Farmers and 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, saving you a lot of money in the long run. And, if you mix your feed from bulk ingredients, you have a direct handle on the composition of the feed. For example, for those who want to avoid soy or corn or prefer non-GMO versions, you can control the feed to your preferences.
Take a closer look at vital ingredients, essential nutrients and supplements, different textures, and chicken treats to consider for your DIY poultry mix.
What to Put in Your DIY Poultry Feed
Much like humans, chickens have different needs at different stages of development. When they are chicks, they need a lot of protein to encourage healthy growth. In the adolescent stage, they still require protein, but not as much. And, as they mature into egglayers, their needs shift, and calcium becomes a priority for eggshell stability. Chickens raised for their meat will also require an increase in their protein.
|Chick||Up to 6 weeks||22 to 24% protein|
|Pullet||6 to 22 weeks||16 to 18% protein|
|Egg-Layer||22 weeks+||16 to 18% protein; include calcium and minerals|
|Grower-Finisher||12 months+||18 to 20% protein; 16% protein if heritage or pastured|
When making your own mix, take a closer look at the ingredients list and nutritional content in commercial poultry feed to get an idea of what percentages to aim for. You will need to balance all the macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and enzymes). You will likely need to customize your feed to the specifics of your geographical region, figuring out what's available, what's inexpensive, and what you can grow yourself. You can also find many different poultry feed recipes online.
Main Feed for Chickens
About 80% of the chicken feed should consist primarily of grains. The following food items are high in carbohydrates and protein.
|Alfalfa meal||High protein, good for winter|
|Corn||Easy to digest, low fiber, includes protein|
|Field peas||Protein-rich, good soy alternative|
|Wheat||Higher in protein than corn; contains amino acids|
Vitamins and Supplements
Vitamins and minerals are essential components of a chicken's diet; without necessary nutrients, chickens are prone to illness, deformities, and deficiencies.
|Aragonite or feeding limestone||Rich in calcium|
|Oyster shell||Rich in calcium|
|Salt||Sodium is necessary for proper growth|
|Crab meal||Rich in protein and minerals|
|Flaxseed||Rich in omega-3 amino acids|
|Mineral supplement||Minerals support bones, egg-laying, and electrolyte balance|
|Fish meal||Rich omega-3 amino acids and protein|
|Cultured yeast||Rich in vitamin B, minerals, digestive enzymes|
|Duckweed||Rich in protein|
|Oregano||Supports immune system against infections|
|Cayenne||Supports circulation, especially during winter|
Making your own feed for more than a handful of chickens requires a commercial, heavy-duty feed or flour mill. With a mill, you can freshly grind the grains you purchase for your hens. If you only have a few birds and do not want to purchase a food mill, you can use a hand-operated meat grinder. You can get a fine grind using a food processor when making a mash or crumble for chicks.
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. You can naturally rotate the grains if you can use a sliding gate at the bottom to dispense the grain. You may need to clean the bins out entirely once or twice a year to prevent pest infestations.
When grinding feed, it's essential to know how long to crush and what consistency. Commercial feed has three standard terms: mash, crumble, and pellets. The type of texture you need depends on the age of your birds.
- Mash: Much like human babies, chicks are new to eating, their digestive system is just kicking in, and their beaks are too small for large items. For the youngest chicks, start with a mash. It's similar in consistency to potting soil. Feed from birth until 8 to 12 weeks.
- Crumble: Crumble is a lot like the consistency of granola. It has some larger bits, and it's the halfway point between mash and pellets. Crumble is usually started by the 12-week mark until the chicken starts laying eggs. Before switching to pellets, mix crumble with pellets to help the chicken get used to the next texture.
- Pellets: Pellets are like whole grains; much larger and tougher to digest. This food texture is best reserved until the chicken is at least 18 weeks old.
To aid the chicken's digestive system, you can also serve fermented or sprouted grains. Fermented feed is rich in probiotics, easy to digest, and more nutritious. Similarly, sprouting makes the grain easier to digest by breaking down seed coatings; however, it also increases tannins, making the feed taste bitter, and some birds don't like it.
Treats for Chickens
Even chickens like a bit of variety in their diet. Chickens can have one or all of these items every day as long as these items do not exceed 10% of their diet that day. Since these are snacks, it's best to present these items in the afternoon after the bird has filled up on their primary chicken feed.
|Oats or barley||Contains vitamins and nutrients|
|Table scraps||Provides variety; contains nutrients|
|Grubs or mealworms||Protein-rich|
|Bread (not moldy)||Contains protein|
|Fruits and berries||Rich in vitamins and minerals|
|Leafy greens||Rich in vitamins and minerals|
|Vegetables||Rich in vitamins and minerals|
Raise Chickens on Pasture
Pastured or free-range chickens have a more natural diet. One straightforward way to feed your chickens and reduce the amount of chicken feed required is to raise them on pasture. As long as they have enough acreage or consistently fresh pasture (e.g., a movable coop), chickens can self-regulate their diet. It's easy for them to find enough insects, bugs, weeds, grasses, and seeds to stay healthy.
Even if your chickens are primarily foragers, it's a good idea to have supplemental feed for them. And, if you live in a place where the grass stops growing in the winter and food sources are scarce when temperatures plummet, your chickens will need supplemental chicken feed.
One of the drawbacks of pastured birds is that you can't see what they're eating all the time. Chickens tend to chow down on hazards like styrofoam, nails, screws, staples, peeling paint, and strings. Walk the pasture area and remove any potentially harmful items so your birds can forage safely.
Feeding the Flock | University of Maryland Extension.