Providing Natural Poultry Feed

Save money and build a healthier flock. Give your birds homegrown, all-natural poultry feed.


| February/March 2010


In a time of economic constriction, a home poultry flock can contribute to food security — if you’re not totally dependent on purchasing poultry feed to keep it producing. The home flock that makes you more food-independent is the one that is fed, at least partly, from your homestead’s own resources. Fortunately, the natural feeds you can produce in your backyard are what chickens would eat in the wild: green plants, wild seeds, and animal foods, such as earthworms and insects — all fresher and more nutritious than anything you can buy in a bag.

Imagine feeding as a spectrum: On one end is a completely confined flock, eating exclusively what we offer them. Rigidly “scientifically balanced” feed is necessary, because the birds have no way to make up any deficiencies on their own. At the other end of the spectrum is a flock eating solely what it finds on its own in a completely natural setting — feeds that naturally balance its dietary needs. Of course, few of us have the land and time resources to provide our flocks with natural foods sufficient to sustain them completely. So, your feeding program will likely be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Pasturing the Flock

It’s possible for free-range flocks of poultry to feed themselves — if they have access to enough biologically diverse ground and protection from predators. My grandmother’s flock fed itself, ranging freely over a 100-acre farm. Geese can subsist exclusively on good grass after they’re a couple months old. Turkeys collect their own feed if allowed to glean ticks, wild persimmons, and acorns from wooded areas.

Pasturing our flocks during the growing season is the closest to complete free-ranging most of us can come. A pastured flock helps with pasture management: Grazing the turf means less mowing for us; eating wild seeds limits the “seed bank” for weeds; and potentially destructive leaf eaters, such as grasshoppers, don’t have a chance to multiply. Plus, the birds’ droppings boost soil fertility. Before concluding that pasturing your flock is not an option for you, remember that many small flock owners pasture their flocks on their lawns.

Conventional Grain and Legume Feeds for Chickens

Most grains in commercial feed for poultry (corn, legumes, and small grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley) are easy for the homesteader to grow. I grow ‘Hickory King,’ a vigorous, large-ear feed corn. After the ears dry on the stalks, I husk and store them in large trash bins, and hand-shell daily for the birds during winter.

Chickens with access to grit (sand or pebbles necessary for grinding feed in their gizzards, as chickens don’t have teeth) will have no problem processing whole kernel corn. I am skeptical that any actual difference in feed efficiency is worth the additional expense and effort to grind homegrown corn. If you grind corn, feed it within a few days, because the more perishable nutrients begin to break down as soon as the seed coat has been ruptured. Whole kernel corn is not appropriate for chicks.

Patty Bass
7/22/2012 7:32:43 PM

I enjoyed this article. I feel much better about feeding my hens less commercial feed now. THey have free range in day and coop by night. I mention that these hens LOVE the horse barn! They clean up after the horses eat in mre ways than one. Any grain bits they can scavenge and whatever bugs come tothe droppings as well as any grain particles. I think they help keep down the fly population. http://www.compostingplace.com


CJ Tucker
6/9/2011 1:39:30 PM

I have weeds in my backyard that serve as supplemental feed. I simply pull off all of the leaves and cut them into dime sized pieces with sheers or scissors. I also cut the stems into 1/4 inch length and toss them all into the coop. The chickens can't seem to get enough of it and weeds are in abundance on my yard!


chickencoopmama
3/9/2011 10:41:20 PM

I was given a link to poisonous plants for chickens. Many of the things you are talking about planting may be "toxic" how do you decide what to plant, and what to worry about that maybe indiginous to your area? I worry about free ranging the chickens and having them eat something that makes them sick, or worse, kills them.






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!

LEARN MORE