One of these days, we’ll
get our act together and really grow the majority of our chickens’
feed. At the moment, we put most of that kind of energy into keeping our pastures green,
figuring that the health benefits of an endless salad bar are more
important than changing the bulk of our chickens’ diet over from
store-bought corn and soybeans to homegrown grains.
However, we’re also always experimenting with things we can do on a
small scale to make homegrown foods a larger percentage of our flock’s
One common supplement to the backyard hen’s diet is kitchen scraps,
which we’ve been feeding for years. We did make a major change to
our food-scraps campaign this year, though — rather than tossing the
tomato tops and eggshells into the coop for the majority of our layers
to consume, I’ve been giving all of our scraps to our four tractored
birds instead. The reason is predators
— the scent of food scraps (especially cobs leftover from cutting
sweet corn into soup) attracts raccoons like nobody’s business. By
keeping the highly-scented feeds very close to our trailer, we’ve cut
down predator pressure in the coop significantly.
Another feed we’ve been
giving for a while, but are using slightly differently this year, is
over-mature summer squash and cucumbers. In the past, I’ve just
stepped on these mammoths in hopes of getting a few seeds to squirt out
and tempt the chickens to peck, but cutting up the over-large cucurbits
has been much more effective. Chickens will nibble at the flesh
of these monstrosities, but the seeds have most of the nutrition and
they know it, so anything you can do to make the seeds more accessible
is worth the effort.
On a more experimental front, we’re trying out sending some of our food scraps into a black-soldier-fly bin this year rather than giving them all straight to the chickens. Whether we’ll get more bang for our buck this way is still up for debate,
but since our bin can take bits of onions, cabbages, and other foods
that our chickens mostly turn up their noses at, it might be a
win-win. (If you drink coffee, the grounds are also an excellent
bin addition that wouldn’t be good for chickens in their original
form.) Stay tuned for further updates.
Finally, I’ve been planting more sunflowers as cover crops,
hoping that we might end up with some seeds to give our chickens in the
winter. Similarly, my mom gave me a packet of sorghum seeds which
I opted to plant with the chickens (rather than molasses) in
mind. We didn’t devote much space and energy to either planting,
but if they’re particularly successful, we can always expand for next
If you’re interested in other alternative chicken feed options, you can browse through several years of experiments here. And I’d love it if you comment with your own accounts of trial and error!