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Feeding Backyard Chickens Organically Without Breaking the Bank

feeding chickensRaising your own chickens comes with consistent inexpensive and organic benefits. Whether you’re raising them for meat, or you want eggs fresh out of the hen oven, you are ultimately in charge of what you feed your chickens. Depending on why you have chickens, you may want to feed them with different things. But overall, you will only want to feed them strictly organic items, otherwise, your eggs and/or meat will not be organic as a result.

Why should you feed your chickens organically?

By feeding backyard chickens organically, you reap the benefits of producing top quality, non-GMO eggs. Whether you want to consume those eggs or care for them, they’ll be organic. When you feed your backyard chickens organic feed, you’re allowing the products of those chickens to also be free from unnatural or chemical interference. That means organic meat and eggs when the time comes. No need to run to the grocery store and purchase those $6 per dozen set of eggs anymore.

Now let’s talk about the generic chicken feed. Just because you have backyard chickens producing your daily dose of breakfast eggs, doesn’t mean they’ll be organic if you’re feeding them that unnatural stuff. What an animal produces solely depends on what they eat. In other words, you wouldn’t want to consume stale, plastic, possibly contaminated food, would you? Probably not, because your body would reflect it. Just like when you feed your chicks standard feed!

Of course, not all feeds are chalked full of plastic, but what about that GMO corn? Yup, you can bet that’s the main ingredient in commercial-grade feed. Since corn acts as an empty carbohydrate, it merely increases the chicken’s energy levels with little to no nutritional value. While this is satisfactory in the winter months, as it keeps them active enough to stay warm, you don’t want to be simply feeding your chickens empty carbohydrates for the duration of their life. Would you want to eat the same thing every day if it provided no nutritional value to your health? I didn’t think so.

Feeding Backyard Chickens Organically

So, if you’re reading this article, you’re either:

  • thinking about getting backyard chickens (we applaud your research),
  • have them and don’t know what to feed them
  • or have seen the cost of organic chicken feed and are looking for an alternative.

Well, guess what, there IS an alternative.

Finding organic chicken feed in-stores is, most of the time, an impossible feat. Then, if you do find it, it is too expensive to even consider picking up. Yes, the struggle is real – but do not panic! We have a solution for you.

Homemade, Organic Chicken Feed

Chickens are foragers, yes, foragers! Meaning they’ll eat small bugs and mice as well as tomatoes and grass. They’ll most likely eat up everything in your garden if you let them.

You can easily feed your backyard chickens’ name-brand feed, but they won’t get the benefits that come with organic feed. Chickens literally can eat most scraps in your kitchen. Even common household foods that you hardly use. Some ingredients you can include in your feed include the following:

  • Wheat (hard or soft): This helps to provide energy, protein, lysine, and tryptophan, which is found in higher concentrations within wheat than corn.
  • Peas: When you add in peas to your feed, you need to be sure the peas do not make up more than 20% to 30% of the entire batch of feed. If you add too many peas, your chickens may have trouble digesting the protein. The benefits of adding peas include a good source of protein, fiber, and amino acids, as well as energy. If you’re feeling ambitious and have space, try planting a patch of pea shrubs (Caragana Arborescens), a nitrogen-fixing crop that your chickens will find quite tasty!
  • Weeds: Yes, move your chickens to that plot of land you’re too lazy to go weed this weekend. Your chickens will go crazy and weed it all away for you! Not only is it free, but most of the weeds in your yard will also provide loads of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to your flock.
  • Mealworms (live or freeze-dried): This is one of our chickens’ favorites. When the rooster sees the bag, he immediately starts clucking and running around in circles. Anyways, there are loads of reasons to feed mealworms to your flock! Some of these include being a great source of protein and aids during the molting season, so they can easily regrow their feathers.
  • Oats/Oatmeal: You can choose to feed oats to your flock either cooked or raw; they will love them either way! By providing them with this in their feed, you will be giving your chicks an extra boost of antioxidants, as well as loads of protein and vitamins.
  • Sunflowers and Their Seeds: These are a great little treat for your chickens and can even be added to a big batch of feed. The nutritional benefits include methionine, an essential amino acid, as well as vitamin E and magnesium. Plant a bed of beautiful sunflowers for a visual treat that no one will ever guess is really chicken feed in disguise!
  • Corn: While corn does provide energy, as well as protein and essential amino acids, you will want to avoid too much of this as corn is mostly just empty calories. Typically, it should be used as a filler, instead of a base.
  • Kelp: Some of the key minerals in kelp meal include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. Additionally, there are a number of B vitamins, as well as vitamins K and A. To give it to your chickens, simply toss some into their feeder for an added boost.
  • Crushed Eggshells: Yes, you can feed crushed eggshells to your chickens. It’s actually a great source of calcium for them. Whether you decide to simply crush and serve or bake them in the oven and then crush them, your chickens will enjoy! (Check out this article to find out what else you can do with eggshells)
  • Fresh Veggies & Fruit Scraps: This is by far the simplest way to feed your chickens and one we use quite frequently. Instead of taking our food scraps and composting them, we often start a container and refrigerate it until there are enough scraps to feed the flock. Literally, just about anything can be used to feed your chickens, as long as it’s still fresh enough that you would eat it yourself.
  • Bokashi: Another favorite for our chickens is homemade bokashi! This is an amazing probiotic for your flock. And, expect loads of clucking when you walk into the coop with a handful of this! It’s super simple to make right at home, or you can purchase it (eek – expensive!). Either way, just grab a handful and throw it down. The chicks will quickly begin scratching to nibble up all the delicious bokashi on the ground!

Storage & Quantity

You can literally create your chicken feed out of anything. However, it’s important you keep your feed fresh at all times. Would you eat rotten food? Nope. It’ll probably make your tummy hurt, and no one wants that. That’s why the same thing goes for your chicks! Store your feed the same way you’d store your leftovers. Depending on what your feed consists of, you’ll want to store it in an airtight container, as well as in a cool and dry area, or simply choose to place it in the fridge.

You may be tempted to create tons and tons of chicken feed at once, but that isn’t necessarily a good idea. Portions of nutrients could be tampered with, and the food can end up going bad quickly. When mixing up your batch, just be sure you have enough to last until you have time to make more. Additionally, you may think about planning ahead and keeping an extra bag of store-bought feed lying around in case of an emergency. Don’t let your little ladies go hungry!

Chicken Feed Recipe (50 lb. Batch)

It is important to feed your chicken a well-balanced diet to supplement their foraging efforts. A well-balanced chicken feed consists of 15 to 25 percent corn, 25 to 30 percent grains, 5 to 10 percent oats, 5 to 15 percent seeds, 5 to 10 percent vegetables, 5 percent fish meal, a handful of kelp, and a source of calcium like aragonite or oyster shells. The following is a recipe for a 50-lb batch of chicken feed:

  • 3 cups corn
  • 3 cups wheat
  • 3 cups barley
  • 3 cups peas
  • 2 cups milo
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup fish meal
  • 1 cup seeds, e.g. flax, sunflower, pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup kelp
  • 1/4 cup aragonite
  • 1/4 cup poultry Nutri-balancer (optional)

The Importance of a Grazing Area

Instinctively, chickens want to scratch and peck the ground in search of food. When allowed to graze, they will consume both insects and plants, including grass, and this is how they receive much of their diet’s vital nutrients. Chickens that graze often produce nutrient-rich eggs with deep orange yolks and meat that is high in good, Omega-3 fats. Also, the chickens get plenty of exercise, sunlight, and fresh air while grazing in a pasture-like setting.

Another thing to consider when allowing your chickens to graze is protecting them from natural predators–ones that hunt both from the ground like foxes, coyotes, and even dogs and from the air like hawks, eagles, and owls. It is important for maintaining the vitality of your flock that you provide them with a safe environment for grazing and foraging.

Fresh Feed in Winter

During the winter, chickens will consume 40 to 60 percent more because their bodies need the extra calories to keep warm. You can boost their calorie and nutrient consumption by feeding them:

  • Warm Oatmeal: A warm, nutritious morning meal, oatmeal is a nice alternative to the dry oats that your chickens typically eat. It is a good source of vitamins, proteins, and antioxidants.
  • Scratch: A blend of high-caloric corn and grains, scratch will provide your chickens with supplemental protein and amino acids that will help keep them warm during winter.
  • Mealworms: Chickens love mealworms. So, you can boost their protein intake by regularly feeding them one of their favorite snacks. Scatter the worms on the ground or the floor of their coop so that the chickens can forage for the worms as they typically would when the ground is not frozen or covered over by snow.
  • Dark, Leafy Greens: A great substitute for grass, kale, and spinach as well as any other salad greens are nutrient-dense and will balance out your chickens’ diet during the winter months.
  • Scrambled Eggs: Eggs are an excellent source of high-calorie protein for your chickens. Feeding them warm scrambled eggs in the evening will help them stay warm on cold winter nights.