Day 35 of 365
This weekend, I went to Tractor Supply for chicken feed. We buy organic, so it’s always been expensive. For months, I kept reading about chicken feed going up in price, but somehow, perhaps because organic feed was already so expensive, the price of the organic food we buy remained stable–until last month. Our already-expensive feed bill got a lot worse. On Saturday, I spent $215.00 on feed and came home to find just eight eggs for the day. It’s a good thing their poop is gold to us as gardeners!
Still, grain shortages and high feed prices have encouraged us to dig more deeply into ways to save on our feed bill. We have always fed scraps, and thankfully, our hens get to free range in a 3/4 acre area complete with trees, shrubs, and lots of insects. But I think it’s time to step up our game and work on other ways we can be more efficient in how we feed our chickens.
I’ve been reading in the chicken forums so many stories of people having to give up their chickens because of the rising costs of feed, but I can’t help but think, as times get harder, we are going to want to keep our chickens, as they not only provide us with eggs they also fertilize our gardens.
The following are some strategies we use or are planning to try. If you have others to add to the list, I would love to see them in the comments.
Feed scraps from your kitchen.
This just makes good sense to me. I have read that some people say that it’s not as healthy to do this and that your chickens will live longer if they are fed commercial food only, but the only study I have ever read on this topic was sponsored by a large producer of chicken feed–so I am skeptical. Chickens are omnivores and can eat what we eat, for the most part. In this photo I took recently of some scraps, I have a pile of organic quinoa, some leftover ground beef, cooked lasagna noodles that were extra (I cut them up into small pieces) and a head of lettuce from the garden.
Of course, you have to be reasonable. You should never feed your chickens rancid or rotten scraps. And chickens should not eat raw potatoes or peels, citrus, uncooked rice or beans, or avocado peels. Some people think chickens cannot eat tomatoes, but this is not true. Ripe tomatoes are wonderful; it’s just the leaves of the tomato plants that are bad. I have also read that chickens should not eat garlic or onions, but I think this may be because it will change the flavor of the eggs. You should also not feed your chickens chocolate, but I just can’t see this being an issue that often. One time, in an educational presentation, I did have a kiddo ask me if you could feed a chicken some birthday cake. I advised against it but said they could probably get away with a bite or two. Maybe I should have added only if the cake wasn’t chocolate.
But the list of what chickens cannot eat is short, and I feel chickens are a great way to turn food waste into fresh eggs. Our chickens eat leftover homemade bread, veggies, meat, pasta. Our rooster really loves Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese. We have a couple of glass bowls we keep in our fridge at all times. Every tiny scrap that is safe for chickens goes into the bowls. When the bowls are full (or before the food will go bad), the chickens get the scraps. The scraps also make our chickens happy. I mean, would you want to eat the same exact food every day for your whole life? Chickens like a little variety too, so the scraps are a win-win.
Let them eat bugs, if you can.
We are fortunate. My husband built a fence around 3/4 of an acre on our property, so our chickens get the best of both worlds. It’s like free ranging with protection. Free ranging without a fence comes with risks, but if you have a large fenced area, let them out in it when you can. Our chickens eat bugs, worms, grass, and, sadly, frogs. It makes their eggs taste great, and it helps cut down on feed costs. If you do not have a fenced area, you could even try free ranging when you are around. I do not recommend free ranging without a fence or without people present.
Of course, I know some people just have to do it this. And, when we first got our chickens, we free ranged before my husband built the fence. But we had some close calls with predators, and the chickens definitely didn’t know property lines. We had to get a fence up before our chickens had a party in our neighbor’s vegetable garden. That would have been terrible, and I think it’s important to remember that, though there are exceptions, when it comes to chickens, good fences generally make good neighbors.
Ferment your feed.
This is something I have not tried. I have been so nervous because I worry about making a mistake with this process, but I am very interested in fermenting our feed. I have heard from some reliable people that this has done wonders to cut down on their feed costs, and, apparently, there are health benefits to it as well.
The most detailed and helpful resource on fermenting feed I have found so far is this site from Grubbly Farms–The Benefits of Fermenting Chicken Feed. I have read through this and think this is what I am going to try this summer. That $215 feed bill left an impression.
Start a mealworm farm.
I am pretty close on this one. I have been researching starting a mealworm farm for a couple of years. I have now purchased the totes and think this one is very do-able and seems highly efficient. My chickens love mealworms, but they cost a fortune in the little containers at the pet store, and my picky chickens won’t eat the dried ones. It’s fresh or nothing, I guess.
I found this fantastic video called How to Build a Mealworm Farm that has been helpful. This seems fairly simple, right?
I have done this just a little but need to do it more. Essentially, you just take seeds that are safe for sprouting, such as sunflower seeds, alfalfa, or hard red wheat berries, and you sprout them in jars. These are fantastic treats, and it makes the seeds go further. This page from Homestead and Chill provides detailed instructions and a full list of seeds that are safe for sprouting.
Along these lines, you can also grow your own seeds. We do not have a lot of space, but we love to grow sunflowers anyway. We just started focusing on the sunflowers that produce seeds. The giant sunflowers like the Titan and the Mammoth Grey Stripe produce seeds that you can feed to your flock or sprout to make them go even further.
I hope this list is helpful, and, again, I hope you will add to it if you have additional ideas. I think it’s so important to share knowledge and to work together, as thanks to this terrible war in the Ukraine coupled with climate change, these grain shortages might be here for the foreseeable future.