Homemade Chicken Feed for Healthy and Inexpensive Backyard Flocks

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Homemade Chicken Feed for Healthy and Inexpensive Backyard Flocks Chickens are easy to feed, and a small backyard flock can be sustained from homegrown feed sources with good success. Many garden vegetables and produce are suitable for chicken feed, and having a home garden can create additional foraging ground for a backyard laying flock.

Letting Chickens Graze Garden Spaces

Many garden vegetables and winter cover crops are fantastic chicken feed, including clovers, winter wheat, oats, grasses and more. Place chickens into a fenced in garden area to scratch and dig for grubs, eat weeds and grass and clean up any leftover plant material from the previous season. If you don’t have a fenced garden, use a portable chicken tractor to house the chickens over a specific area of the garden. (Click to Tweet)

Pests will be eliminated, the garden overturned and fertilized, and your food bill reduced. Not to mention that your chicken flock will be healthier and your eggs more nutritious! Some homesteaders also allow their flocks to roam through a fruit orchard and berry patches where they help clean up pests like weevils, grubs, cicadas and Japanese beetles.

Growing Crops for Additional Feed

If you have some garden space, homesteaders and backyard flock owners can grow some of their own chicken feed to get through the winter when less is available through free-range. If you have a cold-box, green house or ability to grow indoors, chicken owners can grow many of their own winter forage materials. Sprouting seeds are high in protein and other easy to grow crops like kale, rape, and winter squash (which store well over the winter) can provide supplementation for chickens. Kitchen scraps can also often be fed to the chickens -especially full-grown chickens. (Note the comment exchange regarding potatoes.)

Mulching Chicken Runs for Increased Forage Material

Another way to provide feed for chickens through the winter is to provide them with deep layers of mulch in their chicken coop, runs and other areas. While dormant grass would be destroyed by winter foraging, a chicken will find lots of organic material to eat by scratching through deep layers of straw, bark chips, shredded leaves and grass clippings.

In our family, we use mowed grass clippings and raked leaves to create a deep layer of mulch in the garden bed and chicken coop areas. Releasing the chickens into these areas during a sunnier winter day means a bustle of activity, squawking, scratching and fun with full crops to be enjoyed by all. A bit of chicken supplement feed scattered in the middle of the afternoon allows us to fill in any gaps, but our chickens are thriving in this type of situation.

Having the deep liter scattered about allows insects, earthworms and other yummies to have a place to live, giving your chickens something to dig for. In the spring, we just clean it up and throw it into the compost pile!

About AngEngland

has written 480 posts in this blog.

Founder of Untrained Housewife, Editor-in-Chief of Blissfully Domestic (http://blissfullydomestic.com), mother of five, wife of one, and God-seeker always.

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Conquering Your Kitchen Guide

Comments

  1. Cluck Cluck says

    As a homesteader with a flock of layers, I’m still laughing at this post. growing some feed to “get them through the Winter”? If you want eggs from your layers, they need care and proper nutrients (and additional lighting) or you are putting your hens into a holding position when they could be a food source.

    Grass clippings that have been bagged or set aside during warm weather are always moldy. Feeding chickens anything that is molded will present problems, illness, and even death.

    You also said, “insects, earthworms and other yummies” in the Winter?? In most states, they have died or gone into Winter hibernation.

    Did a bot write this post?!

      • says

        That’s awesome you’ve been raising chickens so long! My in-laws have been raising chickens forever, but my husband and I are just starting out our family. And our tiny backyard garden/chicken flock and milk goats.

        If you’d like to contribute some articles based on your experiences, we’d love to have your input! Especially since you’ve been doing it so long – the more the merrier. See the link at the top of the site for information about writing articles with Untrained Housewife.

      • lorian says

        So sorry, didn’t mean to offend. I agree that it sounded harsh. I should have explained myself instead of calling the article silly. Apologies.

          • rita lloyd says

            Is this thread still going? If it is I would appreciate any replies to my queries.

            We are intending to keep 10 Dorking Chickens.We have been raising toy show dogs for over 30 years so understand the need for good husbandry.

            For years I helped my Dad with his chickens for years. Our’s will have over an acre to forage and roam, plenty of grass, fern, reeds etc, quite ‘wild’ acreage not at all cultivated in over 20 years. My Dad used to grind baked egg shells for grit and calcium,the main ‘extra’feed he fed was Corn or Maize I guess. In the winter my Mam make proper dinner every day and my Dad would boil all the peelings, mash them up and mix them with bran and oats and Oil or fat.He left Corn in the coop each night and they always had plenty of fresh water daily. Would this still suffice? Can we use shredded paper for bedding instead of straw? He used straw for their ‘nests’ or bedding and sawdust on the floor.

            • says

              My guess is that paper would stink more than shredded paper and I would worry about the potential toxins from inks and things in the papers. For a deep bed the best is biodegrable items that will break down into compost – we have always used leaves, straw and sawdust.

            • DanniCorth says

              Ok so I am still new to raising chickens. I have 6 hens and a rooster all under a year old. My Hen house is in the woods with NO artificial light or electricity. How ever what we have found is in the late fall we change the hay over in the house and just keep adding to it. We finally changed it last weekend with the January Warm up. But my Hens have NOT stopped laying. and are very happy. They get 2 scoops of grains a day along with Misc Veggies that can be bought at your local grocery store on the mark down rack. I agree NEVER give them anything molded. But they Love the treats (fresh Vegies) Even once cooked most Vegies serve as a great addition for your chickens diet. But the key is to talk to them. ( and no I am not crazy. Just like they say talking to plants.) The Happy Hen keeps laying for you.

    • ck says

      @Cluck…apparently reading comprehension is not one of your best attributes. ‘Some’ implies just that. I grow beds or buckets of oat and rye grass that is clipped and added TO my chickens rations, it supplements ‘some’ of their food intake. And she didn’t advocate feeding them bagged, moldy grass. She said to mulch it and let the chickens scratch under it for forage. If you weren’t so close-minded and ignorant you’d know that decomposition produces heat, or did you never see a steaming pile of compost in the middle of winter before? Did you not know that in many countries including the UK, food stuffs like potatoes, etc. are kept in piles of straw and hay exactly to save them from freezing over the winter? And cold weather does not kill off worms and insects or we wouldn’t have any after winter is over. They simply move to warmer environments(deeper in the ground or where freezing doesn’t take place) and this includes up INTO composted material that is warm and toasty due to decomposition. And that is another source of high protein for chickens and why I raise worms year-round to add to their forage. In the majority of this country the ground is actually covered by snow for a period of time measured in days/weeks, not months. This isn’t Siberia. And even frozen ground reveals seeds and grains left over from prior plantings or have you not figured out how your average bird survives in cold climates, not all migrate you know. You sound like you feed your layers nothing BUT store bought feed which makes you ignorant of the fact that your eggs are no better than the ones from the stores and therefore not as healthy. And having egg production slow down due to conservation of energy for keeping warm is NOT harmful to the birds, it’s a preservation tactic borne of evolution. Get a clue Cluck…

      • says

        This is exactly what we do – We have a deep layer of hay and cut grass – about 2 feet deep – which provides enough scratch to help supplement them. We still feed them, obviously, but they aren’t solely on pre-packaged feed through the winter. As much as possible I like to provide a wide-variety of feed stuffs for our tiny flock.

    • says

      My kids are pros at digging them out from under our compost pile even in many of the winter months. We live in Southern OK – typically listed as zone 7 although our area’s micro-climate has winters that are zone-6-ish.

      Many homesteaders in this area keep earthworm bins for compost. My kids like to raise them in the back mudroom in a rubbermaid bin. It’s free, easy compost and in our case, supplements for the other animals.

    • says

      I should also add that in this area people usually dry their grass clippings for hay? The only thing I’ve seen people bag around the ranch is if they don’t want leaves for their compost pile.

    • says

      HI! I wanted to mention that you can lay out a tarp on your driveway (be it asphalt or gravel) and dump your raked or mowed/vaccumed grass clippings on it. Let it dry out and voila! good for chickens.

      Also, by doing your clippings this way it keeps your compost from molding as you have a brown layer instead of a wet green layer. Anyone who composts knows you always have plenty of green and not enough brown.

      We had chickens as children and after raking our lawns we’d shake them out on tarps to dry and be bagged for winter as a supplement and we’d toss half of the clippings into the chicken yard for those who actually stayed in! :)

      Also, by having deep layers to scratch in you’ll insulate the ground. That means that you’ll have bug/insect/worm activity that the girls will scratch up and gooble excitedly. I can’t remember the number of times watching the girls scratching and fighting over some juicy, buggy tidbit during the winter when we had 2-3 feet of snow on the ground. So…yep…you can have buggies in the deep litter.

      Oh…deep litter also provides B vitamins which is good for your girls and boys. So, deep litter provides vitamins, fresh protein, heat (due to composting), keeps birds sane and happy and you too as you’re not muckin’ out the coop and freezin’ your tookus off.

      Honey

    • Catherine says

      I’m kind of surprised at the vitriol here. This is useful information where I live: we’re overrun by insects throughout winter and it’s a prime time for growing clover, winter wheat, slugs, and worms. Not everybody lives where there is a foot of snow all winter long – even us folks in the Pacific Northwest have chickens.

      • says

        It happens. I think maybe people just glanced through without reading in depth – that happens sometimes. And especially with topics where it’s a big learning curve like chicken feed the old-fashioned way. My husband’s grandmother had a lot of little tips and tricks that are “weird” now but weren’t weird at the time. They went to town 5 or 6 times a year…you didn’t BUY chicken feed – you grew it or found it.

    • Dev says

      Have you considered an earth worm farm, or growing grubs? Maybe you should expand your mind…your chickens may love you for it, this winter.

    • bryce says

      Well if we’re being RUDE you don’t sound like much of a “homesteader” @Cluck. In fact you sound really ignorant. Everything she stated was pretty self explanitory, meaning it wasn’t necessary for her to go into great detail on how she stored her clippings etc seeing as how that doesn’t relate directly to the point of her blog. In addition to that, most states are NOT freezing tundra. So…. get your facts straight and keep them to yourself next time ;D

  2. FarmSchooler says

    I tend to agree with the author, but think a few things need to be elaborated on…and I have some other suggestions also.

    First, what is DEEP mulch. Its about 2ft deep. Its not cheap to keep hens in a pen during the winter…unless, as was mentioned, you consider the cost of turning them out to wander far and wide full-time. Our chicken hawk population is to large for that kind of thinking though. Most of the time *I* use hay out of the goat shed for a bottom layer (complete with fly larvae much of the year and cover it with fresh horse quality hay to insulate and encourage microbials. My litmus test is what does the henhouse smell like. If it smells sour or like dirty litter, something needs to change. I COMPLETELY rake out out hen house on the first of each month and start over. It NEVER smells that way. Oh and make sure you keep fresh hay in the nest boxes too. Thats a daily check & change sometimes….esp if they dont have enough roosting space otherwise.

    Additionally, my chickens & hogs split the daily compost bucket. I feed a family of SIX 2-3 times daily. Always have scraps of leftover milk, kefir, yogurt, fruits, veggies, eggshells, etc that they LOVE. I think its what keeps them from wandering too much personally.

    I have even been known to incubate, hatch & brood chicks toward the end of winter, to get a jump on the new season. We use a floor model heat lamp brooder that will accommodate up to 100 chicks at a time. I feed them a souped up homemade cornbread (extra bran & eggs in the mix), softened w/ sour milk twice a day. It generally gets them thru that last part of winter nicely.

    I appreciate the author trying to encourage folks to consider keeping a backyard flock…its indespensible in my opinion AND to think outside the commercial feed box. They havent started requiring we register what animal feeds we use yet, but they will soon enough. Folks need to remember, our grandmothers kept flocks without commercial feed.

    • says

      Thank you so much for your input! Our flock is relatively small – two roosters and twenty hens max although right now we are (thanks to a stray dog who dug into the backyard) roosterless. We have 12 hens. We generally let them out every day that isn’t raining but live far enough near town that chicken hawks aren’t USUALLY an issue. We’ve lost one in three years.

      Our hen house hasn’t smelled at all since the very first winter BEFORE we started adding deep mulch – like you we knew with the smell that something needed to change. We also have goats!! The two types of animals get on great together – anything the goats don’t eat our chickens will and visa versa. We’ve never thought to use goat compost in the hen house, we usually keep compost pile in the back corner and the chickens scratch through it even in winter.

    • Karen says

      Yes, my chickens run loose in the yard and when they are not eating feed we buy for them, they scratch for bugs and such….. they are very healthy, and my hens produce very good eggs…

  3. says

    I raise chickens and a couple pigs side by side. They enjoy each other’s company and the pigs let the chickens peck in their trough. I have read that it isn’t good to raise the two together, but have had absolutely no problems doing so. It is cute to see the hens warming their toes in winter–they sit on the sleeping pigs sides/backs.

    Each evening I send the hens back to their own roost and lock them in. The only reason I do is because of the coyotes, which do not enter the pig’s house, but we lost a rooster and some hens to coyotes because they begin free-ranging at the crack of dawn while the coyotes are still hunting. So, I pen safely in the coop–separate area within the pig shed–each night and let them loose when I feed in the AM.

    We free-range all day. Hawks, eagles, turkey vultures and other predators are in area, but we have had very few problems. Predator birds tend to stay away on a “busy” farm. We have 20-acres, but find the chickens stick to only the acre surrounding their coop. They hide under vehicles when they hear the hawks. Pretty smart. Roosters warn them and help protect too. I have heard, but not tried, that adding a turkey or goose to your flock is great for predators. They are more aware and warn the hens is the theory.

    We are switching over to all natural, home grown chicken feed. I currently supplement their free-range diet with commercial feed. Organic feed is hard to find and expensive, so we are looking for alternative feeds we can grow ourselves.

    So far, I’ve learned you can grow greens, kale, swiss chard, turnips, rape, comfrey, pumpkins/squashes, potatoes & sweet potatoes (slightly cooked & mashed), mangel or fodder beets (whole), Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers for chicken feed.

    You can also grow grains so you can thresh and store the seeds for year-round feed. Corn, wheat, oats, buckwheat, rye, barley, amaranth (“pig weed”), cowpeas and others. Hulless grains are easiest to thresh.

    I am also a writer. I will be posting an article about the alternative organic chicken feeds at my website later today, so check in there for more information.

    I have learned it is best to slowly wean from commercial feeds to other feeds or methods. Inheriting 4 hens from my brother that had never been free-ranged was comical. They had no clue what to do, but learned from the other hens in just a month or so. I provided more feed during that time to help them adjust without starving.

    Thanks for the info. on the layer compost method in your article. My hens do scratch a lot in the compost pile for insects and other small seeds, etc.

    • says

      Just a little sidenote, but I think one of the reasons people say you shouldn’t keep chickens and pigs together is if they are penned together at night I have heard of pigs biting off the toes of the chickens who are roosting. For some reason, chickens don’t move in the dark. Mine don’t anyway. Have you ever gone to the barn in the dark and you can pick up any of the chickens?

      • Karen says

        We have had bitties whos mama got gone and at night, we can find another hen with bitties and just lift her up and put that bitty under her, and she never knows the difference, and you are right for some reason they don’t move at night!!

    • Karen says

      Yes, unfortunately I just lost one of my hens that I had for 5 years to a fox I guess, something got her, but there are a lot of woods around here…. I miss her, her name was “Pretty Girl”…

    • Dev says

      Will my hens and roosters damage my garden? My hubby and I want to free range our small flock of two dozen, but we are not sure if we should fence the garden or not.

      • says

        YES! Chickens love the new green plants you put in and they also love your tomatoes when they start to ripen. Believe me-I found out the hard way! There wasn’t much salsa made that year!! They will also church up the dirt around the other newly planted plants! Good luck.

  4. says

    CAN U GIVE ME THE METHOD ON HOW TO MAKE AN ALTERNATIVE FEEDS FOR 45 DAYS CHICKEN USING THE MALUNGGAY LEAVES,SQUASH,PEANUUTS,SOYBEANS,?????

    • Patrick says

      Aileen, you must be Filipino. Mabuhay! Malungay(sweet potato) leaves are great for human consumption too! :) I ask the same thing: what is a good alternative for commercial grain feed for chickens? I have a dozen chickens and about a 1/4 acre. I let them free range–and it supplements…but how does one get away from fattening them up on commercial grains? The home made grain mixes are very expensive (mahal!) Thanks.

  5. Snowballs says

    I have free range chickens, but recently put them in a large chicken tractor to protect them from my stupid puppy that thinks it’s fun to chase down a chicken and kill it. Until the puppy learns otherwise, I’m not losing any more birds. Also in the equation is my quarter acre garden. The chicken tractor was cheaper to build than it was to fence in the entire garden as well as my flowerbeds. Those chickens are a MENACE to anything planted, and they spread my beauty bark all over. If it’s new, they scratch all over, but after a while, they get bored and move on to something else, leaving a mess all over the grass behind them. Sigh… Plus, now I can get all my eggs, instead of having them in the shed, under the goat barn, under the house… etc.

    So, I am worried about feeding them enough while they are in the chicken tractor. This last whole year, including winter, I hardly fed them at all- literally. We had most of our winter was mild, except for a two week stint with two feet of snow. During that time, and some of the colder nights, I put some feed out, mostly meat scraps and extra fat I had saved up. Other than that, they roamed our acre, mostly scratching under the rabbit cages, and got all the worms and good greens they could ever want. I checked their breastbones and they were fine. The chickens that I butchered for dinner has LOTS of fat on them. That would tell me that they did great just fending for themselves.

    However, now that they are in the free range pen, the rabbit source will not be available to them, so I am thinking I may have to supplement their feed with something. I don’t want them to starve. I have a few ducks in there, as well. I am trying to avoid buying feed, because it makes my eggs expensive. Being as self sufficient and cheap as possible is my goal. Ideas? I thought perhaps some kind of rotatation that I had read about: Run the grass eaters first on the patch, then the pigs to till, then the chickens to eat the parasites, then plant. Repeat on next patch. My concern is getting them enough rabbit poo to scratch through. The red worms there have been a major source in their diet. Thoughts?

  6. dawnylou says

    I am relatively new to having chickens. In February we got 20 Rhode Island Red eggs and put them in the incubator. We had 14 eggs hatch. We ended up with 16 baby chicks. I got 4 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Barred plymouth Rocks, 3 white Leghorns and 2 Brown leghorns, plus I got 2 Pekin Ducks from Tractor Supply. I have 5 children that love helping with the chickens and ducks. We are thinking of goats in the future.
    We had an old shed that we made into the coop. My husband fenced it in and put a net over top. We just rota tiled the gardens. We were using store bought food. However, I am going to be doing some of the things that you all suggested. I want to save money, yet give my flock a variety. Thank you for your posts. They have been very helpful.

  7. says

    This article is great! I too, want to have the most ‘natural’ diet for my chickens and ducks. Last year I started throwing some scratch grains directly onto the soil in one of the runs. What they didn’t eat grew into more food and shade for this summer. I was stunned to see all the ‘free’ milo, grasses, sunflowers, etc that grew in an area that I thought they had pecked clean! We have so many sunflowers this year that I’ll be able to cut off some of the heads to save for winter feed and entertainment.
    There are a lot of winter squashes, pumpkins, etc that can be grown and stored for winter feed. One year I froze bags of cucumbers. I’d thaw them in the sink, then take the mushy cukes out to the girls. They loved them!

  8. says

    I realize this is an older post, but I have a comment and a question…
    First off, thank you for this article :D We are still in our first year of raising chickens (will be a year on May 7th 2013), but everything I have read has said NOT to feed chickens even scraps of potatoes…this article says it is ok. I take it you have never had any adverse results from feeding them potatoes? We do not have as many chickens as you. We live on less than an acre but have 11 standard size laying hens (10 Isa Browns & 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte) and 2 bantam hens (a bantam mille fleur & a bantam silkie) who all 12 lay almost daily. We also have 2 bantam roosters who might end up as filler for the stock pot if they don’t shape up lol.
    I would love to supplement their food, but am unsure what is safe and what is not. I have heard no potatoes, raw oats, iceberg lettuce or legumes…probably others but those are what I can think of off the top of my head! Any experience based advice would be amazing!
    Also, kudos on the way you handled the harsh comments at the top. That takes an a-class lady to handle it so well (steel toed boots or not ;) ).

    • says

      I know green potatoes shouldn’t be eaten and I cut any green spots out of the potatoes for even my own family (we just put those into the compost bin) but I will ask our resident veterinarian contributor about the rest of it.

    • says

      I emailed her and she replied – “Hi Angela.

      I honestly didn’t know the answer to your question so I did a little research on Veterinary Information Network which is a professional site open to veterinarians only. I did find some evidence that raw potatoes might slow the growth of young birds and may decrease feed efficiency. In small quantities, they probably wouldn’t harm a mature bird but, based on my research, I would not advise feeding large quantities.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you need anything else.

      Lorie”

      • says

        Thanks so much! I wasn’t trying to contradict what you were saying, just curious…seems like with anything else, when it comes to chicken raising, if you ask 4 people you’ll get 5 different opinions lol. I can’t wait to look around your site more! I didn’t realize until after I asked the question that you are “THE Angela England!” :D I have “Backyard Farming on an Acre (more or less)” on my wish list for when we have the money to buy it! (We are doing Dave Ramsey’s financial freedom thing so everything has to be budgeted for …good for our future selves, but SO hard right now when it means you can’t buy ANYTHING extra until everything starts getting paid off) I think I saw the thumbnail on the blog last night but never put AngEngland and ANGELA ENGLAND together ;)…no one has ever accused me of being too quick on the draw ;)
        Thank you for the information!

        • says

          Yeah totally! We ARE really careful about what we give our youngsters but we never have enough scraps of any one item to much effect the laying hens – especially since we have a dozen or more at any given time. Like Lorie said you wouldn’t want to give it in large portions – in fact you really would want to avoid giving ANY one item in large portions. A mixed, omni diet for the chickens is best. Mine get all KINDS of mixed goodies through the week depending on where they are foraging and what we’re doing in the garden/kitchen.

  9. kim says

    In my tropical country our grandma just feed them using dried corn, leftover rice, and old coconut fleshminced into tiny piece (can easily found in our backyard). The rest they just kept digging for worm, and searching for various bug. They even destroy our spinach and eat them, such a omnivore. It’s pretty weird they love to eat Styrofoam from electronic packaging.

  10. Carolyn Schwartz says

    This post is interesting And it does say “speak your mind” But I don’t see any where to speak rudely!! Cluck Cluck

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