Bagged feeds are easy, but at what cost to wellness? It takes me about 30 minutes each month to weigh, mix, and grind feed for our flock. Our organic ration (along with kitchen trimmings, forage from the garden, etc.) yields eggs at a cost of less than $1.80 per dozen.
What did folks do 150 years ago before bagged feeds? Dead chickens and no eggs? No, of course not!
Why homemade chicken feed?
- Customize the ingredients and add home-grown ingredients and local by-products.
- Control the cost by changing the recipe considering ingredient prices.
- Change the recipe based on your flock composition. Different recipes for chicks, pullets, young hens, aging hens, and transitioning pullets into existing flock.
- No longer pay top dollar for inexpensive by-products in many organic bagged feeds: grain and seed meals, grit, and calcium supplements.
- Formulate the feed based on your values and preferences: no soy, no fish meal, no corn, only regional ingredients, etc.
- Grind fresh and as needed.
Chicken Feed Workbook
Ready to make your own chicken feed? Sign up to receive the Chicken Feed Workbook! It contains everything that you need to formulate your own feed! It's an excel (.xls) file you can save to you computer and modify as needed. And the best part is that it is included for zero dollars!
Ready to Make Chicken Feed?
- Be willing to experiment. Different ingredients, different formulations, and grinding/not grinding.
- Check reliable online resources and books for details about feed ingredients.
Recipe Notes as You Get Started
- No grain is ideal.
- Where to buy? We buy most of the ingredients from Azure Standard. We purchase fish meal from a local feed store and order black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) from Modesto Milling.
- How much to buy? It depends. I recommend starting with smaller quantities (5, 10, and 25 pound bags) and seeing how the flock responds. Keep in mind that some ingredients might be ingredients that you eat and can share with the flock. Rolled oats for the flock...rolled oats with fruit and honey for our breakfast...and I don't have to flake it first!
- Save time by weighing out bulk ingredients in advance. Weigh out ingredients per batch, bag it, and mark the bag.
- Mix and weigh out a pre-mix to save time. A pre-mix includes meals and supplements (kelp, crab meal, Fertrell's, etc.) that will not be ground.
- Whole corn and peas should be cracked or ground. Other grains can be cracked, ground, or left whole depending on your strategy. We grind finely for chicks and gradually leave the ingredients courser as the chickens develop. We don't grind any grains for our chickens over 12-14 weeks.
- Grinding. If you are just experimenting or have a micro-flock perhaps using a Vita-Mix or mill attachment to a KitchenAid will be adequate. If you are going to grind 20 pound batches regularly, you might want to consider investing in a quality mill.
- Limits for our flock:
- Corn 5%. Why? There seems to be a correlation between fatty liver syndrome and higher carbohydrate diets so we limit carbohydrate intake for our flock. We made this change years ago after a death in our flock and subsequent necropsy results.
- Barley and oats 15%. Why? Too much of either or both equals runny poop.
- Fish meal 5% for layers and 6% for chicks and pullets. Why? Flavor can be imparted into eggs. Most fish meal contains around 60% protein and ocean harvested menhaden. So, there might be a decision here for you.
- Flax 5%. Why? The flavor of flax and fish can be imparted in the eggs.
- We are experimenting with cutbacks to both fish meal and Fertrell's. Harvey Ussery no longer feeds either but it is important to note that he has many home grown options and pastures his flock in Virginia!
- Other ingredients that you might want to try: sesame seeds, garbanzo beans, black-eye peas, lentils, blue corn, soft white wheat, rolled oats, sunflower seeds, alfalfa meal, and buckwheat. Our recipes vary based on prices, availability, and the composition of the flock.
- Brewer's yeast in the recipe is a yeast not a by-product of beer making: Saccharomyce cerevisiae.
- Why so many ingredients?
- The chickens won't freak out if I swap out an ingredient that is only 5% of the feed.
- Diversity of ingredients and supplements removes the need to calculate protein, carbohydrate, and fat and provides the necessary amino acids and micronutrients.
- Balance the higher cost ingredients with the inexpensive ones.
- Why grams? I found it to be quicker and more accurate with small batches.
- The ration is only a part of the diet: you can offer quality kitchen trimmings, fresh forage, sprouted grains and seeds, fermented foods, and black solider fly larvae.
- If you are transitioning from one feed to another (pellets, mash, whole grain, etc.) the transition should be slow and over a number of weeks. This is particularly important if the transition is from a mash to whole grains.
- Week 1: 95% old feed and 5% new feed
- Week 2: 90% old feed and 10% new feed
- Week 3: 80% old feed and 20% new feed
- Week 4: 70% old feed and 30% new feed
- and so forth. I prefer a slower transition for happy chickens, happy digestive systems, and I can monitor which ingredients the chickens do not like and modify as needed.
- We do not offer feed at all times. Our flock is fed in the morning and in the evening. This strategy encourages scratching and foraging while discouraging obesity.
- Water should be available at all times. Consider icing or otherwise keeping the water cool during hot spells to encourage drinking! Consider heating pad or insulation in the winter. Dehydrated birds do not lay as many eggs. Consider using chicken nipples.
- Offer grit free choice. Grit ensures adequate grinding of food and a healthy digestive system. An economical source for grit is a rock yard. Be sure to wash and dry thoroughly to remove dust and debris from the quarrying process. Select a 3/8" granite for hens. Select 1/8" granite for pullets.
- Offer oyster shell or another calcium supplement free choice for strong egg shells. Oyster shells can be found at feed stores and rock yards. Calcium carbonate is available as a single ingredient supplement from Azure.
- Track egg laying. A drop in egg production can be one of the first indications of a disease or disorder. Day length, age of chickens, weather and so forth can affect the rate of lay too. But, if eggs production suddenly plummets it might be a problem indicator.
Storing Feed and Ingredients
- It's good insurance to store all the ingredients and the mixed feed in quality containers. We use Vittles Vaults. Vittles Vaults are made in the U.S.A., food safe plastic, and neatly stack. Vittles Vault lids for 5-gallon and 3-gallon buckets are also available from Azure.
- Diatomaceous earth (DE) added to grains can guard against meal moths and grain weevils. Bugs eating the grains results less nutrition for the chickens. Guard your grains! Use 1 cup of DE per 50 pounds. Be sure to use a dust mask when handling DE.
- Azure Standard
- Feedipedia, online resource for animal feed ingredients with detailed analysis.
- Fertrell's Poultry Nutri-balancer
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Feeding Whole Grains to Chickens
- Modesto Milling
- Redmond's Conditioner
- G.F. Heuser (2003). Feeding Poultry. Norton Creek Press. ISBN: 0972177027.
- USDA's Nutrient Database, resource for nutrient information.
- Harvey Ussery (2011). The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers. Chelsea Green Publishing Company. ISBN: 9781603582902.
- Harvey Ussery's website: The Modern Homestead
- Storage: Vittle Vaults
- Special thanks to Dale, Nia, Kiki, and Steph for all the love and support!
- Aaron Glasson, Permaculture Velocity logo
- Music: Tell Somebody by Alex Beroza featuring AdmiralBob, digccmixter, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0
- And to all those podcasters out there sharing good information on podcasting for those of us just getting going with this podcast thing! Thank you!