Providing Natural Poultry Feed

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

  • poultry feed - chickens in compost
    Using natural poultry feed has follow-on benefits. For example, when chickens scratch through a compost pile searching for insects, worms, and other food they turn the compost, helping it mature more quickly.
  • Geese comfrey
    Ducks and geese enjoy a few laughs over a lunch of comfrey leaves.
  • Feed for chickens
    Chickens will pick the seeds out of heads of sorghum, saving you time and labor.
  • Turkeys pasture
    Turkeys eat grasses and plants if they have access to pasture.
  • Chicken cover crops
    Chickens in a moveable pen eat cover crops planted on these garden beds and work them into the soil.
  • Soldier fly larvae
    Young chickens gobble up black soldier fly larvae, which are high in protein and fat.
  • Guinea hen and keets
    In summer, ticks and other insects are a significant part of a guinea’s diet. A guinea hen will teach keets (guinea chicks) to forage.

  • poultry feed - chickens in compost
  • Geese comfrey
  • Feed for chickens
  • Turkeys pasture
  • Chicken cover crops
  • Soldier fly larvae
  • Guinea hen and keets

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.

3/26/2019 9:41:19 PM

Thank you so much for sharing. A vast array of extremely useful information. I am only just starting out and have been kind of nervous but after reading your article, I am super excited. My family has been so kind as to politely run away from my newfound enthusiastic motivation. To put it politiely.

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.

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!



Fall 2021!

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