How much does it cost to feed chickens?
Organic chicken feed on Amazon.com is now $1.44 per pound and the least expensive I have found locally is still about $.75 per pound. A typical laying hen will eat 1.5 pounds per week, so if our 8 were eating exclusively feed we would be spending at least $9 per week on feed alone. We get an average of maybe two dozen eggs per week. That’s $4.50 per dozen, not even counting the costs of raising hens to laying age, building a coop, and other incidentals; which could potentially double that number depending on how thrifty you are. In our area, free range organic eggs cost around $6 per dozen so we’re not too far off, but our goal is to get as close to zero cost as possible without compromising our girls’ health.
Where do we get FREE chicken feed?
Kitchen scraps: almost anything leftover from cooking or prepping food is great for chickens. Some of our girls’ favorites include the insides of melons, squash and pumpkins, un-popped popcorn, and tomato seeds.
Crumbs: If you have kids (or just messy eaters) and no dogs cleaning up the floor, sweep up those crumbs for the chickens. Make sure there are no plastic or metal bits in there but don’t worry about dirt. After all, the ground – their natural plate – is made of dirt!
Plate scraps: All our plate scrapings go to the chickens.
(Despite my pleas, no one can seem to finish all the cereal in their bowl on school mornings so those scrapings are usually the first chicken meal of the day.)
Back of the fridge: Anything in the fridge that is just a little too old for a sensitive stomach but doesn’t have any visible mold becomes a feast for the chickens. This includes stale bread, crackers, tortillas, etc.
Back of the pantry: Canned goods up to several years past their expiration date are still fine for the chickens. Once expired they cannot be donated and if they are that old you are probably not going to use them yourself so why not turn those old cans into eggs!
Unwanted ingredients: A while ago a very large container of flour in our kitchen became unappealing for human consumption when a small member of the family (who will remain unnamed) didn’t quite make it to the toilet and thought a ‘big bucket’ would be the next best thing. After removing the most offensive parts, I have been using up this flour by cooking it into batches of slop along with pumpkin insides and some olive oil that is perfectly safe but has taken on that scent of starting to go rancid. This same idea can be applied to rice, flour, or other items that have been infested with insects but are otherwise fine. The chickens actually like it better that way!
Spent grain: A friend of ours brews beer and gives us his spent grain from the process. We dry it out and put it in our yard for the chickens AND goats to enjoy!
Party leftovers: this one may feel a little strange at first but it can be a great source of chicken food. Whenever I go to a gathering (picnics, parties, etc.) I try to intercept leftovers heading to the trash. Often, after checking with the host of course, I’ll put a container with a sign near the trash. I’ve gotten days worth of feed this way.
Grow your own: During the growing season, we plant some areas of our yard with grains like flax or barley specifically for the chickens to eat. For a good yield you need to fence off the area until the sprouts take hold to prevent the chickens from scratching it up before it has a chance to grow.
Last year we also grew some feed-corn in the garden. We may not do that again since it was a lot of effort for the benefit, but the dried ears are nice because we can put one in the coop at night before closing it up, giving the girls something to occupy themselves in the morning before they are let out again.
Insect habitats: Place some heavy logs, bricks or weighted plywood around the yard then move them after a few weeks and the girls will get a mini feast of bugs and grubs underneath!
What should NEVER be fed to chickens?
- Green potato skins
- Avocado pits & peels
- Uncooked rice/beans that could expand after ingested (cooking first will make them edible)
- Candy/soda/anything high in sugar
- Very salty foods like salted nuts (just wash them off first)
Our Current Costs
We do still buy our girls some mealworm treats and supplement with a bag or two of store-bought feed per year – mostly in winter when they aren’t scavenging as many bugs and greens from the yard. Eventually we plan to get away even from this but currently our feed costs are about $100 per year, which is something we can live with for now.
Go here to see our latest YouTube video with Zachary sharing his favorite chicken feeding tricks.