I am a huge fan of homemade chicken feeds!
- Ingredients can be based on considerations like local availability from growers and vendors, seasonal availability of home grown feedstuffs, preferences of the flock or the flockster, prices, ethics, and so on. I can choose the highest quality, organic ingredients rather than by-products.
- No longer reliant on milled bagged feeds that have lost some quality due to oxidation or storage conditions.
- No more partial bags hanging around. Mix and grind only what is needed. You can use up that bag of feed with the use of the Pearson's Square.
- Time saving. It's quick and easy to mix up a batch of chicken feed.
Yes! Homemade chicken feed! There's been lots of enthusiasm over the last few years about homemade chicken feed. On one hand, bagged feeds are a relatively new innovation and super easy to use: open the bag and feed animals. On the other hand there is heaps of research to help us formulate feeds to support a healthy, productive flock.
Update: May 20, 2017
It can seem like a daunting task to make homemade feed. But, it is rewarding and empowering to know that you can formulate and mix feed for your flock using homestead resources or limit the grains and such that you need to purchase.
Bagged Magic. There are many that would have us believe that there is something magical in purchased feeds or that it takes so much time or that you will kill your animals. Bagged feeds generally have very low cost ingredients like calcium carbonate and oyster shell, low cost industry by-products like grain meals (often the oil from these grains has been expressed for another use), moderate cost ingredients like peas, and high cost ingredients like fish meal and other supplements, all mixed in a magical bag for top dollar. Once you sit down with a spreadsheet and start playing with the numbers like percentage of protein, amount needed per batch, cost per batch, and so forth, it becomes clear that we are being ripped off. A pound of homemade feed simply cannot be compared to a pound of bagged feed. Often flocksters find that less feed is required for a happy, healthy flock.
My Strategies, Your Strategies. I share the Chicken Feed Workbook to encourage folks to take full control of what they are feeding homestead creatures. There are many approaches to feeding the flock and my strategies work for us in our situation and I encourage folks to do what works in their situation.
Cost. No, making homemade feed isn't cheap. It can cost time, energy, and gas just to get the ingredients. The ingredients are often not inexpensive. You might need to come up with a storage solution and purchase a grain mill. However, we've found that the feed to egg conversion is excellent. The cost of each dozen eggs was less than $2.00. We were feeding black solider fly larvae, quality kitchen trimmings, and sprouted grains that decreased the quantity of feed required on most days.
Sourcing Ingredients. We moved to Tennessee last year and that means we had to find new sources. A couple of folks have emailed me about Azure specifically. Yes, we still order from Azure. But, we no longer source our bulk grain ingredients from Azure with the exception of flax. Why? Azure charges a fuel surcharge that's currently 10% and it is anticipated that Azure will need to recoup more of the real cost of shipping from Dufur, Oregon in the form of a per pound shipping surcharge. So, we now source from an organic farm in Tennessee. Long story short, ask around and you'll be surprised what you'll find. It can be tough and take some time but we are now able to make our homemade feed using organic grains for ~40% less than when we lived in San Diego.
- Rely on a diverse array of grains, seeds, and legumes to avoid swift, severe ration changes. Feedipedia can help you learn more about the ingredients you are considering.
- Source from more than one supplier or know of other suppliers. Azure Standard, our local cooperative, a local feed store, and a Modesto Milling buying group offer the ingredients that we use in our rations. Or maybe it is a fellow flockster who also keeps a good supply of ingredients on hand who could help you out in a pinch.
- Consider adding supplements to ensure all essential amino acids, minerals, and micro nutrients are provided. Which supplements you ask, here are a few to consider: Fertrell's Nutri-Balancer, Thorvin kelp, Redmond's Mineral Conditioner, fish meal, brewer's yeast (Saccharomyce cerevisiae), crab meal, and so on. You might prefer to avoid fish meal or crab meal or might not have access to some of these supplements but talk to the folks at the feed store and learn what is available.
- Consider storing larger quantities of ingredients that have availability issues and/or be ready to adjust the recipe based on an ingredient being out of stock.
- Mix feeds based on weight not dry volume measurement.
- Grind a supply of feed to last 30-45 days so it's as power packed with nutrition as possible. I mix and grind once every 27-29 days and it takes less than 30 minutes to weigh out all the ingredients, grind, and mix.
- Consider grain-based rations to be a part of the diet rather than the entire diet. Consider other food stuffs.
- Consider a ration feeding strategy rather than a free feeding strategy. Read more about reducing feed costs and feeding strategies.
- Know and stick to the recommended rates for supplements. For example, Fertrell's should be added to the chicken feed at a rate of 3% (by weight). Redmond's Mineral Conditioner is recommended at a rate of 1.25% (again by weight) and so forth. Adding more than 5% of fish meal can meal eggs that taste a bit fishy...or at least that's what I've read.
- Gradually transition the flock to a new ration, especially if the change is from a mash or pellet to a whole grain ration. What does that mean? Over a period of weeks gradually increase the amount of the new ration. I usually start out with only 5% or 10% of the new ration (so 5% new ration and 95% old ration) and continue the transition by adding 10-15% more of the new ration each week.
- Grit and oyster shell can be offered free choice or as part of the ration. I prefer to offer it free choice so I can monitor intake and ensure adequate supply of each.
As you might have guessed, I am a huge Harvey Ussery fan. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock is a terrific resource if you are considering formulating chicken feeds. His website The Modern Homestead has some great pages on Feeding the Homestead Flock. Of course, there is tons of information available from university extensions and agriculture departments.
- G.F. Heuser (2003). Feeding Poultry. Norton Creek Press. ISBN: 0972177027. Note: This is a reprint of the 1955 classic.
- 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.