How to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed

How to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed

There’s no question that the price of chicken feed keeps getting more expensive!  But with a little forethought and creativity, you can find more sustainable ways to feed your chickens.  Let’s get some fresh ideas with “How to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed”!

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!

basket of eggs

If you’re wondering how to feed chickens without buying feed, that’s probably just not possible.

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, or free, especially during the warmer months!

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!

How to Homestead with No Money

pasture fed chickens

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.


What is the Best Way to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed?

There are many ways to save big money on the cost of feeding chickens, but my favorite way that I use is “free-ranging”.


Free-Range Birds

By far, the cheapest chicken feed idea is free-ranging!

My girls are completely free-range during the warm summer months. 

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?  

It’s free chicken food!

The Chicken Encyclopedia

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.

How to Raise Baby Chicks for Beginners

attract worms to feed chickens

Find and Attract Worms

Worms are an amazing (and free) way to feed chickens!

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

leftovers from refrigerator

The first thing I do, before I go out to feed my chickens every morning, is check the refrigerator. 

Chickens love leftovers!  Leftover food is a cheap way to turn uneaten food into eggs!

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…free again!

I also check the bread drawer for stale bread! 

Chickens LOVE bread! (Just don’t over-do it on the 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 for Free Chicken Feed

chicken compost bucket

We keep a “chicken bucket”, aka the compost jar, on the counter.  It’s usually full at 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 to Feed Chickens for Free

Fresh herbs are another option for feeding your chickens cheaply!

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.

fresh herbs

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 or boiling vegetables is full of nutrition for your girls!  Don’t 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!

7 Best Laying Hens for Beginners

herbs and compost for chicken feed

Feed Chickens without Feed by Visiting Farm Stands

Now, one of my best-kept secrets for saving money and feeding my chickens cheaply is picking up “less than lovely” fruits and vegetables from my local farm stand! 

Every day, 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 product 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 product 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 of days a week, but they were looking for someone else to take it from them! 

Dude!  How awesome is that?

fresh fruit and vegetables for chickens

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 for chickens

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!


Another great way to feed chickens for free is to feed them mice!

Chickens LOVE mice and mice are FREE!

Remember, they are omnivores!  Here’s a quick way to catch them, simply dump the mice out in the morning and refill the bucket.  I just keep a bucket going in the barn, super easy!  Talk about “eating local”!!

homemade mouse trap with bucket


Feed Chickens without Buying Feed by Cooking 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.

The bread didn’t turn out as 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!


Conclusion: How to Feed Chickens without Buying Feed

While there are times when your chickens NEED good quality feed, like during the cooler months of the year, there are many options to cut down on your chicken feed ration during the warm months!

Let me know in the comments what you think of these ideas and what you might add to the list!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Recommended Blog Posts

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Kelly

    I actually did not know that chickens were omnivores! This kind of blew my mind, especially with the mice fact. Do chickens really eat mice? How does that work?

    1. Kelly

      Hi Kelly! Yes, they will really eat mice! They love to chase live ones too! As far as the trap goes, I just dump the water out, along with the dead mice, and they go for it! Mine will eat moles as well! Great question, thanks for asking.

      1. Donna

        They also love to pick the meat off chicken bones. So next time you have fried chicken, toss the bones in the coop.

        1. Kelly

          Great idea!

  2. Sue Fox

    What about all the chemicals etc. in processed food? Like bread? I’ve read several articles about not feeding bread to ducks at local pounds, they say it isn’t good for them. Wouldn’t it be the same?

    1. Kelly

      Hi Sue! Great question! I agree about chemicals in processed food, definitely don’t want the girls to get too much of that! Much of what I give them in the way of leftovers is made from scratch, so I’m not worried about it. As far as store bought bread, I keep that at a minimum. They can handle some, and they really enjoy it. What I would avoid is buying entire loaves of bread, especially white bread, to feed them with. You’re right, that IS bad for birds, and that’s what “duck feeders” generally do. As you can see from the post, 80% of what they get is vegetables, greens and insects. It’s all about balance and observing your birds for any sign of illness. Thanks for asking and for stopping by!

  3. Ashley Taylor

    Hello! Great article! I was wondering if you throw the scraps on the ground for the chickens or put them in a feeder of some kind? Thanks!

    1. Kelly Morris

      Hey Ashley! I put all of our food scraps on top of the compost pile, then the chickens scratch through it and eat what they want! It works out well because whatever they don’t eat will just break down in the compost pile!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.