For most people, raising backyard chickens is a way of becoming more self-sufficient. They see owning chickens as a means of producing their own food, rather than being entirely reliant on the grocery store. Of course, you become a bit less self-reliant once you start purchasing pre-made chicken feeds that once again force you to rely on a store and a shipping chain.
Chickens are far from picky eaters. They’ll eat a wide range of foods without issue, making it rather easy to feed your chickens without purchasing chicken feeds. You might be surprised by some of the things you consider to be waste that can be turned into nutritious chicken feed, saving you a lot of money, and helping you become truly food independent with your chickens.
The 30 Alternative Feeds for Chickens
There is an almost unlimited number of foods that you can offer your chickens safely. This list contains just 30 of the most nutritious and readily available options that you can start feeding your chickens today to stop depending on other sources for your chickens’ feed.
All the foods in this category can be offered to your chickens without even touching your wallet. You already have them in abundance, and until now, you’ve probably been wasting each of these items, unaware that you could turn them into food for your chickens.
1. Yard Clippings – That’s right. The stuff leftover after you mow the lawn can be fed to your birds, and it’s even nutritious for them! It doesn’t get cheaper than this.
2. Weeds – Anytime you decide to go pull the weeds, make sure you don’t throw them out. Instead, feed them to your chickens. Most weeds are safe and nutritious for chickens.
3. Egg Shells – It might sound a bit weird, but when you eat your chickens’ eggs, you can feed the shells back to your chickens. They’re full of healthy calcium for your birds. Just make sure you grind them up first.
4. Table Scraps – Most families simply throw away their leftovers or grind them down the disposal. Most leftovers make great chicken feed though, and repurposing it this way is far better than letting that food go to waste.
The items in this section aren’t free, but they’re very affordable. However, they take a bit more work to prepare, which is the trade-off you have to make for the low cost.
5. Fodder – Fodder is simply sprouting soaked seeds. It’s dirt-cheap and makes an awful lot of feed. In fact, you can turn 50 pounds of wheat seeds into approximately 400 pounds of chicken feed. It takes a bit of work though. You’ll have to soak the seeds and water them for a week, but at around $10 or less for a 50-pound bag of wheat seeds, you’re getting 400 pounds of feed for just $10.
6. Fermented Grains –These are essentially a quicker version of fodder. You start them the same way; just soak your seeds overnight, but then they’re ready to feed. You don’t have to wait 7 days for them to sprout. Chickens can eat them as they are, but you’ll get a bit less feed out of each bag.
7. Deer Corn – Deer corn is cheap, and if you grind it up, you can use it as a cheap way to offer your chickens cracked corn.
Things You Can Grow
If you’re looking for a replenishing food source, you might consider growing your chickens’ feed. Many plants can be easily grown and offered to your chickens as a healthy and sustainable feed source.
8. Hearty Greens – Many greens can be grown year-round. They can even be grown in bins indoors if you don’t have much outdoor space to use for growing chicken feed. These crops are easy to grow and make healthy sustenance for chickens.
9. Sunflowers – You might not think of sunflowers as food, but they definitely are for your chickens. Sunflowers grow well with chicken waste as fertilizer, but you don’t have to grow them to maturity to feed them to chickens. You can even try making fodder out of sunflower seeds for a much faster way to turn sunflower seeds into chicken feed.
10. Lupin Bean – Lupin bean can grow in terrible soil conditions and can be fed to chickens as it grows without any extra work. It’s the perfect plant to grow on a patch of land that won’t produce anything else.
11. Root Vegetables – Root vegetables grow underground, so they’re very resistant to cold winter weather, making them great crops all year. Plus, they’re insect-resistant, which makes them easier to grow. You might try carrots, beets, or parsnips, though there are many options available to you.
12. Garden Leftovers – You don’t necessarily have to grow crops specifically for your chickens. You can simply grow whatever foods you want and feed your chickens the leftovers you don’t use! They’ll eat all sorts of plants, including the ones that you decide to pull from your garden because they’re not doing so well.
13. Wheat – Wheat is really easy to grow and produces high yields for the amount of space it takes up. Plus, you can use the seeds to grow fodder or more wheat.
Things In Your Cupboard
In this section, we’ll cover the items that might currently be in your cabinet that could be used as chicken feed. Check the back corners of the pantry where the light hasn’t shined in a few years, you’ll probably find one of these choices!
14. Oatmeal – You probably don’t want to feed your chickens sugary oatmeal, but chickens love oats, and they’re packed with plenty of nutrients for your birds, including iron, calcium, thiamine, copper, and many more.
15. Seeds from Fruits – Whenever you eat fruit, don’t just throw away the cores and seeds. Instead, feed them to your chickens, who will be all too happy to eat them for you.
16. Cheese – Chickens love cheese, and it’s a great option for them as it’s packed with protein, calcium, and other important nutrients.
17. Cooked Rice – Don’t feed rice to your chickens raw, but as long as you cook it first, it can be a great feed option that’s easy to prepare, costs very little, and is likely already in your pantry.
18. Peanut Meal – The only downside to peanut meal is that it might be possible for the peanuts to affect the eggs of your chickens, which would be bad for anyone who suffers a peanut allergy.
19. Flaxseed Meal – Loaded with fiber, protein, and healthy fats, including essential fatty acids, flaxseed meal is great for chicken feed and is likely already in your house somewhere.
20. Fish and Fish Guts – If you don’t eat seafood, then you might not have any fish or fish guts around, but if you’re a fisherman on top of raising backyard chickens, then the fish you catch can offer a free way to feed your chickens. And would anyone really argue that this isn’t the most fun way to feed your birds?
21. Animal Meat and Innards – When you’re cutting up your meat and trimming off fat, you can leave the bits you trim off for your chickens. If you’re a hunter, then don’t throw away the guts when you dress your kills; just give them to your birds. Nothing goes to waste!
22. Sesame Seed Meal – Cheap and readily available, sesame seed can provide a good boost of protein for your birds.
23. Legume Seeds – Loaded with protein, legume seeds make a great treat for your flock. If you plant legumes, be sure to give your birds the leftover seeds.
24. Earthworms – Earthworms are everywhere, and if your chickens graze free-range, then they’re probably eating lots of earthworms already. While you don’t want to spend all your time digging for worms, you can build a worm farm quite easily and have a practically endless supply of these protein-rich chicken feeders.
25. Mealworms – Similar to earthworms, only much smaller. Packed with protein, these are nutritious for chickens and can be easily grown for a free and self-renewing supply of healthy chicken feed.
26. Dehydrated Eggs – Depending on how many chickens you have and how many eggs you eat, you could find yourself with an overabundance of eggs at times. Simply dehydrate them and feed them to your chickens as a way of getting high-protein chicken feed for free.
27. Maggots – No one wants maggots around, but if you happen to find them on old trash or something, give them to your chickens. While humans consider them gross, they’re a tasty protein-packed snack for your birds.
28. Crickets – Crickets can be caught outside if you wish. Your chickens can eat lots of them on their own foraging though. Of course, crickets are one of the cheapest and most readily available feeder insects, so you could purchase them or farm your own.
29. Safflower Meal – After the safflower plant is used to make vegetable oil, the leftovers are ground into safflower meal, and it’s a dirt-cheap feeder that your chickens will gobble up.
30. Roadkill – This isn’t a joke! Remember, your birds are fine with animals and animal innards, so, why not an animal that was hit by a car? It may seem gross scraping a dead animal off the road, but hey, free feed is free feed.
If you’re looking to be self-reliant by raising backyard chickens, then any of these 30 feed items can be used as a great alternative to commercial chicken feed. Whether you just want to stick to the easiest options like table scraps or you’re willing to do a little work to grow something on your own, you’re sure to find some options on this list that you like. Make sure you mix it up and keep offering your chickens different items all the time so they can get a diverse diet full of a wide range of nutrients to ensure they’re in peak physical condition.
Featured Image Credit: Rachel Moon, Shutterstock