Want to save money on feeding your chickens? Here’s how to feed chickens without breaking the bank. Growing chicken feed right in your backyard is easy — plant a chicken garden!
Someone gifted me a book years ago about free range chicken gardens. It was a beautiful book, full of photos of beautiful gardens. And it was the biggest bunch of nonsense I’d read about chickens in awhile.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my chickens. I love the idea of free ranging chickens. But I can tell you from lots of experience that you cannot maintain a beautiful garden with chickens wandering loose. They poop. They scratch and tear things up. And they’ll eat every last bit of your veggie garden if given the opportunity.
I don’t recommend giving your girls free rein if you’re trying to maintain a pretty garden space. But you can still provide your hens with plenty of fresh “forage” by planting a chicken garden to grow some organic feed for your hens.
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Growing chicken feed in a chicken garden
Not only does a chicken garden prevent last minute trips to the feed store to restock on organic feed and crumbles, it allows you to lower your feed costs by growing some of what your girls eat, right there in your garden. Think about it. Say you can pick up a packet of seeds for $3 and that packet contains 30 seeds. That’s ten cents per seed. Depending on the crop, that ten-cent investment could net you many pounds of produce grown on site.
Assuming you’ve got space to plant a little extra for your feathered friends, growing your own DIY chicken feed makes so much sense.
Greens are great for supplementing a chicken’s diet.
- Lettuce is a favorite for my girls, and it grows well here so I always seem to have excess. It makes them happy.
- If you’ve got more radish greens than you need for this recipe, the girls will happily help you eat the rest!
- Buckwheat is a great “bee plant” to have growing in your chicken garden, and my chickens love the greens as well as the seeds.
- A head of cabbage is both food and entertainment, especially if you create a cabbage piñata.
- Beet tops are another “waste” product that chickens love. (Be sure to save enough for the dinner table, too, though!)
- Kale starts out looking like many greens—lots of leaves—but as you harvest the outer leaves the plant grows taller and taller. A single kale plant can produce leaves for months.
- Greens like spinach, bok choy, and Swiss chard are all fair game and if you use this technique, you’ll be able to harvest for weeks or months. Individual leaves can be hard for hens to tear, though. How to feed chickens these greens so they can eat them easily? Try using a suet basket to serve them up.
- While some people consider it a weed, purslane is a great addition to your chicken feeing plan. And a great addition to your dinner table!
- Comfrey is a garden perennial that has a lot of uses medicinally, plus it’s pretty. My girls love it. (In fact, when I divide comfrey, I’ll often toss the entire root ball into their enclosure. They eat the greens and scratch away the dirt and bugs, then I can easily divide it.) Concerns have been raised about feeding comfrey to chickens, but I’ve not had any problems.
- If you live in a climate that’s warm enough for perennial peanut grass, consider planting some in the area where your chickens roam. While they don’t eat the green leaves down, they love the yellow flowers.
Related: How to Make a DIY Chicken Swing
Feeding chickens grains and seeds from your yard
- Sunflowers add a happy face to gardens all summer long. How to feed chickens sunflower seeds: When the sunflower seeds themselves are mature, cut off the entire flower and let your chickens have at it. You can store extra flower heads in a cool, dry place to dole out during winter months.
- For something a little bit different, try growing amaranth in your chicken garden. The seed heads will get heavy with seeds that the chickens love, and it’s good at reseeding itself in a lot of regions. The greens are edible, too.
- Sorghum grows much like corn. The stalks are used for making a sweetener. The grains are used to make sorghum flour, a gluten-free ingredient in baking. Your chickens will eat the grains straight off the plant. Here’s more about growing grain.
Share your garden veggies
- Tomatoes will produce fruit for months during the warm season. Cracked tomatoes, buggy tomatoes—or even extra tomatoes if you’re willing to share—will be devoured by your girls.
- If you’re successful with melons you can toss one to the chickens once in awhile. They definitely don’t mind the overripe melons that your family turns their nose up at.
- My girls love garden peas. They prefer it if I shell the peas for them first, though, so it’s not something I offer regularly.
How to feed chickens with perennials and trees
- Consider planting a crabapple tree in your chicken run. Even ornamental crabapple trees that produce small fruit that you might not bother with will be appreciated by your hens.
- Plant fruiting shrubs and trees in the chicken yard. As fruit ripens, any that you don’t harvest for yourself will drop to the ground. (File under: How to feed chickens the easy way.)
Originally published in April, 2015.