From Scratch-Home Made chicken food- an easy, healthy alternative to commercial feed


Since moving to the farm three years ago, I’ve completely changed the way my family eats.  Gone are packaged, processed foods, chips, and anything junk like.  We eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, whole foods, only local and in season, raise our own eggs, chickens, turkeys and pig for meat.   So why is it that it was only a few months ago that I noticed the long list of ingredients on the bag of processed chicken food that I’ve been using?? Lots of recognizable ingredients, and many not, all crunched up and magically glued together into pellet form. I started wondering if that was really the best I could do for my poultry, and decided it probably wasn’t.  I set about researching poultry dietary needs, looking for recipes and trying to find information on home made vs. commercial feed. I only found bits and pieces, not solid pros or cons, and many recipes, each one different from the next, and none of them very clear or easy to follow.  Feeling overwhelmed and unsure, I spent months reading everything I could find.  When I was down to my last bag of commercial feed, I set my self doubt aside and just jumped right into choosing ingredients, measuring and mixing, watching what the chickens liked and how they reacted (quality of poop, egg production, general appearance, signs of hunger or health issues).  We’ve been using this new whole feed for 5 weeks now and I am finally confident enough to share the results and the recipe with you!

The first thing I considered is that back in the day, there weren’t feed stores all over town for people to buy their “complete” feed.  These were people who depended on their chickens for food, not just as backyard pets, so clearly there are alternatives to feed pellets, that have been around forever.  I was really disappointed in the scholarly literature that I read. Almost always, they cautioned against experimenting with feed and just sticking to the “complete and tested” commercial feeds.

My best, first break came in Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia Of Country Living.  She encouraged readers to grow their own animal feed and poo pooed the idea that commercial feed is the only way to go!  She didn’t provide a recipe, so much as a blue print of what chickens need. For proper growth and egg production, a chicken’s diet needs to be 17-20% protein. Traditional feed contains corn and soy, which have their own issues (GMO) and corn is high fat and low protein. So why feed it to the chickens at all? I decided to eliminate both corn and soy from the mix. This way, I can buy conventionally grown ingredients and not have to worry about Franken foods. (I choose not to go organic because it’s cost prohibitive for my operation. I don’t want to sell $8 a dozen eggs, I want to offer affordable, fresh and healthy eggs.)

Protein comes in SO many forms and ideally you can offer the chickens a variety of sources. Wheat, Oats, Barley, rye, sunflower seeds, milk products (expired milk or yogurt), eggs, meat, worms and bugs all offer good protein.  Another source is fish meal. Hard to come by and very expensive, I decided against this. I really wanted the fish meal used for gardening to be the same thing, and from what I learned, it is, except that the way they process it isn’t fit for chickens AND they risk exposure to heavy metals. If you know a fisherman, getting their cuttings would be a score!  I’ve read that chickens need animal protein and that they don’t. I know how mine love to go after little mice and frogs, which leads me to believe that they’re into it, but I think they can be healthy without adding animal protein to their feed. (ps- bugs and worms count as meat) Because my chickens don’t get out into fresh pasture, often, I do think they would benefit from more bugs, so I’ll soon be breeding Black Soldier Fly larvae as a supplement for them. Yup, maggot farming. Mmmm.  We also give the chickens everything left over when we eat crab, as well as the entire chicken carcass after we make stock. THEY EAT THE ENTIRE THING!  Legumes, if you can find them in bulk, are a great source of protein. It’s not cost effective for me with 50 chickens, but if you have just a few in your backyard, it’s totally worthwhile to feed them dried lentils or peas (fresh peas, and their leaves and pods, too). You can cook them first, but it isn’t needed.

Greens need to be a part of the chickens daily diet. This is a hard one to mix into the dry formula, but if they are ranging around, or you give them plenty of weeds or kitchen scraps, they should be ok. I also put a flake of alfalfa into their coops every few days.

Vitamins and supplements. A really important thing to remember is that chickens don’t have teeth. They have a hard gizzard, against which they grind their food to digest it. For this to work, they need to be eating little pebbles, sand, or other grit.  If you’re feeding whole grains, you should assume that they can’t get enough grit in their foraging, and should give them some. Because they also need selenium and minerals, I chose a grit with minerals that’s readily available at the feed store. I started out mixing it into the feed, but it was heavy and didn’t mix in well. Now I just throw handfuls of it into the run every other day or so. Same goes for Oyster Shells, which act as grit and also give them the calcium that they need to produce hard egg shells. I put some in the feed, too. You can mix these 2 together and have a dish always available for them, but my chickens always spill it, so I just avoid the middle man.  I also use Flax seed. It has lots of Omega 3 and makes their feathers gloriously shiny!  Kelp is another one. Super expensive ($84 for a 50# bag) but used sparingly, so it’s ok. Kelp is full of minerals. I use just a little to top dress their food. They go nuts for it! Oh, and don’t forget vitamin D (which is added to feed!). Chickens need a little sun every day.

Here’s the recipe that I came up with. Note that it changes and flexibility is good. If, for example, one grain price suddenly goes sky high, just drop it until it comes down. Variety is the spice of life, anyway, right? All ingredients should be purchased whole, not cracked, crimped  or rolled. Once the shell is broken, they start to go rancid and lose nutritional value.

-3 pounds Rye (this is grass seed to normal folks-but get it at the feed store, for quality assurance)

9 pound Barley

9 pounds Oats

9 pounds Wheat (winter red is best, if available)

4 pounds black oiled sunflower seeds (sold as bird seed)

3 pounds Flax

2 pounds Oyster Shell

mix everything together in a plastic bin or feed sack, until well distributed.

Prices vary from area to area, so I’m not including very detailed costs here. 50 pound grain bags are about $15-20 here, 20 pounds of Flax is $22, 50# rye is $36, 30# sunflower seeds are $25, oyster shell is $10 for 50#, grits about the same.  I believe I’m paying slightly more than I was for the commercial pellets, plus I get to eliminate corn and soy, and all the other ingredients I don’t want. My egg production DOUBLED in these 5 weeks, even during a bitter cold snap that lasted a week. Before some hens were missing feathers and looking ragged. Now they have full, bright and shiny coats! Also, I’m using less feed than I used to. Consider the difference in humans, between eating processed food, and whole food that our bodies have to work on for a while…same goes for chickens. Where I was going through three 50 pound bags a week, I now use about 5o pounds of whole food per week. I’m using this food for the chickens, turkeys and geese, all with great results!

As I mentioned, I’m going to be farming BSF larvae to supplement their diets. I’ve also started making fodder, which is a genius way to increase their nutrition and reduce your feed bill. All you do is sprout some of the grains (takes about a week for them to become a solid mass of roots, seed and grass), then feed them.  The conversion is crazy, something like 2 pounds of grain becomes 13 pounds of fodder. This method is literally saving some cow farms in the midwest!  I’ll have more info and pictures on this soon… For more information on alternative, natural chicken keeping, I highly recommend THIS BOOK.

This entry was posted in Chickens. Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to From Scratch-Home Made chicken food- an easy, healthy alternative to commercial feed

  1. Emily says:

    Excellent post, thank you!

    The link at the end of the post does not work, could you repost it. I would love to know which book you are referring to.

  2. I applaud you for giving this a go. Fortunately, poultry are very forgiving diet-wise, unlike some other species.

    Perhaps due to my professional background, I don’t think all commercial feeds are necessarily bad. All feed sold in the United States has to meet minimum AAFCO nutrition standards. This ensures that certain nutrients are present in sufficient quantity (lysine for poultry, or taurine for cats for example), and in a bioavailable form.

    I do agree that it’s difficult to source quality, organic, non-GMO, soy-free poultry diets, that don’t break the bank. But formulating balanced diets isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem, especially when pushing growth, or egg production.

    For formulating your own, I recommend checking out the NRC nutrition series, if you haven’t already. This is a link to the poultry edition:

    http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=2114

    I use these books professionally, and just went through the process of formulating our dairy goat rations. Not only do the NRC reference texts provide nutrition tables, for various species/lifestages, but they also show you how to calculate whether or not a diet is meeting basic nutrition and metabolic requirements. You’d be surprised how sometimes you THINK you’re meeting needs, when in actual fact you’re not, or perhaps one component in the diet is interfering with the uptake of another nutrient.

    We do feed organic, in part as an assurance that the feed components are non-GMO. Yes, we could save money if we mixed our own, but honestly, trying to source non-GMO feed components alone is not easy. I’m exhausted just doing this for the goats ;) You should see some of the looks I’ve gotten at local feed stores recently! Maybe once we expand the farm though, I’ll make my own poultry feed too! Looking forward to seeing how this works out for you, good luck!

    • I don’t think all commercial feeds are bad, at all. I think there are perfectly healthy chickens everywhere using it as their main food source. Making my own just fits better with my idealistic self. When my kids were babes, I went through a handful of pediatricians, all criticizing and warning me because I chose to make my own baby formula. They kept saying that Enfamil etc were perfectly balanced and I could get them for free. They completely missed the point. (it was an Adelle Davis recipe, for the record, and it rocked my kids health!) :-) Thanks for the NRC reference, I’ll be sure to check that one out! I worry about meeting their needs and am always looking for signs that they are deficient in anything, so I can adjust the formula. So far so good. Yay you for making the goat feed!!

      • CATT says:

        I certainly agree with you on making your own feed for chickens. We got our first chickens almost 6 weeks ago. They were 10 weeks old, at the time, and undersized. (They were free.) We fed them commercial feed the first couple of weeks and were dissatisfied with the result. We did extensive research on homemade chicken feed. We followed one recipe precisely, the first time, but afterward knowing that animals (and children) will pick out daily what they need if given a variety of food to choose from, we have since mixed together a variety of grains, seeds and legumes that include wheat, rice, rye, amaranth, chia, oats, flax, barley, millet, kamut, quinoa and spelt. We also add dried peas and kelp, all manner of vegetables from our garden and fruit from our trees and other greens (weeds) and homemade kefir and yogurt. Since we made the change our chickens have grown astronomically. I loved how you made your own homemade formula for your babies. I did too, for my first two children (Adelle Davis). My children were extraordinarily healthy; never sick! With that kind of thinking it makes sense to move forward doing the same with our animals. Our next step is sprouting fodder, which we plan to feed to the chickens, but also to a future cow that we plan to add next year.

      • CATT, Good for you! I’m growing lots of amaranth this season, next to the coops, so the chickens can eat it when it goes to seed and, hopefully, some will re-grow next year. I have never met another mom who used Adelle Davis’ formula!! Everyone, who doesn’t breast feed, should, IMHO. A million times better than the GMO infected commercial formulas. Be well!

  3. Emilie says:

    How many birds do you feed in all? I’m wondering how long this would last my small flock.

  4. Great post! There is a feed mill near me that mixes something a little similar. I thought my tiny flock would love it. I bought it once and my spoiled little Cochins only picked out the stuff they liked and left the rest. I probably need a bigger flock where it is survival of the fittest. However, I am still going to try your recipe, just reduce the amounts to sample size. Thanks for the recipe.

  5. Momma Mary P says:

    Thanks so much Pam! I’ve been trying to dig through so many articles on chicken feed and I just got overwhelmed! I’m here in La Selva too, what feed store do you get the ingredients?

    Also, I still owe you an email about the chicken freezer bags (I’ll send it today!)

    -mary

    • Hi Miss Mary! I got most of the ingredients at Hansen’s, but he didn’t have everything in stock and his price on kelp wasn’t as good as Mountain Feed, where I got that. Whatever he didn’t have (because I like to patronize him first) I was able to pick up at General Feed and Seed. The initial buy in trip was about $300, but some of those ingredients are still being used after 6 weeks. I was totally overwhelmed looking at recipes etc, too! Glad I was able to make it easier for you!

  6. Emily says:

    The Small Scale Poultry Flock is SUCH a great book. I would venture to say the best book on poultry that I have ever read. I am glad that you are promoting it.

  7. I agree with the other responses on the quality of Ussery’s book. #1 chicken book that all flock keepers should read.

  8. I would like to know about your fodder growing system.

    • I had planned to write all about it, but then a friend, who is also growing fodder, did. I use the same method that she does. The key to making it work is to keep the grain damp, but with good drainage so it doesn’t mold. Check out her post at

    • My fodder growing is super simple, low tech. I use the nursery flats that have tiny drainage hole, so the grain won’t fall through. I only use Barley, as it has the highest protein and nutrient content (a friend had hers tested and it was 17%). Soak the grain overnight, then rinse well (dust and dirt can promote mold, which ruins the whole batch). You want to put the barley about 1/2″ thick in the tray, again, to discourage mold. No soil added. Just spread it evenly and keep it moist, but not soaking wet. I keep mine in the greenhouse (or you can cover with one of those tray sized plastic domes) because it’s still a little chilly here. I water the tray with the watering can, 3 times a day, or as I see it drying out. It takes about a week to be ready. You’ll be able to lift the whole thing out, just like a hunk of sod. For more info, heck out Dog Island Farm’s post about it:

  9. Wonderful sharing about homemade chick food. I think I need to read the book “The Small Scale poultry Flock”. Thank you.

  10. Dayna says:

    Thank you for this! We have been wanting to switch to seeds and grain from the mill and have been looking for a good ratio. :)

    • You’re so welcome! Also, you can adjust the ratios as you see what your chickens eat first and leave behind. Mine will gobble up all the sunflower seeds, then try to act like they aren’t interested in the rest. So now I use less sunflower seeds to force them to eat the other grains.

  11. seann elliam says:

    Love it but what about feed 4 chickens raised strictly for meat especially here in the developing countries like malawi coz sum of those tingz u mentioned are also not eazy to come by day to day

    • seann elliam, Good question! I looked up Malawi to see what might be available. Looks like corn, soy, rice and wheat, which I’m assuming are important for human diets, so maybe not the ideal to feed the chickens. Here’s my take on it…Way back before there were feed stores, farmers had chickens. And somehow, they were able to feed them and use their eggs and meat. Bloom where you’re planted! What’s near you and easy to get? Greens? any leaves or plants that may be in your area, and are edible, will provide vitamins and fiber. Fallen trees, rotten logs or composting leaves? They’ll find bugs you can’t even see, providing proteins and fat. Take all of these things and pile them up, make a compost pile, or a few of them, then let the chickens scratch through after it’s been sitting a few weeks. If you have leftover meat, fish, shells, all of that is good. When you eat one of the chickens, boil the carcass for a few hours, then feed that (they’ll even eat the broth) to them. They love it and, if you boil long enough, the bones are soft so they can eat the whole thing. TONS of calcium and protein in there. (I always do this with mine). Basically, anything that would nourish you, works for them. I hope this helps. I’d love to know what you come up with! All the best.

  12. a bear says:

    We’re in Australia, there are about 800 species of Acacia here. Of these, most are poisonous but a few are highly nutritive (high protein) and highly palatable to chooks. Acacias are nitrogen fixing, shortish lived, good pioneer plants. We’ve got our chook house on a patch of land that the soils need improving. The acacia shades the chook house and will fix nitrogen int he soil. It drops seeds in Autumn, when the chooks need a good protein hit before winter, and the chooks scavenge and scratch at it themselves. (also improving the soil underneath). Also consider tagasate for the same purpose, the leaves are also good protein. There’s a paper worth reading: http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd21/7/simo21105.htm .

    In a couple of years we’ll move the chook house on to another patch of ground and do the same thing. Works well if you have spare space for rotation, otherwise, just plant as permanent small trees.Also could put a tarp under a tree for a few weeks while dropping seed and save. The pods cracks open naturally, no need to further process. I’m going to experiment with sunflowers, amaranth and other easy grow, self seeders also, on the other side of the fence.

    Oyster shells- get your friends to save after dinner parties. pop on the BBQs coals or in the oven, they will become chalky, and can then be ground up easily. Also, if you can get limestone chips 2-5mm diameter (inquire at quarries if you’re in limestone country), they are a better source of Ca.

    If you have the inclination, sprout some legumes beans etc in a jar once a week and they will love it. Sprouting negates the effects of phytic acids which bind minerals such as CA, Fe and Zn, minimising absorption of these nutrients. (Same goes for humans).

    Happy chookening all. (and Happy human-ing to all those chickens out there)

  13. Theresa Richards says:

    Question with regard to which recipe you had used from Adelle Davis for your babies:)

    • Theresa, I don’t know how I missed your question, but here’s the link to Adelle Davis’ formula. It’s (the only one) in the book, “Let’s Have Healthy Children”, which is out of print, but if you have little ones,and want a super healthy way to feed them, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Available on Amazon, I think. A note, there is mention of substituting soy for milk. I did that way back when, thinking it might be better for my baby (before we knew about Monsanto) and my girl projectile vomited it. Last time I tried that! The girl’s a smart one. :-) Good luck!

      • CATT says:

        I too used Adelle Davis’s formula for my two oldest children. They thrived like crazy. The only problem is that the formula is in her book written in the 50’s. The updated versions do not have the formula. I believe her adopted daughter had it taken out because of potential lawsuits. Crazy!

      • CATT, that’s a shame! Two generations of kids, in my family, were raised on it with great results. I did find the recipe online (link in another comment), so if you ever need to share it… :-)

  14. Thank you! I’ve wanted to try this too, but feared I might leave out something vital or get my portions wrong. I already have the book you recommended, loving it!

    • Backyard Chicken Lady, Since you have the book, you’ll totally be able to figure out a good ratio! And you can adjust as you go. Just think of how we need to eat to be healthy and you’ve got it!

  15. Marianne says:

    I’m late to the party on this one, but I wanted to mention fermenting your grains and sprouting grains. I sprout lentils almost daily for my bunch of 25. Takes about three days to get a one inch sprout on the lentil. You get about three to four times per volume, and a huge boost in vitamins. I just rinse ‘em twice a day. Fermenting is pretty easy, too. Just add water to your daily bucket of grains, drain (sort of) and feed the next day or day after. That also will cut your feed bill by about a third. Lots of info on the web about both. Oh, I almost forgot! A glug of apple cider vinegar in their water helps to keep them healthy, too! I use one TBSP per gallon of water.

    • Marianne, YES! I have a recipe for fermented feed that includes peanuts in the shell. Just haven’t had a chance to try it yet. For fodder (sprouting) I use barley, but you can use any grains! I also use ACV, but found out the hard way not to use it in the galvanized waterers! A word of warning. It makes them rust up. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Jen says:

    Wow! Thanks! I have been having the same concerns for commercial feed. I will try this this spring when I begin my new flock!

  17. Serenity W says:

    I’m not sure if you’ll get this question on such an old post but I was wondering what you would exchange for the Rye if you chose to eliminate it. I have access to very, very affordable organic dried green, yellow or field peas & lentils as well as everything else you listed but the organic rye is posing an issue.

    • Hi Serenity,
      I only just saw your question, sorry for the delay. I just re-checked my book (“FEEDING THE SMALL SCALE FLOCK” by Harvey Ussery) to be sure…Peas and lentils are excellent sources of protein and can absolutely be added, especially if you have a good source for them! Peas are 22-25% protein, so exchanging them for the rye will just give you a higher protein feed, which is a good thing. The chickens are able to “soak” and break them down in the crop. The small grains (barley, rye, wheat and oats) area all good for digestion, with rye having the lowest protein content. Using peas, you’ll still have a good balance. I think I mentioned it in the original post, but a friend who started making this formula mentioned it, so it bears repeating…when I first started feeding whole grain, I went cold turkey and production dropped off until they got used to it (3-4 weeks), then it picked up and even went above what it previously was. When we were moving, I fed them pellets out of convenience, until I had time to mix grains. This time, I mixed the grain as above, and added 1-2 scoops of pellets. By the time the 50 lb bag was gone, they transitioned into grain without a drop off. I’d recommend this plan, especially if you count on your eggs. It’s also interesting to see that they ate everything else and left the pellets for last. Animals know what’s up. :-)

  18. Sarah Meaders says:

    I asked a local mill about rye, and they have annual, perennial, and winter. Which am I supposed to get?

  19. Sarah Meaders says:

    Thank you! I am raising my very first flock and refuse to buy the feed at the store, but can’t afford the organic, soy free feed either. I am experimenting now with different recipes, and just trying to make sure I get it right! :)

    • Sarah, You can do it! Also, worth a look, Google raising chickens on compost. It’s amazing! There’s someone with a video, who doesn’t even buy feed, just makes compost piles and lets the chickens eat that. Totally works! I’m experimenting with it, but it makes sense. A whole food cycle lives in those piles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s