18 Easy Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed

Use these free and cheap methods to save money on chicken feed or supplement their store-bought diet, even if you can't free range.

Feeding your chickens can be expensive. Here you'll find more than a dozen easy ways to save money on chicken feed. From free-ranging to bugs and plants, you'll love these suggestions for supplementing or replacing store-bought chicken feed.

How to save money on chicken feed

There is nothing more "country" than chickens free ranging in the barnyard. Not only is it iconic, it's also the cheapest way to feed chickens. They forage for their food in the yard, lawn, garden, pasture, etc.

But free ranging also leaves chickens vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, racoons, hawks and owls, not to mention stray dogs.

We have a large variety of predators in our area - even bobcats and cougars on occasion - so I don't let my chickens free range. When I did, many years ago, they disappeared too often for my liking.

So my chickens are confined to the chicken coop and the large run for their own protection, which means I am responsible for all of their food. Feeding store-bought layer feed gets expensive fast!

Here are eighteen ways you can save money on chicken feed, and many of them are FREE!

This post contains affiliate links. Read my disclosure here.

1. Free range

Yes, the cheapest way to feed chickens is to let them free-range. They'll eat up all the fleas, ticks, grasshoppers and other bugs within pecking distance, as well as weeds and grass.

They'll also eat your garden produce, so you should consider fencing them out of the garden.

And as I mentioned above, free ranging leaves your chickens vulnerable to predators. So if you can't let your chickens run free, check out the rest of my suggestions below.

2. Food scraps

Chickens are the perfect "garbage disposal." They'll eat just about anything, but I don't give them coffee grounds, tea bags, banana peels or onions. Citrus, unripe (green) potatoes including the skins, and dry beans are also bad for chickens. 

I don't give them left over junk food, either. It isn't good for people, so I don't give it to my chickens either.

I divide our kitchen waste into two containers: one for the compost pile and another for the poultry. Those banana peels and coffee grounds that I won't give the chickens are great additions to the compost pile.

And while meat scraps shouldn't go in the compost pile, the chickens love them. Chickens are omnivores, so meat is a great source of protein for them.

I also give them meaty bones which they pick clean. 

3. Surplus eggs

If we have a dozen eggs that have been in the refrigerator too long, I scramble them up and feed them to the chickens. 

I've found that as long as they are cooked, feeding eggs to chickens doesn't encourage them to eat their own eggs.

4. Weeds

Weeding the garden usually results in several buckets full of weeds to dispose of. You have to pull the weeds anyway, so they're free chicken feed.

5. Wild seeds

In the fall, gather seed stalks from wild plants such as curly dock and flowers from wild sunflowers. Let them dry in a cool, dry place such as the barn or a shed and feed them to your chickens.

6. Bugs

Bugs are free food with just a little effort. 

I discovered this by accident one summer morning when I left a bucket of water near the front door overnight. The night-time bugs, mostly beetles, that were drawn to the porch light fell into the water and drowned. 

Feeding bugs to hens to save money on chicken feed, from Oak Hill Homestead

Now I leave a bucket on the porch on purpose, less than half full of water. In the morning I pour it all into a depression in the chickens' outside run. They love "bobbing for bugs" and chasing the live ones that try to escape.

I also give them any pests from my garden, such as those ugly tomato hornworms, and any grubs that I find in the soil. 

7. Maggots

This one is a bit gross, but most of our homesteading job is manure management, right? It doesn't bother me much.

Shovel some fresh manure into a bucket and leave it for a day or so without a lid, but in a place where it won't collect rainwater. I use horse manure, but any farm-fresh manure will work.

Of course this bucket draws flies, which lay their eggs inside the bucket. 

After a few days I dump the bucket in the chicken run. The chickens love scratching through the contents searching for maggots, other bugs and undigested seeds.

Let's face it, if your chickens were able to free range, they'd be doing this on their own anyway. Chickens are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and plants. Maggots are merely another form of meat.

Here's another way to grow your own maggots, from The Deliberate Agrarian. This is the article that inspired my manure buckets.

8. Worms

If you have a worm composting bin, you probably have excess worms occasionally. Your chickens will love a handful once in awhile.

Or if you're a fisherman and occasionally have worms left over from a fishing trip, your chickens will appreciate the treat.

9. Mealworms and black soldier flies

Mealworms are easy to raise indoors in a 3-drawer plastic unit. Learn more about raising them here.

Black soldier fly larvae are an excellent source of protein and fat for your chickens. According to GrubTerra, an online supplier of black soldier fly larvae for poultry and reptiles, you can replace 10% of your chickens' feed with the larvae of the black soldier fly.

Mealworms and black soldier flies are a beneficial winter supplement for your chickens when live bugs are scarce.

Find out more about black soldier flies for your chickens here, and check out GrubTerra's product line here if you prefer not to raise insects yourself. (Use code OHH to save 10% on your order!)

10. Fermenting chicken feed

This one stretches the chicken feed you buy as well as boosting the nutrition in the feed and making it more accessible to your chickens. 

This post on fermenting layer feed from Murano Chicken Farm tells you how to do it.

11. Sprouting scratch feed

Scratch feed, sometimes just called "chicken scratch," is a mixture of grains and cracked corn. It's usually less expensive than processed chicken feeds because it doesn't contain added protein, etc.

It's easy to sprout some scratch feed in a half-gallon jar for your chickens. Sprouting scratch feed is just like sprouting mung beans or alfalfa seeds for human consumption.

The cracked corn in scratch feed won't sprout of course, but the other seeds do, giving your hens more nutrients as well as more bulk feed.

Sprouting seeds is a great way to stretch your purchased feed as well as boosting the nutritional value of that feed.

12. Grow fodder for your chickens

Growing fodder is similar to fermenting feed and sprouting seeds. Most chicken keepers who grow fodder use barley or wheat seed. 

An initial overnight soak, then watering and draining the seeds daily for about seven days yields a mat of green growth that chickens love, especially in the winter. 

Fodder can be grown indoors in the winter or all year round. The set-up isn't expensive but it does take more work than most of the ideas presented here.

Because bugs and weeds aren't available in the winter, growing fodder is a great way to feed your chickens through the cold weather.

You can download and print a fodder feeding chart for chickens, with guidelines on how much fodder to feed your chickens.

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13. Excess garden produce and waste

If you're a gardener, you've probably had a rogue zucchini grow too large to use in the kitchen, or a tomato that got too soft before you harvested. Your chickens will love these free goodies.

One fall we were given many bucketfuls of turnips by a neighbor. I chopped a few of the turnips each day for the chickens as long as that windfall of turnips lasted.

Some produce has a lot of waste when you prepare it, such as cabbage heads. Your chickens will love these leftovers as well.

14. Canning waste

My chickens love preserving season. They know that white bucket I'm carrying is full of squash seeds, carrot peels, apple cores, tomato skins, or something equally as tasty! 

I also give them the damaged apples and plums that fall from our fruit trees. 

15. Potluck leftovers

A friend of mine takes a clean bucket to church potlucks and invites everyone to scrape the leftovers from their plates into the bucket for her chickens to dispose of.

16. Bargain produce

I've scored pumpkins at a bargain price in November. I break them open and place the pieces in the coop. My chickens pick them clean, leaving just the very thin outer shell.

6+ ways to save money on chicken feed, from Oak Hill Homestead. #selfreliantchallenge

I've also sprouted those pumpkin seeds. Ok, I admit it was an accident - the pumpkin was a bit soft and when I opened it, some of the seeds inside had already sprouted. But the chickens loved this bonus treat.

Sometimes vendors at farmers markets will deeply discount their produce at the end of the day. It doesn't hurt to ask if you're at a farmers market near the end of the day.

17. Save money on oyster shell supplements

Save the eggshells when you crack open eggs for breakfast. Rinse, let them air-dry, then process them in your blender or food processor. 

Offer the eggshells to your chickens free-choice as a great calcium boost instead of buying oyster shells.

18. Garden for your chickens

This is a bit like foraging wild plants or pulling garden weeds for your chickens, but instead the plants are grown intentionally.

Perhaps you only have room to grow just a couple of extra plants for your chickens, or maybe you could devote an entire raised bed or a couple of garden rows to growing produce for your birds.

From tender greens to tomatoes, and corn to melons, chickens love garden goodies.

If you'd like to try gardening for your chickens, check out this poultry garden seed collection from Mary's Heirloom Seeds, or read Lisa Steele's book Gardening with Chickens: Plans and Plants for You and Your Hens.

If your chickens are confined to their coop and run like mine are, here's the run-down on what your chickens need inside their coop, such as feeders and waterers. 

Which will you try?

While some of these ideas take some time and a bit of work, others are quick, easy and free. Use them all or choose the ones that are easiest for you to keep your chickens well-fed and happy for less money.

Always offer your chickens a variety of foods for the best nutrition and health.

You'll find all of my articles on raising chicks and chickens as well as my chicken FAQs here.

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This post contains affiliate links. Read my disclosure here.

Save money on chicken feed with these cheap and free methods.


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