I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I started raising backyard chickens was so my healthy, happy hens who would give our family nutritious eggs. Ok. I was really hoping to save money on eggs too! But I quickly learned that feed isn’t cheap and if I wanted to do better, I was going to need to come up with some free chicken feed ideas to save money on the chicken feed bill!
After you learn what chickens can eat and what they actually will eat (because remember, animals don’t like to stick to our generalizations,) it’s time to start getting creative! It’s fun to come up with chicken feed ideas that your hens love and yet are easy enough for you to manage. I always make sure to keep homesteading records to make sure my efforts are worth the while. More than once, I thought I was saving money to justify the extra work to save, but in the end, when I looked at the records, I was only fooling myself.
Here are my best free chicken feed ideas! They work great with either laying hens or the broiler chickens you’re raising for meat. You can do side-jobs to earn money homesteading and help pay the feed bill or try some of these ideas on your hens at chore time. Check them out and see which would work for you to help you save!
36 Free Chicken Feed Ideas to Save Money on the Chicken Feed Bill
Grow Your Own Chicken Feed
Grow cover crops and rotate them through using a chicken tractor
Try growing alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, oats, wheat, barley, or sorghum.
Grow Winter Squash
Some varieties of winter squash, such as Sweet Meat, hold very well in storage. Cut them in half and let the chickens eat the flesh and seeds.
Sprouting Lentils for Chickens
Sprout legumes such as lentils for seeds and greens.
Grow Fodder for Chickens to Eat
Fodder is a great way for chickens to get their greens even when in the dead of winter.
Grow Sprouted Grain
Sprouting grain adds to the nutritional value of the whole grains you feed your chickens and using whole grains in your feed reduces your costs.
Grow Perennial Crops
There are many perennial plants you can grow that make excellent chicken feed! The best part about using perennial trees, bushes, and vines is they require less maintenance and cost each year. While yields go up, your chicken feed bill goes down!
Dehydrated duckweed is high in protein and easy to grow.
Building grazing boxes allow you to simulate a free-range or rotationally grazing system even if your hens are confined in a run. Our aerial predator load here is high so this year we’ve had to shut up our free-ranging hens. Grazing boxes are definitely going to be part of our new coop system.
Feed Chickens Waste
Saving your kitchen scraps at each meal is a great way to cut your chicken feed costs. Every little bit adds up and there isn’t much they won’t eat.
There is often a lot of waste that comes out of a garden. From the tops of roots to cleaning up plants done bearing, and more, the chickens can turn those scraps into eggs. Dandelion, plantain, lambs quarter, purslane, and chickweed are all great choices, but try feeding others and watch for what your gals like to eat.
Feed chickens crushed eggshells back to them so they get extra calcium without having buy oyster shells.
Grocery Store Scraps
You’d be surprised at how much produce grocery stores throw away! Ask them to save you some of the “waste” and feed those vegetables back to your hens.
Chickens are omnivores. That means they love to eat meat and all that protein is a great way to turn scraps from butchering into eggs. Though we work hard to reduce as much waste as possible, there is still always a 5-gallon bucket of scraps that get split between the chickens and dogs.
Farmers Markets Waste
Sadly, produce farmers sometimes have extra produce that didn’t sell. Sometimes it can be saved for the next market, but many herbs and greens won’t be good enough to offer for sale again. We would always share some with our neighbors but the rest went to the chickens. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Feeding Chickens Weeds
You definitely want to pull the weeds in your garden. (I’ve got 11 reasons why.) But that doesn’t mean they’re waste! You can use them to reduce your chicken feed bill.
Feed your chickens soured milk or whey leftover from cheesemaking. Even better, soak your ration with it. They LOVE it! (If we have extra milk from our dairy cow, sometimes we’ll just give them fresh milk too!)
Contain your chickens in your compost pile and let them pick through the scraps and bugs for food while keeping the pile nice and aerated.
Find Protein Sources
This is such an awesome idea I learned from Permaculture Chickens! It is a great way to turn your meat scraps into even more protein for your chickens.
Learning how to grow mealworms is a great way to give your hens a protein boost. When our hens were molting last fall mealworms helped them get back into production sooner. (And when we ran out, guess who stopped laying again?!)
Black Soldier Fly Larvae
These are an alternative to growing mealworms.
Japanese Beetle Bags
Set out Japanese Beetle bags in the summer. They attract the beetles with their scent and trap them inside. Dump them out for the chickens and watch them feast! Just make sure to check the bag every day because if they die the chickens aren’t interested in them anymore.
Feed Management Ideas
Mix Your Own Feed
Mixing your own feed allows you to source cheaper materials and buy in bulk to save.
Free-choice feeding your hens actually causes them to lay fewer eggs. They don’t really practice portion control and will eat it if you serve it.
Learn whether or not your hens are still laying and cull the ones that are no longer productive. After 3 years, your hens are only occasionally laying, but they’re eating just as much as ever. It’s not easy on the heart, but culling hens will definitely save you money on your chicken feed bill.
Soak the Chicken Feed
Soaking feed decreases waste but this is especially true with mash. That powdery stuff flies all over and a lot is lost. The soaking feed means that more is sitting in the trough for the hens to eat.
Free-Range Your Chickens
If you can… even for a few hours a day. We’re not sure how free-ranging is going to fit into our new homestead, but on our other 2 homesteads, we let the gals free-range for most or all of the day. In some years, we didn’t feed them the entire time the weather was warm enough for the grass to grow and bugs to be out. That meant 5 or more months of a chicken feed bill of $0!!!! And we got just as many eggs as ever! Probably more because I have definitely noticed that when our hens are cooped up they lay fewer eggs.
Use a Garden Moat
These are so cool and I’m going to use one on the new homestead. While chickens are valuable in the garden for tilling the ground and reducing the pest load, if they aren’t contained they can wreak havoc on the crops you still want to have grown. I’ve tried talking to them about where they need to go. They don’t listen.
Ferment their Chicken Feed
Fermenting the chicken feed is just like soaking it, but letting it sit for a couple days to being to ferment. Fermenting the feed makes more of the nutrients available for your chicken’s bodies.
There are lots of great ideas to use no-waste feeders to feed your chickens. And less waste means less money spent on feed.
Hens cooped up often get bored. There are lots of great boredom busters you can give your flock that are food! Every little bit adds up! Try making some like Coconut Oil Suet Cakes.
Serve up the Grit (and Probiotics)
Improved digestion means they’ll get more from their feed.
Get Damaged Bags from the Feed Store
If the feed store has bags they can’t sell you may be able to score a deal.
Keep Homestead Records
One of the many reasons to keep homesteading records is so you can track your expenses and yields so you can see how much you are actually saving when you implement a new system on your homestead. I use the homestead management app, SmartSteader, to make it super easy (and math-free) to keep track. Comparing these numbers with your experiments lets you see where the real savings are at to help you make decisions about what is worth your time and what isn’t.
What are some of the best chicken feed ideas you’ve used to save money?