Easy Ways to Reduce Chicken Feed Costs

Hens enjoying some custom ration made with lots of good organic ingredients

I prefer not to “free feed” (leave food in their feeders at all times for them to eat as often as they want), since this approach can invite rodents to dinner and obesity in hens. Everyone’s situation is different and feeding routines will vary, just like chicken keeping and gardening
— Jessie Bloom, Free-Range Chicken Gardens ( pg. 31)

Fat chickens and dead chickens don’t lay many eggs. Gravity feeders can be easy for the flockster but with a constant source of feed, some hens will just hang out by the feeder...costing you more in feed. Fat hens ultimately mean fewer eggs.  Add to that higher morbidity and mortality, which also means fewer eggs. But, a rationed feeding strategy requires more time, observation, and tracking of feed consumption. 

Don’t feed four-legged visitors. Feed is a welcome mat to our furry, four-legged friends that chow down after the girls retire for the evening. Come on over, all you can eat buffet of organic chicken feed available! I certainly do not want to feed mice, rats, skunks, opossums, and whatever else might show up for the late night dinner party.

Reduce feed waste. Some gravity feeders can lead to lots of feed being wasted as they girls pick out the tasty bits first or just enjoy flinging the bits about the place. Try a different feeder. 

Plant chicken eats. Plants like nasturtium, comfrey, borage, mustards, and sunflowers can be easy to grow, readily self-sow or have an advantageous growing strategy as in the case of comfrey, and are good stuff for chickens to eat. Try a mixed forage seed blend. Plant extra vegetables to share with the flock. 

Sprouted grains. Sprout wheat, triticale, rye, or other grains. Yay, sprouted grains! More food for the same price! Just add water and wait.

Pre-measured chicken feed helps the helpers not overfeed the flock

Beginning flocksters tend to be nervous about making their own feeds. Remember that, with a curious mind and a bit of research, you will know more about natural feeding than experts and can experiment on your own.
— Harvey Ussery, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock (pg. 166)

Break the bag habit. Creating a custom ration can be a cost saving measure. After the initial investment to get started we found that feed costs were reduced by more than 50%. It takes about 30 minutes every 28 days or so to mix the ration which is less time than it would take to go to the feed store and buy chicken feed.

Store it right. Preserve all the goodness of milled chicken feed by storing in quality containers out of the rain and moisture. 

Fruit and vegtable trimmings for the hens

Grow little critters for the girls. Black solider fly larvae. Excellent homestead raised source of protein.

Yay, whey and other tasty stuff. Have a bounty of whey? Making a batch of yogurt? Growing sprouts? Have extra kefir? These can all be nice occasional additions. I am not suggesting that you make cheese to have whey...but rather if you are making a batch of cheese that the chickens will love the whey. When I make yogurt I make a bit extra to share with the flock. Didn't drink all the kefir? Share with the girls. Sprouting for the family...sprout for the flock too.

Quality kitchen trimmings. We are very fortunate to live close to a raw, vegan restaurant where we can grab quality fruit and vegetable trimmings to give the flock. Perhaps there is a local restaurant or cafe that you could partner with to feed your flock and save the trimmings from going to a landfill. It does take time to sort out the onions, banana skins, avocado pits and skins, citrus, and other bits that shouldn't be fed to chickens but it's free!

Side note. These are strategies that have worked for us in San Diego, California with backyard chickens. There are many strategies for feeding the flock! I highly recommend that flocksters try different strategies and keep records regarding egg production along the way. Each day we write the number of eggs collected on a calendar that's in a handy location. Tracking egg production can invaluable to understanding how productive the flock really is and often a drop in production is one of the first indicators of disease or disorder that may need to be addressed. 

Resources

  • BioPod Pre-fabricated bin for cultivating black solider fly larvae
  • Black Solider Fly Blog Learn more here about black solider fly larvae including DIY bins
  • Jessi Bloom (2012). Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard. Timber Press, Inc. ISBN: 9781604692372
  • Chicken forage blend Peaceful Valley's custom blend
  • Gail Damerow (2010). Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing. ISBN: 9781603424691.
  • Harvey Ussery (2011). The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers. Chelsea Green Publishing Company. ISBN: 9781603582902.
  •  Vittle Vaults We use and prefer the Outback Collection. Bonus: Made in USA