The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

A healthy and cheap chicken diet

Optimal chicken diet is over half invertebrates, with the other half made up of plant matter.How can a backyard chicken keeper provide her chickens with the most nutritious and cheap feed?  First of all, let me admit that we still feed our chickens on laying pellets from the feed store.  But we do supplement our feed with other things and are trying to move toward minimizing the amount of storebought feed we use.

Storebought chicken feed is made up of grains and soybeans, but Jungle Fowl (the ancestor of the chicken) feed primarily on insects.  Scientists who cut open the crops of wild Jungle Fowl found that half or more of the mashed up food in there was typically insects and other invertebrates (especially termites.)  Various plant matter was also represented, especially fruits, berries, bamboo seeds, nuts, and young leaves.

The upshot is clear --- if we want to wean ourselves off a dependence on store-bought chicken feed, we shouldn't be planting rows of wheat and barley.  Instead, we need to find ways to provide our chickens with copious insects.  Our chickens eat some insects, both the ones they find when I move the tractor every morning and the ones I hand deliver to their enclosures.  But several people have suggested larger scale insect feed operations.  Check out some of these links, for example:

Has anyone given these ideas a shot?  I would really like to come up with a large-scale method of breeding invertebrates for our chickens to at least take over the summer feeding.

99 cent pasture ebookThis post is part of our Chicken Trivia lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

While you're improving your chickens' health, you should make sure they have clean water, an easy task with our homemade chicken waterer.

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

What leaves do chicken feed on? Goats may be fed from Ash tree leaves, and it is more efficient (in term of land use to grow them) that other feeds. I wonder if the same could be done for chickens?
Comment by Andre Tue Sep 15 11:08:00 2009
Chickens aren't really big leaf-eaters, unfortunately. They're really insectivores, so I guess if we wanted them to subsist on leaves we'd have to go with legumes that are very high in protein.
Comment by anna Tue Sep 15 11:50:50 2009

Hi, There is no need to use special commercial feeds for mealworms. You can use ground cornmeal, ground soybeans, flours, oats. I raise them in my apt. In the city. They are very easy to raise. Put in a chunks of apple or carrot, or potato changing every day to a couple fresh pieces. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you can use ground chicken feed. gentle day, Lisa

Comment by Lisa Mon Jan 10 12:25:41 2011
Good points (and thanks for giving us some first hand information)! On the other hand, those are still all storebought ingredients (or, if you grow them yourself, food that humans can eat.) The reason I'm interested in black soldier fly larvae is that you can grow them on food waste. Of course, maybe you could grow mealworms on food waste too?
Comment by anna Mon Jan 10 18:55:06 2011
so easy to breed just put all your waste food i.e. potato peel tea bags any left over food after meals garden waste in a corner of the garden few weeks loads of them the more you add the more you get
Comment by ian Sun Aug 28 17:37:20 2011
We've started a medium-scale compost bin since writing this post, but I haven't quite talked myself into giving any of the worms to the chickens. The trouble is that they're so useful doing what they do! Maybe once they fully populate the bin and some need to be removed.... You're totally right that they're beloved by chickens.
Comment by anna Sun Aug 28 20:26:43 2011

What about drone bees, if you have a beehive. They are larger and stingless, and don't help collect honey. Drone traps have been devised to remove drones from a hive, because they are perceived as useless. No feeding required - bees travel miles to collect their own nectar and pollen. Theres a lot of protein in bees - try smelling some after they have been dead a few days.

Comment by Jeff Wed Oct 26 00:35:39 2011

The uselessness of drones is a bit debatable. I tend to believe in letting nature take its course whenever possible, so I keep all of my drones and use other management techniques to cut down on varroa mites.

That said, I have pondered feeding bees to chickens, especially when the hive shuts out large quantities of its workers and drones after cold weather hits. But whenever I scoop up those dead adult bees to give to my chickens, they turn up their beaks. I'll bet they'd eat larvae, but adult bees don't seem to be their cup of tea.

Comment by anna Wed Oct 26 08:05:52 2011

Thats interesting that chickens won't eat dead bees. Maybe they just associate bees (dead or alive) with a painful sting (dead bees can still sting). I have seen wild birds eat bees : A butcherbird (Australian) often sits above my hive and catches an occasional bee in flight. It seems to take a long time to choose a victim - I think maybe it has learnt to recognise the larger stingless drones. Also magpies have learnt how to grab a bee and rub the stinger off, before swallowing. There are some very clever birds !

Comment by Jeff Thu Oct 27 05:32:01 2011
I'm sure some birds enjoy them, and maybe chickens would give it a try if they get hungry enough. As much as I try to keep our chickens a bit hungry so they'll forage, I can't quite make myself starve them too much. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Oct 27 08:11:38 2011
Hello. Long time reader, first time commentor. We got chickens this summer and did the chicken tractor. We wanted to feed insects and wer chsing grasshoppers around with butterfly nets. This was an exercise in futility. Besides we live in Texas and it was freaking hot! FAIL! Then, when we were walking at the park one night I noticed that there were big grasshoppers roosting in all the tall Johnson grass, mesquite trees and guy wires. They were essentially asleep. Sitting ducks!We could each fill a one pound coffee can mashed full of live hoppers in about 20 minutes. Winner! Our chickis got to where they played in their scratch and ate hoppers. Huntng hoppers harder now with shorter days but it works for gathering fishing bait too! Love y'alls site. Keep up the good work!
Comment by Wendy Fri Oct 23 09:16:24 2015

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.