How to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed

Raising chickens can be a rewarding and sustainable endeavor, but the cost of commercial chicken feed can add up over time. If you’re looking to reduce your expenses or simply want to explore more self-sufficient ways of feeding your flock, you can learn how to feed chickens without buying feed.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through various methods and techniques to help you provide your chickens with a well-rounded diet while minimizing reliance on store-bought feed.

Understanding Chicken Nutritional Needs

Before diving into alternative feeding methods, it’s crucial to understand the nutritional requirements of chickens. Chickens need a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. A typical chicken diet consists of:

  1. Protein: Essential for growth, egg production, and overall health. Chickens require a protein source with amino acids like lysine and methionine.
  2. Carbohydrates: Provide energy for daily activities and egg production. Grains are a primary source of carbohydrates.
  3. Fats: Necessary for energy storage and as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins.
  4. Vitamins and Minerals: Vital for various bodily functions. Calcium is essential for eggshell formation, while vitamins A, D, and E are crucial for overall health.
  5. Water: Often overlooked but fundamental. Chickens need access to clean water at all times.

Now, let’s explore how to meet these nutritional needs without solely relying on commercial feed.

Disclaimer

Before we discuss further, we just want to make this quick point: this blog is run by backyard chicken enthusiasts. We strive to provide accurate and reliable information in this blog, but please remember that we are not veterinarians. The content presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional veterinary advice.

How to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed: 18 Tips

1. Pasture and Foraging

One of the most natural and cost-effective ways to feed chickens is by allowing them to graze on pasture and forage for their food. This method closely mimics the way chickens feed in the wild and can provide a significant portion of their diet.

a. Pasture Rotation: Designate a portion of your land for rotational grazing. Move your chickens to different sections periodically to allow the grass and insects to regenerate.

b. Forage Crops: Plant forage crops like clover, alfalfa, and chicory that chickens can graze on. These crops not only provide food but also improve soil quality.

c. Free-Range: Allow your chickens to free-range during the day. They will naturally forage for insects, worms, seeds, and vegetation.

d. Complementary Feeding: While chickens can find much of their food while foraging, supplement their diet with grains and kitchen scraps to ensure they receive a balanced intake of nutrients.

2. Growing Your Own Grains

Grains are a primary source of carbohydrates and energy for chickens. Growing your own grains can be a sustainable and cost-effective way to provide this essential component of their diet.

Corn is a common grain that chickens enjoy. You can plant corn in your garden or on a larger scale if you have the space. Wheat, Barley, and Oats are also nutritious for chickens and can be grown in many regions.

A few tips for grains: sprouting grains before feeding them to chickens can increase their nutritional value and make them more digestible. You can also save seeds from the grains you grow for future planting. This reduces the need to purchase seeds each year.

3. Kitchen Scraps and Food Waste

Chickens are excellent at recycling kitchen scraps and food waste into eggs and meat. It’s essential to know what is safe to feed them and what to avoid.

Chickens can consume a wide range of kitchen scraps, including vegetable peels, fruit scraps like watermelon rinds, stale bread, and cooked rice. Don’t feed chickens anything toxic to them, such as moldy or spoiled food, onions, garlic, chocolate, or anything high in salt. We also don’t recommend dog food or cat food.

Remember, while kitchen scraps are a valuable supplement, they should not replace essential nutrients like protein. Ensure they receive a balanced diet alongside scraps.

4. Insect Farming

Chickens are natural insect hunters, and insects provide an excellent source of protein for them. Consider setting up an insect farm to provide your chickens with a steady supply of this vital food source.

a. Mealworms: Mealworms are easy to raise and are a favorite treat for chickens. You can start a mealworm farm in containers or small bins.

b. Black Soldier Fly Larvae: Black soldier fly larvae are another protein-rich option. They can be cultured in outdoor bins.

c. Earthworms: Encourage earthworm populations in your garden or compost pile, providing your chickens with a natural source of protein.

5. Gardening for Chickens

You can create a chicken-friendly garden by planting crops that both you and your chickens can enjoy. This not only provides fresh food but also encourages natural behavior like scratching and pecking.

I advise that you designate a portion of your garden for chicken-friendly plants. Install fencing to protect more delicate crops.

Note that chickens enjoy greens like kale, Swiss chard, and lettuce. Herbs like oregano, thyme, and basil can also be planted for their culinary and medicinal benefits. You can use garden waste and kitchen scraps as mulch in your garden. Chickens will help turn it into compost.

6. Fermentation

Fermenting grains and other food items can enhance their nutritional value and make them more digestible for chickens. Here’s how you can do it: soak grains like corn, wheat, and oats in water for a day or two to ferment them. This process increases nutrient availability.

You can also ferment excess vegetables from your garden or kitchen to create a valuable food source for your flock.

7. Community Resources

Consider reaching out to your community to find alternative food sources for your chickens.

a. Local Farmers: Connect with local farmers who may have surplus crops, grains, or other feeds they are willing to sell or trade.

b. Food Pantries: Some food pantries and grocery stores discard produce and bread that is still suitable for chickens. Inquire if they are willing to share these items with you.

8. Raising Additional Livestock

If you have the space and resources, consider raising other livestock that can complement your chickens’ diet.

a. Ducks: Ducks can forage alongside chickens and are excellent at pest control. They can also help maintain a healthier pasture.

b. Goats or Sheep: Grazing animals can help manage pasture growth, making it more suitable for both chickens and grazing livestock.

9. Make Homemade Chicken Feed

Raising chickens often involves the quest for providing the healthiest, most cost-effective feed options possible. One of the ways to achieve this is by making your own chicken feed. Here are a couple homemade chicken feed recipes that are tailored to different stages of chicken growth, ensuring your flock receives the essential nutrients they need.

Recipe 1: Chick Starter Feed

Ingredients:

  • 60% cracked corn
  • 30% wheat
  • 5% soybean meal
  • 3% fish meal
  • 1% limestone
  • 0.5% salt
  • 0.5% poultry vitamin and mineral mix

Instructions:

  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Store in a cool, dry place.

Recipe 2: Layer Feed

Ingredients:

  • 40% corn
  • 25% wheat
  • 15% oats
  • 10% soybean meal
  • 5% fish meal
  • 2% limestone
  • 1% salt
  • 1% poultry vitamin and mineral mix
  • 1% crushed eggshells (for added calcium)

Instructions:

  1. Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Store the feed in a dry, rodent-proof container.

These recipes are just starting points. Feel free to adjust the ratios based on the specific needs and preferences of your flock. Remember to maintain a balanced diet to ensure your chickens’ optimal health.

10. Compost for Chicken Food

Composting isn’t just an eco-friendly way to reduce waste; it can also be a valuable source of food for your chickens. Here’s how to set up a composting system in your backyard to create nutrient-rich compost that serves as supplementary chicken feed.

Types of Compostable Materials for Chickens:

  1. Kitchen Scraps: Fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells are excellent additions to your compost pile.
  2. Yard Waste: Leaves, grass clippings, and plant trimmings can be composted to create a nutritious treat for your flock.
  3. Manure: Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen and adds valuable nutrients to the compost.

Creating a Chicken-Friendly Compost Pile:

  1. Build Layers: Alternate layers of kitchen scraps, yard waste, and manure in your compost pile. This layering promotes decomposition.
  2. Aerate the Pile: Turn the compost regularly to ensure even decomposition and to prevent odors.
  3. Harvest the Compost: When the compost is ready, harvest it and introduce it to your chickens. They’ll scratch through it, searching for tasty morsels and valuable nutrients.

Using compost as chicken food not only reduces waste but also enriches your chickens’ diet with a variety of natural ingredients. Just be sure to compost safely, avoiding any toxic or harmful materials.

11. Manage Weeds and Invasive Plants

Weeds and invasive plants can be a nuisance in your garden, but they can also serve as a valuable food source for your chickens.

Identifying Safe Weeds and Invasive Plants for Chickens:

  1. Dandelion: Chickens relish dandelion greens and flowers.
  2. Purslane: This nutritious weed is a chicken favorite and is packed with vitamins and minerals.
  3. Lambsquarters: A common garden weed, lambsquarters provide valuable nutrients to your flock.

Encouraging Growth: Promote the growth of these chicken-friendly plants by allowing them to flourish in specific areas of your yard. Chickens will naturally graze on them, reducing the need for store-bought feed.

Controlling Harmful Weeds: While encouraging beneficial weeds, take steps to control or eradicate harmful weeds that could harm your chickens. Avoid the use of chemical herbicides and opt for natural weed control methods.

By managing weeds and invasive plants in your yard, you can provide your chickens with a free and nutritious source of food while keeping your garden tidy.

12. Create DIY Insect Traps

Insects are a protein-rich food source that chickens relish. Here are some instructions on constructing simple traps or insect-catching devices to harvest insects, grubs, and other critters for your flock.

DIY Mealworm Farm:

Materials:

  • Plastic container with a lid
  • Wheat bran
  • Mealworms
  • Potato or carrot slices
  • Small dishes

Instructions:

  1. Fill the container with a layer of wheat bran.
  2. Add mealworms to the container.
  3. Place potato or carrot slices on top as a moisture source.
  4. Cover the container with small dishes to create dark hiding spots for the mealworms.
  5. Wait for the mealworms to multiply, and then harvest them as needed.

Cricket Trap:

Materials:

  • Large plastic container with a lid
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Cricket food (available at pet stores)
  • Water source

Instructions:

  1. Cut holes in the container and insert cardboard tubes.
  2. Add cricket food and a water source.
  3. Crickets will enter the container but won’t be able to escape.

Harvesting Earthworms:

Encourage earthworm populations in your garden or compost pile by creating a hospitable environment. Chickens will eagerly consume earthworms when they find them.

These DIY traps and methods allow you to provide your chickens with a consistent supply of protein-rich insects, reducing the need for commercial feed.

13. Crop Rotation and Chicken Integration

Crop rotation is a time-tested farming practice that can benefit both your garden and your chickens. Here’s how to incorporate crop rotation and chicken integration to maintain a healthier garden and provide fresh greens for your flock.

Benefits of Crop Rotation:

  1. Soil Health: Crop rotation helps maintain soil fertility and prevents the buildup of soil-borne diseases.
  2. Pest Management: Changing crop types can disrupt pest lifecycles and reduce the need for chemical pesticides.

Chicken-Integrated Garden:

  1. Garden Layout: Designate a portion of your garden for chicken-friendly plants. Install fencing to protect more delicate crops.
  2. Plant Selection: Choose crops that are not only beneficial for your family but also suitable for chickens. Greens like kale, Swiss chard, and lettuce are popular choices.
  3. Rotational Grazing: Rotate your chickens through different garden sections during fallow periods to help control pests and fertilize the soil.

By combining crop rotation and chicken integration, you can create a symbiotic relationship that benefits both your garden’s yield and your chicken’s diet.

14. Vary Feeding by the Season

Chickens’ dietary needs can vary with the seasons. So if you’re looking for how to feed chickens without buying feed, you need to consider adjusting your chickens’ diet as the weather changes to ensure they receive optimal nutrition throughout the year.

Winter Feeding:

  1. Limited Foraging: During winter, foraging opportunities may be limited. Supplement your chickens’ diet with extra grains and kitchen scraps.
  2. Provide Warmth: Ensure your chickens have access to a warm and dry coop to maintain their health and egg production.

Summer Hydration:

  1. Hot Weather: Chickens require ample shade and clean, cool water during hot summer months to prevent heat stress.
  2. Foraging Opportunities: Summer is a prime time for free-ranging and foraging. Encourage this behavior to reduce the need for supplemental feed.

By adapting their diet to the changing seasons, you can keep your chickens healthy and happy year-round.

15. Monitor Their Health

When relying on alternative feeding methods, it’s crucial to monitor your chickens’ health closely.

Observing Your Flock:

  1. Behavior: Watch for changes in behavior, such as lethargy, aggression, or unusual vocalizations.
  2. Egg Production: Track egg production to ensure it remains consistent. A drop in egg production can be a sign of nutritional issues.

Common Health Issues:

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: Be aware of common nutritional deficiencies, such as calcium or protein, and take corrective actions if necessary.
  2. Parasites: Regularly check for external and internal parasites, as they can impact your chickens’ health.

Consult a Veterinarian: If you notice persistent health issues, consult a veterinarian with experience in poultry care.

Regular health monitoring is essential to ensure your chickens thrive on alternative diets.

16. Record Keeping

Maintaining records of your chickens’ diets, egg production, and overall health is essential for successful alternative feeding. This section explains the importance of record keeping and provides guidance on how to keep accurate records.

What to Record:

  1. Diet: Document the types and quantities of feed, scraps, and forage you provide.
  2. Egg Production: Keep a log of daily egg production, noting any changes.
  3. Health Observations: Record any health issues, treatments, or interventions.

Benefits of Record Keeping:

  1. Trend Identification: Records help identify trends and patterns in egg production and health.
  2. Problem Solving: If issues arise, records provide valuable information for troubleshooting.

By maintaining organized records, you can make informed decisions about your chickens’ diet and well-being.

17. Legal and Zoning Considerations

Depending on your location, there may be regulations regarding keeping chickens and feeding practices. Make sure to check local laws and zoning ordinances related to raising chickens and alternative feeding methods.

18. Troubleshooting Common Challenges

Address common challenges that readers may encounter when feeding chickens without buying feed, such as pest infestations, unbalanced diets, or limited space. Offer practical solutions and tips for overcoming these challenges.

By incorporating these sections into the guide, you can create a comprehensive resource that equips readers with a wide range of knowledge and strategies for feeding their chickens in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. Whether you’re a novice chicken keeper or a seasoned pro, these techniques will help you provide your flock with nutritious and sustainable food sources while reducing your reliance on commercial feeds.

Learn more about what chickens can eat here.

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