Raising chickens can be quite the costly endeavor. Sure, you get rewarded with eggs, meat, and free fertilizer – but you have a lot of expense in raising your flock, don’t you?
From one-time equipment expenses like feeders and waterers (and chicken coops!) to more regular, yet equally costly, expenses like food and medications, raising chickens can quickly break the bank if you aren’t careful.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can scale back your chicken raising budget. One of the easiest ways to do so is to look for cheap chicken feed alternatives.
In fact, there are dozens of ways you can feed your flock – on the cheap.
1. Kitchen Scraps
The number one way, hands down, to save money on feeding your chickens is to offer them kitchen scraps. In doing this, you’ll never have to worry about wasting food – you can just throw the scraps to your chickens!
While you will never want to feed your chickens food that is spoiled or moldy, you can get away with feeding just about any kind of scrap to your birds. This can cut significantly down on your feed bill.
2. Egg Shells
Eggshells are by no means a complete source of nutrients for your chickens and can’t be fed as a sole replacement for your regular chicken food allotment.
However, they can help cut down on another feed-related expense – oyster shell.
Chickens require lots of calcium in order to produce eggs with firm, hard shells. Without adequate calcium, they can’t lay healthy eggs.
Often, people who raise chickens supplement calcium with oyster shells, but this can get expensive.
Instead, feed the eggs right back to your chickens. After you cook your eggs, save the shells and bake them in the oven for ten minutes or so.
The shells will become dry and crumbly, and you can then feed them back to your chickens for a much-needed calcium boost.
3. Potato Protein
Potato protein is commonly used in things like dog and cat food. It is used as an alternative to cornstarch in many places of the world.
If you can get your hands on some excess potato protein, it’s a cheap source of protein and other nutrients for your flock.
The idea of fodder is actually quite simple, although many chicken keepers shy away from it out of a fear that it will be too complicated and time-consuming for them to do.
Making fodder is quite easy. All you have to do is buy a 50lb bag of wheat or another kind of grain. Just 50 lbs will produce around 400 lbs of feed.
Soak your seeds in a container for about one day. Then, put them in a tub with drainage holes.
Water them daily, and you’ll have food within just a week! You can grow fodder year-round, and it’s not only cheap, but it’s incredibly nutritious, too.
5. Lawn Clippings and Garden Weeds
Time to weed the garden? Toss the trimmings to your chickens! They’ll eat just about any kind of garden waste, including lawn clippings and most weeds.
6. Cottonseed Meal
Cottonsead meal is the byproduct of producing cotton. After the cotton has been gineed and the oil and seeds are removed, the rest of the mash gets fed to livestock.
It has tons of protein and is an affordable source of food for your chickens – if you are lucky enough to live near a cotton farm, that is. You can make your own cottonseed meal by buying cottonseed, but this won’t necessarily save you any money.
7. Deer Corn
Depending on where you live, you might be able to get a bulk buy of deer corn (or in some places, carrots) that are bagged specifically for deer. These bags are relatively inexpensive, usually coming in around five or six dollars for a fifty pound bag.
You will want to crack the corn before feeding it to your chickens, but it will help provide plenty of fat and carbohydrates for your birds to get them through the winter!
8. Free Ranging
Free ranging your chickens is one of the easiest ways to feed them on the cheap. Plus, it involves next to zero effort for you.
Simply let your chickens out and they’ll enjoy pecking through the grass, or chasing bugs and insects.
9. Greens and Root Vegetables
You can, of course, grow a garden with just about any kind of vegetable for your chickens. They will eat virtually any crop (although they don’t like onions, in my experience).
However, some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you can grow for chickens are root vegetables and greens.
Since these don’t take long to mature, nor do they take up much space, they are also economical. You can grow hearty greens most of the year, either by growing indoors or outside.
Similarly, most root crops – like parsnips and carrots- are also resistant to the cold.
Sunflowers not only look beautiful growing on your lawn, but they also produce seeds that can be fed back to your chickens. You can buy sunflower seeds, sure – but growing your own is way more fun!
Once your sunflowers are done for the season, cut the heads off and feed them to the chickens. They’ll provide necessary omega-3s as well as plenty of fat.
11. Lupin Bean
The lupin plant is a flowering plant commonly found in acidic, poorly amended soil. You can grow lupins and harvest the beans to feed to your chickens – or you can feed whole lupin plants. They look gorgeous growing on your property, too!
12. Safflower Meal
Safflower is used to make vegetable oil. As an annual plant, you can easily grow it on your property.
Just don’t grow it where people need to walk – it has a lot of little thorns that can catch your legs. Otherwise, it’s an easy, inexpensive way to supplement your chickens’ diets.
13. Fermented Grains
As with fodder, fermenting your own grains is a great way to save money on your chicken feed. Actually, fermenting is the first step in growing fodder.
But you don’t have to follow through with all the steps of watering your seeds and caring for them before feeding them to your chickens.
Instead, you can just skip that step, and feed them directly to your chickens – as fermented grains. They’re not only rich in probiotics, which is great for your chickens’ immunity and digestive health, but they’re incredibly affordable to produce, too.
It sounds gross, but mealworms are some of the best foods you can feed your chickens. Not only are they rich in protein, but they can be grown at home, too.
You only need to put a few mealworms in with some oats or a similar food source and they’ll reproduce on their own. I recommend growing your own mealworm supply in a three-tier plastic shelving system.
Peanut meal is another high-protein chicken feed alternative. It can be hard to find, but if you’re lucky enough to find it in bulk, you’ll be able to save a ton of money on your chicken feed bill.
16. Extra Seeds
Have extra seeds left after planting? Maybe you just have a few seeds left after you cut up a pepper for dinner. Either way, save them for your chickens. They can easily be used as chicken feed!
Another appetizing idea for you to try! Chickens actually love maggots.
While you can toss a few maggots you find in the trash can to your chickens here and there, it’s important to note that you can grow your own maggots in rotting meat, too – although this one is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Either way, it’s a good idea to feed maggots to your chickens because they are rich in protein.
18. Dehydrated or Cooked Eggs
Lots of people avoid feeding their chickens eggs because they are worried that this will cause their birds to start eating their own eggs.
That’s true to an extent – you do need to watch out about feeding too many eggs to your chickens, at least in a recognizable form, because it will encourage them to peck at their own.
However, as long as the eggs are cooked, they’re safe to feed to your chickens. It’s a free way to feed your flock that also adds crucial vitamins and minerals, like calcium, back to their diet.
If you want to store extra eggs for later use, consider dehydrating or freezing them – your chickens won’t mind.
Earthworms are easy to find – if you have kids, you can send them out after a rainstorm to collect the little buggers!
Your chickens will love munching on these slippery treats, and they’re packed with protein, too.
20. Wild Fruits
Let your chickens forage through the woods for wild fruits, or help them out by doing it for them. You can allow your chickens to free-range under fruit trees or harvest wild fruits, like raspberries, to feed back to your chickens, too.
You may want to plant a few nut trees on your property, if your climate is amenable to this. You can also forage for nuts like beech nuts, oak nuts, and pecans.
You may need to run them through a feed grinder so your chickens can digest them, though.
22. Black Soldier Fly Larvae
You can grow your own black soldier fly larvae at home to help supplement your chickens’ diet. These are good alternatives to mealworms, and tend to be a bit healthier for your chickens, too.
23. Japanese Beetles
Japanese beetles are common garden pests that very few people want around! If you find a few too many of these pests on your property, simply set out bags that are designed to catch them.
The bags will attract the beetles inside and trap them there. You can then dump the bags out for your chickens – they’ll go crazy!
Vermicomposting is just like composting – except it’s done with worms. You can usually vermicompost right inside your own home, making this an easy way to provide your chickens with protein-rich snacks without ever having to leave the house.
Plus, you’ll be rewarded with super nutritious worm compost for your garden!
25. Legume Seeds
Legumes are packed with protein, so you can get your hands on some extra seeds (for example if you have any bean seeds left over after planting your gardeN) you might as well toss them to your flock.
26.Leftover Milk and Whey
If you make your own cheese or have your own dairy cow or goat, you might want to consider saving some of the leftover dairy products to feed to your chickens. It provides protein along with helpful probiotics.
27. Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is often considered a noxious weed, but can easily be eaten or used as medicine. Your chickens will love it, too! Plus, it grows just about everywhere. It’s hardy in zones 3 through 9.
Other weeds to consider growing (or harvesting) for your chickens include yellow dock, burdock, and dandelions.
28. Flaxseed Meal
Flaxseed is another good ingredient to add to your chickens’ diets. Not only is it rich in fat and fiber, but it has tons of omega 3s to support healthy, more nutritious eggs, too.
Make your own flaxseed meal by buying flaxseed, and grinding it up.
29. Sesame Seed Meal
Sesame seed meal is another great option for lowering your feed bill. It can be purchased from many bulk warehouse stores and since it isn’t used for many things, it’s generally pretty affordable.
30. Damaged Grocery Store Products
Head over to your local grocery store, and see if they have any damaged goods for sale. Sometimes, stores have to ship unwanted merchandise back to the factory, but often, you’ll be able to get damaged products for free or discounted prices.
The same rule applies at the feed store. Sometimes bags get ripped in transit, so the feed store might be willing to give you a discount just to get rid of them.
31. Farmers’ Market Waste
It’s a good idea to stop by the farmer’s market to see if anyone has scraps to give away. There are some states and areas that have laws against grocery stores giving away food, but that’s not always the case with farmer’s markets or co-ops.
Some other places to check for free food include restaurants and gyms, too.
32. Let Them Till the Garden
Don’t want to bust out the rototiller at the beginning (or end) of the gardening season? Let the chickens do the work for you!
Not only are they cheap labor, but they’ll get rid of all of those extra garden leftovers (including vines and other debris) before you need to get in there to work.
33. Winter Squash
Winter squash is one of those plants that every gardener who owns chickens should have in his plot. There are plenty of types, including acorn and butternut squash, that hold up well in storage.
They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and all you have to do is cut them in half before feeding them to your chickens.
Check out our complete list of plants you can grow as chicken feed.
34. Fish and Fish Guts
After a long day of fishing, don’t just waste your guts after you clean your catch. Instead, feed the guts (and even the fish, if you have any leftovers) back to your fish.
You can feed any part of the fish to your chickens, although some people notice an off-taste in the eggs if they feed too much.
35. Animal Organs and Meat
Is it hunting season where you live? If so, don’t just toss those guts in the trash. Feed them to your chickens!
Chickens are omnivores, which means they will eat just about any kind of meat. You can feed them organs and other meat scraps to save you some hassle.
This is another less than savory option, but it’s one to consider. If you happen to drive by some roadkill, consider scooping it up for your chickens.
It’s totally free chicken food – and while it’s gross, it can save you some money.
Have a compost pile? Let your chickens take a gander at it! Chickens like pecking through the compost pile, as it lets them stir up all kinds of tasty morsels like bugs and worms.
As long as you are composting ingredients that are safe for chickens to eat, it’s a great way to save money on your chicken feed.
Plus, when you allow chickens in your compost bin, they’ll turn it for you, helping it break down more quickly, too.
Duckweed is an easy to grow plant that is not only a great source of nutrients for ducks, but it’s also a good source of free food for chickens. Grow your own at home – it will sprout like a weed.
Comfrey is considered a weed by many people, but it’s actually edible and quite nutritious. It is high in both vitamin A and B12, and can easily be grown on your own property.
40. Cover Crops
Growing cover crops is a great way to supplement your chickens’ diet and keep your garden healthy for upcoming seasons.
Cover crops suppress unwanted weeds, and when you’re ready to “till them under” for planting your garden, all you need to do is set your chickens loose.
Some good cover crop options include oats, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, sorghum, and barley.
If you want to spoil your chicks with a more complex recipe, check out our homemade chicken feed article.
If you’re looking for one more “weed” to grow for your chickens, consider azola. This plant is considered a superfood by many, and it’s actually nutritious for humans, too. It is commonly used as animal fodder.
It is easy to grow and can be fed to your chickens as often as you’d like. It is believed to improve broiler weight and egg production, too.
Other Tips for Reducing Chicken Feed Costs
There are a few other ways to reduce your chicken feed costs besides exploring these low-cost alternatives.
For example, you might want to consider mixing your own feed. Although this isn’t a free way to feed your chickens, it will help you save money as you can source cheaper materials and buy them in bulk.
You may also want to ration your chickens. While this isn’t always recommended, especially if you are raising meat chickens, it can be a good way to cut down on your feed costs because your birds won’t always be eating.
It may make sense for you to invest in a new feeder, too. Some feeders create a lot of waste as they allow chickens to poop in the food, or spread it all around.
Invest in high-quality options that contain the food to limit waste. Make sure you’re giving your bird’s access to grit, too, which can help them improve their feed conversion rates.
Maintain good records of how much feed you are buying – and how much it costs. This will help you be a better planner and budgeter, especially when it comes to feeding your chickens.
Another benefit of keeping adequate records is that it will show you which birds aren’t as productive. Some chicken breeds simply aren’t as productive as others, so consider keeping only those that require less feed.
And think small: only keep just as many birds as you actually need.
As sad as it may be for you to realize it, there may come a day when you realize that raising and feeding all of these chickens isn’t exactly economical, either.
If that’s the case, you may need to cull some hens that are no longer producing for you. At the end of the day, there are lots of ways to cut down on your chicken feed expenses, though – so that should be a last resort.
Consider some of the cheap chicken feed alternatives I’ve told you about, and you can reap all of the benefits of raising chickens – without all the bills!
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor.