Chickens need a balanced diet, but you don't need to spend your hard-earned money on expensive, commercial pelleted feed.
One of the simplest ways to give your chickens a balanced diet without spending money is to let them free range for their food. Most chicken breeds can easily forage and they can get protein from bugs, small rodents, or even frogs.
Chickens can also feed on grass, weeds and other vegetation all over your homestead. Let your chickens go free range for a couple of hours every day to save on your feed bill!
To protect your chickens from predators, get a good rooster or livestock guardian dog.
Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and vegetables. You can feed chickens approximately half a pound of kitchen scraps per chicken per day.
This means an average family can feed a few chickens using just their leftovers.
If you need more, ask friends and family to save you their leftovers. Doing this means doing your part to help the environment since you keep food waste away from landfills. As a bonus, you also save some money.
Just don’t feed your chickens moldy or spoiled food.
Homesteaders who preserve their own harvest can feed their canning leftovers to chickens. Leftovers like strawberry tops, slightly mushy peaches and apple peels are suitable for your chickens.
Grocery stores usually throw away old produce or meat products that are past their sell-by date. Ask a manager and see if you can take the trash food home, but clarify that the waste will go to your chickens, not you or your family.
You may also have better luck if you ask smaller grocery stores instead of large chain stores.
If there are farmer’s markets near your area, visit vendors during closing time and ask them for anything they want to get rid of. Show your support by shopping regularly at the farmer’s market, and let them know that the leftovers will go to your chickens.
In return, offer them some eggs the next time you visit them.
Small, local restaurants may be willing to give you leftovers from salad bars and buffets since food that can't be served the following day have to be thrown out. You’ll also be doing them a favor by helping them save on dumpster costs.
When a feed store receives damaged packages or has damaged items in stock, these products can be sold at a discounted price. They might even be thrown away, so ask if they have any damaged packages that you can buy.
If you're a regular customer, they might also offer the packages to you for free.
Do you have local farmer friends? If you ask politely, they may give you the bits of corn or grain lying in the bottom of their bins.
Once you have the leftover grain, store everything in clean metal trash cans to keep rodents away.
Extra eggs can also be fed back to your hens! Serve eggs scrambled, poached, or hard-boiled to give them some extra protein, which they need for feather production during molting season.
Instead of throwing away yard waste like grass, leaves and bush clippings, drop it into your chicken pen. Yard waste is full of vegetable matter that's home to creepy-crawlies that your chickens can snack on.
If you don’t have yard waste, ask your neighbor for some.
As a home gardener, you can also use "ugly" produce as chicken feed. Keep the normal-looking vegetables if you sell your harvest and set aside weird-looking ones for your chickens.
Check the local pumpkin patch, especially once Halloween is over. Leftover pumpkins are usually turned back into the soil for next year’s crop, but asking nicely might get you some leftover pumpkins for your chickens.
If you hate seeing weeds in your yard, let your chickens take care of them. Chickens will love snacking on things like crabgrass, dandelions, plantain, purslane and thistles.
You can raise mealworms in a small container with a mesh lid. Leave a layer of oats or bran in the bottom for bedding and feed. (Related: From animal care to gardening hacks: DIY PVC projects for your homestead.)
If you spread mulch in the garden when there aren’t any plants growing, let your chickens do the work for you. Dump the mulch in a large pile and let the chickens search it for bugs and other snacks as they do most of the mulching.
Chickens will eat almost anything, but to keep your animals healthy you need to avoid giving them the following things:
These foods contain toxic substances that can harm your chickens.
Check around your homestead and ask friends or store owners for their leftovers or damaged products if you want to feed your chickens for free.