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. If you mix feed from purchased bulk ingredients, at least you know the composition of the feed which is good for farmers who want to avoid soy or corn, for example or use non-GMO versions of these grains.
First, Raise Chickens on Pasture
One really easy way to feed your chickens without buying as much chicken feed 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 (such as using a movable coop to give them fresh ground daily or weekly), chickens can self-regulate and find enough insects, bugs, weeds, grasses, and seeds to stay healthy.
However, if you live in a place where winter comes and the grass stops growing, you'll need to give them feed at least through the cold. And it's a good idea to have a supplemental feed for them even if they are primarily foraging.
Equipment for Making Your Own Poultry Feed
Making your own feed for more than a handful of chickens requires a commercial, heavy-duty feed or flour mill. This way 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 at 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 pests infestations.
What to Put in Your DIY Poultry Feed
Whether you grow some, all or none of it, the key question is: what plants should you feed them?
In what proportions? If you search the Internet, you will find many different recipes. 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 if you plan to grow it yourself will all factor into the final feed.
You will want to study the ingredients in commercial poultry feed to see what percentages you are shooting for. If you are a little lower in protein than commercial brands, that's okay, just be aware that your birds will not grow as quickly. You do need to make sure that you strike a balance of all the macronutrients, like fats, carbohydrates and protein, and micronutrients such as vitamins and enzymes. Some trial and error might come into play.
Here are some of the ingredients you should consider putting in your chicken feed. Please remember this is just a general guideline. Your custom mix should be made up of what's best for you and your chickens.
- Alfalfa meal (high protein, good for winter)
- Corn (mainstay for chickens, store whole)
- Field peas (for protein, to avoid soybean use)
- Oats and/or Barley (less than 15 percent of total diet together)
Things to Add:
- Aragonite or feeding limestone (for calcium, not entirely needed)
- Oyster shell (calcium, free feed)
- Probiotic (or feed them fermented dairy foods like kefir or yogurt, or fermented vegetables like sauerkraut)
- Crab meal (small amounts provide protein and minerals)
- Flax seed (omega-3, feed whole to avoid rancidity)
- Broad-spectrum mineral supplement
- Kelp (mineral source)
- Fish meal (helps boost protein and omega-3s)
- Cultured yeast (B vitamins, minerals, and digestive enzymes)