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!