Chicken feed is expensive. And unfortunately, there may come a time when you can’t buy it, either because it costs too much or it just isn’t available. But don’t worry, your chickens won’t starve to death! There are plenty of ways to feed your chickens for cheap or free if you can’t buy feed.
There are plenty of ways to feed your chickens without buying chicken feed. You can allow them to free-range, feed them table scraps, raise worms and fodder, and produce from your own backyard. In addition, you can give them access to your compost pile, which is a whole array of food your chickens will love. With just a little knowledge, you can reduce the cost of feeding your chickens.
This article will cover how to feed your chickens if you can’t buy any feed. We’ll also give you a few tips on stretching the feed you already have and show you ways to feed your flock for free. But, first, let’s talk about free-ranging.
Free Range Your Chickens
Your chickens are actually quite good at feeding themselves! If you can let your chickens free-range, they will spend their day eating bugs, weeds, and even small snakes and rodents. The caveat here is that chickens are easily picked off by predators such as foxes and hawks, so you may lose a few chickens in the process.
If you can’t free-range your chickens all day, you might consider letting them out for just a few hours in the evening when you can supervise them. They’ll go back to their coop at dusk on their own, and this will give them some time when they can forage food for themselves, drastically cutting down on your food bill.
Use a Chicken Tractor
If you don’t want to free-range your chickens, you can put them in a mobile chicken tractor. This is just a movable pen or coop that you can push around your yard. Just move the tractor to a fresh plot of grass each day, and the chickens will be able to eat whatever worms and weeds are in that spot.
Feed Your Chickens Kitchen Scraps
Chickens are great at recycling! My chickens turn all of our leftover food into eggs. That’s right; I feed my chickens are kitchen scraps. Vegetable ends, plat scraps, and fruit and veggies that are just a little too far gone to be palatable all go to the chickens.
After every meal, the plates get scraped into a bucket under the sink. Then, in the afternoon, the leftovers all get dumped into the chicken pen for them to dig through and enjoy.
There are a few foods that chickens shouldn’t eat, such as beans, avocado, chocolate, and caffeine.
Put the Compost Bin in the Chicken Pen to Create a Chicken Smorgasbord
Chickens love compost! One of the easiest methods of feeding your chickens for free is to put a compost pile in the chicken pen. Layer your browns and greens in the compost pile like you usually would, and feel free to toss in your leftover fruits and veggies. The chickens will dig through the pile, turning it for you (and saving you the effort!). They’ll also add their own droppings to it, making it even richer for your plants.
They’ll pick through for leftover bits of fruits and vegetables. And your compost pile will attract plenty of worms and other delicious, nutritious bugs that your chickens will enjoy.
Grow a Chicken Garden For Chicken Food
There are plenty of foods that you can grow for your chickens, so why not make them their own chicken garden? You can grow a chicken garden separately and bring the produce to them, or grow this garden right in their own pen. If you do the latter, you’ll need to protect the baby plants with some screening until they start to produce. Some great vegetables to try are:
- Lettuce and salad greens
- Berries such as raspberries or blueberries
Avoid plants in the nightshade family because the plants could make your chickens sick. Don’t grow:
Feed Your Chickens All Your Weeds
Toss those weeds to the chickens if you are weeding your flowerbeds and vegetable garden. They’ll pick through and eat what they like, including the weed seeds that could spread more weeds to your garden. Chickens will love weeds such as dandelions, purslane, and plantain, but avoid weeds such as buttercup and pokeberry. You can find a more complete list of chicken-friendly weeds here.
Grow Fodder to Feed Your Flock
If you don’t have room for a chicken garden or have gardens to weed, you can grow fodder for them. Fodder is grains that have been sprouted. It can stretch 50 pounds of grain into 300 pounds of feed! And it makes the grain slightly more nutritious, too. For more complete directions on growing fodder, click here.
Raise Meal Worms, Earth Worms, or Crickets.
Chickens love bugs! And you can easily grow your own. The easiest bug to grow is probably mealworms, with earthworms coming close. You don’t need a lot of space, just a bin in the corner of the garage or basement (temperature permitting).
Feed the Birds Back Their Eggs
If you have an abundance of eggs, you can always feed some back to your chickens. Scramble them up, let them cool, and give them to your chickens. The extra protein is great for egg production, too.
Feed Your Chickens Their Eggshells
If you want to give your chickens a little extra calcium to improve the quality of their eggshells, you can save up all your eggshells to feed them. First, rinse the shells and let them dry completely. You can speed up the process by heating them in the oven for a little bit if you want. Then put all the shells in a baggie and run your rolling pin over the top until they are crushed to a fine powder. Mix this in your chickens’ food or put it in a separate container for them to nibble on. The extra calcium will make their shells stronger, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.
Find Free Chicken Food at the Pumpkin Patch and Local Farms
I live in a slightly rural area with lots of farms and a local pumpkin patch. After Halloween has passed, the kind folks that own it will allow people to come and gather up the leftover pumpkins from the field.
Chickens love pumpkins, and whole pumpkins will store in a cool, dry place for months under the right conditions. Just make sure to crack the pumpkins open when you feed them to your chickens – my kids love tossing them into the pen and watching them break open! And of course, please ask the farmer before taking anything out of their field.
Negotiate Leftovers from Restaurants to Give Your Chickens
If you have a good relationship with a local restaurant or small grocery store, you might be able to get the day-old food that they can no longer sell. If it is just going into the dumpster, you might ask them to hold it for you. Then, you can feed it to your chickens, and they won’t have to pay to have it taken to the trash – it’s a win-win situation if you can find someone to work with you.
Check Out Farmers Markets for Deals and Steals on Chicken-Worthy Produce
If you frequent farmers’ markets, you might stop by at the end of the weekend. Produce will be heavily discounted and maybe even free since farmers don’t really want to pack up all the extras just to take it back to the farm. Look for cabbages, salad greens, pumpkins, squash, and other tasty vegetables and produce that your chickens will love to eat.
Clean Out Your Pantry
If you’re low on chicken feed, try cleaning out your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Anything that isn’t palatable to people but is still edible is fair game to your chickens! They love oatmeal, macaroni, cheese, stale bread, and even freezer-burned meat (just cook it up first). Don’t feed them anything that is moldy or risky.
Let Your Chickens Forage In Your Garden After the Season
At the end of the season, you can let your chickens into your garden once you have finished harvesting. They’ll eat leftover bits of veggies, worms, and greens. They’ll also add plenty of fresh droppings and dig through the soil, turning it over for you to help get it ready for next season. Just make sure to keep them out once it’s time to start planting again.
How to Conserve Chicken Feed
There are a few ways you can conserve the chicken feed you already have to make it last longer.
Measure the Feed Per Chicken.
Chickens will eat about half a cup of chicken feed per day unless you supplement with other things mentioned above. To make sure you don’t waste any feed. You can count your chickens and divide by 2. This will tell you how many cups of feed you need to give per day. This way, you won’t waste feed by giving them too much.
Use a No-Waste Chicken Feeder.
Chickens are pretty notorious for spilling and wasting their feed. But you can cut way down on this with a no-waste chicken feeder. This keeps the chickens from being able to scratch at the feed, so it doesn’t get kicked out all over the ground. You can purchase these online, but you can make your own if you want to save a little scratch. Check out these plans for a DIY no-waste chicken feeder to conserve your chicken food.
Ferment the Feed.
Fermenting the chicken’s feed will help it stretch further and make it more nutritious. The process is straightforward, too. Just submerge a few days’ worth of feed in water and allow it time to ferment. It only takes a couple of days. You can find out the details here.
Do my chickens need to eat commercial chicken feed?
No, your chickens don’t need to eat commercial chicken feed if they are getting a healthy and varied diet other ways. However, if egg production drops or stops, it might be a sign that your chickens aren’t getting enough food. Also, you may need to supplement their diet during the winter when bugs and vegetables are scarce.
Can chickens get enough to eat by free-ranging?
In theory, yes. However, in the winter there won’t be enough food available for chickens to only eat what they can forage. You’ll need to supplement their meals. If you don’t have enough area, vegetation, or bugs for them to eat, you’ll also need to supplement their meals year-round. And of course, you always need to make sure they access to clean, fresh water.