Before we got our chickens, I spent an embarrassing amount of time researching what on earth we should feed them. I knew I wanted to use a homemade, whole grain mix, but finding recipes turned out to be difficult. Many of the more reputable chicken sources just made blanket suggestions to use store bought feed. I had to scour forums and yahoo groups to find recipes and information from random (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) people. A few years later and it seems like there are a lot more recipes out there, so I’ve decided to gather some of them together in one place. All of the recipes included are soy-free, some are corn-free as well, and some are even fermented or sprouted.
Please note, all of these recipes are for grown egg-laying chickens in the egg-production phase of their lives. Baby chicks and chickens being raised for meat require different amounts of protein and calcium, so these recipes would need to be adjusted accordingly.
Photo used with permission from The Elliott Homestead
Soybeans are commonly used as a [cheap, government subsidized] protein source for chickens. They have to be heated to high temperatures (roasted) for the chickens to be able to digest them. Can chickens cook? I think not, so soy is probably not a natural choice for chickens. Plus, soy contains not only isoflavones, which can mimic estrogen in the body, but also “anti-nutrients,” which can prevent absorption of nutrients in food. For what it’s worth, I believe soy should only be consumed by humans (or animals, for that matter) if it has been fermented, and even still, it should be eaten in moderation. Think miso, NOT tofu or imitation meat.
But anyway, in the heyday of my chicken feed research, I did what any rational wife (with no children at the time) would do- I launched a full on literature review of soy in chicken feed. I even read an entire master’s thesis documenting that the isoflavones in soy-based chicken feed do indeed transfer into the eggs those chickens lay. If you avoid soy isoflavones at all costs like I do, this means a soy-free chicken feed is a must.
Here are five recipes for whole grain, soy-free chicken feed:
There are several reasons people choose to avoid corn in their chicken feed:
Corn is not overly nutrient dense. It’s main benefit as feed is to cheaply (again, government subsidized) and quickly fatten animals.
Chickens in the wild wouldn’t eat a corn-based diet.
Corn is genetically modified (GM), so organic corn is a must if you are using corn. Even then, I’m skeptical of unknown cross-contamination turning organic corn into GM corn.
People with corn allergies don’t want to chance trace corn proteins in their egg yolks, and understandably so.
All that said, I have to be honest and say that I’m not 100% convinced corn-free is necessary. Corn has always been fed to chickens, at least in the recent past- many people remember their grandmothers (or great grandmothers) feeding only corn to the chickens. No fancy mixes, just supplemental corn to go along with table scraps. I definitely agree that there are healthier options out there, but I don’t feel strongly enough to avoid corn altogether. We have chosen to feed our hens some certified organic corn- sometimes cracked, sometimes whole- and I feel completely fine with that decision right now. As I do more research, I reserve the right to change my mind though.
Should you choose to avoid corn in your chicken feed, here are two corn-free (and soy-free) recipes:
Photo used with permission from Natural Chicken Keeping.
Fermenting chicken feed simply involves soaking the grains in water until natural bacteria and yeasts do their thing (as evidenced by little bubbles forming at the top of the soaking water). Grains, which are the seeds from different grasses, are meant to be eaten by animals, pooped out, and then grow into new grasses, which means they have a few protective layers allowing them to pass on through the digestive systems of animals. By fermenting the feed, we can help our chickens get more nutrients from their grains by making the grains easier to digest. Plus, they get all the benefits of probiotics, which are the little bugs causing the fermentation in the first place.
Since the fermented feed is a wet mash, there will be less waste, because the chickens won’t throw it all over the place. They also eat less simply because they are getting more nutrients from what they do eat. Score for your chicken feed budget!
The recipes I’ve linked to below go into a lot more detail about why fermentation is good for your chickens and how to actually ferment your feed. This is the next frontier in chicken feed at Whistle Pig Hollow, I plan to ferment some feed and see how my chickens like it.
Photo used with permission from Natural Chicken Keeping.
Another way to get the most bang for your chicken feed buck is to sprout your grains and seeds. When you sprout a grain (or seed), you are essentially turning it into a vegetable, and with that you drastically increase the nutrients it contains. In the book Beautiful Babies (that would be human babies, not chickens, but this is still applicable…), Kristen Michaelis sites a study comparing sprouted wheat with unsprouted wheat on a calorie-per-calorie basis. The sprouted wheat contains four times the amount of niacin, twice the B6 and folate, five times the vitamin C, and significantly more protein and fewer starches and sugars than the unsprouted wheat. Wowza.
To sprout your grains, soak them in water overnight, then drain and rinse them daily to allow the grains to sprout. Again, the recipes linked below go into detail on how to actually do this. It’s a great way to add more nutrients to your flock’s diet.
If you are interested in feeding your chickens organically but don’t have access to an organic pre-made mix (or don’t want to spend $$$), making your own whole grain feed can be a great solution. If you don’t happen to have an organic grain mill or other source of feed-grade grains nearby, check around for bulk grains from local food co-ops. I know many people (us included when we first started) order their bulk grains from Azure Standard, a co-op that delivers. They have drop off points all over, so check to see if they deliver to your area.
When transitioning chickens from a highly processed store-bought feed to a whole grain feed, I’ve read that you’ll see a temporary drop in egg production as they adjust to their new diet. They should get used to it pretty quickly and start laying as normal again shortly.
Do you have a homemade chicken feed recipe? Please share it in the comments. If you have a blog, I’ll update my post to include a link to your recipe.
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