Can I Raise My Own Chicken Feed?
This is a question I’ve asked myself frequently since I started keeping chickens. I really didn’t like buying the conventionally grown feed, knowing that it was likely filled with GMO grain raised with pesticides. When I decided to switch to organic chicken feed recently, I knew that the cost of feeding my chickens was going to increase dramatically. So I once again started wondering if I could grow more, if not all of my own feed for them to reduce the chicken budget.
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It’s too late for this year, as far as growing grain, and I really don’t have the space necessary to raise enough. I did grow some sunflowers and corn for them, but it will only amount to a few treats. For now I am getting ready to mix my own feed from whole grains purchased through a buying club, along with sunflower feed from the hardware store. Until I have more space to grow my own chicken feed, this will have to do.
My Experience with Organic Feed
I’ve only been feeding my chickens organic feed for about 9 days, so I can’t come to a solid conclusion on how well I like it. I do think that the egg shells are harder than they were with the conventional feed. But I’ve also noticed that the egg yolks are lighter in color. I suspect that this is due to our drought and lack of tasty, tender grass in the pasture, not the change in feed.
One thing that I am not crazy about is that the new feed has a great deal of fine, powdery feed in the mix. My chickens don’t want to eat this powder. Instead, they pick out the whole grains and look imploringly at me for more scratch grains. I’m mixing the fine feed with water and molasses or the juice leftover from cooking veggies or pasta. They eat it, but only because I won’t give them any more food until it’s gone. They seem to be going through their feed at about 60 pounds per week. At that rate, they’ll have to eat the powder or go hungry.
The cost of Nature’s Grown Organic Chicken Feed at our local feed store is 40# for $21.65. The price at the box store is $13.49 plus 7.5% tax for 50# of the conventional feed. I used to think the conventional stuff was pricey! When I first brought home laying hens in 2010, the cost for layer feed was around $8.99 + tax for 50#. Yowza!
What Do Chickens Need to Eat?
Chickens need protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals to thrive and produce eggs and meat for your table. In the wild they would survive on whatever bugs, small rodents and reptiles, fruits, and seeds they could find. But they would also be laying fewer eggs and would likely be rather scrawny. So letting your chickens run wild to find all of their nutrition will not give you very good yields and, most likely, predators would eat them and your neighbors might object to having chickens in their yard.
Chickens are able to provide many of their nutrients if they have access to fresh pasture and maybe a nice compost pile. They will turn the compost for you and clip the grass. If you can, move their enclosure each day for the best grazing. The greens they eat will create a deep gold yolk and also increase the nutritional benefits of eating them. There are tons of plans online for chicken tractors that allow you to move your flock easily.
Table scraps are appreciated by your flock too. They will eat apple cores, banana peels, meat scraps, etc. What a great way to reduce your trash output and help supply nutrients to your hens! Don’t give them rotten or moldy food. I have found that whatever I throw in the compost bucket is scrutinized carefully and picked through for the tasty bits. So I don’t worry too much about the things that are supposed to be bad for the hens. They won’t eat if anyway. I just rake it into the compost occasionally and they stir it up in their search for bugs.
Even if you are able to free range your chickens and feed them scraps, they will still need a balanced layer feed to keep them healthy and productive. So what needs to go in their feed if you are mixing it yourself?
Most layer feed consists of a variety of grains, soybeans or other protein source, and a vitamin and mineral supplement. I’ve looked through the ingredients list of several different brands and no two are alike. Most use soybeans, corn, wheat, oats, barley, and supplements.
I found this site that lists the ingredients in Joel Salatin’s Chicken Feed…which I find very interesting, except that I’m trying to avoid soy if possible. I am searching for field peas, which can be substituted for soy. Although field peas are lower in protein than soy, they don’t need to be heat treated before feeding to livestock. I haven’t found field peas yet and will substitute yellow split peas for now.
Protein and Other Needs
Protein is one of the most important nutrients to supply for a healthy flock. Chickens need different amounts of protein at different stages of their life, or for different growth rates. Here are the basics of what percentage of their feed should be protein:
- Chicks – up to 20%
- Laying hens – 18 – 20%
- Meat chickens and game birds – 22 – 24%
Many pre-mixed feed rations actually have less than these suggested amounts, mainly because soybeans (protein source) are more expensive than grains (carbohydrates). I always thought that by feeding my chickens the ‘complete’ rations from the feed store, I was supplying everything that they really needed to thrive. I guess I was too trusting!
To supply enough protein, your feed mix should be about 30% soy, or even more if you are substituting field peas. I plan to mix split peas, sunflower seeds, and alfalfa pellets together for their protein source. This will make up approximately half of their feed. The other half will be equal parts of corn, wheat, and oats. During the cold winter months, I will increase the corn to help them maintain their body heat. A supplement from Fertrell and a trace mineral supplement from Redmond’s will be added to supply the necessary vitamins and minerals. Oyster shell is always available free choice for my hens, but the Fertrell will not supply as much calcium as laying hens need, so I am searching for a source of feed quality ground limestone. If I am unable to locate a source, I will switch to oyster shell that is ground finer than the source I have now. When I have results from this experiment, I’ll share them with you.
Where Am I Getting These Ingredients?
I order bulk goods for our homestead from three different buying clubs. I was pretty jazzed to find that Azure Standard carried organic poultry food, until I looked at the prices. They do have organic chick starter crumbles from Rogue Feeds. Since I haven’t found organic chick starter crumbles anywhere else, I’ll cough up the $24.95 for 40 pounds. If you can order from Azure Standard and don’t have another source for chicken feed, you may want to check out their catalog.
In lieu of the layer rations from Rogue Feeds, I am purchasing the following whole grains, legumes, and supplements through the Azure Standard Catalog. They are due to arrive tomorrow.
My purchase from Azure Standard Buying Club:
- 50# hard red winter wheat, organic (for sprouting) $19.15
- 50# whole corn, organic $21.25 x 2
- 25# yellow split peas $11.05 x 2
- 50# alfalfa pellets, organic $24.65
- 45# whole oats with hulls, organic $15.35 x 2
- 50# chicken wheat, organic $15.20 x 2
- 40# chick starter crumbles, organic $24.95 x 2
- 10# Fertrell poultry nutri-balancer $24.35
- 50# Redmond’s mineral conditioner (sale) $4.00
From Hardware Store:
- 50# sunflower seeds $25
My order will also incur an 8.5% shipping fee. I expect this order to last more than a month, and some items, such as the nutri-balancer, should last up to 5 months. Considering that my flock is consuming approximately 60 pounds of feed per week, they will go through 240 pounds per month. Half of that will be protein, so I will need about 40 pounds of split peas, 40 pounds of sunflower seeds, and 40 pounds of alfalfa pellets per month. I also expect to use approximately 40 pounds each of corn, wheat, and oats per month. At these rates, I expect the cost of my custom mix to cost approximately $110 per month. My current cost for the premixed, organic feed would come to approximately $130 per month. $20 may not seem like a huge savings, but it really adds up (to a total of $240 per year, in fact!).
Even so, the cost of buying bulk items is still quite high, and I hope to one day raise most of the grain and legumes myself. Will it really save money on chicken feed? Only time will tell.
Do you grow your own chicken feed? Do you mix it yourself from whole grains and supplements? Or do you buy ready mix feed? I’d love to hear your recipe if you mix it yourself!
Note: The prices of organic grains through Azure Standard have gone up since I posted this article.