A source of cheap chicken food is essential if you raise chickens for eggs, like we do, and you're looking to beat the cost of eggs in the grocery store. Commercial feed is expensive, and it drives up the cost of egg production.
The more we divert corn to ethanol production, and the more corn that gets diverted to burn in corn stoves, the more expensive chicken feed is going to become because much of it is based on corn. In fact, cracked corn is a standard feed for many animals around the farm and homestead.
When such grains are used for many other purposes, that means they have a greater demand, and that represents a shift in
the marketplace that we need to respond to.
One of my neighbors raises chickens as more of a hobby than a means of feeding his family, and he jokingly says that his eggs cost him about $5 a piece. Well, I know he's exaggerating, but with commercial feed at $18 for a 50 pound bag, he's likely spending $5 in feed to create a dozen of those eggs.
The reality of the situation is that commercial eggs are produced in mass quantities, so their cost reflects an economy that is driven by the scale of the operation. Commercial egg producers might buy 50 tons of chicken feed, whereas the backyard producer buys chicken feed in 50 pound bags.
Therefore, if our egg production is going to be healthy and economical, we have to find a way to provide cheap chicken food to our flock that is faithfully cranking out the eggs. The frugal minded among us know that one way we can respond to changes in the economy is to create marketplace alternatives.
And, it's alternatives to expensive chicken food that I'd like to discuss.
My approach to lowering the cost of feeding my chickens centers on three things - scraps and greens and discards. Let's look at how each of these can be used to provide cheap chicken food to lower the cost of feeding our chickens.
If you're focused on frugal living, you probably don't have a lot of waste that comes from your kitchen. Nevertheless, it happens no matter how careful you are in preparing meals. Some foods don't lend themselves to being completely consumed, and others naturally generate waste products as part of their preparation.
For example, carcasses and bones. The carcasses and large bones of many animals will always have some scraps of meat on them. Many people tell you not to feed your chickens meat, but they naturally eat meat, so I don't mind providing them with scraps of meat in the form of bones and carcasses.
Vegetable cuttings and peelings
offer another source of scraps for the chickens. Dried or disfigured
ends of vegetables are often cut off and thrown onto the
compost pile. If you think your chickens will eat it, toss it in with
them instead. We keep a little blue tray on the counter and what goes in it gets fed to the chickens almost daily.
One of the techniques we use to provide cheap chicken food is to mix a starch with meat drippings. We fix bacon in the oven on a cookie sheet, and that allows us to drain the grease into a bowl with oat meal, flour, unused rice or crumbs from bread or crackers. The starch absorbs the grease, and the chickens love it.
As a result, we get rid of the grease, and they get a good source of food. We rarely put anything down the garbage disposal - nearly all of it goes to the chickens as scraps.
Chickens are great destroyers of a garden, mainly because they scratch. They can decimate vegetable seedlings with peek efficiency. Chickens like tender greens such as seedlings, and they enjoy mature greens such as lettuce, Swiss chard and beet greens. They'll also eat radish leaves, collards and a variety of salad greens.
If you're looking for cheap chicken food, look no farther than your garden and your own ability to grow food.
Extra lettuce and greens from the garden are used to supplement our chicken feed. It's easy to plant lots of lettuce because the cost per seed is very small, especially if you buy the seed in bulk. As an alternative to growing lettuce plants for our flock, when lettuce bolts, we let it grow a bit taller and then cut it off at the surface and feed the entire plant to our chickens.
Often we have kale in abundance, and chickens love the leaves. Another way we get greens to the chickens is to give them any leaves that we don't eat from a plant we've harvested. For example, the large leaves surrounding a head of cabbage or the leaves from kohlrabi or carrots or broccoli. All of these leaves are edible for humans, so we just toss them in with the chickens.
Another approach is to divide your chicken yard into three sections - one small section for the chickens, and two larger sections for their source of food. Allow the chickens to denude the smaller section, as they will do this with sheer delight.
In the other two sections grow greens of all varieties. Allow the chickens to have access to one section of greens for a day or two, and then only their own bare soil yard for a day or two, then switch them to the other yard with greens. Rotating the chickens like this keeps the greens growing, and gives the chickens fresh food to supplement their feed.
While they feast on one section, water the other and let it recover. Be careful to match the number of chickens you have with the size of the sections. I'd allow at least 100 square feet per chicken, otherwise they'll destroy the greens to the point where they can't grow back.
Since our growing season is short, we have very few tomatoes that are ripe enough to eat right off the vine. But, we do have an abundance of green tomatoes that ripen over time, and chickens love tomatoes.
Still another approach to providing cheap chicken food is to create a garden bed close to the chickens. Harvest the food and toss it in. This is an ideal approach to growing summer squash. Chickens and turkeys love summer squash, and it grows in abundance with ease.
Any of these techniques will provide cheap chicken food from seed, water, sunlight and soil. It's nearly free - just add planning and labor.
We're very fortunate to have a local organic grocery store that gives us their vegetable discards so we can use them as a source of cheap chicken food. They toss out as much as a third of a large trash bag full of discards each day.
What they're weeding out of their produce section includes yellowing leaves, blemished vegetables, produce that has started to deteriorate in the slightest way, older produce, and any vegetable product that is accompanied by a green worm or insect. Those are the rules of the game they play, and we're glad of it.
I say we're fortunate simply because many places won't give away any of the food they can't sell because they're afraid that it will be consumed as human food and someone will get sick and file a lawsuit against them. Thankfully, our organic foods store doesn't have those kind of worries, and because of that we enjoy a good source of cheap chicken food.
It's worth nothing that some of the discards include root crops that are just too tough for chickens to eat. We simply take those and put them in a large pot and steam them for a couple of hours. They soften up and that allows us to slice or mash them up and then feed them to the chickens. They absolutely love this kind of food.
Photo right is a large pot of discarded beets and potatoes and sweet potatoes and turnips that I steamed to soften up so the chickens can eat them.
Photo left is a large bowl of softened up root crops ready for the chicken yard. My flock of 10 girls will have this devoured in a matter of one hour. It might be cheap chicken food, but they think it's great chicken food.
Using scraps and greens and discards is a way to recycle food that might otherwise go down the drain or wind up in the compost pile. Our philosophy at Best of Both Worlds is simply this, "What we give to the chickens comes back to us in eggs."
You're probably not going to find cheap chicken food that is commercially produced unless you go to the source with a trailer or a dump truck. Few of us have that option, so we need to create our own feed supplement by making good use of our scraps and greens and discards.
Frugal living demands that we reuse and recycle, and it demands that we find the most cost-effective use of our money. Using scraps and growing food for our flock is a good way to provide cheap chicken food for our fine feathered troops that keep us in fresh eggs.