Backyard chickens need access to a balanced layer feed to ensure their good health and delicious, nutritious eggs. But there are ways to save money on chicken feed without compromising your flock’s health.
1. Free range
Probably the easiest (and least expensive) way to cut your chicken feed bill a bit is to let your chickens free range for at least part of the day.
Chickens are hard-wired to search for their own food outside. They’ll pick at grasses and weeds, dig for worms, and even hunt down larger prey like mice and lizards. Chickens left to their own devices can get about 20% of their total daily energy needs from grass.
2. Use a quality feeder
You may be tempted to dump all of your chickens’ feed in a big bucket or pan for the sake of feeding your chickens in a hurry. But chickens are sloppy eaters and will tend to waste their food by spilling it and scratching it out onto the ground, where it gets trampled and dirty.
You can purchase a treadle feeder to keep your chickens from wasting their food. You’ll quickly make up for the cost of the feeder with the money you would have spent on the wasted feed. Check our feeder’s section for a variety of low waste feeders.
3. Grow fodder or sprout seed
Fodder is incredibly easy to grow and so nutritious for your chickens. It’s especially helpful to grow fodder in the winter when grasses and plants are hard to come by for your flock. Fodder shouldn’t be used as a replacement for chicken feed, but rather as an easy and cheap chicken feed supplement to the feed bill. It will provide valuable nutrients and fibre for your flock. Try out wheatgrass kits for a cheap and easy start growing wheatgrass. Once you have mastered that (it’s super simple!) we have a multi-seed refill kit available.
Sprouting seed is also very simple, quick, and much easier to digest than regular grain. Sprouts are a wonderful source of immune-boosting antioxidants, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals.
Do you find your chooks scratch through their feed and leave unwanted seeds? Why not try sprout those unwanted seeds – If they sprout, I’m confident they will eat them. Or we sell sprouting mix and a sprouting kit that includes mixed, polished and dust extracted seeds for a superior sprout count.
How to sprout seed
1. Soak one part of seeds into five parts water overnight in the jar provided or a suitable jar. Remember – the seeds will swell so make sure you have at least double the space the seeds take up.
2. Drain and place back into the jar with no lid or preferably a mesh lid.
3. Rinse the seeds in a colander (or similar) several times a day, until they start to sprout. Usually 24-48 hours.
4. The seeds will continue to grow as long as you leave them in the jar. Make sure you are rinsing and the seeds don’t go mouldy.
5. The different stages of growth provide different nutrients to your birds. You can start to treat your chooks as soon as they start to sprout.
6. Use sprouted seed within 5 days.
7. Discard if a foul smell is detected.
Fermented chicken feed is probiotics for your chicken. It’s a wet mash created by lactic acid fermentation (the same type of fermentation as naturally occurs in sauerkraut).
Just like kraut, it contains all the bacteria that’s good for your gut: Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, and other beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
The act of fermenting produces enzymes that increase nutrient absorption, meaning your chickens will need to eat less fermented feed to get the same health benefits.
The first day of soaking your grains greatly improves their digestibility by reducing the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors found in all grains, seeds, and legumes.
How often you decide to feed your flock fermented chicken feed is totally up to you. Some chicken owners give their chickens fermented feed exclusively, while others do it only as a periodic treat. While it is very easy to do, fermenting feed admittedly takes a couple of extra steps than simply leaving out a large feeder of dry grain for the week.
How to ferment feed
You can ferment any feed you currently give your chickens, whether it’s crumbles, pellets, scratch, or whole grains and seeds. The higher quality your feed, the more your chickens will gain from lacto-fermentation.
- 1 glass, ceramic or plastic bowl (size depends on the number of chickens you have but around 8 litres for a backyard flock of four-six). A plastic bucket is a good choice. Do not use metal as the high acid content of the fermented feed can sometimes interact with the metals and cause contamination of the feed.
- Put 2-3 days worth of feed in your bowl
- Cover the feed with water. Filtered, unchlorinated works best. You should have around 2cm of water above the level of the feed.
- Check on the feed in a few hours. It may have absorbed all of your extra water already. Add more water so that the feed is again covered by 2cm.
- Cover your container with a dishcloth or something else that allows air to pass through. You don’t want a tight-fitting lid – that might explode off.
- Stir the mixture up a couple of times a day. This helps to incorporate oxygen and speeds up the fermentation process.
- You can start feeding it to your chickens right away, but it won’t become truly fermented until you start to see bubbles – usually 3 – 4 days.
- Add more water and feed every few times you take some out to maintain your ferment. As long as the grains are covered in water. By doing this you can keep the fermented feed going forever.
5. Grow a chicken garden
If free-ranging just isn’t an option for you, you can grow your own chicken garden. Plants such as sunflowers, comfrey, kale, cabbage, and other leafy greens can be grown right in the chicken pen with very little effort.
You may need to cover the seeds with a screen to give them a chance to take root and grow before the chickens have their feast.
If you cannot grow a garden in your chicken pen, try our forage seed kit. The seeds have been specifically chosen to grow quickly, and have good regrowth capacity. Then hand-blended by us perfectly to provide your chickens with a fun smorgasbord of green nutrition.
For the perfect chicken-friendly garden read all of our tips here.
6. Supplement with healthy hearty treats
Supplementing your flock’s feed with supplements and treats from our natural blend range, will fill them up and provide much-needed protein, meaning they will require less of their commercial feed. And, they will be healthier which means fewer trips to the vet! Or try some of these low-cost treats:
- Mealworms make excellent treats for chickens. They’re high in protein and the birds simply adore them. You can even go the extra mile and raise them yourself to really see some savings!
- Sunflower Seeds are our chickens absolute favourite treat. Sunflower seeds are super cheap, but very nutritionally dense and a little bit goes a long way with your chickens. To save yourself the cost of this treat, try growing them yourself! Sunflowers can grow practically anywhere and require very little care.
- Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL)- The nutritional content of the BSFL means you can make them an essential part of your chicken’s diet. Rich in protein and key vitamins and minerals, BSFL are an excellent source of amino acids, essential building blocks for growth and egg production.
- Hemp Seeds are one of the most nutritious foods available in nature.All-natural protein, omega oils, and calcium assist in egg production and promote healthy shiny feathers, and happy, healthy birds. 100% Australian, natural hemp seed hearts and hulls. Full fibre, high protein seed, packed full of naturally occurring Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. Naturally loaded with nutritional value, for optimal health and wellbeing.
7. Feed them back their eggs
Did you forget to collect the eggs for a couple of days? Do you have a lot more eggs than you can use in a reasonable amount of time?
Don’t throw them out, feed them back to your chickens. Scramble the eggs with any leftovers you have in the fridge and hand them over to your chickens for a dish they will love that is full of healthy protein.
8. Weed disposal
Most of the weeds in your yard are very well-liked by chickens. If you don’t want to let them out to free-range in your space, you can at least pick some treats for them once or twice per week. Feeding weeds to the chickens is one of the best ways to save money on feed because you need to get rid of the weeds anyway, so why not have them also count as chicken food?
The following weeds are well-loved by chickens:
- Dandelion, leaves and flowers
- Fat Hen (Lambs Quarters)