Let’s say you’re a first-time chicken owner, and you’re ready to tackle this backyard chicken gig.
You can’t resist the temptation at the feed store, so you find yourself driving home with a box of chirping, fuzzy yellow chicks in your lap. At $3-$4 per chick, that’s a small price to pay for beautiful, home-raised hens that will give you your own eggs for free, right?
Here’s the problem… There’s no such thing as a free lunch and no such thing as a free egg.
As many of you already know, those fluffy yellow chicks (aka the gateway drug to homesteading…) are actually one of the cheaper aspects of keeping chickens. Once you succumb to the magnetic draw of feed-store chicks, expect to keep opening your wallet for:
- A chicken coop/run (here’s my guide for chicken coops, by the way)
- Chicken Feed (if you want an organic or non-GMO feed, expect to pay the big bucks)
- Heat lamps (if you use them)
- Electricity for the coop
- And any other random chicken accessories that might strike your fancy.
Of all the items on the above list, the one we chicken-addicts talk about the most is the feed. Why? Because buying good chicken feed at the store is so expensive it’s almost physically painful.
For example, buying a good quality organic Non-GMO chicken feed like Scratch and Peck, you will be spending $40 for 25 lbs.
So, homemade chicken feed has to be cheaper, right?
Eh, maybe. But don’t count on it.
In fact, more often than not, by the time you hunt down all the (semi-strange) ingredients you need to build a good homemade chicken feed, it’ll actually cost you more… And if you want to keep your flock healthy and producing well, you must make sure you are feeding them with the proper balance of protein, energy, and nutrients.
Unfortunately, you can’t just toss them some corn and call it good…
What a Balanced Chicken Feed Needs
Like with all living things proper nutrition provides chickens with the energy they need to develop. There are five main building blocks to a well-balanced chicken feed, including Carbs, Fats, Proteins, Minerals, and Vitamins.
Without getting too deep into the science of chicken feed, here is a rundown of each nutrient and why it is important.
Five Main Chicken Feed Nutrients
Carbohydrates are the largest portion of a chicken’s diet. These are used as a quick source of energy and are used as a source of fuel. Some common carbohydrates that can be found in chicken feed include corn, barley, wheat, and millet.
Fats, also known as fatty acids produce more calories and help chickens absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. The addition of fats to chicken feed can also help in cold climates during winter months. Saturated fats that can be added to a chicken’s diet include lard and tallow.
Proteins are an important part of a chicken’s diet because it helps with the development of the chicken’s body (muscle, skin, feathers, etc.) Animal-based protein includes fish meal, meat, and bone meal. Plant-based proteins can include soybean meal, canola meal, and corn gluten meal.
There are two classifications of minerals Microminerals and Macrominerals. Microminerals include things like copper, iodine, iron selenium, and zinc. Macrominerals include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Both types of minerals help with bone production, and muscle and nerve function.Grains tend to lack the necessary minerals needed for a healthy poultry diet, that is why supplements are available. For example, the recipe below contains Nutri-balancer or another great source for calcium is free-choice oyster shells.
Vitamins play an important role in chicken growth and reproduction. Some vitamins can be produced by the chickens, but others are supplied by natural food provided and supplements.
If you are interested in the full scientific explanation of the nutrients in chicken feed the following articles are very helpful.
Chicken Feed Nutrient Articles:
When you are buying or mixing your chicken feed it is important to remember that nutritional needs can vary depending on your chickens’ age and purpose. A chick will have different needs than a mature hen and a layer will have different nutritional needs than a broiler.
For a better look at what each age group and type of chicken will require take a look at the feeding chart provided by The University of Georgia Extension in this Article.
Mixing Homemade Chicken Feed
Before we jump into mixing homemade chicken feed, it is important for you to decide if it really is your best option. There are a few benefits of mixing your own chicken feed but it also has its challenges.
Benefits of Homemade Chicken Feed
- Ingredients are more flexible, you can adjust a recipe based on what ingredients are available to you.
- You are able to provide the most natural as possible diet.
- You will know what your flock is eating and will be able to control it
Challenges of Mixing Homemade Chicken Feed
- Ingredients can cost more.
- Your Ingredients may be hard to find based on where you are located.
- Mixing Feed can be a challenging time-consuming ordeal.
- If you have picky chickens, they may pick out certain whole gains and waste feed.
Homemade Chicken Feed Recipes
I’ve been ordering a custom-mixed feed from the local feed mill for 2 years now. (It’s the whole grain, non-GMO recipe you’ll find in Natural Homestead: 40 Recipes for Critters & Crops, in case you’re wondering)
Unfortunately, it’s not super easy to put together, and I could only find ONE mill in my area that would even attempt to help me with it.
So, when I saw that my favorite permaculture chicken guy, Justin Rhodes, had a favorite non-fussy homemade chicken feed formula he uses and loves, I was all over it.
I asked him if I could share it with you today, and he said YES. (Thanks Justin!)
A Few Important Notes About This Homemade Chicken Feed:
- As stated above, this is Justin Rhode’s recipe. I personally use a custom-mix that my local feed mill helps me to put together. The recipe for that mix is in my Natural Homestead book. However, it is a more complicated formula (with more difficult ingredients), so I wanted to share Justin’s simpler option.
- You do not have to grind the grains– just feed them whole.
- There are no lentils in the recipe. The photos in the post (with lentils in them) were shot a while ago, and I thought they’d be a good fit for this post. This particular recipe does not contain lentils.
- Since I have my feed mill custom-mix me a different recipe, I do not have price breakdowns for this particular recipe.
Simple Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe Formula
- 30% Corn
- 30% Wheat
- 20% Peas
- 10% Oats
- 10% Fish Meal
- 2% Poultry Nutri–Balancer
- Free Choice Kelp
- Free Choice Aragonite
Mix together and feed as you would any other chicken feed. Since you are using whole grains, your feed should not lose its nutritive content as quickly as more processed feeds.
About the Ingredients:
- If you want this to be organic/non-GMO, you’ll need to source organic/non-GMO corn, etc. That may or may not be possible in your area.
- If you want to purchase kelp in larger quantities, I often get the 50 lb bags of Thorvin Kelp from Azure Standard. I also feed kelp to my cows, goats, and horses.
- The Poultry Nutri-Balancer is a vitamin/mineral supplement designed to keep your flock in tip-top shape. Even if it’s slightly more complicated for you to source, I wouldn’t skip it. Here’s a dealer locater to see if you can find it in your local area.
- Aragonite is a source of calcium, which is vitally important, especially for layers. Another calcium option is crushed eggshells.
This homemade chicken feed recipe is great because it is a flexible chicken feed formula, you can make a small amount or a large amount.
Chicken Feed Note: No doubt, I will get some emails over this post. There are websites/books/etc that turn feeding chickens into rocket science. Admittedly, you DO need to be careful in how you are balancing rations.
However, I always go back to the fact that great-Grandma was keeping her flock productive long before there were shiny bags of “Chicken Chow” at the feed store. I do hesitate to overcomplicate the matter. Plus, when someone with WAY more chicken experience like Justin Rhodes has consistent success with a recipe like this, I trust that.
If you are looking to Cut Your Chicken Feed Costs Even More…
Not only did my friend Justin generously allow me to publish his feed recipe, but he also has some Chicken Tips Videos you can watch for FREE. Justin shares 20 of his best stunts for reducing chicken-feed costs!
Like I mentioned before, I always appreciate Justin’s information– it’s meaty, specific, and actionable. Without fail, he always shares tips I would have never thought of on my own!
-> As I mentioned earlier raising chickens does not mean free eggs, but sometimes that means ALOT of eggs. You can cut costs by selling your extra eggs, this is something I like to call self-funding your homestead. Chicken and eggs are not the only ways to self-fund your homestead.
If you are interested in creating an income from things you are already doing on your homestead then The Self-Funded Homesteading Course is probably the right fit for you.
To learn more about my mission to help other freedom-seekers create a self-funded homesteading business, CLICK HERE. <-
Are You Ready to Try Homemade Chicken Feed?
Over the years, I have received emails from people in an absolute panic over what to feed their chickens. GMO/non-GMO, organic/non-organic, homemade/purchased—there is, indeed, a lot of options out there. But here’s the deal—we can’t control every aspect of our lives. Even if you (or your chickens) are eating the most perfect diet in existence, you/they will still likely be exposed to toxins in the air, soil, water, etc. This is just a side-effect of living on an imperfect planet.
We Can Only Do Our Best…
Do the best you can and even if you can’t find the perfect chicken feed ingredients. I know at the end of the day I have peace knowing I did the best I could and my chickens are still eating 100% better than industrially-farmed chickens. Maybe homemade chicken feed isn’t an option for you, there are still so many different ways to feed your chickens. Here is a list of 20 Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed if you are not ready for a homemade feed.
Please don’t lose sleep over chicken feed.
Other Homestead Chicken Posts You’ll Like:
- Saving Time by Using Chickens on the Homestead
- Beginner’s Guide to Laying Hens
- Fly Control for the Chicken Coop
- 8 Ways to Use Chickens in the Garden
- Herbs for Nesting Boxes