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There’s no question that the price of feed keeps getting more expensive! But with a little forethought and creativity, you can find more sustainable ways to feed your chickens. Let’s look at “How to Feed Chickens Cheap” for some fresh ideas!
To be honest, buying feed from the feed store isn’t really a sustainable option, although most of us do it. Sustainability begins with providing/growing the food that we feed our animals. Only then can our animals provide for us. Let the farm feed the farm!
During the cold Ohio winters, supplementing with store-bought feed is a necessity. However, I take advantage of every other way I can find to feed them on the cheap!
Just being mindful throughout the day, when I’m in the kitchen or garden, about what I could feed the chickens gives me loads of options for them! I’ll bet it’ll be the same for you!
In my estimation, chickens are just “pigs with feathers” much of the time. They will peck at almost anything you give them, however, avoid things like dry beans, nuts or dairy products. Besides that, I just offer up whatever I have to the “girls” and let them decide.
There are many ways to feed chickens, but the primary way that I use is “free ranging”.
Free Range Birds
My girls are completely free-range. They are wonderful little foragers! With about 3 acres of woods and about 5 acres of fenced in pasture, they peruse all day long. We grow and manage our pastures in order to provide the best nutrition for our animals and honey bees. We seed our pastures to grow timothy and clover.
When given the opportunity, chickens will find all sorts of bugs, worms, seeds and berries to munch on, why not let them do it? Sure, we have some hawks in the area, but our Great Pyrenees does a pretty good job of keeping the girls safe.
If you live on a smaller lot, consider a chicken tractor or even poultry netting so that your “girls” can benefit from eating naturally! You may find that it’s not necessary to electrify your netting, and if it were me, that’s how I would start. Don’t make it harder than it has to be, and move your netting every couple of days so they have fresh grass and bugs to eat.
Find and Attract Worms
I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve to find worms.
First, I make a point to turn my compost pile every day or two, to expose all of the bugs and worms below. The chickens go crazy!!
Second, I have a few old pieces of carpet (measuring 3×4 or so) that I lay on the ground in the pastures for a week or two. Then, I simply drag the carpet a few feet and let it sit again. You won’t believe how many worms will be at the surface! The chickens will quickly figure out what you’re doing and run to you when you reach for the carpet! This can be done on the smallest of lots!
Worm farming might be something for you to consider, if you’re in the city or want to start a worm business! Worms are so good for our chickens!
Clean Out the Frig
The first thing I do before I go out to feed every morning is check the refrigerator. Chickens love leftovers! My “girls” especially love leftover pasta and it’s a hoot to watch them eat it!
Today, I find a partly-eaten bagel with peanut butter, leftover vegetable lasagna and a couple of wilted cucumbers. These go in my bucket.
I also check the bread drawer for stale bread! Chickens LOVE bread!
Also, on those rare occasions when we go out to eat, I always take uneaten food home to supplement our chicken’s/dog’s diet (remember the term “doggie bag”?). Grab a couple of extra rolls for your “girls”, they’ll love you for it. The other day, I brought home popcorn from Rural King for them. Whenever you’re out, be on the lookout for free chicken food.
Empty the Compost Bucket
We keep a “chicken bucket”, aka the compost jar, on the counter. It’s usually full least once a day.
As you can see, there are some tea bags, leftover hot dogs buns (from a cookout the night before) and some cucumber slices. Coffee grounds are in there too. I will dump this into my feed bucket and head out to my herb garden.
Clip Fresh Herbs
Herbs grow so quickly during the summer months that it’s very easy to harvest them every few days. As you can see, my sage is a bit overgrown, as is my comfrey, so I trim them back and put the large leaves into my bucket.
Herbs are wonderful for your chickens as well as your compost pile. Trust that the chickens will eat what they can use and leave the rest, I don’t worry much about it.
Peelings from Canning and Preserving
I look for opportunities to preserve food all year long, so I often have a sink full of peelings to offer the girls! They love to nibble peelings from cantaloupe and apples! Apple cores are a delight to them as well! They will enjoy most fruits and vegetables!
Leftover water from blanching vegetables is full of nutrition for your girls! Dont’ throw that away, put it in a bowl for your chickens and watch them drink it up!
Here’s what I have so far and I haven’t even left the house yet!
Refuse from Farm Stands
Now, one of my best kept secrets for feeding my chickens for free is picking up “less than lovely” fruits and vegetables from my local farm stand! Everyday, farm stands have produce that doesn’t meet the standards of their customers, and the only option they have is to compost it themselves or to throw it away. Why not take it home and feed it to your animals??
People ask me how this kind of relationship is established, and it’s really quite simple.
Next time you’re at a farmer’s market or farm stand, or even a grocery store that sells produce, ask the produce manager what they do with the produce once it starts to go bad. It’s just that simple, then listen.
You’ll get a variety of answers, and that’s ok. Some places will say that they’re not allowed to give the produce away and that they have to throw it away. But one day, while I was at Costco, I noticed that the produce manager was unloading some fruit and stocking. I just casually struck up a conversation and then asked what they did with all the produce that doesn’t meet their standards. I was surprised to hear him say that there was a farmer who came to get some of it a couple days a week, but they were looking for someone else to take it from them! Dude! How awesome is that?
In this case, Costco wanted someone to come every day for the produce, and I am not able to do that. But I passed the tip around and hopefully someone got some free produce!
As of late, I found a family-run, farm stand near my home, that I stop in from time to time. I like to introduce myself and shake hands with people, this builds relationships. After meeting the manager, I explained that I farm sustainably and that I’m always looking for ways to feed my chickens. Then I asked if maybe I could take some of their discarded produce home for my flock.
Are you kidding me? She was thrilled and started pointing to everything I could have. Not only that, she asked me how often I could come back! See what I mean? You might get a few “no’s” but then hit the jackpot!
Raise Your Own Meal Worms
Mealworms are pretty easy to raise and your chickens will love the extra protein! Here’s how to get started and here’s where to buy those live mealworms! You can just grab a handful or two and throw them in your feed bucket!
Chickens LOVE mice! Remember, they are omnivores! Here’s a quick way to catch them, simply dump the mice out in the morning and refill bucket. I just keep a bucket going in the barn, super easy! Talk about “eating local”!!
Cook for Them
Whenever I’m cooking for the family, I consider how the meal could feed the chickens. Chickens love warm broth and leftover soups! They also love oatmeal, which is super cheap to make!
They will eat their own eggs, so I’ll scramble more eggs than I need for the family and feed the rest back to the chickens and the dogs. (Egg shells go into compost pile for chickens also) Remember, let the farm feed the farm!
Burn some muffins or cookies? Give it to the chickens.
Bread didn’t turn out like it should? Give it to the chickens.
Have stale cereal that’s been in the pantry for months? Give it to the chickens.
I hope that I’ve stirred your creativity to find new ways to feed your chickens!