Chicken feed can be confusing with what’s available on the market today. But don’t let it be! Here are a few options to consider.
You would think that chickens are like dogs – you can feed them commercially produced food by the 50 pound bag and they’re good to go. But that would be wrong! Just like dogs, chickens can have food scraps, treats and even other animals! But unlike dogs, they need a critical part of their diet – grit. Let’s dive a bit more into what chickens can eat.
Before we start…
It is so important to note that chickens are omnivores! They prey on insects, snakes and other small animals. Without those critical sources of protein, they could be subject to poor egg production (I touch on that in this post), lack of weight gain, lack of muscle function and more. Don’t deprive your chickens on the diet God intended them to have by feeding them a vegetarian diet!
So what can they have?
The simplest way to feed your chickens is to let them free range. This is plenty to get them a “balanced diet.” They get to scratch around in the dirt for bugs and rocks, they get plenty of grass and they may even happen upon a snake.
Pro – Free ranging chickens is how God designed them to be. You also know that they’re getting what they need with little to no intervention on your part. Your biggest worry at that point is predators.
Con – If you free range your chickens, you may need to consider supplementing their feed in the winter. There are plenty of options on the market to get your chickens the protein and calcium they need to continue producing eggs. Or you can make your own feed! (I give you a couple tips for getting your chickens through the winter in this post).
Kitchen scraps or compost
Kitchen scraps are an incredible way to close the food system on your homestead. Turn food waste into eggs! The only con I’ve found to giving my chickens food scraps it that it deprives my compost from getting the green matter it needs to stay balanced. But I’ll gladly find other options if it means cutting down on my feed bill.
Fermented feed is a great way to get your feed to stretch during the summer. And it’s incredibly simple. In the past, I’ve added equal parts feed and water to a plastic bin (these are our favorite) and let it sit outside during a warm week. On the second day, I stir my mixture and add feed and water accordingly, until I get a damp feed mixture. I repeat the process until my mixture thickens and begins to smell like yeast. Both of those are great signs my feed has fermented.
Pro – fermented feed is a great way to support your chicken’s gut health. Some say it also wipes out pathogens from their systems.
Cons – since fermenting feed is a warm-weather activity, you do risk molding your feed if you aren’t attentive to your mixture. Consider that as a risk, especially if you’re already pinching pennies over feed prices.
Supplements and Treats
Just like humans, animals get bored, too! Giving your chickens treats is a great way to both supplement their diet with things they may be missing from their primary food source and keep them entertained and from getting in to trouble. Treats may come in the form of meal worms, kitchen scraps (if you aren’t already supplementing), or whole kernel corn.
Don’t feed your chickens…
There are a few things you should steer clear of as a food source for your chickens. At the top of the list, a vegetarian diet. I’ve touched on it at the beginning of this post and I can’t help but feel like it bears repeating. Feed your chickens what they need! Nightshades are also on the list of things to avoid. Raw potatoes and even the greens from nightshades can injure your birds, and potentially kill them. So when you’re clearing your garden, do not feed your chickens your tomato stems and leaves. Those are nightshade greens!
There are also some flowers known to be harmful to chickens. For the most part, chickens are a hearty animal. And in my experience, will avoid foods if they don’t want to eat what you’ve given them.
Chicken Food Myths
Some say that chickens can’t consume seeds, meat or dairy. Why is that?
Seeds – some say that when chickens consume seeds it will get stuck in their throats, they will choke and die. In my experience, that’s not the case. In my opinion, it’s because chickens have plenty of experience eating grit, which grinds the food they eat into a paste so they can properly absorb the available nutrients.
Meat – We’ve touched on this – chickens are omnivores. My chickens do not free range and thus, don’t have access to animals. So to supplement their diet, I give them the organ meats from the half cow I buy every year. I also give them cooked meat in my kitchen scraps. By no means is this a large part of their diet, but it isn’t something I shy away from.
Dairy – If you’re at all familiar with a farm that has many different animals, you’ve probably seen the skim milk from a milk cow will be mixed in with slop for pigs. Pigs and chickens can usually cohabitate with no issues. Read – the chickens are eating the pig slop with no issues. There may be some instances where chickens will have a poor response to the enzymes found in milk. It’s similar to the response we see in humans, namely upset stomach and diarrhea. In small amounts, this likely won’t permanently injure your chickens. But if you see any signs of upset in your chickens, discontinue your feeding methods and find something that works.
Other great posts
I’ve dedicated this month to talking about chickens. I’ve got other great posts already published. Check out –