Save Money on Chicken Feed

| 5/10/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: chickens,

Chicken FeedWhole corn is much cheaper than the commercial feed I buy for my chickens. Could I feed them corn instead? 

I give my free-range hens as much corn as they like, year-round. I keep some range feeders (outdoor feeders) full of balanced 20-percent protein pellets and other range feeders full of whole corn. With a 20 percent ration, you can expect the hens to eat about half corn, half pellets. Because my pellets cost twice as much as corn, I save a little money this way. Also, because whole corn stays fresh a lot longer than pellets, you can buy more at one time, and maybe even get a bulk discount. 

In Feeding Poultry, Gustave Heuser says this about corn: “It can be fed in a number of ways. To some extent it is fed on the cob, though this is not desirable. Quite a large amount of it is fed as whole corn. In fact, this practice is increasing with the idea of saving the germ, and because the quality of the corn can be more readily determined. Professor G.M. Gowell indicated that there was nothing to show it was necessary or desirable to crack corn for hens, and the danger of heating or souring was less with whole corn.” 

Everybody thinks that unless chickens have a good supply of grit in their gizzards, they won’t be able to grind up whole corn, but I don’t think it’s true. The effect of grit is surprisingly small, and it’s most effective in dealing with the fibrous things chickens sometimes eat, such as feathers and straw. When feeding grain, grit is optional. Crushed oyster shells seem to work adequately as a combination calcium supplement and grit source. The shells don’t last long in the chickens’ gizzards, but that’s OK because the hens eat more shells every day. However, most commercial operations don’t use grit, even if they feed whole grains. 

As usual with feeding trials, the results are inconclusive, with the hens eating only the balanced ration sometimes being more profitable than the ones with free-choice grain, and sometimes not. But that’s only if the grain costs the same whether you feed it separately or use it in the layer ration. If you have a source of cheap whole corn that costs a lot less than your layer ration, feeding separate corn is a hands-down win. And if you replace corn with wheat, I’d say the same. 

The only tricky part is that confined pullets will sometimes turn cannibalistic just as they begin to lay, because their protein appetite spikes faster than their willingness to change their habits from eating mostly grain to eating a mostly higher-protein layer ration. But this sort of thing doesn’t happen with free-range chickens, for which cannibalism is pretty much unheard of. On free range, there’s no downside to free-choice grain. If you have a source of cheap grain, your eggs (and meat) will cost less if you feed grain on the side. 

8/29/2017 10:41:06 AM

I have extra sweet corn growing this year. Can I leave it on the stalks and let it dry to feed to my chickens this winter? (as a add in to their layer feed)

9/27/2014 11:07:12 PM

Why do you feel corn is a good choice, doesn't it have chemicals in it also? I use corn also but am concerned about the chemicals used on it...

alice hess
1/4/2013 6:40:01 PM

My chickens and guineas have nesting areas in shelterd spots outside the coup. All have their favorite spots. If you train them small to coup up at night it becomes a ingrained habet .

kim willis
12/30/2012 5:13:12 PM

I would feed corn if I could find it as cheap or cheaper than pellets. It isn't cheaper here this year. We feed layer pellets and a little day old bread we source from a local grocery. I do find that grains attract more pest birds, rodents and even deer than pellets. A lot of the scratch grain mixtures seem to get wasted- lots of junk in those. I also cook Jerusalem artichokes and give them mash occasionally. I freeze whole tomatoes from the garden and let them thaw for winter treats. Most of the year my chickens, ducks and turkeys are free range but there are times here in Michigan's winters when its better to shut them up

kristie green
12/27/2012 7:48:04 PM

If feed is certified organic, it's GMO-free. This goes for pellets or any whole food scraps you give them.

hans quistorff
12/26/2012 1:33:59 AM

It started with wheat straw that I was required to spread on disturbed hill during construction. Wheat sprouted and matured here and there. When the chickens would be working through the mulch, the rooster would grab a stalk and bend it down for the hens to pick the grain off. Since then I have continued to keep some wheat growing in my mulched area for the chickens.

ruthanne jahoda
12/19/2012 7:53:17 PM

All animals are habitual. If they have a place to roost at night and laying boxes that meet their needs, they will go out and forage all day and return to the "nest" at night without any one pushing them to it. They want to be in before dark. They want to be safe. They also want to eat enough protein during the day to lay their eggs. I use organic grain to supplement their worms and grass and other bugs and plants from the vineyard. They know how to take care of themselves in a natural setting. My vet told me chickens like to get 65% of their protein from wheat, so I give them hard red winter wheat most of the time with oats, milo/ sorghum, and then corn when I can find it NON-GMO. I also give them kitchen scraps that don't go into the compost. All the best,

mia dolata
12/19/2012 7:38:11 PM

There is plenty of documentation out if you look for it. The same goes for soy. Most of the soy out there is GMO also.

roland mata
12/19/2012 5:53:39 PM

Free range is important to the health of the chickens and in turn the consumer's health. Feeding GMO feed also affects the consumer's health. I would like to see more articles on raising animals without GMO feed. Thanks!

12/19/2012 5:01:34 PM

I coop the chickens every night, then turn them out to the yard (3 acres) in the day. They turn all the horse manure looking for fly larvae, search the yard for bugs and the occasional plant (to my wifes dismay, they love ice plant) and return to the coop throughout the day to lay. The guineas and ducks are not so good about going to the coop to lay, sometimes it's an Easter egg hunt.

sue funkey
12/19/2012 3:33:22 PM

what I want to know about free range, is do they come home to lay eggs?? how does that it works? I just don't understand the free range thing!!!

sue funkey
12/19/2012 3:28:29 PM

I feed my cob (corn oats and barley) any scraps (scraps = eggs) and soon spent grains from a brewer! They love the oats!

james thompson
9/23/2012 2:26:36 PM

I feed any table scaps to my chickens to im talken lasagne pasta green beans they love it all

8/14/2012 1:31:38 PM

It's been documented plenty. Here's a good article:

alvin mueller
8/6/2012 2:02:08 AM

I'm surpised no one else really mentioned feeding table scraps. Any food scraps that leave our house go straight to the hens. The will eat anything that they can tear apart and I think the variaty of food is healthy for them. I do feed them feed from a local organic farmer, but they do prefer the scraps over the feed.

t brandt
6/22/2012 11:15:00 PM

Please document with a credible, scientific source that GMO food is in any way unhealthy...I supplement the diet of my free-range hens with a couple fist fulls of cracked corn, oil seeds and a little oyster shell daily. other than that, they're on their own and the seven give me an average of five eggs per day year round...The little effers have just discovered they can cooperate to use their collective body weights to collapse the wire screen over my cold frame where I grow lettuce. They're beating me to the juicy parts now ! I may have to change my diet from poached eggs to fried chicken.

krysteia hake
6/21/2012 3:47:25 PM

I liked to address an issue to think about when choosing corn for any consumption, human or animal. Around 80% of all corn grown in the US commercially is GMO, and we know about the food chain. So to keep chickens and eggs for consumption healthy, make sure what you are feeding your chickens is not GMO.

diane katz
6/21/2012 12:24:12 AM

i have 15 hens and a rooster. they are free ranging in abut 15,000 sqft yard. i keep layer feed pellets w/16% calcium all the time for them. every morning and every evening i give them a cup or two whole corn - mostly because they are spoiled. they spend all day foraging - there is no more grass in my back yard and my garden is pest free (for the first time). my ladies have never stopped laying, even during the winter and their molting. i have always had at least 7-8 eggs. the shells are very hard. the hens are very healthy, nice bodies, all shiny and happy. they have a pile of fine sand (a leftover from some construction project), but i don't give them any extra grits, shells, calcium ....this year i am growing a lot of corn in my garden, so they will have some organic corn in fall and winter.

dustin tinsley
6/20/2012 11:16:22 PM

What about the fact that most corn today is GM. There have been many studies showing that GMO's are not safe to eat so why would I want to feed them to my chickens. I might as well eat the GMO my self.

dustin tinsley
6/20/2012 11:14:02 PM

What about the fact that most corn today is GM. There have been many studies showing that GMO's are not safe to eat so why would I want to feed them to my chickens. I might as well eat the GMO my self.

abbey bend
6/20/2012 10:05:07 PM

Read Robert's information about feed on his site and you will see how most chickens will be able to self-regulate their feed when needed. I do understand your concern as birds raised in very hot areas of the country do have problems when given too much grain, or calories when the temperatures go over 100 degrees, as in the Southwestern desert areas of the country. It is all about balance of feed, water, activity levels and shade.

abbey bend
6/20/2012 10:01:03 PM

It should be okay to use it as part of the feed for your worms.

wendy gerber
6/20/2012 8:47:50 PM

Jeff, if you reread the very first line he says "I give my free-range hens...." He is not saying you should raise confined birds. The author does look at studies using confined birds, but I really don't feel that he is saying that is what you should/have to do. My free range chickens get a scoop or two of corn every morning and have access all day to layer pellets. They do eat a lot more of the pellets in the winter months than spring through fall. I try to let my girls and guys get what they want/need from nature, but they don't always find enough. That is where offering feed be it corn, pellets, "treats" or other grains comes in.

sheri mcneil
6/20/2012 7:27:18 PM

I would wonder if feeding so much corn is really safe. It would make the hens hotter in the summer by increasing their metabolism and also, put extra fat on them that could slow their laying.

6/20/2012 6:09:15 PM

If this guy's such an expert why is he advocating raising confined birds on commerical feed and grains? chickens need to roam and find real food, they don;t need you to husband them just to make your life eaiser. The problem with the factory agriculture system is people like this author, our girls day range and get what they need naturally while we do give them give them some treats they would do just fine without them. I get more eggs than I know what to do with. Maybe you should stop promoting a#$%oles like this as experts

anthony barnett
6/20/2012 2:20:08 PM

Would the mash from a moonshine distillery work to raise worms? There is a local distillery here and I might be able to acquire some mash. :)

5/11/2011 11:41:27 AM

Chickens come from jungle fowl. Jungle fowl mostly eat bugs NOT grain. Raise meal worms and red worms to feed your chickens. It is way cheaper than buying pellets or corn and healthier for your chickens. Our chickens are free range and we no longer buy ANY feed for them other than the used mash from a local brewery to raise the meal worms and collecting all of the manure from all of our livestock provides the "food" for the red worms. The rest of the food for the chickens is baled hay (alfalfa and timothy).

douglas huff
5/11/2011 11:32:20 AM

We have chickens in Bexely, Ohio.

d t
5/11/2011 10:19:06 AM

Will this work with ducks?

healing green
10/11/2010 3:45:26 PM

I feed all my hens cracked corn, and get eggs every day from them all. My girls are all free-range, so I only worry about adding protein and calcium to their diet in the winter, when bugs are scarce. Otherwise, I know they are getting everything they need in my yard (herbs, grass, insects, dirt, and some appropriate table scraps now and then). For calcium I add some food-grade diatomaceous earth and oyster shells to the corn. For protein I add some pellets in the winter, or mealworms, or dried field peas. They are happy, and chemical-free!

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