Simple Homemade Chicken Feed
Good Lord, but baby chicks are just the most adorable thing.
Almost as adorable as toddlers playing with said baby chicks.
Actually, in reality, Finn was rather disgusted with the little flapping balls of fluff, and would quickly brush or kick them away if they got too close.
As a complete side note- isn’t my yard full of violets beautiful? Who needs grass? 🙂
When we decided to start our new flock with a very versatile and dual purpose breed that will be useful for breeding, egg laying, and butchering, I knew I wanted to feed them very intentionally and as close to nature’s method as possible.
Definitely not the bags of medicated chick “crumble” that are most common at the local feed stores.
So I dove deeply into research on the subject, and quickly became rather boggled with all the MANY ingredient recipes for homemade chicken feed.
Fish meal, split peas, fava beans, sesame seeds, etc. You name it, and the recipes call for it. All kinds of different grains, legumes, seeds, and fish products with varying levels of protein.
All I could think was: complicated and expensive.
So, I dug FURTHER into research. My parameters were simple:
- As close to nature as possible
- Non-gmo, and preferable organic
- Simple ingredient list that I can eventually produce here on the homestead
It turns out the what chicks really need is a diet fairly high in protein.
The typical chick “starter” feed is around 20% protein and is fed until the chicks are around 10 weeks old. Then, if you are raising egg laying chickens, a “grower” feed is used which is more like 15-16% protein. Once the chickens start laying eggs, a 15-16% protein level is sustained, but calcium is added in for egg development. For meat chickens, a slightly higher 18% protein is usually sustained until butchering time.
However, in my observations of my free range laying hens, I have realized, that, when given a chance to forage on her own, laying hens prefer to eat a MUCH higher level of protein that 15-16%.
Justin at Abundant Permaculture has observed that some of his chickens will eat almost a 70% protein diet when given free ranging capabilities! Wow. Are we ever off the mark with our feed mixes, or what? Not to mention that pre-mixed bags of chicken feed are heat processed, which takes all the “live” element out of them.
With my laying hens, I am beginning to use a combination of these methods from Justin to ditch commercial feed completely.
- My chickens have a 1/3 an acre of permanent woodland they can freely range in at any time.
- I have a series of compost piles set up in their “run” where they obtain a large portion of their food supply. I add garden weeds and table scraps that they eat, along with the bugs and worms in the composting material.
- A few chickens are occasionally used as tilling and weeding devices in various places around the property. They are put in a lightweight and movable frame covered with chicken wire, and moved around the area for a few hours before being returned to their permanent run.
- Currently, we are supplementing the compost and free ranging with a small amount of fermented whole grains. Our mix varies, but right now it is cracked corn, wheat berries, and oat groats.
- I grow sunflowers, and soon (hopefully next year) will be growing amaranth for a supplemental winter feed. Eventually, we will be growing small patches of grain here on the homestead, and a small portion of that will replace the grain I am buying and fermenting right now.
- Turnips are also grown for winter fodder because they fit easily in all the open spaces between other vegetables, and are the perfect “winter keeper” vegetable.
- Calcium in the form of crushed oyster shell is provided for the laying hens, along with free choice kelp meal for a mineral supplement.
- Garlic and apple cider vinegar (see how you can make your own ACV!) are added weekly for regulating health.
We have a solid plan and system for a laying hens, and I am loving it, BUT I needed to tweak it a bit for our mail order chicks.
Since they had no mama hen to scratch and peck food for them, I had to become their “mama hen”.
The chicks get the same fermented grain mix of corn, wheat, and oats that the rest of the chickens get, the same ACV and garlic supplements, and a bit of kelp. Once they turn a week old, we let them out to do some supervised free ranging in the yard. This helps teach them foraging skills, provides some protein from bugs and worms, and some fresh greenery. To supplement the rest of their needs (they can’t be free ranging all the time yet), they also get some of the meat we usually save for dog food. I dice and chop it into tiny pieces, and mix it with some raw milk or whey, and any leftover rice or oatmeal we might have on hand. (Toddlers are great at leaving nice globs in their highchair, and these are perfect for the chicks!) I also occasionally add in a cooked or raw egg or some yogurt. It just depends on what we have an excess of at the time.
The grain provides base calories, and the foraging and meat provide the extra protein the chicks need to grow and develop. Once they get a bit older, they will be put in with the hens, and given the same food the hens are. The calcium (oyster shell) is not mixed in with the grain, and the chickens only eat it if they need it, so it will not be ingested by the baby chicks.
I will be tracking closely the progress of the roosters as they progress towards butchering, and the hens as they grow and begin to lay. It will be so interesting to compare to my past experiences of raising chicks on commercial feed mixes!
Do you feed your chickens commercial mixed grain, a many ingredient homemade feed, or do you use a different method?
This post has been shared at Tuesdays With a Twist, Down Home Blog Hop, The Home Acre Hop, From the Farm Hop, Old Fashioned Fridays, Simple Saturdays, Simply Natural Saturdays, Maple Hill hop, Wildcrafting Wednesday, and The Art of Homemaking.