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!
If you’re new to keeping backyard chickens, be sure to check out these mistakes I made and avoid them yourself!
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.
Does your homeowners association prevent you from growing food in the front yard? What if they never even KNEW? My ebook, The Edible Front Yard Garden will show you how!
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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 addition to your chicken garden
- 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 great vegetable garden plants 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. Try using a suet basket to serve them up.
- While some people consider it a weed, purslane is a great addition to your chicken feeding 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.
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 vegetable garden
- 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 your flock once in awhile. They definitely don’t mind the overripe melons that your family turns their nose up at. And they will pick the rinds clean!
- 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.
Feeding 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.
Give the chickens their own garden
If you’ve got the space, here is another idea to consider. Fence off an area near their chicken coop or run and give them their own garden space. Use some of the crops I’ve mentioned above and provide them with limited access so that they can eat the plants without completely decimating them.
They can eat fresh veggies, which is good for their health and your budget, then you can close it up for a few days or a week to let the chicken’s garden recover.
Supplementing their diet with fresh foods like this will assure that their nesting boxes are overflowing with delicious fresh eggs!
Hints & Tips for Keeping Chickens in Your Backyard
- How to Grow Fodder for Chickens
- Make a Chicken Swing
- Feeding Chickens on a Budget
- Butchering Chickens
- Mistakes I Made in the Chicken Coop
- Put Your Backyard Chickens to Work in the Garden
- Grazing Boxes for Chickens
- Plant a Chicken Garden
- Do Your Hens Need Supplemental Light?
- Chicken Coop Supplies
- Controlling Mites
- Keeping Chickens Cool in Extreme Heat
- Build a Chicken Coop Extension from Pallets
Originally published in April, 2015; this post has been updated.
I am new to chicken farming, and want to grow things in the coop for my chickens to eat. I am aware that it will need to be covered until ready to eat, but what grows fasat year round?
PLEASE ADVISE ME I WANT TO START GROW CHICKENS AND FEEDING THEM
I always thought that chickens are not allowed to have tomatoes (same nightshade family as potatoes)?
They shouldn’t eat tomato leaves, but no problem with the fruit.
I saw a pin. That the woman grew a garden just for her chickens and she let the chickens in the garden and they packed at the plants where ever she had. And it was really a lot of fun. Would you plant a garden next to the coop to just let the chickens roam the garden at will?
As long as the chickens are only in it for short times, it would be great. If they have constant access, they’ll trash it quickly.
Chickens love blackberries and elderberries which grow wild in my garden. Any over ripe strawberries they also enjoy. (if fact they enjoy ripe ones as well – but these are consumed by us.)
I am almost certain this is a silly question as your ladies are staying healthy and productive but is there enough protein in garden feedings to meet their needs. Does anyone use left over grain from a sweet farmer (ok – so I happen to be married to a wheat farmer). Also will the ladies benefit from bugs reaped by way of a bug zapper? I have been out of raising chickens for quite some time and now getting back to some hens…
Many thanks for the great article!
Wheat would be much appreciated, I would think. Bugs, yes! And I find that letting the girls roam, scratch, and peck gives them access to lots of bugs and worms for protein.
When our flock has free-range time, the first place they head is to the garden. They absolutely love eating the greens. And if I am not paying attention, they will try to sneak ripe tomatoes.
My chickens love all the veggies and plants. I grow them herbs and lettuce and all sorts of veggies. This year we will plant them some sunflowers. Their favorite is field peas though. We can’t seem to plant them enough! They consume herbs daily and they are so healthy.
I used to have chickens and they ate my garden too. I plan on having some in the future so I would love more information like in this post
I just had a ton of purslane growing in my garden a few weeks ago and I pulled it all up!! I can’t remember if that was the arm full of weeds that I have to my chickens or not.. Humph..
Great ideas, will start right away!
Parsley is good for their respiratory systems and my chickens love it. I plant it around their run and I have to put a piece of board or cardboard between the plant and the fencing to keep them from pecking thru the fence to get at it until its fully grown. Then I let them have at it! They love basil too. Oregano and sage, not so much.
Oh, interesting. I haven’t tried that one yet. I’ve got some plants here; I’ll test it. Thanks!
Mine love any extra zucchini (who doesn’t have extra zucchini) or other squash or pumpkins.
What a great post! I might just grow some sunflowers and amaranth right around their run to add some color and interest before lopping it off and letting the girls have at it! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
Now that is a great idea. My son has been wanting us flower seeds. In front of there run would be great. Thanks for the spark.
We free range our chickens and have a 1/4 acre garden. The girls NEVER go into the garden (it’s not fenced) unless I’m spreading compost or I’ve recently tilled. They have 5 acres of lawn and pasture to forage and prefer bugs to my veggies. That being said they still get beet greens and cabbage and other goodies when we have extra.
That blows my mind, because the garden is the FIRST place mine go. Like it’s a buffet put there just for them!
My chickens always ate my garden. One of there favorite things to do was to scratch the dirt away from my roses’ roots and take dust baths. I guess even hens want to smell nice, lol.
I love this post Kris! Such a great idea. We grow sunflowers for our chickens every year. We just cut off the whole flower at the end of the season and toss it into the run. They go nuts for it! I can’t wait until we have more space and can grow more crops just for them. Spoiled hens!
I think I read that same book. The person who recommended it to me said, “Well, you just have to plant enough.” Really? I have 50 chickens there and they can easily eat up my 1/4 acre garden. But we do grow things for the chickens and do let them free range when we are outside (we have new dogs who are still being trained). Yesterday they go a wheelbarrow full of broccoli that was flowering. They loved it.