Pasture-raise or raw feed (rotational grazing, free-ranging, feed scraps), make your own feed, soak or ferment your feed, sprout grains, produce fodder, compost pile feed. Here are a few choices.
Encourage Ranging Pasture
When I tell them I’m teaching my chickens to free-range first and then eat their feed second (if they eat it at all), people always give me a strange look. But believe it or not, any chicken, whether there is a foot of snow on the ground, can be encouraged to forage wildly for its own food. For any wild bird, it is instinctual to forage for its meal. Only want to deter a chicken from scratching at the ground and pecking-p=m-you can’t. That’s unlikely.
If you give your chickens a free smorgasbord of grains and feed, they would most likely not be encouraged to go and buy their own food. But still, let’s be honest here, there are some chickens that are still hungry-p=m-.
We allow our chickens to forage as much of their food as possible for this same purpose, while also giving them the ideal ration of feed. This is one of the key reasons why, at a week old or older, our chicks are on the field to imitate what chickens do as much and as comfortably as possible in nature.
They are allowed to forage first while our chickens evolve into adult birds, then eat their feed last. In reality, good kitchen scraps, manure, fodder, sprouts, and fermented hay or silage are provided before they even sell feed during the day. Production of eggs has never fallen. Our chickens are fat and sassy-p=m-and I’m pretty sure that they are also extra happy!
Most homesteaders fully free-range their flocks during the growing season and don’t buy feed for six months or longer. Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost, for instance, absolutely feeds over 600 chickens from his composting systems. In some posts online, and also in Harvey Ussery’s book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, I recall reading about him. Justin Rhodes visited Karl’s farm in his 2017 The Great American Farm Tour documentary and showed us specifically how Karl feeds all of these chickens solely on massive mounds of compost. And we can do just that on a small or large scale in the backyard and on our homesteads as well, p= m.
Chickens’ Safe Kitchen Scraps
Imperfect vegetables (fresh or roasted, but preferably raw), vegetable waste (such as pepper stems and seeds, squash cut ends, etc.), cooked beans and rice, fermented vegetables, Kombucha scoby, grains of water and milk kefir (in moderation), raw milk (in moderation), and yogurt (in moderation)
Many backyard gardeners, and even large-scale homesteaders, keep compost piles on their farm. It will not only help you as the gardener to rotate these piles and encourage your chickens to do the “mixing” for you but also support you as the chicken keeper. Allowing the chickens to mix the compost often helps them to forage for bugs and food scraps naturally, while ingesting beneficial bacteria from the compost pile’s decomposition.
Along with feed waste, plant matter (like leaves), other feces, and more the bedding and chicken feces from the coop goes into the compost pile. Fed off the decomposing potential “black gold,” the chickens mix the compost pile for you. And by doing so, they even dump more droppings and aerate the compost bed, speeding up the method.
Your compost pile would have been almost entirely chicken-maintained and ready for you to use until totally decomposed and refined. Speak of foraging motivation, huh? The forage deserves encouragement!
Don’t mix up the snacks!
Although you can give your chickens lots of food, you should be careful of others. I am a strong believer that chickens can only eat what they want and will eat when offered choices. For this reason, I never sell food scraps that have been mixed, juiced, or mixed together to my chickens. I provide them with food goods that are easy to access by sight. Many people, for instance say that chickens do not consume avocado skins and pits, and while that’s real, I’ve never actually seen a chicken eat an avocado skin or pit. Outside, I throw old avocados and watch my chickens naturally handle the vivid fleshy green berries. If I had to mix all that avocado, skin and all that, I would probably kill them.