Keeping chickens in your backyard is not only an enjoyable pastime but also a great way to get high protein natural eggs for your family. One of the ways to ensure that your chickens stay as healthy as possible is to grow your own feed.
Bagged chicken food is often loaded with things that are not so good for your chickens and often the feed is genetically modified. Chickens left to fend for themselves in the open would eat things like green plants, wild seeds, earthworms and insects.
However, when you grow your own food you can be sure that your hens are getting the very best and will produce the very best eggs for you and your family. Not to mention the fact that you will save money if you make your own feed.
The best diet for a chicken consists of 30% pasture grasses and legumes and 12%-18% protein.
Before we discuss how to grow your own chicken feed, here are nine things you should never feed your chickens…
What Not To Feed Your Chickens
While you may think your chickens have an iron stomach, there are a number of things that you should not feed your flock under any circumstance including:
1. Nightshades: Plants from the nightshade family including uncooked potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants
2. Salty foods: Too much salt can cause salt toxicity or hypernatremia. Chickens are not able to digest large amounts of salt so keep this in mind as you feed your chickens.
3. Citrus: Some types of chickens are very sensitive to vitamin C and it can cause excessive feather plucking.
4. Onions: Onions contain thiosulphate, a substance that destroys red blood cells when eaten in excessive amounts. It can also cause jaundice, anemia or death in the worst circumstances.
5. Uncooked rice: If you are going to feed your chickens rice, be sure you cook it first. Once chickens eat dry rice, it will blow up when moisture is introduced and this can cause serious digestive problems.
6. Raw eggs: If you give your flock raw eggs then many turn cannibal.
7. Avocado skin and pit: There are toxins in the skin and pit of avocados.
8. Apple seeds: Chickens love apples, but be sure to remove the seeds. Seeds contain cyanide that can kill chickens.
9. Candy, sugar, chocolate: Adding sugar and chocolate, in particular to your chicken’s diet can cause tremendous digestive problems. It is best to avoid it at all costs.
How To Grow Your Own Chicken Feed
Sprouted Grains and Seeds
The process of sprouting releases protein and nutrients that are in dry grains and seeds. This makes protein and nutrients much more digestible for humans and chickens. This cost-effective way to feed your flock is great during the fall, winter and spring. You can make a quart or more of nutrient dense sprouts with just one tablespoon of sprouts. Sprouts take about 3-6 days to make depending on the variety.
Soybeans, oats, peas, corn, sunflower seeds and wheatgrass can be soaked in a bowl, spread on a tray with drainage and rinsed until sprouts reach about 4 inches. Your chicks will love this delicious meal.
Mung beans, red clover and alfalfa are best grown in a quart jar with a sprouting lid.
Pumpkins and Winter Squash
If you grow pumpkins and winter squash, you chickens will be happy all winter long. Both of these vegetables provide awesome nutrition and are especially valuable through the winter. When chickens eat pumpkins and winter squash they produce eggs with very deep orange yolks.
Chickens love potatoes and they are chalk full of vitamin B6, and also contain thiamine, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin. Potatoes are a complex carbohydrate that will supply plenty of energy for your flock. Just be sure to cook the potatoes before giving them to your birds.
Comfrey is an incredibly valuable crop, yielding 20 times more protein than soybeans. It is used all over the word as food for cattle, goats, sheep, horses, pigs and yes…chickens. Besides a tremendous amount of protein, comfrey also contains a plethora of vitamins and nutrients including vitamins A, C, B, B-12, potassium, sulphur, calcium, phosphorus, iron, selenium, germanium and fiber.
Comfrey grows best in USDA growing zones 4 – 9 in full or partial sun. Be sure to allow plenty of room for growth as these plants can reach 24-48 inches wide.
Chickens love leafy greens, the more the better. Why not grow a few different types like spinach, kale, amaranth and spreen. In fact a really great thing about growing greens is that you can let annuals like amaranth go to seed in the fall (after harvesting all summer) and use the seed for winter feeding.
You can purposefully grow a number of crops specifically for their seedheads. Plants like giant sunflowers, orach, sorghum and corn are easy to grow and all you have to do is wait for their seeds to be ready and pick them by hand.
Cover crops such as rye, alfalfa, buckwheat and cowpeas provided a much-needed nutritional burst for chickens, especially in the winter. These crops are highly nutritious and your flock will enjoy it if you let the out to munch or even if you harvest regularly and bring to them.
Once you get the hang of feeding your chickens food that you have grown, you will ensure that their health is the best it can be. They will produce healthy eggs that taste great and are full of nutrition. Remember… happy chickens make healthy eggs!