If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly dissatisfied with feed store bags of layer pellets. Organic feed is expensive, and conventional feed is full of cheap fillers and GMO corn. Nobody wants to feed their chickens junk food, but few can afford organic feed long term. So, what’s a budget-conscious chicken owner to do?
The answer is homemade chicken feed!
I know, you’ve probably looked into this subject before. We all have. I even researched the idea a few times before diving in. It’s frustrating to only find chicken feed recipes that demand an overwhelming number of ingredients.
Maybe you’ve been turned off by the idea of spending over 3 hours a week mixing, soaking, and fermenting your chicken food. I know I have.
As a busy homesteader, I just don’t have the time to mix up gourmet meals for my layers. But chickens need to be fed, and finding healthy, minimally processed options is definitely ideal.
You can pick up a twenty-dollar bag of organic feed at the farm supply store, mix up a 15 ingredient gourmet recipe, or just read on! I’ve created an excellent homemade chicken feed recipe that’s both healthy, and budget-friendly.
Easy Homemade Chicken Feed
This basic 5-ingredient recipe is packed full of the nutrients your birds need. These ingredients are also easy to source, which is essential for rural homesteads. It’s easy to mix up, and doesn’t take several hours to make, either. Of course, you can make it more complicated (and more filling) by sprouting the seeds, but you don’t have to.
Best of all, your birds get all the nutrients they need to lay gorgeous, golden-yolked eggs all year long.
What goes into this affordable little recipe?
- Wheat berries (any variety).
- Mealworms (alive or freeze-dried).
- Sunflower seeds (or sesame seeds)
With this recipe, I’m assuming your birds spend at least a couple hours out scratching in the yard. If your hens don’t forage at all, you should definitely add in some grasses and grit.
In cold climates, especially when temperatures drop below zero, add in a scoop of corn during winter months.
Can it really be that simple? Yes, it can. Remember that families have been raising poultry without bagged layer pellets for hundreds of years. You can too!
A Closer Look
Each ingredient contributes a certain number of essential nutrients. Nothing is just filler in this recipe: it’s a nutrient-dense feed meant to nourish your birds properly. In fact, let’s take a look at each ingredient’s benefits before we mix them all together.
We love wheat berries in our family. Sauteed with kale or spinach and lots of garlic, they’re a great, simple, midday meal.
Chickens love them too. These nutrient-dense berries are the heart of the wheat plant. As such, they’re the protein-rich base of your homemade chicken feed. In fact, they tend to be about 17% protein. Ideally, a feed for layer hens will fall between 14 and 16% protein as a whole.
At about 24% protein, the peas you add in will boost your feed’s overall protein balance They provide a variety of other nutrients as well. Peas are rich in the potassium, vitamins, and minerals your birds need to stay healthy.
You can use split peas or sprouting peas in chicken feed. Remember though that if you do chose to sprout your peas, split peas won’t be a good option. Only whole peas will actually sprout.
If you want to add an extra boost to your chicken feed, especially during those long, cold winters, try sprouting your wheat berries and peas before mixing up the feed.
Sprouting isn’t absolutely necessary for this recipe, but it can help revive tired birds. If your coop is spending too much energy keeping warm and not enough energy laying eggs, sprouting may help.
To sprout the wheat berries, just soak the berries and peas for 24 hours then set them on a large tray. Alternatively, you can put them in a bucket for 3 days. If they’re in a bucket, stir them twice a day to keep them from going moldy.
Don’t let your sprouting grains sit for more than three days before using them.
The end product is called fodder, and it’s a great way to give your birds access to all the extra nutrients available in the grains.
Chickens are not vegetarians. In fact, when they’re fed a completely vegetarian diet, they don’t perform at their best. Chickens are designed to eat insects, worms, and other little critters.
Now, chickens that spend a lot of time foraging won’t need a lot of mealworms in their feed. In contrast, chickens that spend a minimal amount of time free-ranging will need more.
I prefer freeze-dried mealworms, just because scooping up a heaping cup of live worms just seems icky. Both fresh and freeze-dried add a healthy amount of animal protein to your flock’s diet.
Oats help to balance the protein in this recipe by providing plenty of fiber. Regular consumption of oats also seem to reduce aggression and pecking within the flock. Studies have shown oats can help your flock handle heat exhaustion.
Oats can form up to 60% of your feed without damaging production. That means that if your chickens seem hungrier than usual, oats are a great option for bulking up their feed without disrupting the balance.
Seeds provide a healthy dose of fats for your flock. Try black hull sunflower seeds, if you can get your hands on some. They have a thinner shell and a higher fat content.
Sunflower seeds make up just a small portion of your chicken feed, but they’re an essential part. Your birds need the healthy fats and amino acids that these fabulous little seeds can provide.
Mixing and Measurements
Start mixing up your feed once you have all your ingredients at hand.
I like to premix the oats, mealworms, and sunflower seeds in one bin, and the wheat berries and peas in the other bin. That way, I can scoop out a ration of berries and peas to sprout if I want to.
For daily rations to support 10 chickens, you’ll want to mix together 10 cups wheat berries, 5 cups peas, 5 cups oats, 4 tablespoons sunflower seeds, and a cup of mealworms. If you’re pre-mixing, combine two parts wheat berries to one part peas in one bin.
In the second bin, mix 5 parts oats to one part mealworms, and a quarter part of sunflower seeds. You can always increase the seeds by giving them to your birds as treats as well.
Depending on the number of birds you have, you may have to halve the recipe, or double, or even triple it. If your flock spends most of their time foraging, you may not need to feed them quite this much food.
Keep an eye on your birds when you first transition to homemade feed and adjust the amount you feed them depending on their needs.
Adding in Optional Supplements
For chickens that don’t forage, adding in some fresh grasses and grit is a great idea. One idea is to try throwing new hay into the run with the girls. If you have a small flock, grow a tray of oat grass to cut for your birds. Oyster shells offer great grit, and you can mix about 1/2 a cup into your chickens’ daily rations.
If your hens need a bit of extra calcium, you can dry-roast their egg shells and crumble them into the feed as well. It’s always better to roast the shells before feeding them to your chickens. Raw shells can give chickens a taste for eggs, and you really don’t want that to happen.
Corn is a great wintertime supplement, as mentioned earlier. A few scoops of organic cracked corn, fed in the evenings, can keep your birds warm and productive throughout the cold season. In warm weather, corn tends to be just a filler in feed. You really don’t need corn most of the year. For winter weather though, corn can be an absolute flock-saver.
Minimal amounts of kelp, garlic, and oregano can be mixed in right before feeding as well. They’re great supplements for iron and immune-boosting when your flock needs a bit of help. I like to add garlic and oregano in during the late fall and early spring so my girls can go into the new season with strong constitutions.
When your hens are laying heavily, be careful to only add minimal amounts of garlic. This will avoid getting garlic-flavored eggs.
Homemade Chicken Feed for Sustainable Poultry
Healthy chickens don’t need feed store pellets. All your chickens need is a balanced selection of grains, worms or insects, seeds, and space to scratch and search. Chickens are hardy creatures, and they’ve been thriving for centuries on homegrown recipes like this.
Give it a try! Mix up a batch of natural, nutrient-dense chicken feed and treat your birds to a healthier lifestyle!