will raise the omega-3 content of eggs and improve the rich orange color of the yolks. That bright color is from the xanthophylls lutein and zeaxanthin. So, the nutritional value of the eggs is greatly enhanced, with higher levels of vitamins A, D, E, and more.
It is easy to see the cascade of benefits that can be realized from getting involved in your chicken’s diet. These benefits include reduced feed cost, vastly improved health for the flock, maximized egg quality, conservation of labor in the garden and orchard, and improved diversity of the garden environment.
The start-up commitment for all of these benefits is so small that it is easy to incorporate this into even the smallest garden and the smallest flock. Your chickens might thank you—or they might be way too busy.
(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on February 2, 2015. The author, Leslie Parsons, may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!)
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The Grow Network is a global network of people who produce their own food and medicine. We’re the coolest bunch of backyard researchers on Earth! We’re constantly sharing, discovering, and working together to test new paths for sustainable living—while reconnecting with the “old ways” that are slipping away in our modern world. We value soil, water, sunlight, simplicity, sustainability, usefulness, and freedom. We strive to produce, prepare, and preserve our own food and medicine, and we hope you do, too!
Chickens are such an integral and beloved part of today’s homesteads and family farms. It’s no surprise that more and more attention is being given to making sure that they are not only healthy, but happy as well.
One way that you can show your feathered friends you care is by ensuring that they eat well.
My flock, at least, is definitely more well-behaved when they are well-fed. I’ve heard other chicken farmers say that feeding their birds greens results in fewer illnesses, likely due to the nutritional content of this food type.
The grains you give them are important, but the greens and scratch materials they consume are just as critical.
In fact, many home gardeners have taken on the task of growing their own specialized vegetation to nourish their flock.
Why Chickens Scratch
Whether you free-range your animals or not, there is a lot of benefit to be had in allowing them to go out and forage. The nutrients that they get from working the ground are varied and essential.
But even if they cannot truly go wild in your yard or garden, allowing them time with a plot of living plant material has its perks.
When chickens eat from the ground, they often “scratch” at the earth, moving the soil and vegetation around to uncover new, hidden treats. Even if you are feeding them in a fairly sterile environment (with scratch grains on the pavement, for example), their instincts will prevail.
They will scratch and scratch – uncovering more soil, and eventually killing plants’ root systems.
Which Plants Make Good Greens?
Many people refer to the greens grown specifically for chickens as “fodder,” and you’ll hear this term used often among farmers.
Chickens have their taste preferences. Some of them are highly personal – for example, I am told that chickens love banana peels, but mine were never fans.
There are also some universal favorites that make excellent scratch pads for your birds.
Any of the following plants are good candidates for planting in your yard, chicken run, or in small flats (which we’ll discuss how to do a little later):
- Swiss Chard
You can find seed combinations that contain a mix of yummy greens, such as this one from zellajake via Amazon.
Chicken Fodder Seeds
Since the chickens will be eating most of these plants before they have a chance to fully mature, it’s important that you plant them densely, and provide the seeds a good germination and growth foundation.
Chicken Runs and Garden Plots
Here is a simple primer to planting directly into the soil:
If you are planting in a chicken run, you’ll likely seed the entire area at once.
If you have access to a pasture or yard, measure off about one square foot of space per chicken. You can enclose each plot with chicken wire or other cheap fencing material.
To prepare the dirt, till or remove all weeds and surface vegetation with a hoe. You can then cover the prepared area with a shallow layer of fresh compost.
Work the mulch into the soil, add a bit of extra moisture, and then add your seeds. You can then go back over the entire area with a layer of topsoil.
As the seeds will be sprinkled more thickly than if you were planting in your own vegetable garden, you don’t need to worry about sowing carefully spaced rows.
You can even use a coffee can with holes punched in the lid to shake seeds onto your plots.
Water the area daily until the seeds germinate, usually for between three and four days for the earliest varieties of the mix.
You will want the vegetation to reach about 5 inches in height before turning the chickens loose to enjoy it.
Depending on how many chickens you have, and how aggressive they are at scratching, your plot should last a week or more.
Growing in Trays
While runs and plots are convenient during the spring through fall, your birds will benefit from eating greens during the cold months, too.
For this reason, many chicken enthusiasts repeat the process outlined above, but put all of the soil and seed into clean plastic trays. Just be sure your trays have drainage holes.
Starting trays of seeds requires space in a warm part of your home, near sunshine. You can place your thoroughly sanitized trays in a greenhouse shelving system or in an actual greenhouse – should you be lucky enough to own one.
Depending on how big your flock is and how much your birds enjoy their green treats, you might want to start a new tray every other day, or even every day, so that you always have a tray ready to be fed to the birds while other trays are developing for the days to come. This way, your lovely birds will never go a day without their treat.
Another way to provide fresh food for your flock is by sprouting.
Sprouting refers to growing grains for a shorter period of time, and many times gardeners use different seeds than they would for fodder.
For example, you might try any of the types listed below, or a combination of these:
- Alfalfa clover
- Mung beans
- Soy beans
Winter Wheatgrass Seed
You might like to try a winter wheatgrass seed like this one, available from True Leaf Market.
To start the sprouting process, soak the beans or grains for 8 hours (or overnight) in a bowl of water.
Put the soaked grains and beans in a shallow rectangular plastic container with holes punched in the bottom to allow water to go through without losing any of the beans or grains that you’re soaking.
Place this container inside another waterproof container, raised up a bit to allow the water to run out of the first container while remaining contained by the second container. Empty plastic pill bottles make good “stilts.”
Thoroughly rinse and stir up the beans and grains two times a day, allowing the water to drip completely through to the enclosing container. The rinsing step is important to prevent mold from infiltrating your sprouts.
Sprouts should come on within days, and most experts say the sprouts offer prime nutritional benefit at four to six days’ growth. When it’s the size you want it to be, take the entire sprouted mass out for your birds to enjoy!
Learn more about sprouting for humans from the article .
Better Greens for Birds
The higher quality greens you give your flock, the better your eggs will be. Farm-fresh eggs are already head and shoulders above the competition in regard to flavor.
Giving your birds an extra boost of nutrition will translate to healthier eggs, as well, according to a study by S. Mattoli, et. al., published in the “Journal of Functional Foods,” which found that chickens fed alfalfa or flax sprouts produces eggs with increased levels of omega-3s, vitamin E, vitamin A, and other healthful substances.
Greens are also a terrific way to keep chickens happy. Content birds are better behaved, suffer from fewer ailments, and are most likely to live in harmony without pecking or squabbling.
Do you have a leafy green that you think your feathered friends will adore? Try one or more of our methods and let us know in the comments section if your layers like their new treats.
With writing and editing by Gretchen Heber. Product photos via zellajake and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: .
About Linsey Knerl
Born and raised in a small Nebraska town, Linsey Knerl is a homeschooling mother of six who enjoys blogging and working hard on her 3 1/2-acre Nebraska homestead. When she’s not working on her next fantasy novel, you will find her in her kitchen, perfecting the Danish recipes of her grandmother with those special ingredients you can only find in a backyard garden.
8 Herbs and Plants to Grow for Chicken Treats
Dried calendula has a pleasant hay-like scent. My chickens don’t really bother the plant when it’s growing, but they will eat the leaves when we put them in the chicken run. Harvest flowers and dry to add to nest boxes or feed, or dry to prepare a tea or an infused oil for salves and balms.
Calendula is known to soothe and heal skin irritations and minor wounds when applied to the skin as an ingredient in a salve or balm. A tea made from calendula is reputed to help with digestive issues.
We pick the flower heads and dry using a dehydrator, and then pack into mason jars. Store jars in a cool spot with minimal light (I use a shelf in the basement which stays about 60 degrees year round).
Want to make a salve, soap, or balm? Use this dried calendula to infuse oil, to add to nesting boxes, or to prepare tea for yourself. The flowers of calendula will naturally heighten the yellow of egg yolks when mixed with daily feed.
Calendula grows about 12-18 inches high, and prefers full sun and well-drained soil. This lovely herbal flower is an annual, but ours self-seed each year so we don’t need to replant it.
It’s hard to find at our local garden center or nursery, so we brought seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Mint is an edible herb with a terrific scent and some say its aromatic scent repels insects. There are many mint varieties: peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, lemon mint, apple mint, and orange mint.
Mint is a super useful dried herb. We dry this herb to prepare tea, and to add to chicken nest boxes. Mint grows about a foot high, likes sun, and is a hardy perennial that will come back every year. Many people recommend you plant mint in a container because it is a prolific grower. We just plant in an area where we don’t mind if it takes over.
READ MORE: 5 Ways Chickens Can Help Your Garden Grow
We dry mint by tying a bunch of stems together and hanging upside down from a curtain rod in indirect light until dry, and then remove the leaves from the stems and pack them into mason jars. Mint is usually readily available from friends and neighbors, so check if they will share a clump before you buy.
8. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (as you might guess from the name) is lemon scented and their leaves make a great treat. The lovely and strong scent of lemon balm may also repel insects.
Feed fresh as a green chicken treat or dry this easy-to-grow herb like the mint above, by hanging bundles upside down and then packing dried leaves into jars. We use lemon balm for tea and as a pleasantly-scented addition to nest boxes.
Lemon balm grows about 12-18 inches tall, and it will come back every year. Lemon balm is a common household plant similar to rhubarb, so try asking neighbors and friends for a clump of theirs before you buy some.
Extra plant ideas for chicken treats:
Fresh herbs: try parsley, sage, lavender, bee balm (which is also a flower), basil, rosemary, oregano (a natural antibiotic as well as a great culinary herb).
Flowers: nasturtium, bee balm, viola, lavender (also an herb).
Veggies: kale, cabbage, winter squash, fresh greens, lettuce, beets, mangels, are healthy snacks and a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Here are some more resources on how to grow your own chicken treats:
- Gardening with Chickens: Plans and Plants for You and Your Hens by Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily
- Plant a Chicken Garden from HGTV
- Feeding the Flock from Home Resources from The Modern Homestead
What do you like best about gardening and growing your own healthy treats? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos via Daphne Cybele unless otherwise specified.
WATCH NOW: How to Have the Best Tasting Eggs from Your Backyard Chickens
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Greens You Can Plant for Your Chickens
By Bonnie Jo Manion, Robert T. Ludlow
Pacing chickens eating greens is hard to do. Chickens love tender succulent greens. You can choose to grow these in your vegetable garden for yourself, and hand feed them to your chickens, or plant them amongst your various chicken runs or zones for your chickens only to graze on.
What is key here, is to let greens grow to maturity, before letting your chickens graze on them. If you have pasture or large zones, try planting them in greens. Chicory, for instance, is a green suitable for pasture planting.
Here are some great choices for growing greens in your own garden and then hand-feeding to your chickens: Arugula, beet tops and leaves, Brussels sprouts, carrot tops, chicory, collard greens, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce (all types), mache (corn salad), mizuna, mustard, New Zealand spinach, radicchio, sorrel, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and wheat grass.
Hand feeding these greens to your chickens is a way of pacing your chickens. If chickens have access to greens, they will most likely eat them all at once. You want to allow the plants to grow to maturity, as some like arugula will self sow. Growing greens in your vegetable garden, allows you to harvest greens for yourself whenever you like, and hand feed them to your chickens in moderate amounts.
Beet tops and leaves
Carrot tops and leaves
Cauliflower tops and leaves
Lettuce (all types)
Mache (corn salad)
New Zealand spinach
Some greens can be grown in your chicken garden where your chickens are free to roam. These greens are actually weeds and are great foraging plants that chickens count among their favorites.
Although these greens are considered weeds, some are edibles for humans. Properly identify these types of greens before eating them for human consumption.
Chickweed: Stellaria media. Common cool-season annual. A favorite forage plant of chickens that’s also a good tonic plant for their general health.
Dandelions: Taraxacum officinale. Common weed. A good forage plant for chickens and a plant that people also eat. It can be found in mixed pasture grasses. Its leaves can be used in salads.
Lambsquarters: Chenopodium album. Cool-season annual. Also called giant goosefoot. Another good forage plant for chickens that’s also an edible plant for humans. Similar in taste to spinach, with a little more mineral taste.
Plantain: Plantago spp. Perennial herb and common weed. A good forage plant for chickens. Although it shares the same name, it’s dissimilar to the type of banana. It can be found in mixed pasture grasses.
Purslane: Portulaca oleracea. Warm-season annual and common weed. Also called pigweed. It is high in Omega-3 fatty acids for eggs. A good forage plant for chickens. It’s an edible plant for humans, and is eaten as a leaf vegetable.
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PHOTO: Karen Jackson/Flickr by Lesa Wilke July 19, 2016
Many chicken keepers are avid gardeners, and when our gardens are producing, we want to share the abundance with our feathered friends by feeding them the excess. But then we stop and wonder whether the plants are really good for them—or might they be health hazards? Are all the parts of the plants good for poultry or should some parts be avoided?
In the not-so-distant past, feeding the flock from the garden was taken for granted. But today, most chicken owners feed their flocks commercially mixed and bagged feed. These premixed and balanced rations are a fairly recent development, and prior to about 100 years ago, they didn’t exist. Back then, chickens lived off of what they could forage from the farmyard, and that typically included garden plants. Supplementing the flocks’ diet with garden greens was a centuries-old practice, and the greens that are good for them were well understood.
In our era, we may need to relearn which greens make good chicken food, but the good news is that they haven’t really changed. Thankfully, there are only a few garden plants that should not be fed to chickens or that should be fed in moderation.
Basic Chicken Gardening Guidelines
In general, garden vegetables that we consider to be healthy for us to eat are also healthy for chickens to eat. But if your chickens are accustomed to commercial feed, then it’s best at first to begin offering them garden greens later in the day after they’ve fulfilled their dietary requirements by eating the commercial mix.
Also, it’s a good idea to start introducing varied fodder from the garden a little at a time: It’s never good to make drastic changes in any livestock-feeding regimen. Up to about 20 percent of a chicken’s diet can be replaced with greens; however, most of their food should still come from a balanced ration to insure they get sufficient protein and nutrients.
These recommendations for feeding common garden plants to chickens are grouped by plant families because plants within the same families tend to share characteristics that make them more or less suitable as chicken fodder. That way, even if the specific plant you’re interested in feeding is not listed, you can begin to identify whether that plant might make good chicken food based on its family. For example, if you were considering feeding a plant that’s from the Solanaceae family, you might want to reconsider, because those plants are generally not good choices for chicken feed.
Note that when sharing your garden excess with your chickens, consider bringing the plants to the chickens rather than the chickens to the garden. A few chickens can demolish a garden in short order and will reliably start on your most prized crop first.
Great Crops For Your Chickens
Supplement your flock’s regular feed with some of the following garden favorites.
The vegetables from this family—all of the summer and winter squashes, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons and gourds—are all excellent sources of nutrition and hydration, and a natural intestinal dewormer for your flock. Pumpkins and winter squashes can also be cured and stored so that they can be fed to the flock throughout the winter months.
Janet Garman, former feed-store owner, farmer and author of Chickens from Scratch (2015), advises that when gardening with chickens in mind, there are some vegetables that really help boost the birds’ nutritional intake.
“Pumpkins are an especially good superfood,” she says. “They’re a great source of beta-carotene and antioxidants. Definitely grow extra pumpkins in your garden, just for your flock.”
These veggies rank second only to grains as our most important food source. As such, fresh green beans and peas are nutritious and fun treats for chickens, and the entire plant can be fed to them. However, uncooked dry beans should be avoided as they contain hemagglutin, a toxin poisonous to chickens.
The original scratch, corn can be used to feed chickens on the farm. It’s high in carbohydrates, but it’s also low in protein and nutritional value, so it’s best to feed in moderation. The whole corncob with either fresh or dried kernels attached can be fed to chickens, whereas the plants themselves are better as additions to the compost pile. (The entire plant is edible but the stringy leaves can become a problem in a birds’ crop.)
This family is very large and includes herbs, such as dill, parsley and coriander, as well as common plants that have umbrella-shaped flowers. Chickens tend to love the plants from this family (both the tops and roots), and the vegetable and herb varieties are good for them.
- Jerusalem artichokes
This family is often thought of as the salad family, but it also includes Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers. All of these plants are nutritious, and they make great additions to chickens’ diets. Sunflowers can also be dried and saved to use for treats and promote exercise in the winter chicken coop.
Poisonous Plants To Avoid
Some garden vegetables are better left on your plate and out of the coop. While they are certainly nutritious for you, they can be downright deadly for chickens.
Solanaceae Family (aka nightshades):
According to Maat van Uitert, author of Chickens: Naturally Raising a Sustainable Flock (2015) and creator of the popular blog “FrugalChicken,” you should always avoid feeding potatoes that have sprouted or been left in the sun.
“The skins might have developed solanine, which is mildly poisonous to people, but potentially very poisonous for chickens,” she warns. “If the potato skins have turned green, then you know to avoid feeding them.”
The vines and immature fruit of tomatoes, eggplants and pepper plants may also contain toxic quantities of solanine and should not be fed to chickens. Because it’s difficult to tell how much solanine the members of the nightshade family might contain, we don’t feed any of this family of vegetables to our chickens.
“Something else to avoid feeding your chickens is rhubarb, which contains high levels of oxalic acid,” van Uitert says. “Oxalic acid can prevent calcium absorption, leading to bone issues; nutrient imbalance; and potential problems with eggshell quality.”
Rhubarb leaves are also toxic to humans: Only the leaf stalks should be consumed by humans because they contain minimal quantities of oxalic acid.
Onions contain a substance called thiosulphate, which can cause anemia in livestock and chickens. Onions can also affect the taste of the eggs—and not in a good way!—so feeding onions to chickens is not recommended.
Plant With Caution
The following veggies should be tested first and fed only in limited quantities.
We all know that the members of the brassica family are nutritional powerhouses for humans, and it’s generally no different for our feathered friends. However, these plants contain glucosinolates, which can be toxic to livestock. These toxins are found in the greatest quantities in the seeds and young plants of these vegetables, and significant quantities of these must typically be eaten to cause problems, so feeding the mature plants (and not seeds) is generally considered safe for healthy chicken flocks. All of the brassicas can be fed raw.
- Swiss chard
This family is known for being nutritious, and occasionally feeding chickens leafy greens is a healthy treat. However, too much of some can be bad.
“Swiss chard, spinach and beet greens all contain oxalic acid, which binds with calcium when eaten by the flock and can lead to calcium deficiency,” Garmen says.
Beetroots, alternatively, are very nutritious and make great chicken fodder. Mangel beets, in particular, have been grown and used as chicken food for centuries.
Herbs For Birds
Just as many of our vegetables are good for our chickens, so are many of our herbs. Lavender, mint and oregano are all easy-to-grow perennials that are favorites for enhancing flock health. They can be scattered in the coop and nesting boxes or mixed into your flocks’ rations. They also help to repel parasites and insects. And mint and oregano grow so prolifically that they are often considered invasive, which makes them perfect additions for growing in a chicken run: The chickens will be happy to help control their invasive nature.
The flowers and leaves of lavender make terrific aromatic additions to chicken coops and nesting boxes. Lavender is known for being a natural insecticide and stress-reliever, as well as promoting good circulation. It prefers full sun and dry soil (avoid wet roots), and all parts of the plant can be dried and used in the coop during the winter months.
Another highly aromatic addition to the coop, mint is also a good insecticide, as well as rodent repellant. There are many varieties of mint available, such as spearmint, peppermint and catmint. All of the mints are very easy to grow if planted in full sun and well-drained soil, and they tend to spread rapidly. The leaves of this herb are good for drying and using throughout the winter months in the coop.
Another aromatic herb that is considered an insecticide and natural antibiotic for chickens, oregano is packed with vitamins and is thought to help combat many poultry diseases (such as coccidiosis, infectious bronchitis, etc.). It’s very easy to grow in full sun and well-drained soil, and the leaves can be used fresh or dried throughout the year to promote chicken health.
With a few exceptions, the greens and vegetables grown in our gardens are excellent fodder for chickens. Used in moderation, they are a nutritious dietary addition and will enhance the health of your flock. It’s no coincidence that the egg yolks from free-ranging backyard flocks are richer in color and tastier than supermarket eggs. The extra vitamins they get from the plants in their diets make for better eggs. So include surplus greens and vegetables—of the appropriate types—from your garden in your flocks’ diet.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Chickens.
Top 9 Veggies To Plant For You And Your Chickens This Autumn
Senior Editor • Backyard Chicken Coops
10 June 2015
Traditionally autumn is considered to be a slightly cold and gloomy month – leaves turn brown, the sky turns grey and your veggies slowly wither away into compost. But, it’s quite a different story when you look at it from a chicken’s perspective. Autumn is an eggcellent time of year for your girls, as the garden quickly fills up with all sorts of veggies that not only taste great, but are also extremely beneficial for their health! Garlic, leeks, kale – just to name a few – are all brilliant veggies to plant this autumn, which are not only great for you, but also have a whole host of benefits for your flock! So, don’t despair this autumn – get out your gardening gloves and start planting some autumn vegetables for you and your flock of flip-flappity-flappers!
But first… Why is it important to keep your chickens in good health throughout autumn?
The autumn months can be rough on your flock. Many chickens, be they ISA Browns, Silkies or Rhode Island Reds, will start to moult through March, April and May, which will exhaust their bodies and deplete their immune systems. Additionally, the sun naturally starts to rise later and set earlier, which means it becomes a struggle for your ladies to get enough time in the daylight to produce those scrumptious and nutritious fresh eggs for you – unless you have an Auto Door of course. It’s important to treat your girls throughout these tough months with an abundance of natural produce, which will help revitalise their diminished immune systems, as well as keeping their bodies natural balance of vitamins and minerals in check.
How should I prepare my soil for planting in autumn?
Many vegetables that grow through autumn need top quality soil that has been enriched with chicken manure or compost. Plants like cauliflower or broccoli rely upon nutrient dense soil so that they can flower at their best. Preparing your soil by mixing through a chicken manure or compost a month before you start planting your autumn crops is one of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure everything grows according to plan.
What you should plant for you and your chickens this autumn…
Broccoli is a cruciferous plant that is fantastic for you and your chickens. Whether you’re planting premium green, sprouting broccoli or broccolini, it’s imperative that you water them deeply and consistently over the 10-16 weeks it takes to grow. Broccoli holds onto its nutrients best when steamed, but there are so many fun and tasty ways to cook with this ingredient, including broccomole, which is the broccoli equivalent of guacamole – yum!
Cauliflower is very similar to broccoli in almost every respect – easy to grow, similar in appearance, great for your health! No matter how you look at it broccoli and cauliflower will always seem like slightly different versions of the same vegetable. Like broccoli, cauliflower is a cruciferous plant that may help prevent cancer, whilst also boosting your immune system, as well as detoxifying the body.
Chicory, sometimes referred to an endive, is a healthy and mysterious vegetable that comes in a wide range of varieties. If you’ve never tried chicory before it’s easy to think of it as a fancy French version of cabbage. If you notice your flock sneezing or if you feel a little fluey yourself, be sure to fill everybody’s plates, or feeders, with chicory, as it’s an extremely dense source of vitamins and minerals, which can turn the tide of any cold or flu.
You don’t tend to see a lot of radishes in Australia, but they’re actually quite suitable for the climate and grow rather rapidly. In fact, radishes are so easy to grow that you’ll often find parents with green thumbs planting radishes with their young kids, to demonstrate the thrills and joys of gardening! Radishes will go down a treat in your coop as well, not to mention being a great addition to any salad you can think of!
Kale has definitely become one very popular vegetable in recent years! It is an incredibly nutrient dense super food and the smallest amount consumed daily can have a lasting effect on anyone’s health. Whether you’re planning on making a green smoothie or simply looking for some more healthy scraps to toss into the chicken coop than look not further than kale!
6. Japanese Millet
Not many urban gardeners plant Japanese Millet, but if you live on a larger property it’s one of the best crops you can plant in autumn. This resilient plant, similar to oats, grows exceptionally well alongside water banks and is the perfect treat for all types of animals to graze upon, including chickens. Though your girls may have a hard time reaching the millet on their own, it’s easy enough to cut a few tasty looking stalks and scatter it into the garden for your ladies to enjoy.
Honestly, is there anything better than garlic? Not only is it a fabulous addition to almost any meal it also help fortify your immune system, while still tasting amazing! But, not every Chicken Lady knows that garlic is one of the easiest ways to fight and prevent mites and lice in your flock. Just a few grated cloves in with the chicken feed is one of the best things you can do for the longevity of your flock’s health.
Everybody loves a piece of roasted pumpkin as a part of a hearty meal and your chickens will love munching on the leftovers – not the skins though, be sure the toss those into the compost bin once your girls are finished. Pumpkins are hungry plants and will sap the soil of a lot of its nutrients – it’s just what they do – so be sure you have a plan for the future, by reading this eggcellent guide to crop rotation, before you plant.
Leeks are the perfect filler when it comes to soups and stock, as well as being another eggcellent way to help prevent mites and lice in your flock. Another fabulous benefit of growing your own leeks is the challenge transplanting the seedlings and growing them in an exposed trench. For any intermediate gardener, looking for a new mountain to climb, be sure to grow leeks this autumn and see how you go!
Keeping chickens is one of the best ways you can prep your soil for autumn to ensure that it is choc full of the essential nutrients your veggie crops need to thrive! A coop fill with a flock of flip-flappity-flappers, like the Taj Mahal, Penthouse and Mansion, is the simplest way to get yourself an endless supply of soil boosting manure – not to mention all those crisp and tasty eggs.
Sources and further reading
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Garden Betty’s Homemade Whole Grain Chicken Feed
Update: I also have a corn-free version of my homemade whole grain chicken feed! And for easy formulating, download the Garden Betty Chicken Feed Calculator to easily manage costs, calculate protein content, and custom mix your feed on the fly.
Several years ago, I started mixing my own soy-free, mostly organic, whole grain chicken feed.
The decision to feed a whole grain diet — versus a commercially formulated diet — is a personal one based on what I believe is best for my chickens. Luckily, it also turned out to be an economical decision and a benefit to my own diet.
Homemade feed is not as expensive or complicated as you may have thought or been told.
My small flock of chickens lays over a dozen eggs a week on a hippie diet of whole grains and leafy greens. Their feathers are soft and shiny, their personalities as perky as ever… so I must be doing something right!
Bulk Storage Bin
Why make your own whole grain feed?
Commercial chicken feed comes in crumble or pellet form, neither of which looks like real food to me. Since real food comes out of my chickens, I want real food to go into them.
Crumbles and pellets are already formulated to contain the nutritional balance that a chicken needs, but the process of cracking, mashing, pressing and/or heating the grains (often times, not even quality grains) causes them to go stale and lose some of their nutritional value — even months before you buy them.
On the other hand, whole grains (which you can pick and choose) retain all of their nutrients.
With a whole grain diet, I’ve noticed that my chickens eat less and poop less (as opposed to the crumble diet they started on). This leads me to believe that their bodies are processing the food better and it’s not just passing through them.
Is a whole grain diet a complete diet?
Like humans, chickens need a diverse diet and sometimes they need a different diet in winter than they do in summer.
The greater variety of grains, legumes, and seeds you can provide your chickens, the healthier and happier they will be.
Layers need at least 16 percent protein and the rest is common sense — not too much fat, not too many carbs, and that last piece of chocolate cake is probably not a good idea. It’s all about balance.
I imagine that people wanting to make their own feed at home are likely also the sort of chicken keepers that let their chickens forage for bugs and weeds, or give their chickens mealworm treats and kitchen scraps. So overall, yes — this is a complete diet.
Why soy-free and organic?
Because of its cheapness, availability, and high amount of protein, soy is a large part of a commercial chicken’s diet. But it’s also an incomplete protein, an unnatural source of food, and a highly processed food.
As with anything highly processed, soy has potentially harmful health effects ranging from vitamin deficiencies to hormone disruptions — especially when consumed in the crazy amounts that our culture does.
Soy is one of the most genetically-modified foods in the world, and it’s included in almost everything we eat. I know I can’t avoid it in my diet, but I can limit my intake of soy by choosing not to feed it to my chickens. You are what you eat.
(A pro-soy study found that soy protein transferred to the egg yolks and tissues of commercial chickens — even commercial “organic” chickens — fed a predominantly soy diet.)
An all-organic feed was originally not as important to me as a soy-free feed. I felt the benefits of a whole grain diet outweighed those of an organic (but processed) diet.
As it turned out, my homemade feed is almost all organic, thanks to bulk purchases from Azure Standard and my local market.
What does it cost? Is it worth all the work?
My homemade feed actually costs the same as the commercial feed at my local feed store. This may not be true for everyone, but on the west coast, a premium bag of soy-free, organic layer pellets averages $0.70 per pound.
My soy-free, almost organic, whole grain feed costs $0.69 per pound (and would even be less if I purchased in greater bulk — but I have a small flock and very limited storage).
An unexpected advantage of mixing my own feed is that I can share a lot of the grains, legumes, and seeds with my chickens. The ingredients are all human grade and mostly organic, and the fact that they can feed the whole household makes buying 10- or 25-pound bags of grains more feasible.
While there was a lot of legwork in the beginning to make my own recipe, the payoff is learning more about nutrition than I ever thought I would and knowing what goes into my chickens’ food (and ultimately, what goes into me).
I mix a new batch of feed two or three times a month. It feels like garden therapy. I have a strange love for running my hands through a mountain of whole grains.
It’s not any more work than refilling the feeder with bagged feed, and I have the option of changing up the mix every once in a while, rather than being stuck with the same 50-pound bag of commercial feed.
(This is advantageous if you have a mixed flock of chicks, pullets, and/or layers with varying protein needs, or want to alter their diet in winter or summer. I cover the nutritional needs of different age groups in this post.)
How do you find the ingredients?
Most of my grains are purchased from Azure Standard. As a natural food co-op that delivers nationwide, Azure Standard carries bulk bags of hard-to-find items like kamut and kelp, and sometimes at a better price than Amazon.
The rest of my ingredients come from local stores with a wide variety of bulk grains. (WinCo Foods was my go-to in Southern California, and still my favorite for cost, selection, and convenience. Market of Choice is my current stop in Central Oregon when I need a last-minute refill or want to try something new.)
You can find more exotic grains at places like Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, and in countless other natural food grocers and bulk food markets.
Your local feed store or grain mill will also carry the basics like oats, wheat, millet, and corn.
Oyster shells and grit are common ingredients found at any feed store or farm/livestock/poultry supplier.
Okay, now how do you store all those ingredients?
Whole grains store for a very long time in cool and dark locations. Unless you go through a lot of feed quickly, I wouldn’t suggest keeping the grains in their original bags once opened, because weevils and rodents will think they’ve scored a buffet.
If you have a lot of space or a lot of chickens, you can dump all your ingredients into a clean metal trash can with a lid or a large galvanized steel bucket with a lid, mix them all up, and scoop out from there.
If you lack adequate space or keep a small flock, like I do, you can store the ingredients in airtight bins and mix as you go.
Brewers Yeast | Bulk Storage Bins
I scoop everything into a flexible bucket, give it a good mix, and pour the fresh food into the feeder. It’s like Christmas Day for the chickens… multiple times a month!
Flexible Bucket | Baby Pig Feeder
Update: Since this post was originally written, I’ve moved on to a new coop that doesn’t have on-site storage, so I keep all of my grains and seeds in the garage. I’ve also added a few other containers — that I like just as much, if not more than my first containers — which are all linked in my sources at the end of this post.
Flexible Bucket | Bulk Storage Bins | Airtight Pet Food Container | Square Tall Food Storage Container | Pet Food Storage Container
How do you switch from crumbles/pellets to whole grains?
Start by gradually mixing in a little bit of whole grains into your chickens’ current feed to adapt their gizzards.
If they don’t forage frequently, make sure you offer them grit in a separate, free-choice feeder (I use this one).
Chickens don’t have teeth, so they swallow a small amount of grit and store them in their gizzards to grind up food. This is especially important for whole grains that need to be broken down.
Increase the amount of whole grains in their feed each week, until eventually you’re only feeding them whole grains. It may take a few weeks for your chickens to adjust to the change, so don’t be alarmed if egg production drops off a bit.
They may also start flinging grains all over the place (you’ll soon learn what they like and don’t like) or picking out certain grains first. (I believe chickens know what their bodies need nutritionally, so some days they may feed on more protein, less calcium, etc.)
Because of this, it’s a good idea to start with small amounts of different grains, and see what your chickens will eat before buying in bulk.
My homemade feed is around 17 percent protein, which is in the target range for laying hens.
This is a good number to know if you’re only feeding whole grains. But if you supplement their diet with pasture, scratch, mealworms, and kitchen scraps, all that food will increase (or decrease) the amount of protein they take in each day, so don’t get too hung up on the number.
The cool thing about making your own feed is being able to custom make it for your flock. Read on for my suggestions and alternatives so you can create your own recipe too!
Makes 8 1/2 pounds (fills 10-pound feeder)
4 cups oat groats
4 cups black oil sunflower seeds
4 cups hard red wheat berries
2 cups soft white wheat berries
2 cups kamut
2 cups millet
2 cups whole corn
1 cup lentils
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup brewer’s yeast
1/4 cup kelp granules
Free-choice oyster shells
Oats are rich in protein (around 16 percent), B vitamins, calcium and fiber. Oats are also a good (and cheap) source of energy. All oats — no matter how they’re processed — are nutritionally similar, so you can feed oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and quick oats interchangeably.
Black oil sunflower seeds (often called BOSS) are like candy to chickens. But good candy! BOSS is high in protein (averaging 17 percent), rich in minerals and vitamins, and the high oil content gives feathers a beautiful gloss. BOSS is typically found in the bird seed aisle at pet and feed stores, and I buy mine from a local farm and garden store. You can also substitute striped sunflower seeds (the seeds that are typically packaged as human snacks), but they tend to be larger than BOSS with thicker shells.
Wheat is a major energy source for chickens. If you can find both varieties, buy hard red wheat and soft white wheat for the best nutritional balance. Otherwise, feed only hard red wheat, as it contains more protein (around 15 percent).
Kamut is actually a brand of khorasan wheat, but these days the grain is simply known as kamut… the way kleenex is synonymous with tissue. It’s an ancient Egyptian grain that’s nutritionally superior to other wheat in terms of protein (18 percent), magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E.
Millet (unhulled) is found in most bird seed, and in fact, the millet I buy is a mix of red and white millet sold at the store as “wild bird food.” It’s less expensive than human-grade hulled millet, but still rich in amino acids and iron. Feed stores sometimes label the unhulled white millet as “proso millet” (not to be confused with spray millet, which is a long and thin seed head).
Whole corn is a fairly large kernel, so depending on your chickens, you may have to crack or grind the corn first. You can also feed popcorn kernels, which are half the size and easier for smaller breeds to pick up. Corn is low in protein, vitamins, and minerals, but it does provide energy and fat (which is especially helpful in winter).
Lentils are very high in protein (at least 26 percent) and if your chickens take to them, it’s worth adding more to your feed. Mine don’t particularly care for lentils or any legumes, for that matter, so I only add a small portion to my feed.
Sesame seeds have one of the highest amounts of protein in a seed (around 25 percent), so they’re especially good for picky chickens that won’t eat legumes. They’re also one of the more expensive ingredients in my feed, so I add them sparingly.
Flax seeds boost omega-3 fatty acids in eggs, and are also rich in protein (37 percent), B vitamins, and minerals.
Brewer’s yeast (animal grade) can be found online or at local feed stores. You can buy human-grade brewer’s yeast too, but you’ll end up paying double (at least). It’s an important source of B vitamins and protein (around 35 percent) for chickens. (On a side note, I’ve also read that feeding brewer’s yeast to your dog will repel ticks and fleas, in addition to providing all the other good stuff.)
Kelp granules (or kelp meal) are basically little bits of dried seaweed. Kelp contains essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and salt that your chickens need. It promotes healthy growth, increases egg production, and darkens yolk color — an overall superior supplement.
Oyster shells provide the necessary calcium to strengthen your chickens’ eggshells. Feed this free choice, and they’ll take what they need each day. You can also feed them clean, crushed eggshells to put all that calcium back into their bodies.
Grit is typically limestone or granite gravel that aids the gizzard in grinding food. If your chickens free range, they’ll probably pick up little stones on their own and won’t take as much from the free-choice grit.
Other good sources of protein include triticale, field peas, and split peas (or any peas in general — many soy-free commercial feeds rely on peas to provide sufficient protein).
If money is no object, you could also add quinoa, spelt, wild rice, amaranth seeds, nyjer seeds, hemp seeds, or shelled peanuts as excellent protein sources.
Feeding lower-protein grains like rye, barley, buckwheat, and sorghum (milo) in small amounts will balance the higher-protein (and usually higher-cost) grains.
Try not to make your feed too heavy on any particular grain. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture offers good information on the pros and cons of common feed grains on their Poultry Extension site.
At the end of the day, if you feed a balanced meal of grains, greens and garden pests — with a little treat here and there — numbers are not as important as a diverse diet.
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on June 29, 2012.
Prep Time 5 minutes Total Time 5 minutes
- 4 cups oat groats
- 4 cups black oil sunflower seeds
- 4 cups hard red wheat berries
- 2 cups soft white wheat berries
- 2 cups kamut
- 2 cups millet
- 2 cups whole corn
- 1 cup lentils
- 1 cup sesame seeds
- 1 cup flax seeds
- 1/2 cup brewer’s yeast
- 1/4 cup kelp granules
- Free-choice oyster shells
- Free-choice grit
- Combine all of the ingredients, except the oyster shells and grit, in a large bucket.
- Fill your feeder with the mixed-grain feed, or store the feed in a pet food container or a galvanized steel bucket with a lid.
- Offer the oyster shells and grit in separate small feeders for your chickens to eat as they wish.
Thinking about making your own chick starter feed, eh?
When we first got our baby chicks, I was determined to be the best chick mother I could possibly be. This involved painstakingly researching exactly what they should eat, being over-protective, and taking waaay too many pictures.
There were three things I knew before getting chicks: that I absolutely wasn’t going to feed them conventional medicated chick starter, that I wanted them to have the best diet possible from the start, and that I didn’t want it to be complicated. Plus, it had to be affordable!
I’m a bit unconventional, which is probably why I thought to make my own chick starter feed in the first place…
And I’ll be brutally honest here: making your own chick feed is a lot of work. Is it worth it? I think that depends entirely on your situation and what you can source locally. I love that I get to control what the chicks are eating, and I KNOW that it is full of nutrients that will make them grow to be beautiful and healthy birds.
Please note that I am not a veterinarian nor an animal food scientist- this is merely what worked for us and I wanted to share it with you. I am someone who loves her chickens, and who successfully raised baby chicks on this recipe. I am a doctor of humans with a fondness for biology, nutrition and research, so that helps too, I suppose…
I have two recipes for you: both are between 20-22% protein, both are soy-free and corn-free, and one contains fish meal and one does not. I prefer the recipe with the fish meal because it is simpler. I’ve also found that our chickens prefer meat and bugs whenever they can have them, so I like being able to give the chicks that type of protein.
Don’t let their cuteness fool you- these fluffy little things will soon grow up to be mice and bug eating machines!
Grinding Chick Feed
There’s one thing that complicates making baby chick feed, and that is that you need to grind it into smaller pieces for the chicks. See grinding recommendations below in the recipe.
Chicks Need Grit
When feeding baby chicks homemade feed, they will also need to be supplemented with grit, which should be available at your local feed store, or online here. Grit for chicks is called #1 size or “chick” grit. It is important to get the correct size for their age. This is not the same as calcium/oyster shells (which they don’t need, and shouldn’t have, until they start laying). Do not mix this into the feed, but rather, offer it free-choice (just put some in a little bowl in the corner… and don’t be surprised when you find them sleeping in it!).
The first round of feed I put together, I made the mistake of getting oats will hulls. While these are fine for adult chickens (although they generally prefer hull-less too), these don’t work for baby chicks. The hulls make the oats a lot harder to grind, and if you do grind them, the hulls come off and get mixed into the feed, and then the chicks have to pick around them. It’s a big mess, don’t use them.
Oats without the hulls are often called “oat groats,” and these are what you want. Steel cut oats are oat groats that are chopped, and these are also good (they are already ground for you!). Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats have been steamed and pressed- you can use these, but I found our chicks didn’t care for them as much as the other types. Instant oats are processed and stripped of nutrients, and I don’t recommend them for chicken feed.
Wondering where to buy fish meal? I was lucky enough to find mine at our local feed store for a great price, but you can find it online also. Quality matters here- make sure that the fish meal you are buying isn’t made for gardening only; many are.
–> Wild Alaskan Salmon Fish Meal (5#)
–> Wild Alaskan Salmon Fish Meal (25#)
How Much Will This Cost?
It’s nearly impossible for me to break down the cost of this feed in a meaningful way for you, because where you can get your ingredients from makes all the difference. I am fortunate that I can get organic wheat, oats and peas from the feed store just down the road for a reasonable price, which is why it is much cheaper for me to make my own organic, soy-free, and corn-free chick starter feed.
I suggest you call every farm and feed store in your area, or within driving distance of an hour or so, and ask about each of the ingredients- whether they have things like organic wheat, oats and peas, and the prices. Or talk to your local food co-op about ordering some big bags of grains for a discounted price. Happy ingredient hunting!
See? Making your own chicken feed is hard work. It really does take dedication and time… so if you don’t have those things to give, I highly recommend you seek out a pre-made feed. However, you DON’T have to settle for the subpar brands at the feed store.
I Recommend this Pre-made Chick Starter Feed
Scratch and Peck Chick Starter (no corn, no soy) is what I believe to be the highest quality chicken feed available- it contains real ingredients and is from a great company. You can find it on amazon here, or use their store locator to see if it is available anywhere near you.
Additionally, if there is an Azure Standard drop site near you, they also carry it for a reasonable price. Find it –> here.
Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe with Fish Meal
7 cups organic hull-less oats
5 cups organic wheat
3 cups organic split green peas or organic field peas
1 cup organic (shelled) sunflower seeds
1.5 cups organic/wild caught fish meal
2 Tbs blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup organic kelp
2 Tbs brewer’s yeast
egg (raw or hard-boiled: see below)
greens: fresh grass, spinach, dark lettuce or kale
Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe (No Fish Meal)
5 cups organic hull-less oats
5 cups organic wheat
5 cups organic split green peas or organic field peas
2 cups organic (shelled) sunflower seeds
1 cup organic flax meal or organic sesame seeds
2 Tbs blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup organic kelp
2 Tbs brewer’s yeast
egg (raw or hard-boiled: see below)
greens: fresh grass, spinach, dark lettuce or kale
Both of these recipes make a little over one gallon (17 cups of feed). Feel free to make as large or small a quantity as you like using the same ratios and instructions.
We’ll use the blackstrap molasses to add vitamins and get the powders to stick to the grains- and this works best using a specific technique. Mix together the ground grains, peas, sunflower seeds (and sesame if using the no fish meal recipe). Remove three cups of the mixture to another bowl, and to it add the molasses; use a large fork to stir it around until all the grains are coated. Add in the kelp and brewer’s yeast (and fish meal or flax meal) and stir again until the grains are coated with the powders. Add this mixture back in with the the rest of the grains in your bucket and stir so that all the coated grains are mixed in with the non-coated.
If the mixture has a lot of powder/crumbs in it, and they seem to fall to the bottom of the food dish and go un-eaten, feel free to mix in a little bit of water (to that day’s ration, not the whole batch) to bind the powders and make a “mash” so it is easier for the chicks to eat.
How to Grind Chick Feed
I found that my food processor was not strong enough to break down the dry grains and legumes, but a Vitamix blender worked (if making food for just a few chicks, fine… but if you have a lot, you’ll burn out your motor quickly- might want to rethink). A grain mill or even an old meat grinder might work (I haven’t tried either of these), but also remember that you don’t want to turn the mixture into flour- just smaller pieces. We have an antique hand crank corn grinder, which is the perfect tool for the job!
However, if you soak the ingredients for 24 hours first, you can grind them in a food processor. This will take more forethought and organization on your part. Soaked grains should be used within a couple days after soaking, which means you will need to be on top of things, so you don’t run out and don’t have more than you can use. Bonus: soaked grains are even healthier for the chicks! So if you can manage this, it is a great option. On the subject of soaking: if you do take this route, only soak the grains and peas. No need to soak the sunflower seeds, nor the kelp, yeast or fish meal. Aaand one more thing- each grain will grind differently, so it would be better to grind each type separately, otherwise your wheat might turn to mush before the peas have even started breaking down. Not totally necessary, but helpful.
If the egg is coming from my own (very healthy) flock then I leave it raw. I feel comfortable eating our chicken eggs raw, which is why I feel comfortable giving them to the chicks raw. Use at your own risk. If the egg is from a store or someone else’s flock, it should absolutely be cooked, preferably hardboiled.
This is where it gets difficult to tell you how much egg and greens to add, since everyone will have a different amount of chicks and go through a different amount of feed. The egg and greens should be added fresh the day that you feed it (as opposed to being mixed in with the above grains and left to sit for more than a day).
Aim for 1 egg for every 6 cups of chicken feed. If raw, just mix it in, and if hardboiled, chop it up finely (use a potato masher) and then mix it in to that day’s feed. So, if your chicks eat three cups of food per day, add in about half of an egg or so. Keep the rest of the egg in the fridge until you use it the next day.
I try to use what I have here on the homestead in order to minimize cost- if I have garden lettuce or kale, I use that (chopped very finely), otherwise I use grass. We have tall, thick grass in the spring, and that works well. I will pick a clump and then use a scissors to cut it into about 1/2-inch lengths. Make absolutely sure your grass wasn’t treated with any chemicals!
Add greens at a rate of about 1/2 cup per every 4-6 cups of chicken feed. This doesn’t have to be exact, just close. And just like the egg, mix the finely chopped greens into that day’s feed at the time of feeding.
Transitioning to Whole Grain
As the chicks get older, they will be able to eat the grains unground (which will be very nice for you!). At around 6 weeks old, start experimenting to see what they will eat whole and what they won’t. I did this by putting a mixture of the whole grains in a small bowl in their brooder and watching to see if they would eat them.
When they start to take whole grains, slowly (over a week or more) transition them by mixing some of the ground feed they are used to with the new unground version of the same feed, increasing the ratio of whole grain feed a little each day.
Congrats chick-parents! Your new fluffy little ones are on their way to healthy, happy lives!
C. D. Bennett, H. L. Classen, and C. Riddell. Feeding Broiler Chickens Wheat and Barley Diets Containing Whole, Ground and Pelleted Grain. 2002 Poultry Science 81:995–1003
Ibrahim, M. A., and E. A. El Zubeir. Higher fibre sunflower seed meal in broiler chick diets. 1991 Animal Feed Science and Technology, 33: 343–347.
Wondifraw, Zewdu and Tamir, Berhan. The effect of feeding different levels of brewer’s dried grain yeast mixture on the performance of white leghorn chicks. 2014 International Journal of Livestock Production 5(1): 10-14
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You can have a 15% ration made up, and keep a supply before your flock at all times.
You can serve half the feed in the form of whole grains, in which case the other half of the chickens’ nourishment must consist of a 20% mix to compensate for the lower protein content of the straight cereals.
The second feeding system is more economical because you need have only half the grain ground. It’s also a little more laborious, though, since the correct amount of cereals — about 1/4 pound per bird — must be calculated and served out daily. Sorry, but you can’t let the hens eat free choice if you use this method. They prefer whole grains over ground feed . . . and, if permitted, will gobble up bushels of tasty kernels and ignore the protein supplement which they need for good health.
The quality of that supplement, please note, is as important as the amount. All protein is composed of amino acids, which must be present in their full range to form a complete, fully usable bodybuilding material. Most sources are deficient in one or more of these acids . . . and the best way to be sure of a good balance is to offer a varied diet (as nature intended). (More detailed information on the composition of proteins can be found in Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet. — MOTHER.) The same holds true for vitamins and minerals: What’s lacking in one food may be abundant in another, and no one source can provide all the essentials.
You should therefore aim for as much variety as is economically feasible in the cereals which are the main components of mixed chicken feed. Corn, oats, wheat, and barley — combined in any proportion — will provide an excellent base.
Formulating Your Own Chicken Feed
The protein content of a grain varies according to where and how the plant was grown. The average for most cereals, however, is about 10%. A supplement accordingly must be added to boost the feed’s percentage . . . and again, it’s best to use a variety of sources. Soybean meal and meat scrap are two excellent choices which offer a good balance of amino acids. Another possibility — alfalfa leaf meal — is also high in protein and, in addition, contains large amounts of vitamin A. If your feed dealer carries powdered milk, you may want to use some as a supplement to rations intended for baby chicks.
Some other nutrients — particularly calcium and phosphorus — must also be added in the form of supplements. The bodies of animals can assimilate other minerals properly only if these two are present in the correct proportion . . . in the case of chickens, about 2-1/2 times as much calcium as phosphorus. This need can be met by ground limestone and either steamed bone meal or dicalcium phosphate added to the feed in appropriate amounts. One more necessary poultry feed ingredient is iodized salt (since birds, of course, can’t lick a salt block).
Now all we have to do is figure out how to put the various nutrients together in a combination which will contain a predetermined percentage of protein. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, since there are formulas for the purpose. Unless you’re a mathematical genius, however, you can’t expect to apply such a rule to a wide variety of ingredients and end up with both accurate proportions and usable round numbers. Don’t worry about it. The protein values of the suggested mixes are quite generous, and you needn’t be afraid of shortchanging your flock if you have to alter their contents a little.
The first step in formulating a feed mixture is to call your local grain elevator or dealer and find out what protein supplements are used in your area. (Some excellent sources-fish meal or peanut oil meal, for instance — are available only in certain sections of the country.) Note down the percentage of protein in each supplement, and the price per 100 pounds (smaller lots may be more costly). At the same time, ask the fee for grinding and mixing. Some operators have a set minimum rate for this service, while others charge so much per bag. And — speaking of bags — check the price of burlap sacks if you don’t have your own.
You should be aware, at this stage in your project, that it’s good economics to have feed mixed in the largest practicable quantities. If possible, plan to buy all your ingredients in 50 or 100-pound lots and take home any extras to be used the next time you whip up a batch. In northern regions, where the cold tends to retard deterioration, the storage of ground grains presents no problems in winter and you’ll do well to have an entire season’s chicken rations prepared all at once.
OK, at this point you know — on the basis of your own resources and your conversation with the feed dealer — what ingredients you want to include in the ration you’re formulating and you also have an idea of how big a batch you want made up. It’s now time to sit down and figure out how many pounds of each component you’ll need for a given weight of balanced mix. This is done by the “square” method.
First write down the percentages of protein contained in all the supplements you plan to use, add the figures, and take the average (I’m assuming you intend to use the ingredients in equal amounts). A protein value of 10% is always assigned to grains of whatever type, since that’s the overall average for common cereals.
Next, decide what protein content you want for the mix as a whole. You’ll need a 20% ration if you’re going to feed laying hens half whole grain and half mix, 15% if mix is fed exclusively, 20% for baby chicks up to 8 weeks of age, and 16% for young birds from 8 weeks to laying or slaughter size.
Draw a rectangle on a sheet of paper and write in the center the percentage of protein desired for the ration. In the upper left-hand corner, jot the word “grain” and the assumed value of 10. Enter the word “supplement” in the lower left-hand corner, with the average figure for these ingredients. Then subtract diagonally — always taking the smaller number from the larger — and note the answers on the right. The figure in the lower right-hand corner (see the image gallery for illustration) is the amount of supplement, in pounds, you’ll need to combine with the quantity of grain (also in pounds) shown directly above.
Let’s suppose, for example, that you intend to make up a I5% ration from two types of grain and the following protein supplements: soybean meal (44%), meat scrap (50%), and alfalfa leaf meal (17%). The total of these percentages is 111, and their average is 37. This number is entered in the lower left-hand corner of the rectangle (see Figure 1 in the image gallery). The value for grain — 10 — is noted above, and the desired protein content of the ration — 15 — in the center of the diagram. Diagonal subtraction shows that for every 22 pounds of grain you’ll add 5 pounds of supplement . . . or, for roughly 100 pounds of ration, 88 of grain and 20 of protein booster.
Calcium compounds and salt are added in proportion to the total weight of feed. For every 100-pound lot of ration, you should include 1/2 pound of salt, 1-1/2 pounds of ground limestone, and 2-1/2 pounds of dicalcium phosphate or steamed bone meal.
If you’re purchasing 100-plus pounds of mixed ration, here’s what the formula will look like when you take it to the elevator or dealer:
44 pounds corn or oats
44 pounds wheat or barley
7 pounds soybean meal
7 pounds alfalfa leaf meal
6 pounds meat scrap
1/2 pound iodized salt
1-1/2 pounds ground limestone
2-1/2 pounds dicalcium phosphate or steamed bone meal
Grind all together.
As you can see, the amounts don’t come out exactly accurate and you have to juggle the figures a bit. As long as you don’t stray too far from the original calculations, though, the mixture will be excellent nutritionally.
The recipe used in the example above will supply laying hens with all the nutrients they need . . . and any number of protein supplements can be interchanged or supplemented in the formula. The image gallery illustration gives other sample mixes for chickens at various stages of development.
If you’re mixing feed for baby chicks, you’ll have to consider their increased need for protein, most vitamins (particularly choline and the rest of the B complex), and minerals other than calcium . . . especially manganese. Wheat and wheat by-products contain ample amounts of choline and manganese and should certainly be included in your mixture.
Also, since newly hatched chicks aren’t usually exposed to sunlight, a vitamin D supplement must he added to their ration. One pint of cod liver oil — from the drugstore — per 100 pounds of feed will supply the requirement . . . or the feed supplier can add vitamin D in powder form. Don’t underestimate the importance of this precaution! If you omit it, your growing flock may well develop rickets.
A good additive to winter feed for older birds is sprouted grain. To prepare a supply, half fill a bucket with any good cereal, cover the kernels with water, and let them soak overnight. In the morning, drain off the liquid and cover the pail to shut out the fight. Keep the contents moist, warm, and dark, and stir them up once or twice a day. When the sprouts are 1/2 to 3 inches long, they’re ready to give your flock a taste of spring in mid-winter.
We’re indebted for the nutritional information in this article to F.B. Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding (Morrison Publishing Co., Clinton, Iowa). (Unfortunately, this work is no longer in print. It’s a standard reference in its field, however, and should be available from your local library. — MOTHER.) The practical applications we suggest have been worked out over four years of raising chickens organically, and we’re passing them on with the hope that they’ll work as well for you as they have for us. It’s a pretty good bet that they will. Winter your birds on a well-balanced ration — plus all your table scraps, produce parings, and eggshells, with maybe a bucket of sprouts now and then — and don’t be surprised if you end up with the healthiest flock in your neighborhood!