By Lauren Arcuri
Homesteaders who aspire to greater self-sufficiency often want to grow or at least mix their own chicken feed. If you can grow everything your chickens eat, you don’t have to purchase feed. If you mix feed from purchased bulk ingredients, at least you know the composition of the feed – some farmers want to avoid soy or corn, for example, or use non-GMO versions of these grains.
First, Raise Chickens on Pasture
One really easy way to feed your chickens without buying as much chicken feed is to raise them on pasture.
This is the most natural diet chickens can eat. As long as they have enough acreage or consistently fresh pasture (such as using a movable coop to give them fresh ground daily or weekly), chickens can self-regulate and find enough insects, bugs, weeds, grasses and seeds to stay healthy.
However, if you live in a place where winter comes and the grass stops growing, you’ll need to give them feed at least through the cold. And it’s a good idea to have a supplemental feed for them even if they are primarily foraging.
If you want to raise your flock on pasture and supplement with your own poultry feed, read more about pasturing chickens and other poultry for that information, then come back and read on to learn how to make your own feed.
How to Raise Poultry on Pasture
Making your own feed for more than a handful of chickens requires a commercial, heavy-duty feed or flour mill.This way you can freshly grind the grains you purchase for your hens.
You will also need to think about storage for the bags of grains you buy. Consider building a storage bin with partitions for each of your grains and a lid at the top. If you can use a sliding gate at the bottom to dispense the grain, you can naturally rotate the grains.
You may need to clean the bins out completely once or twice a year to prevent pests from infesting them.
What to Put in Your DIY Poultry Feed
Whether you grow some, all or none of it, the key question is: what plants should you feed them? In what proportions? If you search the Internet you will find many different recipes. In some ways, you’re going to have to customize your feed to the specifics of your geographical region: what’s available, what’s inexpensive, and what you can grow if you plan to grow it yourself will all factor into the final feed.
You will want to study the ingredients in commercial poultry feed, to see what percentages you are shooting for. If you are a little lower in protein than commercial brands, that’s okay – just be aware that your birds will not grow as quickly. You do need to make sure that you strike a balance of all the macronutrients, like fats, carbohydrates and protein, and micronutrients such as vitamins and enzymes. Some trial and error might come into play.
Lauren Arcuri lives on a small farm on 25 acres in rural Vermont with her children. She’s written about her small-farming experiences for national magazines.