A question I have pondered a lot is whether or not I can grow my own chicken food. I have heard both those that said I could, and those that said it was not a good idea. I find it hard to believe that feeding your chickens off the land is either not possible or not advisable. But more importantly than that I have come to believe that growing your own chicken food is not only safe but is much better for your chickens.
I can draw on a lot of experiences for this thought, first off, I asked myself, what did farmers do before commercial chicken feed was widely available? Second of all, I look at all of the animals we keep, and a common theme repeats itself. Those animals that are on as close to their natural diet as possible do better. I think that statement right there is so important I could almost repeat it twice, for emphasis. My dog does better on dog food that is not commercially made, or a dog food that is minimally processed. We all know that feed lot cattle are not as good a quality meat as grass fed, and who has not seen the difference between a free range egg and one that comes from the store and was commercial raised?
It all leads me to one conclusion, the closer to nature we can bring our chickens and all of our animals the healthier they will be. While it seems pretty obvious, why are there still some who thing commercial foods are necessary?
It is all a Lack of Education
In my mind it all comes down to a lack of education. Some say that commercial food is better because it contains all the nutrients in balance your chickens need to lay properly. While commercial foods can be a good supplement I believe that they nutrients we can grow for our chickens are much better for them. Provided we all do the necessary research, can do an even better job of keeping our chickens healthy.
So Where to Go From Here
If you are like me, you probably have fed your chickens a few things from your garden, in the belief that it is good for them, but what if you want to go one step farther?
This year, I am planting a specific amount of my garden just for my chickens. And while my garden is not big enough to feed them all year long, I do believe I can supplement their diet for part of the year, which is not only better for them, but will save me money.
What Would Chickens Eat?
What would chickens eat in the wild if we did not feed them a pelleted food that did not even closely resemble what they would eat if they could? Green plants, wild seeds, animal foods such as worms and insects. Not so hard at all…. All stuff we can get easily for our chickens. And provided we offer them a wide range of foods they will wisely balance out their own diets.
What to Plant
So then comes the question of what to plant in your garden for your chickens? That depends largely on whether you plan to grow all of your own food, or if you plan to only supplement. This year I am only going to supplement. Not only can I not hope to feed them all year long, but I have neither the time nor the space to grow everything they will need. I will however grow several of the things that they can eat, which I hope will save us on feed bills as well as produce much healthier chickens.
Corn – Most gardens have corn in them so this is an easy one, just add a few extra ears of corn to your garden this year. You can feed it fresh or you can let it dry on the stalk and then store it through the winter if you want. You can grind the corn, or feed it whole and make sure to give your chicken access to grit to aid them in digesting it. (Warning: Not all experts agree on whether it is safe to feed chicken whole dried corn.)
Legumes, wheat, rye, oats, and barley are all common crops that can be grown for your chickens. While I won’t be doing any of these this year, with the exception of legumes, I wanted to add them for other that might wish to consider them.
I will be planting sunflowers, the chickens love these and they are rich in nutrients such as omega 3s. You can toss the entire flower into your chickens. These are so easy to grow and harvest, making them an easy choice. Other seeds you might consider if you have access to them are millet and sorghum.
We like to give our chickens plenty of greens during the year, not just grass, but also lettuce, spinach, and kale. These are so cheap to grow, I always plant lots of them, not only do I give them the plants as they are growing, but I toss the plants going to seed to the chickens too, they don’t mind the bitter taste.
In addition to greens, you can give your chickens the tops of the carrots, beets, turnips, and what is left over from the broccoli plants at the end of the season. Chickens also love a wide range of herbs, Something I did not know until this year, so I will be adding to the herbs I grow. Basil, Parsley, rosemary, fennel, thyme, lavender, Marjoram, catnip, mint, and cilantro are just some of the herbs that are good for your chickens.
Assorted Other Things to Toss to your Chickens
Chickens also love tomatoes, something I learned last year, when one of my chickens and 4 of my ducks broke out of their pen and broke into my garden. I caught them chasing tomatoes all over the garden in what was so obviously part fun and part feeding frenzy. Cucumbers are also on their list of favorite vegetables, as are carrots and beans. And of course chickens love fruit and berries best of all. (Hint: they will destroy a strawberry patch in a quick hurry) You can also plant a few nasturtiums for your chickens most of them love the tender greens and flowers from these plants.
If you are like me and your ability to let your chicken’s free range is limited, then offering them choice tidbits from the garden can help them to stay healthy. I don’t spray any of my garden with anything that is toxic, so more often than not, they also get a few insects and worms along the way.
Do You plant anything for your chickens? Is there anything special they love? Share with us in the comments!
What a timely post! This has been on my mind quite a bit lately as I start my gardening, as it is every year about now. I’m right there with you every time I enter my coop, thinking, “there has to be a better way” – at least for some of it! I mean, the scraps go to the coop and I’ve read about supplementing with all of these things, but really there seems no reason the garden with its abundance (over-abundance most of the time, anyway!) can’t be pulling more of the load. Thanks for saving me some searching!
We feed our chickens daily scraps. We keep a scrap bowl in the kitchen, and yes, they do LOVE tomatoes. We also give them strawberry stems, cilantro stems, eggplant, bread, even old potato salad. They are so conditioned to the goodies, they come running when they hear the back door open. Never have to call them anymore. We let our chickens free range during the day and lock them down at night. We have too many foxes that love to eat them. Of course we also battle hawks, owls, and eagles from eating them. They have eaten all our ducks!! Our guineas and geese rat out the offenders when they come to graze. LOL
We give the chickens, and the other fowl, some type of greens each day and we let them graze in certain sections of the garden. We also plant winter rye grass and cut it and dry it for the goats. We do it by hand, so we don’t get as much of it as we’d like. It also helps cut down on feed costs.
I enjoyed reading your post!
Steffanie Mormino says
I totally agree that it’s silly to think we have to buy store bought food for our chickens! I’m growing everything you listed for my chickens and rationing out the commercial grain feed daily for now. We also live on the water and I have my kids catch fish to feed them several times a week. Are you familiar with Moringa? I’m adding that to their diet to increase calcium and iron and it grows profusely. I’m enjoying your blog:-)
Jennifer G. says
Mangels are a traditional livestock food as well. http://www.rareseeds.com/mammoth-red-mangel-beet/?F_Keyword=mangel We planted some this year. It it works out I am going border the barn and chicken coop with them. They can be stored in the ground.
Practical Parsimony says
When I planned to get chicks, I asked a group on the internet what I could feed them that was not commercial. People gave me the names of commercial chick food. No! Not commercial food. I live near a place that makes chicken food. They sweep the floor and throw in cigarette butts, wrappers, anything to put in to grind for chickens. So, people told me to buy some corn, some oats, and barley and mix my own. NO! “What did people do 200 years ago when they were alone and 50 miles from anything resembling feed stores.
Finally, I fed my chicken banana peels, apple cores, all sorts of fruits and vegetables, cooked and raw. They free range in a city yard from 3 to 12 hours each day. I bring home leftovers from dozens of tables at church dinners, from my own plate when I go out to eat, fresh corn on the cob (no dried), leftover corn from corn fields, produce from the produce market that will not sell and will be thrown out. They only get whole wheat bread with no hfcs and no preservatives. They get oatmeal from my box of oatmeal. Actually, oatmeal is the only food I buy that they eat. Oh, they get whole kernel corn, and cream style corn.
I make them a huge cookie by beating two eggs and adding half a can of cream style corn, and lots of corn meal and some salt. I bake it on parchment paper in the oven and feed it over three days. They never get oyster because I crush their egg shells after baking the eggshells. Don’t wash the eggshells because that is protein inside. Baked eggshells can be given to dogs or chickens with no fear of them becoming egg eaters. They do not smell/taste the same to the hens or dogs.
I shell peanuts and throw them to the hens. They love them. A friend said they love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches–he fed them the last of his as he ate at the picnic table. They eat the sweet potato skins from baked sweet potatoes. I deliberately leave some of the sweet potato.
A PhD in Poultry Science at a local university said that corn in chicken food is the main reason chickens need medication. My chickens have never had vaccinations or any medication or parasites. I do put food grade diatomaceous earth in their nests and on the ground in their pen. It cuts down on flies and odor.
I expect my hens to get out and find food. They do. I love to see them walking along, snipping off grass here, seeds from weeds there. They dig holes and take dust baths.
In the winter, I give them store-bought greens. I leave a bit in the bag for them. This next year, I will grow greens and lettuce in pots for me and them. I threw the tops of bolted turnips in their pen. Grass clippings and pine straw from my yard means I have to buy NO has or straw.
Right now, I only have two hens, down from the ten chicks I bought four years ago. Predators and just dripping dead has thinned them out. I get a dozen eggs a week from two hens, eggs with golden-orange yolks.
I have found that chickens love anything green, that is non-toxic of course. Pulling up weeds? Toss a few into the pen, they’ll tell you within 30 seconds if they’re interested or not, and they seem to LOVE the ones with a nice thick juicy root. Melon rinds to toss out? They love um! Garden cuttings, kitchen scraps… they’re almost like little goats with feathers. And their appetites can be voracious! Some days while weeding, I almost couldn’t toss green items in fast enough for them.
While you’re weeding your garden, collect the snails you find and toss those to the chickens. We call it chicken football, because they seem to like to toss them around a bit before devouring them. And running around, trying to hide and steal them from each other is a great form of exercise. Plus comedic entertainment for us.
This post has been extremely helpful to me. We just moved to an acreage and have 27 chickens for layers. I had been thinking if there was a way to get around buying feed for them. Thank you for this information!
Question here! I have two fairly new turkeys, and was wondering can I grow similar things for them as well? I’ve heard they need more proteins than chickens, so I assume I would just incorporate more natural proteins. But would this be a good choice to carry over to the turkey’s?
I always have extra zuccuini in the garden and I shread it up and freeze it. Not only do you make
bread but I warm it up and take it out to the chickens in the winter and they love it. They also
like warm oatmeal.
I am planting a very small lawn in my back yard chicken space. What type of turf do chickens prefer to eat? Carpet, Bermuda, Zoysa, Buffalo? and which grasses will hold up to scratching?