We’ve learned another lesson the hard way: You can’t go cheap on the chicken feed… At least not if you want to get eggs! We switched up the laying mash for a cheaper corn feed and couldn’t understand why all of a sudden we weren’t getting any more eggs!
We finally figured out the connection. Instead of feeding them straight laying mash again, which is about $5 more expensive per bag, we’ve decided to mix the laying and corn feed half and half. Hopefully they will start laying again soon!
Chicken Nutrition 101: What to Feed Your Chickens
Not all chickens are alike – and therefore, your chicken feeding strategy should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.
Newly-hatched chicks need to be fed a specially-formulated chick starter that is slightly higher in protein. Feed this up to ten weeks. It should contain protein contents between 10 and 20% so that your chickens have the proper nutrition.
Later, you can change your strategy to feed a grower feed or a layer feed. Meat birds, like Cornish Cross chickens, need a grower feed. This has a protein content of 16 to 20%.
A layer feed provides around 16% protein, but also has increased levels of calcium. Layer feeds need to be fed starting around 18 weeks of age or whenever the first egg is laid (for some breeds, that might be sooner, so pay close attention).
It’s important that you consider the unique needs of your flock very carefully when determining a feeding strategy. For example, you might have a flock composed solely of layer hens but with a couple of roosters thrown in, too, so that you can get fertilized eggs.
Don’t feed your roosters layer feed! It can lead to kidney failure with the excess calcium. In that case, you’ll need to provide the calcium separately, in the form of a separate dish of oyster shell, for your hens to access free-choice.
There are plenty of ways you can save money on the chicken feed without necessarily being cheap about it. As long as you mind the proper nutrients and protein content of your feed, there are a few ways you can cut corners and slash your budget – here are some tips.
What to Feed Chickens When You’re On A Budget
Growing fodder is one of the best and easiest ways to save money on chicken feed. Fodder can be grown in the winter, making it a smart option for stretching your chicken feed budget when you can’t feed your chickens fresher foods like fresh greens and weeds. You can’t use fodder as a 100% complete replacement for chicken feed, but you can use it to supplement their regular diet and save money on your feed bills.
You’ve probably heard all the hype about how healthy fermented chicken feeds are or you – but did you know that fermented feed is also good for your chickens? Fermented feed is easier for your chickens to digest, since the process of fermentation breaks down the food and makes it more palatable.
Not only that, but fermenting chicken feed also increases the probiotic and enzyme content of the food. It’s healthier for your birds and will also help you stretch your feed budget a little bit farther.
When it’s in season, deer corn is a highly affordable alternative to chicken feed. It’s much cheaper than corn intended for livestock, especially if you buy it at the right time of the year. Often, you’ll pay just $5 or $6 for a 50-pound bag, while the same amount of livestock corn will cost you close to twice as much.
Of course, you shouldn’t solely feed your chickens corn – and you should always crack it first to make it easier to digest. However, it can be a great supplement to lower your chicken feed expenses.
You can also make your own chicken feed. HOmemade chicken feed has several benefits – one of the most obvious being that it is highly economical. However, homemade chicken feed is also beneficial in that it does not contain any cheap fillers, like corn or soy.
Store-bought chicken feed is often loaded with fillers that don’t do anything to boost the health of your birds. Some other nasty ingredients include animal byproducts, which can be detrimental to your chickens and lead to various health problems.
But when you make your own chicken feed, you’ll be able to control exactly what goes into your blend. You can make your own non-GMO or even organic chicken feeds at a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay for the same formulation if you were to buy it in the stores.
Save money and boost the health of your flock? Now that’s a great deal!
Have a compost pile? Let your chickens work it for a bit! If you’ve ever had a compost pile, you probably already know that it needs to be turned and aerated as often as possible. Let your chickens in to turn it and you can cross that chore off your list. Plus, your compost pile is absolutely teeming with insects – perhaps even some that you can’t see. Your chickens might also nibble on the occasional food scrap here, making it an economical way to feed your birds.
Diatomaceous earth won’t’ necessarily save you money on chicken feed directly, since it’s not a food source. However, when mixed into your chicken feed or sprinkled in your chickens’ dust baths, it can help you save quite a bit of money. Why? It’s quite simple.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural dewormer, so it can help get rid of both internal and external parasites. Both can end up costing you more money in chicken feed in the long term, as your chickens will need to eat more in order to heal.
Be careful feeding your chickens extra eggs, as you don’t want to encourage egg eating behavior. However, if you cook your eggs first, either cracking them and scrambling them or dehydrating them before feeding them out, you can save a ton of money on your chicken feed.
Eggs are also incredibly nutritious for chickens (particularly egg layers, and especially if you feed the shell, too). They’ll supply your chickens with lots of protein, calcium, and other vitamins.
Don’t overlook the power of the trash can when it comes to feeding your chickens on a budget! Of course, not all trash – but isn’t it time to stop throwing your fruit and vegetable scraps in the garbage?
Chickens can eat quite a few foods that otherwise might be thrown out. You aren’t limited just to plant-based foods, either. In addition to fruit and vegetable scraps, you can also feed your chickens things like stale bread or pasta, milk and cheese, and even fish. Just be mindful that feeding any too much of one thing can cause an off-taste in your eggs (particularly in strong-tasting foods like onions, fish, and garlic).
There’s nothing wrong with feeding your chickens treats, but you do need to be mindful of the types of treats you are feeding. Some are loaded with empty calories that won’t improve your birds’ overall health.
Therefore, aim for high-protein treats and feed these only occasionally (ideally after your chickens have gone into the coop at night and have eaten most of their daily calorie allotment already, so they won’t fill up on empty calories).
Some good options to feed your chickens to save you some money without compromising the health of your birds include mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, and flock blocks. If you’re really trying to save money, you can grow your own sunflower seeds and harvest them for your chickens or even grow your own mealworms. Both are high in healthy protein and fats.
Another good option? Earthworms and nightcrawlers! Send the kids out to harvest them from you on a rainy morning or see if your local tackle shop has any deals you can tap into.
Fish and Animal Guts
Do you go fishing a lot? If so, you may want to feed fish guts to your chickens. You can feed them all parts of the fish and while you’ll want to avoid feeding them in excess (they might lead to an off flavor in the eggs) they offer a ton of protein and beneficial omega-3s.
The same goes for animal guts. If you process your own livestock or do a fair amount of deer hunting, these can be fed to your chickens. Again, limit the amount that you feed – but know that they are incredibly high protein.
Some people also take advantage of roadkill for this purpose. While I’m not sold on the idea of scraping dead animals off the road to feed to chickens, if you have the stomach for it – by all means! Go ahead.
There are certain flowers that are quite healthy for chickens, including marigolds and especially lupines. Lupines grow in poor soils, particularly those that are overly acidic. While lupines can be toxic to some animals during the seedling stage (like sheep), they can be fed straight to chickens without having to be ground or processed. Consider planting a few of these perennial flowers on your property and let your chickens go to town.
Cold Storage Supply
If you’re like me, you probably store a ton of winter squashes, potatoes, and other root cellar crops in your cold storage area each year. Unfortunately, it always seems like we can never quite eat through all of our food before it goes bad in the spring. If that’s the case for you, feel free to toss the extras to your chickens!
Extra Milk and Whey
If you raise dairy animals, don’t be afraid of tossing some extra milk or whey to your chickens. It’s a great source of vitamins and calcium!
Quit weeding your garden and let the chickens do it for you! Although this might not be practical in all cases (after all, you don’t want your chickens tearing up your hard-earned veggie plot!) you may be able to unleash them among your plants after setting up some barriers.
Chickens can eat just about any kind of weed, but some of the best for these hungry birds include lambs quarters, clover, chicory, dandelions, plantains, and chickweed. They’re nutritious as well as highly convenient – after all, they’ll grow just about anywhere!
Other Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed
Let Them Free Range
This is, by far, one of the easiest ways to save money on your chicken feed. Let your chickens free-range and you’ll provide them with so many benefits beyond just cheaper chicken feed. Your birds will happily pick away at weeds and grasses, dig for worms, and even munch on larger critters like lizards and mice.
Free-ranging is easy for you – all you need to do is let them out of the coop and let them go crazy! However, you may want to limit them to certain areas of your property or protect them from predators, which can be tricky to do when you let them free range fully.
Therefore, you may want to consider restricting them with a containment system like a chicken tractor. Chicken tractors are essentially moveable coops and runs that you can drag to a new location every day.
Your chickens will get all the benefits of a free-range lifestyle (including a more varied diet and access to green grass, fresh air, and sunshine!) without all the risks and inconveniences (like letting them get into your neighbor’s yard).
Reduce How Much You Are Feeding
Many of us are drastically overfeeding our chickens. If you can, figure out the total cost of feed each month. Keep track of your expenses by saving receipts each time you head to the feed store. Then, divide by how many dozen eggs you collect each month. This will tell you how much you are paying per dozen eggs (of course, this calculation can be trickier if you are also raising chickens for meat).
Once you know how much it costs to raise your chickens in this fashion, see if you can cut back on how much commercial feed you are offering to your birds.
Don’t just dump food willy-nilly into the feeder but instead measure out how much you are feeding. You don’t have to stop allowing free choice feed, of course, but measuring will give you a better idea of how much you are actually feeding and let you know if you can cut back.
Each chicken only needs about a third of a pound of feed per day – but they’ll definitely eat more when given the chance.
Buy Feed in Bulk
If you know you don’t want to spend the time mixing your own feed or researching alternative food sources for your chickens, an easy way to save money is to buy in bulk. Rather than buying a five-pound bag of feed once a week, buy a fifty-pound bag every few months. You’ll save money, especially if you take care to store your feed so that rodents and the water can’t wreak havoc on your stockpile.
Provide Probiotics, Grit, and Water
Both probiotics and grit can help chickens’ guts function more effectively. By feeding both, your chickens will be able to get more nutrition from a smaller amount of feed – meaning less food you’ll have to provide overall.
The same goes for water. Make sure your birds have all the water they need to reduce your overall feed expenses.
Choose a More Economical Breed
This might not make sense for you right now, but if you’re planning on raising chickens in the future and want to learn more about ways you can cut expenses, consider choosing breeds that simply require less feed. Heritage breeds tend to be better in this regard, with certain breeds like Anconas and Welsummers some of the best in terms of their feed consumption.
Trimmer birds will generally require less feed, while stocky, heftier birds will need quite a bit more.
On the flip side, you might choose a breed that doesn’t necessarily eat less, but has a better feed conversion. White Leghorns, Red Sex Links, and Rhode Island Reds eat plenty, but they offer more eggs in return, meaning you can recoup many of your costs.
Reduce the Flock Size
If you’re really having trouble making ends meet when it comes to feeding your chickens, it might be time to reduce your flock size. This can be a difficult decision to make, especially if some of your chickens are pets or are older and simply need to be culled. However, you may need to do this in order to provide your other chickens with a better life.
Go With Pellets
Whole grains or pellet feeds are always more economical than mash or crumbles. Why? Chickens are wasteful little buggers! When you feed them a messier feed, they’re always going to waste some.
Grow Cover Crops
I’m a huge fan when it comes to all the benefits that growing cover crops can provide a garden, but did you know that chickens also love a good cover crop? Consider planting something like oats or winter rye just before the first frost. Once it’s about three inches tall, you can unleash your chickens. They’ll mow the cover crop down – just don’t let them graze it to less than an inch in height, or it won’t serve its full purpose for your garden.
You can also grow a spring cover crop. Good options include yellow mustard and peas. Let the plants grow to the same height and let the chickens eat it down and till your beds for you in the process.
Feed Garden Bugs
Aphids and beetles wreaking havoc on your garden? Harvest them for your chickens! You can pluck them from your plants and, rather than dunking them in a bucket of soapy water, you can toss them to your birds.
Grow a Chicken Garden
A clever way to save money on chicken feed is to grow your own chicken garden. Done correctly, it can cost you little to no money. Save seeds from this year’s garden and you’ll have an efficient way to grow food for your chickens that won’t break the bank.
You can grow anything you want in your chicken garden – your girls won’t be picky! – but some good options include pumpkins and squash (as a bonus, pumpkin seeds are often considered a natural dewormer), leafy greens (easy to grow and quick to mature), tomatoes, and sunflowers. Of course, herbs are always a smart choice, too, as many of these boast medicinal benefits.
You might also consider growing grains for your chickens, like sorghum or amaranth. Root vegetables are popular options, too, especially since they’ll last much longer into the cold weather than other crops. Consider Planting some carrots, beets, or turnips for your chickens. They’ll enjoy both the tops and the roots.
Check Out the Farmer’s Market, Grocery Stores, and Restaurants
When it comes to saving money on chicken feed, you can’t go wrong by simply asking. Check in with local bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, and yes – even the farmer’s market! – to see what goodies they might have leftover and be willing to save for your flock. Thousands of pounds of food are thrown away on a weekly basis simply because it’s mushy, stale, bruised, or even just left.
These foods might not be totally free, particularly if you’re snagging organic produce at the farmers market, but often, you can get a very good deal on them just by asking.
updated 12/02/2020 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.
12 thoughts on “Feeding Chickens on a Budget, and How to Save Money”
I agree with Michelle. When we had hens, they free ranged and we got an egg almost every day from each hen… no roosters either. I gave them scratch in the morning as I let them out; but it was more like giving a dog a biscuit. Protein and adequate calcium make good eggs. When we turned the compost, they gobbled up Japanese larvae like candy… and we often got huge double yolked eggs the next day. We had some volunteer wheat come up in the garden where we had laid straw for compost. We laughed so when it matured; because our hens used teamwork to jump up and knock the seeds loose… rather like watching kids break open a pinata. lol. They were great at keeping the weeds and insects down in the garden once the plants were established (they eat seedlings). Calcium was an issue at times. I could tell when their shells were thinning that it was time to supplement. Then I’d throw out a bit of oyster shell, or wash their own shells and toss them out for forage. Hope it’s not too much info at once for a post. Happy Homesteading!
Thank you for all of the great advice SJ Smith! Very good stuff to keep in mind 🙂
Hooray! I bet they are much happier. 🙂 -and I know the produce is healthier.
BTW… I don’t see a way to get notified when you respond to a comment, so if I dont’ answer something, it’s not deliberate. Feel free to e-me if you want.
Question… Why don’t you let the hens free range like the roosters? Getting lots of grass, seed heads, and bugs will be extremely good for them and you. Of course, I have no idea what your setting is, if this would be an option for you.
Have you heard of Joel Salatin? Weston A. Price?
Actually, since writing this post a while back, we have been free ranging them. They are laying nicely now 🙂
Heat definately will affect laying production and rather than stress the hens and shorten their lives we cut back on all corn/laying mash through the hot (we live in the desert) months. They are free range in a back yard with lots of grass, water and not to many (I hope) bugs. I throw any grain that isnt corn at them until it cools off. We go from 7-8 eggs a day down to 1-2 but the hens live longer and are not struggling against an unnatural desire to produce caused by food they wouldnt be getting in this season. Also be sure to wash hands (and baby) throughly after being out with the chickens as they do carry natural bacterias that could be bad for a tiny baby. Love reading your experience and congrats on the new lovely girl.
We buy our feed from a mennonite community close to us. We have found that we can go down to a 16% protien, save money and still get eggs. I think 20% is recommended. We have also found to shop around for our feed.
Goal….grow my own chicken feed. It sounds interesting…look into it!
Again, Kendra, I just wanted to tell you how much I LOVE your site! I love the fact that you are around my age w/ VERY similar interests (I would LOVE if we were neighbors LOL), new to the whole homesteading thing and that you are sharing both your successes and “learning experiences”. Not to mention that you are a great writer and your post are always humerous and make me smile…. God bless you and your family. They’re beautiful!
About the chickens… I’m in the process of building a chicken coop and a chicken tractor. I probably won’t start with chickens until the spring but you never know. I work full time (for now; hoping to change that after 2-3 years of paying off debt and saving for a place of our own) & have 2 very small kiddos so I don’t want to pile on another task until I’m ready and have the time needed. But in the meantime I’m reading tons of books and info about raising chickens. My favorite site is backyardchickens.com (It’s wonderful!). Thank you for sharing your journey with us! I am enjoying learning with you.
Have a blessed day,
Thank you! I’m so glad that you are learning along with me. I write my mistakes hoping to help others avoid them!! Keep working hard towards your goal. You’ll be so glad once you’re there!! I appreciate your kind words… my readers keep me going!
We have Rhode Island Reds, but the eggs seem so SMALL to us, because we also have ducks, and next to a duck egg, the RIR eggs are just puny. LoL!! I guess it’s all in perspective. Sometime if you can, try an aracuna – they lay green, blue, teal, or pink eggs (ours are teal). Gives a new meaning to green eggs and ham. Of course it’s just the shell, but it’s such a conversation starter…!
We mix cracked corn in with the layer feed, to stretch it a little, and it never affected their laying at all. The goats didn’t take kindly to that trick, but the ducks and chickens never even noticed.
BTW, I found your site about a week ago, and loved going back through your entire archive. I do have a site, but sharing will keep for another day…
Thanks for the heads up…I’m about out of scratch and will now get layer feed as my girls should start laying any time now.
And I have to say…Xia is a BEAUTIFUL baby!
They say you’re not supposed to feed scratch feed when it’s hot, because it raises the chickens body temperature. I wish I could let mine free range again because I saved a lot of money then.