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How to not spend money feeding my chickens  RSS feed

 
Ian Pringle
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We bought eight chicks (four Australorp, four New Hampshire) and we are down to seven because one of the Australorps didn't make it through the first weekend. I've got them eating some grow-out food that we bought, but I've been looking into what to feed them as adults and started to see a lot of stuff about now feeding them any grain and then other people getting very angry at the idea of not feeding them feed from the store and amounting it to animal abuse. Anyways, I have been reading and lurking on this website for a year or two and figured it was time to make an account.

I really don't want to buy chicken feed, but I don't know how to feed them otherwise. I've seen Justin Rhodes' compost feeding system but I don't know if that is really going to work (not sure I have enough composting material or the room for four compost bins). I've seen other people who plant stuff in their runs. I'm just concerned I'll starve them to death if I don't give them feed. Anyone have a good system to feed their chickens without buying feed?
 
Tyler Ludens
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It's a real challenge to raise them without buying feed unless you have enough land to free range them, and then it mostly works in warm climates with a lot of insects.  I tried raising some with only home produced food and ended up with a bunch of stunted chickens, so don't try it during the time they're growing.  They don't need "chicken feed" if you can give them enough variety of other things such as mixed bird seed, kitchen scraps, insects which you might be able to raise in Black Soldier Fly bins, worm bins, or maggot buckets.  I've also had success putting some moist vegetation under rocks or boards which in the morning will be infested with sow bugs and pill bugs (roly polys) which chickens love. I can scoop them up by the handful.  All these things take a lot more time than just dishing out some chicken feed.  I wish I could be more encouraging but I have not had personal success with not buying feed.  I still buy whole oats and sunflower seeds, which may have fewer toxic residues than some other grain products and non-organic prepared feed.

I hope someone who actually has been successful raising chickens without buying feed can give some advice!
 
James Freyr
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I raise chickens and I buy feed. I do not buy the processed feeds manufactured by multinational corporations from big stores. I buy my layer feed from an organic mill. All it is, is particular grains, a mineral supplement and kelp. I can pick up a handful and see some cracked and whole kernel corn, soy beans, oats, wheat, barley, some flax and a few other things. Growing baby chicks need a high protein starter feed. Proper nutrition is very important. A lot of chickens are domesticated birds, and are quite dependent on being offered food and water. Yes, there are wild chickens who survive in habitats that have things to eat and fend for themselves, but they know what to eat. They are not domesticated. If you buy baby chicks, there's no adult mother hen to teach them. If you put baby chicks out in the lawn to fend for themselves, they will die. If you're looking for unprocessed organic grains as a chick starter and a adult laying ration, but don't have a mill nearby to go to, may I recommend new country organics. they're in virginia, and will ship it to your door. I've used their starter and grower ration in the past. It's good stuff.
 
Ian Pringle
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Tyler Ludens wrote:It's a real challenge to raise them without buying feed unless you have enough land to free range them, and then it mostly works in warm climates with a lot of insects.  I tried raising some with only home produced food and ended up with a bunch of stunted chickens, so don't try it during the time they're growing.  They don't need "chicken feed" if you can give them enough variety of other things such as mixed bird seed, kitchen scraps, insects which you might be able to raise in Black Soldier Fly bins, worm bins, or maggot buckets.  I've also had success putting some moist vegetation under rocks or boards which in the morning will be infested with sow bugs and pill bugs (roly polys) which chickens love. I can scoop them up by the handful.  All these things take a lot more time than just dishing out some chicken feed.  I wish I could be more encouraging but I have not had personal success with not buying feed.  I still buy whole oats and sunflower seeds, which may have fewer toxic residues than some other grain products and non-organic prepared feed.

I hope someone who actually has been successful raising chickens without buying feed can give some advice!


Hey, thanks for the reply! The oats and seed, do you find that they are cheaper than the purpose made chicken feed? I have seen people who mix their own feeds but they are spending more money than the feed at the store. If it helps, we purchase absolutely massive quantities of sunflower seeds. I don't know if that's something that they like or can eat as a large portion of their diet, but we buy a few hundred pounds of that a month so stealing some for the chickens wouldn't even be noticed in our budget.
 
Tyler Ludens
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It is easy to teach baby chicks to forage if you bring them buckets of garden soil with bugs as soon as they begin eating, a day or two after hatching.  So far I have not raised a breed of chicken who can not learn to forage.  But as James mentions, they need help and supervision when little.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I haven't compared the costs of buying bird seed versus prepared feed, I just have no desire to feed them GM corn.  Young chicks will need the oats and sunflower seeds to be ground, they can't manage the whole seeds.  But whole seeds are fine for older birds.  Seeds can't be the only thing they eat, though, they also need greens and ideally protein such as insects. Chickens eat a lot of protein given a chance - they love to catch mice, snakes, lizards, frogs, etc out in the world.

 
Ian Pringle
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James Freyr wrote:I raise chickens and I buy feed. I do not buy the processed feeds manufactured by multinational corporations from big stores. I buy my layer feed from an organic mill. All it is, is particular grains, a mineral supplement and kelp. I can pick up a handful and see some cracked and whole kernel corn, soy beans, oats, wheat, barley, some flax and a few other things. Growing baby chicks need a high protein starter feed. Proper nutrition is very important. A lot of chickens are domesticated birds, and are quite dependent on being offered food and water. Yes, there are wild chickens who survive in habitats that have things to eat and fend for themselves, but they know what to eat. They are not domesticated. If you buy baby chicks, there's no adult mother hen to teach them. If you put baby chicks out in the lawn to fend for themselves, they will die. If you're looking for unprocessed organic grains as a chick starter and a adult laying ration, but don't have a mill nearby to go to, may I recommend new country organics. they're in virginia, and will ship it to your door. I've used their starter and grower ration in the past. It's good stuff.


We have a few feed stores around. I'll check with the place we get our horse feed from and see what they have for chickens and how it stacks up to others in both price and nutrition. I don't really expect to get away without paying for some of their food, but I am hoping to supply a large portion of their food with just forage.

I am a bit lucky because we raise meat rabbits with no money put into their food. I go forage for them from the power company's property down the road. It's about 20 acres of kudzu. Plus they eat trimmings, our front yard (seeded clover), and the sprouted horse feed.
 
James Freyr
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I should have mentioned my chickens free range during the day. I have 13 laying hens. They go through a lot of feed in the winter months, I go through about 150 lbs a month in the winter. Not all of that is consumed. Chickens are messy and wasteful, some ends up in the bedding, which end up in the compost pile, so it's technically not "wasted". Come summer months with grasses & weeds growing and bugs a plenty, 50lbs will last a month. Yes you can supply a good portion of their diet thru forage. But as I mention earlier, right now you want them to have a high protein starter feeds so you have big healthy chickens later. Hope this helps!

Edit: Chickens are more wasteful and messy with their feed if they get bored. They scatter more food about in the winter time than in the summer. With spring upon me and bugs showing up and the lawn growing again, there is more to keep them fed and entertained during the day and a full feeder is now lasting 4 days instead of 3 days, and I expect that to increase.
 
Tyler Ludens
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The guts, etc from the meat rabbits would be ideal for Black Soldier Fly or maggot bins.  Older chickens may be able to eat the guts directly.  If you can arrange for the chickens to range around the rabbits and horses, they might be able to glean a lot of waste feed from those animals.  Chickens also eat a lot of manure from other animals.  Gross, but they get nutrition from it.

 
Ian Pringle
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James Freyr wrote:I should have mentioned my chickens free range during the day. I have 13 laying hens. They go through a lot of feed in the winter months, I go through about 150 lbs a month in the winter. Not all of that is consumed. Chickens are messy and wasteful, some ends up in the bedding, which end up in the compost pile, so it's technically not "wasted". Come summer months with grasses & weeds growing and bugs a plenty, 50lbs will last a month. Yes you can supply a good portion of their diet thru forage. But as I mention earlier, right now you want them to have a high protein starter feeds so you have big healthy chickens later. Hope this helps!


That's encouraging! How long, approximately, do you feed the starter stuff? I bought three bags of it because they were having a sale since it was the first chick-day of the year. I figured that would last them until they were onto bigger and better things, but maybe not.
 
John Elliott
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I've made it a cardinal rule NOT to spend money to feed chickens.  The only exception is an occasional sack of deer corn, and then I use that sparingly, to teach them what's worth scratching through.  When I get ready to empty the lawn mower bag, I drop a handful of deer corn into it, and it brings out their instinct to scratch when I dump the bag in their coop.  I should mention that the lawn has had no fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide for going on 8 years, and it has plenty of chicory, henbit, dandelion, Carolina geranium, prickly lettuce and other weeds in it.  I don't let them out to forage in the lawn and the garden because of (1) predators and (2) plantings I would rather they not pick at.

They also get any food I can get on foraging runs: discarded bread, chips, or crackers; sumac berries, kudzu leaves, sorghum seed heads, sow thistles, etc.  There is also plenty of kitchen generated waste like potato peels (not too green though), apple cores, melon seeds, watermelon rinds, and so on.  I keep a good supply of leafy vegetables in the garden, so in addition to lettuce, collard, turnip, and radish leaves, there are always weeds to add to their feed bucket

I used to have a chicken tractor and moved it through the lawn for them to forage, but I upsized and now have 12 chickens in a permanent coop.  I am using the 'deep litter' method, with about 6-8" of wood chips, on top of which goes the contents of their feed bucket.  When they dig big foxholes in the litter, that's a signal that they are hungry; when they spend more time up on the roosts with fat, stuffed crops, I know they are well fed.  They do get 'toys' to play with; a lush chicory plant in a 3-gallon plastic bucket provides a couple hours of entertainment, until they have shredded it down to the crown (but given time and a little compost tea, it will regrow).

Bottom line, chickens are omnivores.  Go to Backyard Chickens to get an idea of what to feed (and the short list of things not to feed), and you'll have some happy birds.
 
James Freyr
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Hey Ian I would use the starter feed you purchased until it runs out. Those 3 bags won't last as long as you think. I, personally, would advise to continue having a high protein ration available for them even with bugs becoming available. You get one shot at raising healthy birds. Basically, the starter feed is the same as the grower/broiler feed, just in smaller bits for baby chicks to swallow. I fed my chickens high protein ration until I ran out at about 5 months old, then switched to layer feed. At six months old, they're essentially done growing and at that age start laying eggs. Chickens can get fat if fed too high a protein when they're done growing. If memory serves me correct the broiler/grower & starter feeds are about 21-22% protein, and layer feed is approximately 17% protein. Layer feeds typically have added calcium in the form of oyster shell for good eggshell formation. Poor eggshell formation usually means broken eggs in the nesting box or worst case scenario the egg breaks inside the chicken during laying and can often result in a painful death for the bird.

I would love to do what John is doing for his chickens, but I still provide a ration for mine. I've got slim pickings during the winter when it comes to vegetative growth. He's absolutely right about chickens being omnivores. Chickens are killing machines, and no small reptile or rodent will escape if they get too close. I've seen my chickens go after songbirds (with no success) that land on the ground in their area. Indeed, backyard chickens is a great resource for all the information you could possibly desire.
 
Galadriel Freden
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If you can arrange a deal with a local restaurant/school cafeteria/etc to pick up their food scraps, you could be swimming in free chicken feed. 

Note for European residents:  it is against EU law to feed chickens (or pigs) kitchen scraps, even for your own pet hens. 
 
Mike Jay
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Galadriel Freden wrote:Note for European residents:  it is against EU law to feed chickens (or pigs) kitchen scraps, even for your own pet hens. 


Sorry for my ignorance, but why is that illegal?
 
Galadriel Freden
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Mike Jay wrote:
Galadriel Freden wrote:Note for European residents:  it is against EU law to feed chickens (or pigs) kitchen scraps, even for your own pet hens. 


Sorry for my ignorance, but why is that illegal?


I don't know the reason why, but maybe to prevent disease?  I disagree that it should also apply to pets as well as commercial hens, personally, but it does.
 
Burra Maluca
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From what I remember, it was brought in as a preventative measure during the BSE crisis. 

I'm also pretty sure that the definition of 'kitchen scraps' includes stuff scraped off plates, but NOT, for instance, leaves trimmed off cabbages before they were prepared for human food. 

But then, I also remember that all the ingredients in chicken feed were changed, then publicly announced, then relaxed again when everyone had calmed down. 
 
Galadriel Freden
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Burra Maluca wrote:From what I remember, it was brought in as a preventative measure during the BSE crisis. 

I'm also pretty sure that the definition of 'kitchen scraps' includes stuff scraped off plates, but NOT, for instance, leaves trimmed off cabbages before they were prepared for human food. 

But then, I also remember that all the ingredients in chicken feed were changed, then publicly announced, then relaxed again when everyone had calmed down. 


I can't say for certain either, but the definition described to me as kitchen scraps was any food that had been in a kitchen.  So carrot peelings from carrots stored in the detached garage and peeled out on the patio do not count as kitchen scraps, but if they cross that kitchen threshold...

This was the definition I got from the British Hen Welfare Trust.  I did briefly look up the law online a couple years ago, but can't remember their official definition;  if anyone wants to search it out and clarify it, please feel free!
 
Jessica Milliner
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Yes, the definition of "kitchen scraps" in the UK is technically anything that's been in a kitchen. Take the outer leaves off of a cabbage in the garden and it's fine, take the cabbage into the kitchen and remove the outer leaves, and they're not. The impression I had was that that legislation was only relevant if you are selling your eggs/meat  and if it's for your own use it doesn't matter.

We feed our chickens as little as we can, one they're fully grown. I definitely agree with feeding plenty while they're young, as we have chickens I'm certain haven't reached their full growth potential because of being stunted. In the summer they go through a lot less feed as they fully free range through our yard and the woods. At the end of last summer and into autumn we were still no feeding much feed, and a lot of scraps, and started to get a lot of super thin eggshells and it took a long time of supplementing to get them normal again. By the time the eggshells are that thin a lot of calcium will have been stripped out of the chickens skeletons as well, just like with pregnant humans, biology tends to prioritize reproduction. 
To be honest, I'd be willing to bet anything that even Justin Rhodes buys some feed, so don't beat yourself up!
 
Ian Rule
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Not my video, but certainly made an impression on me. The whole channel is awesome.
25 chickens for 25 cents a day
 
Burra Maluca
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Thanks for sharing that video.

I've embedded it below.

 
Galadriel Freden
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Jessica Milliner wrote: By the time the eggshells are that thin a lot of calcium will have been stripped out of the chickens skeletons as well, just like with pregnant humans, biology tends to prioritize reproduction. 


That's a good point.  We tried feeding our hens the "cheap" feed for a while but noticed a big increase in thin and broken eggshells.  We now buy the premium stuff, which for us is almost twice the price, but we don't get broken eggs. 

I worked it out once, and our eggs cost us about as much the cheapest free range store bought eggs, and a bit more expensive than the cheapest caged eggs (as an aside:  battery cages are outlawed in the EU too, thankfully).  But when we add in the other benefits of our hens, including their weeding and fertilizing of the garden, not to mention their entertainment value, and the lessons they teach our small son (and us adults!) about life and responsibility;  well, the price of the feed is worth paying, in my opinion.
 
Jessica Milliner
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It's about finding a balance. Permaculture principles are great as a guiding idea, but if you're going to say "I don't want to buy any inputs" you might not get much output.

Wild chickens didn't lay 5 or 6 eggs a week like domesticated selectively bred chickens do. My cousin has some English Game Hens that basically live in the the woods "as wild as pheasants" in his words. He doesn't put any work or money into them, but I doubt he could find any of their eggs and if he wanted to kill one for meat he'd probably have to use a .22.

Having said that, we're going to grow a lot of amaranth and dent corn things year to feed our chickens and pigs, to try and work towards buying less feed. Our dairy cow is due to calve in September so then we'll have some skim milk clabber for them which is high in protein and calcium. But dairy cows are expensive so it still involves spending money.
 
Ian Pringle
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Ian Rule wrote:Not my video, but certainly made an impression on me. The whole channel is awesome.
25 chickens for 25 cents a day


That's one of the videos that got me thinking I could feed them without spending money.

Jessica Milliner wrote:It's about finding a balance. Permaculture principles are great as a guiding idea, but if you're going to say "I don't want to buy any inputs" you might not get much output.



Obviously I'm not going to get the same production out of them as someone feeding them purpose mixed layer feed, but I'm also not going to be putting $35-$50 for feed into them either. Beyond that, my family eats maybe two dozen eggs a month, we are by no means heavy egg eaters, so lower egg production doesn't pose a problem to us or mean we'd need to supplement with bought eggs. And lastly, I was browsing Craigslist and realized just how much I can make selling bagged compost-- which is important because my wife and I are trying to discover ways for we can make money outside of my job so that I can leave my job and stay at home.
 
Maureen Atsali
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I also buy no feeds for any of my animals.  The exception being a chick mash for new chicks.  I have started keeping them confined with their mother hen for the first 4 weeks, that has drastically reduced my chick mortality rate.  So I give the chick mash to make sure they get what they need while confined in the nursery.

I am in the tropics, which makes all the difference.  I don't have to struggle with winter extremes.  My chickens are penned until around noon.  By then they have usually finished to lay.  Then they free range.  They get weeds, garden refuse, and some kitchen scraps thrown in their yard daily.  I raise breeds that are aggressive foragers.  I have been able to keep up to 100 birds this way.  My general rule is, if they don't thrive under my system, eat em, or sell them.  But 95% do great.  They may mature more slowly than their commercially raised counterparts, but since I have virtually no overhead, that extra month or two doesn't matter.
 
Janet Scott
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Hello, have you thought about sprouting grains.  I wouldn't let the sprouts get too big.  Maybe three days.  Use 5 gallon bucket.  Drill small holes in bottom. Place in another 5 gallon bucket and let grains soak for awhile.  Then pull bucket up let drain.  Repeat couple times a day.  The grain will have little sprouts on them.  The chickens will enjoy it especially in winter.  It will save on feed.
 
Taylor Cleveland
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Trying to figure out the same thing too. I am looking into using certain high protein, low growing cover crops to supplement and I am also fermenting their feed. Everyone tells me it cuts the feed bill. I have been doing it from the start so I don't really know. We are raising them for profit, so I don't want to miss out on proper egg production because I'm not feeding them enough. I think I'm going to end up. Cover cropping, fermenting, and trying to find an alternative feed. Instead of corn. Maybe if they get more protein per amount of feed they coult eat less feed and more forage? That's more of a question for a seasoned poultry farmer, not me.
 
Taylor Cleveland
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Jessica Milliner wrote:It's about finding a balance. Permaculture principles are great as a guiding idea, but if you're going to say "I don't want to buy any inputs" you might not get much output.

Wild chickens didn't lay 5 or 6 eggs a week like domesticated selectively bred chickens do. My cousin has some English Game Hens that basically live in the the woods "as wild as pheasants" in his words. He doesn't put any work or money into them, but I doubt he could find any of their eggs and if he wanted to kill one for meat he'd probably have to use a .22.

Having said that, we're going to grow a lot of amaranth and dent corn things year to feed our chickens and pigs, to try and work towards buying less feed. Our dairy cow is due to calve in September so then we'll have some skim milk clabber for them which is high in protein and calcium. But dairy cows are expensive so it still involves spending money.


As far as the amaranth and corn. On what scale are to doing that and how do you plan to store and process that. Interested if that's something that can be done simply on a small scale. Thanks!
 
Jessica Milliner
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Taylor Cleveland wrote:
As far as the amaranth and corn. On what scale are to doing that and how do you plan to store and process that. Interested if that's something that can be done simply on a small scale. Thanks!


We are not doing it on a huge scale, our garden area is probably half an acre and only some of that will be used for those crops. Some of the dent corn that we're growing will also be ground by us for cornmeal. For storage we will probably dry it on the husk them store in plastic bins, mixing in some diatomaceous earth to help with insect prevention. Our goal is not to completely feed our on chickens at this stage, just to make a dent. We also ferment our feed and are very lucky to get spent brewers grains that we mix in. To be honest our chickens really don't eat that much feed at all, probably helps that they free range all over. Free range eggs are $5 a dozen around here so I think they more than  pay for themselves.
The ducks on the other hand....
 
William Bronson
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I'm still a newbie, but let me weigh in a little.

My chooks prefer forage to almost anything.
It's gotten to the point that I often fail to feed them for a few days, and when I do, a handful of B.O.S.S.or layer crumble goes where I want them to scratch.
They keep laying, they ignore feed in favor of forage, they are fully feathered,as compared to what they looked like when I got them,what's not to like?
They get our kitchen scraps,except for bones and shells,which get turned to biochar and added to the deep bedding.

I've only got 4, they are rescues ,over two years old,and we average 3+ eggs a day.
I keep meaning to bug the Chinese restaurant on the corner for their scraps, but I'm in no hurry .
We will get at least two more hens. Feeding them may get dicey by then.

My plan is to use alfalfa pellets in a bucket as a sponge for my excess grease,fat and gelatin.
The pellets then go to the birds.
Again,the Chinese restaurant could provide used grease, but rancid oil probably means rancid tasting eggs...

Growing sunflowers and comfrey is my goal for home grown feeds.
 
Alder Burns
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I've had good results feeding my layers on leached, cooked acorns; which are often present on my site in large quantities.  I made an article about it on our old blog at udanwest.blogspot.com  It's sort of an involved process, but I was determined to avoid buying feed.  For protein sources I've supplemented with fertilizer-grade fish meal or soy meal, black soldier flies (often raised on vile stuff like dog manure and spoiled silage), trapped rodents (mice, gophers, and squirrels are our primary pests, and even roadkill.  Chicknes will eat just about anything!  When I lived nearer to a town I would dumpster-dive their complete ration, starting with the huge trash bags of popcorn behind the movie theater!
 
Matthew Lewis
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Ian Pringle wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:It's a real challenge to raise them without buying feed unless you have enough land to free range them, and then it mostly works in warm climates with a lot of insects.  I tried raising some with only home produced food and ended up with a bunch of stunted chickens, so don't try it during the time they're growing.  They don't need "chicken feed" if you can give them enough variety of other things such as mixed bird seed, kitchen scraps, insects which you might be able to raise in Black Soldier Fly bins, worm bins, or maggot buckets.  I've also had success putting some moist vegetation under rocks or boards which in the morning will be infested with sow bugs and pill bugs (roly polys) which chickens love. I can scoop them up by the handful.  All these things take a lot more time than just dishing out some chicken feed.  I wish I could be more encouraging but I have not had personal success with not buying feed.  I still buy whole oats and sunflower seeds, which may have fewer toxic residues than some other grain products and non-organic prepared feed.

I hope someone who actually has been successful raising chickens without buying feed can give some advice!


Hey, thanks for the reply! The oats and seed, do you find that they are cheaper than the purpose made chicken feed? I have seen people who mix their own feeds but they are spending more money than the feed at the store. If it helps, we purchase absolutely massive quantities of sunflower seeds. I don't know if that's something that they like or can eat as a large portion of their diet, but we buy a few hundred pounds of that a month so stealing some for the chickens wouldn't even be noticed in our budget.


I'm curious what you use the sunflower seeds for since you mentioned purchasing massive quantities. You could definitely feed the chickens sprouted sunflower seeds.

I also like Tyler's idea of introducing them to foraging while they are still small and being fed chick ration to help ingrain the foraging habit. I have heard that having a mother to show them how to forage and hunt makes a big difference.

My grandmother had chickens and I think she fed them a small amount of feed and the rest of their feed was kitchen scraps and weeds from the garden. If you monitor their egg production and slowly reduce the purchased feed you should see a drop in egg production when you aren't feeding them enough. Pretty sure I saw a forum post where someone was doing that. Not sure if it was on Permies though.

You could also try weighing them if you have means to do so.
 
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