Are there homemade chicken feed options available for the homesteader? I scoured the internet looking for the best simple, possibly inexpensive, layer chicken feed. Many options for organic, corn-free and soy-free recipes and formulas were found in the process and I’m happy to share them with you!
But first, let’s take a look at what is needed in a chicken diet. Chickens need carbohydrates, protein, fat, as well as vitamins and minerals as shown below.
- B1 (Thiamin)
- B2 (Riboflavin)
- B12 (folate)
- Folic acid
Above all, layer chickens require 16% protein for the best health. If they don’t get enough protein they’ll become weak and are prone to developing infections while egg production either decreases or stops. As a result, growth may be stunted.
Is it possible for them to have too much protein? Absolutely! For instance, one sign of this is an increase in water consumption which could result in loose bowels, wetter litters, and blisters on the feet. In addition, respiratory issues may develop and eyes become damaged. Finally, death is the most extreme outcome.
Now that we understand the risks of having too much or too little protein, it’s time to get busy mixing.
Smaller quantity basic recipe that has options for supercharging the feed: Small Basic Recipe
However, if you have a large flock, this recipe will make 100 pounds of feed: Large Basic Recipe
On the other hand, those looking for some flexibility in homemade chicken feed options, will find the percentages provided in this recipe allows you to make as little or as much as you’d like: Flexible Basic Recipe
No Soy or Corn
If you’re interested in a formula that is without Soy or Corn, I have you covered.
First, for those that truly want to be GMO free, then this recipe – which makes about 18 pounds – was created just for you: Small non-GMO Feed Recipe
To make a larger quantity this recipe gives you a lot of flexibility to scale up: Large non-GMO Feed Recipe
Lastly, depending on where you live and what’s available in your area, you may be able to make this one from Azure Standard organically. It makes approximately 50 pounds: Organic Feed Recipe
Can I use Homemade Chicken Feed Options for Meat Birds?
There aren’t many homemade broiler feed recipes out there. In fact, after several Google searches none with the correct protein levels were found. Perhaps this is because meat birds require more protein due to their fast growth. Starter feed protein levels for a broiler is about 22-23% while grower feed should contain 18-20% per Oregon State University Extension.
Ingredients Commonly Included in Homemade Chicken Feed Options
You’ll notice that many of the recipe include a base of corn, field peas, wheat, oats or barley. Other beneficial item may have been added such as sunflower seeds, kelp, fish meal, and amaranth. Let’s take a look at the base ingredients first.
Barley – Barley and oats are often used interchangeably for their protein content. However, barley contains phytic acid which bonds with phosphorus during digestion, reducing the absorption of phosphorus. Feeding whole grain barley has been shown to reduce egg production, feed efficiency, and shell quality. Conversely, it increases feed intake, egg and body weight. Sprouted barley is a great option though as fodder for extra greens.
Corn – Contains carbs, fat and some protein, although it’s not the best source from a nutritional perspective. Corn is one of the easiest grains to be digested and is low in fiber. On the other hand, just like barley, it too binds with phosphorus.
Oats – These are high in fiber and protein content. Poultry aren’t able to digest fiber well so including it in the feed mix may reduce the availability of nutrients.
Peas – The protein content of peas averages about 23%. This protein is highly digestible and has an excellent amino acid profile with high levels of lysine. Interestingly, peas have a higher level of lysine than soy beans. Peas are a better option as well because they don’t require roasting, unlike soy beans. Soy beans need to be roasted before being included in chicken feed.
Wheat – A good source of carbs and protein. Higher in protein and the amino acids lysine and tyrptophan than corn. Wheat helps with digestion and helps the birds resist coccidiosis.
As you can see, a mix of the base ingredients can provide a good amount of protein and carbohydrates. Many commercial feeds contain an enzyme additive that counteracts the anti-nutrition factors found in these grains. However, adding something like kelp or millet, which have good amounts of phosphorus, will help offset this.
Optional Ingredients in Homemade Chicken Feed Options
Let’s take a look at some other additions that could be added to up the nutritional value. Your chickens will thank you.
Flax Seed – According to The Poultry Extension website, “Feeding flax seed results in a six to eight-fold increase in the omega-3 fatty acid content of eggs. Such eggs are equivalent to 113 g. of cold-water fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.” While feeding a diet of 10% flax seed is beneficial in the egg composition, it has been shown to increase liver hemorrhages in the hens.
Kelp (Seaweed) – Considered to have 30% of the nutritive value of grains. Minerals include potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium (salt should never exceed 0.5% of a chicken’s diet) and sulfur. Vitamins include ascorbic acid and some B vitamins. Trace elements (meaning only a trace amount is required in a diet) include zinc, chromium, nickel, tin, and iodine. Can be added in a ratio of 5 to 15 percent of the diet.
Millet – A super food full of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids! High in phosphorus, magnesium, and B12. Millet aids digestion in chickens and provides many essential amino acids. Eggs from hens that consume millet will be higher in omega-3 and lower in omega-6 than a corn based diet.
Sunflower Seeds – Consumption helps combat coccidiosis, E. coli, and bronchitis in chickens. It is recommended to use black oil sunflower seeds because they are meatier and have a higher oil content, as well as a high level of protein at 26%. This high level of protein helps during times of stress such as during molting or in the winter. Now, that doesn’t mean you should provide only sunflower seeds because too much can be a bad thing, resulting in fat chickens which can lead to unexpected death. You have to provide grit when feeding with sunflower seeds, otherwise issues will arise in the chickens.
Other Considerations for Healthy Chickens
Now that you have the chicken feed, you need to understand how much food a chicken needs on a daily basis. Many factors go into the amount of feed needed per day for your backyard flock. Take into consideration any other supplemental food you may be providing to your chickens.
And don’t forget the water! Chickens can go 48 hours without eating but they can’t go without water without becoming extremely stressed, or passing away. Be sure to keep your chicken waterers clean.
In conclusion, you want to be sure to have a good mix of ingredients that provides enough protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals for not only overall health of the hen, but also for the best quality egg production.
Have you made your own homemade chicken feed?