If you’ve ever thought about making your own chicken feed, then you’re not alone. It can be a great money-saving idea, plus you know exactly what your hens are getting to eat. Here we will take a closer look at making your own chicken feed and examine what needs to be included and why.
What You'll Learn Today
- What are the Main Ingredients in Chicken Feed?
- Best Chicken Breeds for Free-ranging and Home Made Chicken Food
- How to Feed Chickens Without Buying Feed?
- Can You Grow Your Own Chicken Feed?
- Is It Cheaper To Make Your Own Chicken Feed?
- How Do You Make Your Own Chicken Feed?
- Home Made Feeds
What are the Main Ingredients in Chicken Feed?
Chickens, like us, have specific nutritional needs if they are to stay healthy and produce plenty of large, good-quality eggs or meat.
This is why before you take the plunge and start making your own chicken feed, you first need to understand what these nutritional requirements are.
For complete food, you will need to supply your birds with:
- Protein – They need this to build muscle, repair and rebuild body tissue and feathers, and create eggs.
- Carbohydrates – These are the energy source for your chooks, it helps them lay eggs, keep warm, actively forage when free-range and maintains a good weight.
- Fat – Also used for energy, fat keeps your birds warm during cold weather and is used to process fat-soluble vitamins.
- Vitamins and Minerals – These help keep your birds healthy. Minerals also help keep the body functioning correctly and are needed to make blood, new body tissue and build strong bones.
In addition to these basic components, chickens need plenty of clean, fresh water, insoluble grit to help them grind down food in their gizzard, and calcium for laying hens which can be supplemented in the form of crushed oyster shells.
Commercial chicken foods are designed for modern chickens, and these differ from older traditional breeds.
In large industrial settings, meat birds (broilers) need to grow fast, really fast, and the feed they are given is very high in protein to help them achieve this. Because they are only going to live for a short time, the food isn’t formulated to keep them healthy, only to make them grow.
Similarly, battery hens have been bred to be egg-laying machines. Again they only have a very short life, and they are fed to produce the greatest number of large eggs possible.
Even heritage or historic breeds of chicken raised in hatcheries are not the same as they used to be. So getting birds that are hardy, forage well, and are easy to keep can be a lot more difficult today.
Best Chicken Breeds for Free-ranging and Home Made Chicken Food
If you want sturdy, healthy hens that are easy to feed and can often serve as not only laying birds but table birds too, then there are few breeds that are a better bet than others, these include:
- Easter Eggers
- Brown Leghorn
- Rhode Island Red
Generally, making homemade food for broiler chickens is more complex because they require a high protein content. Layer and dual-purpose breeds are easier to accommodate and get good results.
How to Feed Chickens Without Buying Feed?
If you have quite a few chickens, the cost of feed can soon add up. Not only that, but if you want to raise organic birds, then you don’t want to feed them on a non-organic commercial feed.
There are some ways to feed your hens without buying food, or at least greatly reduce the amount you need to buy.
By allowing your birds to forage for themselves over a large acreage, they will be able to find food for themselves quite naturally. This is definitely the most natural way for birds to live.
The downside to this may be that you’re not sure of exactly what they are eating. So it’s hard to tell if they’re getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
Generally, many breeds of chicken do very well if they are given access to good foraging sites. They will eat insects, small rodents, lizards, worms, snails, weeds, fruits, and seeds.
Letting your hens free-range means not only will they be selecting what they naturally want to eat, but they will also be helping you out by eating things you don’t want around.
Leftover veg, salad, fruit, plain yogurts even some meat scraps can make great food for your chickens. A couple of things to remember is that you must never give your hens rotting food that is moldy as this can make them sick.
Junk food is another no-no. You want them to stay healthy, so don’t feed them processed foods high in fat, sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
Ever wonder what happens to the unsold produce at a farmers market? Much of it gets thrown out, and there is nothing wrong with it that your chickens won’t like. Fruits, veggies, wholemeal bread, and so on are often tossed away.
You have two choices here; you can ask the vendors for any leftovers they will be throwing in the trash at the end of the day. Don’t forget to tell them it’s for your chickens, or you can wait by the garbage cans and take out anything good they put in.
Grocery Stores, Bakeries, Restaurants
Drop into your local stores and restaurants and tell them that you have chickens and will be happy to take away any out-of-date food or spoiled fresh produce.
Not only will this help them out, but it’s excellent news for you too. Thousands of dollars of food are discarded each week because it’s no longer perfect and therefore not sellable.
It’s always best to get the green light from the store or restaurant owner rather than just go dumpster diving in their trash.
Can You Grow Your Own Chicken Feed?
You can absolutely grow your own chicken feed. You can grow small crops of the primary ingredients to your own homemade food, recipes for which you will find in How To Make Your Own Chicken Feed below. Or you can grow things your birds will enjoy foraging on, and often you won’t even need to harvest it.
There are plenty of great plants that chickens love to eat and can dramatically reduce your feed costs. These include things like:
- Sunflowers – Black oil sunflower seeds are loved by chickens. They are easy to grow, and all you have to do once the sunflower heads are full of ripe seeds is chop them off and throw them into your coop. You can also store complete dry heads in a barrel with a lid, so they can be fed as needed over winter.
- Tomatoes – Cut larger ones in half, and your birds will enjoy pecking out the flesh and seeds or throw in the small grape tomatoes for your hens to enjoy whole.
- Pumpkins and Squashes – A ripe pumpkin or squash is a favorite of many chickens. They enjoy the succulent flesh and then the goodness within the seeds.
- Grapes – There is a grapevine that grows over our chicken coop. When the grapes ripen and begin to fall into the coop, the hens love to eat them.
- Melons – Melon is another chicken favorite, both flesh, and seeds.
- Sweetcorn/Maize – Ripe corn cobs will be happily devoured by hungry hens. In many parts of Europe, it was traditional for whole cobs to be dried and stored in special wire mesh containers so that they could be used as winter feed for the hens and other farm animals.
In this video, you will learn how to grow food for your chickens, but also how to use your chickens to help grow food for your own table too!
Not something you grow exactly, but Mealworms are a tasty treat that all chickens absolutely adore. They can be pretty expensive to buy but are easy to raise yourself, so you always have plenty to feed your hens. They are rich in protein.
Is It Cheaper To Make Your Own Chicken Feed?
Commercial chicken feed isn’t cheap, and although it’s nutritionally balanced (in theory anyway), it is still full of cheap “fillers” that have very little value to your hens.
Making your own feed, depending on how you do it, could cost you less, but it will take up a lot more of your time, so the likelihood is that ultimately it may not actually cost less if you factor this in.
However, the huge plus to making your own chicken feed is that you know exactly what it contains and can formulate it to the needs of your flock.
How Do You Make Your Own Chicken Feed?
Commercially there are different types of feed for different ages and types of chicken. Let’s take a look.
1. Chick Starter
This feed, as the name indicates, is designed for chicks that are newly hatched.
High in protein, 20% to 25%, it provides the baby birds with everything they need to grow strong fast.
Some chick feed is medicated, which helps prevent the chicks from becoming sick with the Coccidia parasite that can kill chicks. Luckily, as the chicks grow, they become naturally resistant to the parasite.
Chick starter is usually fed for the initial four to six weeks before the young birds change to the next type of food.
Because chick starter is high in protein, it shouldn’t be fed for too long, as it may cause liver damage.
This type of feed has a very fine texture making it easy for the chicks to pick up and digest.
2. Grower Feed
Lower in protein than chick starter at around 18%, it helps the young birds grow into healthy adolescents.
Unlike chick feed, grower feed is not medicated and is usually in a crumbles or pellet form. It is fed until your hens begin laying at around 20 weeks. Broiler chickens are fed slightly differently, as we will see later on.
3. Flock Raiser
This is a much more generalized food for chickens that follows on from chick feed. It is also suitable for other birds, including ducks.
Flock raiser is ideal if you’re keeping chickens as pets, for pest control, or for another non-specialized purpose. It is suited to birds of all ages, except chicks.
4. Layers Feed
Once your hens are old enough to produce eggs, they need a layers feed. This contains higher calcium levels to ensure the shells of the eggs are strong and well-formed.
Feeding laying hens on a general feed such as flock raiser will often result in eggs that have weak, thin shells or are misshapen, wrinkled, small, lopsided, and sometimes even yolkless.
Along with the additional calcium, layers feed has a protein content of around 16% and contains vitamins and minerals that are important to chickens laying eggs.
Layers feed is unsuitable for chickens that are not producing eggs, as it can cause liver damage to roosters, chicks, or older hens if you have a mixed flock.
5. Broiler Food
Broilers, or meat chickens as they are also called, are only destined to live for nine weeks at the most. For this reason, the protein content of broiler food is very high at around 25%. This is to help them mature quickly and make lots of muscle.
It’s really important that none of your other chickens eat broiler food, as the high protein content will cause serious health problems.
Broilers should be fed chick feed until they reach four weeks of age and then be switched to broiler food. Making this switch is necessary as broiler food contains different vitamins and minerals when compared to chick feed.
6. Game Bird Food
If you keep chickens for showing, then it’s usual to feed them on game bird food. It has a high protein content but is less than broiler food, and it doesn’t contain the same amount of calcium as you find in a layers feed.
This food is typically expensive, as it has ingredients not found in other chicken feeds, such as peas, alfalfa, black oil sunflower seeds, and insect meal. The reason for this is that they aren’t usually permitted to go free-range and forage naturally, as they may get injured.
This feed can also be helpful for giving to older birds during the winter or sick birds when they are recuperating.
7. Fermented Chicken Feed
It has become popular to ferment chicken feed to boost its nutritional value. Fermenting makes it more digestible and helps the chickens’ gut biome stay healthy.
You can ferment grain for your chickens, or you can ferment commercial chicken feed.
Fermenting feed is relatively easy to do. You just need a plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid. Half fill the tub with seed or commercial feed, then add non-chlorinated water until it covers the feed by a few inches.
You can dechlorinate tap water by putting it into a bucket and leaving it exposed to the air for 24 hours.
Ensure you firmly seal the lid of your fermentation tub and allow it to sit for three to five days. Placing it somewhere warm but not hot helps with this process.
Stir the mixture once daily and add more water if needed to keep the feed covered. As soon as you see bubbles appearing, the food is ready. Strain out the water and feed wet to your chickens.
Don’t leave uneaten fermented feed out as it will go rancid. Anything not eaten should be disposed of.
Forms of Commercial Chicken Feed
Commercial chicken feed can often be purchased in various forms, pellets, crumbles, or mash.
- Mash – Chick feed is usually mash, which has a sand-like texture and is easy for chicks to eat when mixed with a little warm water. Like fermented feed, don’t leave any uneaten mash down, as it will turn bad and could harm your birds.
- Crumbles – These are between mash and pellets, you can still add water, but it isn’t necessary. Some hens prefer to eat crumbles rather than pellets.
- Pellets – These are small hard nuggets of compacted feed. You can grind them down if your chickens don’t like eating them. I’ve found that my hens prefer some brands over others.
Home Made Feeds
Here we will be looking at recipes for homemade feed intended for adult chickens. You can adapt the layers feed by omitting the limestone and adding additional protein to make a suitable developer’s food.
Chick feed will need to be ground down into a powder and mixed with some water.
Home Made Layers Feed
You can usually purchase the ingredients at a farmers merchant, bulk goods store, or online. Buy organic constituents to make an organic feed. You can also grow some of the elements yourself.
- Maize (corn) meal (from the whole grain) = 53 lbs
- Ground roasted soybean meal = 21 lbs
- Wheat bran or Maize bran = 15 lbs
- Fish or bone meal = 14 lbs
- Limestone powder = 6 1/2 lbs
- Flaxseed = 1 lb (optional)
- Kelp powder = ½ lb (optional)
Combine all of the ingredients together (I have done this in a clean cement mixer which makes it a lot easier, or you can do it in a large wheelbarrow with a shovel). You can also make the feed in smaller batches but stick with the same ratios.
The made-up food can be stored in plastic barrels with tightly fitting lids.
Give your hens 0.28 lbs per chicken, per day.
It is best to use a feeder to put the food into. You just open up the top and put it in. Then it trickles down into the feeding compartments as your birds eat it through the day. This helps keep the food clean and prevents it from becoming contaminated.
The feed can be stored for up to six months in the barrel, providing it stays cool and dry.
If you notice signs of insect infestation, mice, or mold, do not use the food and throw it away.
How to Make Broiler Feed
- Cracked corn = 55 lbs
- Ground roasted soybeans = 75 lbs
- Rolled oats = 12 ½ lbs
- Alfalfa meal = 12 ½ lbs
- Fish or bone meal = 12 ½ lbs
- Calcium powder (aragonite) = 5 lbs
- Poultry nutria-balancer = 7.5 lbs
Combine all of the ingredients together (you can use a clean cement mixer or a large wheelbarrow with a shovel for this). If you prefer, make the feed up in smaller batches but stick with the same ratios.
Once mixed, the feed can be stored in plastic barrels with lids.
Give your broilers 0.6 lbs of feed per chicken per day.
Using a trickle feeder allows your birds to eat when they want during the day and will help to keep the food clean.
The feed will keep for around six months in a barrel, providing it stays cool and dry.
If you notice signs of insect infestation, mice, or mold, throw it away.
Other Things Your Chickens Need
Along with their food, layer hens need ground oyster shells to provide additional calcium. This can simply be supplied by giving them a bowl in their coop. This way, they can take it when they want to.
All chickens need access to insoluble grit, which helps them grind up food in their gizzard. Chickens don’t have stomachs as we do, and the grit is how they break down what they eat to make it properly digestible.
Without access to grit, this is not possible, and your birds can’t get the full benefits of the food they eat.
There are different sizes of grit available for the various ages of birds. Ensure you are feeding the right one.
A constant supply of clean, fresh water must be made available to your birds.
It feels great to make your own chicken feed, especially as you know exactly what’s in it.
Deciding if it’s the right choice for you will depend on your ability to source the ingredients at a reasonable price and the time you have for making the feed.
If you have difficulty in working out the correct measurements or finding the ingredients, then talk to your local feed mill. They can often custom make feed and even grind it exactly how you want it.
Feed mills usually have nutritionists working in-house that can help you formulate a feed ideal for your chickens’ needs.
For more great articles on chicken farming, please take a closer look at our website.