Homesteaders who aspire to greater self-sufficiency often want to grow or at least mix their own chicken feed.
If you can grow everything your chickens eat, you don't have to purchase feed at all. And, if you mix feed from bulk ingredients, at least you know the composition of the feed. This is good for farmers who want to avoid soy or corn, for example, or use non-GMO versions of these grains.
What to Put in Your DIY Poultry Feed
Whether you grow some, all or none of it, the key questions are: What plants should you feed chickens, and in what proportions should it be mixed?
You will find many different poultry feed recipes online. In some ways, you're going to have to customize your feed to the specifics of your geographical region: What's available, what's inexpensive, and what you can grow yourself will all factor into the final feed.
You will also want to study the ingredients in commercial poultry feed to get an idea of what percentages to aim for. If you are a little lower in protein than commercial brands, that's OK. Just be aware that your birds will not grow as quickly.
You do, however, need to make sure to strike a balance between all the macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and enzymes). Some trial and error might come into play.
Here are some of the ingredients you should consider putting into your chicken feed. Remember, this is just a general guideline. Your custom mix should be made up of what's best for you and your chickens.
Main Feed for Chickens
- Alfalfa meal (high protein, good for winter)
- Corn (a mainstay for chickens, store whole)
- Field peas (for protein, to avoid soybean use)
- Oats and/or barley (less than 15 percent of the total diet together)
Things to Add to Chicken Feed
- Aragonite or feeding limestone (for calcium, not absolutely necessary)
- Oyster shell (calcium, free feed)
- Crab meal (small amounts provide protein and minerals)
- Flaxseed (omega-3, feed whole to avoid rancidity)
- Broad-spectrum mineral supplement
- Kelp (a mineral source)
- Fish meal (helps boost protein and omega-3s)
- Cultured yeast (B vitamins, minerals, and digestive enzymes)
Making your own feed for more than a handful of chickens requires a commercial, heavy-duty feed or flour mill. With this, you can freshly grind the grains you purchase for your hens.
You will also need to think about storage for the bags of grains you buy. Consider building a storage bin with partitions for each of your grains and a lid on the top. If you can use a sliding gate at the bottom to dispense the grain, you can naturally rotate the grains. You may need to clean the bins out completely once or twice a year to prevent pest infestations.
Raise Chickens on Pasture
One really easy way to feed your chickens and reduce the amount of chicken feed required is to raise them on pasture. This is the most natural diet chickens can eat. As long as they have enough acreage or consistently fresh pasture (e.g., a movable coop), chickens can self-regulate. It's easy for them to find enough insects, bugs, weeds, grasses, and seeds to stay healthy.
If you live in a place where winter comes and the grass stops growing, you'll at least need to give them feed during the cold months. It's also a good idea to have a supplemental feed for them even if they are primarily foraging.