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.