18 Easy Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed (Updated for 2021!)

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.

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 much too often for my liking.

So they are confined to the chicken coop and the large run for their own protection, which means I am responsible for 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 consider fencing them out of the garden!

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. 

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 giving them meat is a great source of protein. 

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. I 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 (in 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 are 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 ones that 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 my homesteading job is manure management so it doesn't bother me much.

I shovel some fresh horse 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.

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

If my chickens were able to free range, they'd be doing this on their own anyway. Chickens are omnivores (meaning 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 occasionally.

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

9. Mealworms

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

You might also want to look into raising black soldier flies for your chickens. 

10. Fermenting chicken feed

This one isn't quite free as you must buy the chicken feed to begin with, but it really stretches the 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

I fill my bird feeders with scratch feed instead of the pricier wild bird seed, so it's easy to sprout some scratch feed in a half-gallon jar for my 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 my 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.

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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 canning season. They know that white bucket I'm carrying is full of 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 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 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.

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 as mine are, here's the run-down on what your chickens need in 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.

Be sure to 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.

This post contains affiliate links. Read my disclosure here.

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

This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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  1. Great ideas, Kathi! My chicks and baby turkeys are pretty young right now, but I've been gathering alfalfa that grows wild around us and I chop some up for them each day...they love it. I'm also harvesting it my the armload to dry out and store up for winter when they don't have pasture.

    I bought some watermelon and cantaloupe for a fruit salad/dish to pass...and the chicks ate most of the flesh still on the rinds. :)

    1. Lucky you, with alfalfa growing wild! :-)

      Don't you love what the chickens leave behind when you give them a watermelon? Just a super-thin, hard shell that dries out into what looks like a weird helmet. LOL

  2. Great ideas! I give our chickens leftover meat scraps from time to time. They'll pick a ham bone clean in no time. I'm turning them out in the morning and letting...or is that making...them forage for their food all day. There's enough grass, clover, weeds, bugs, frogs and such to keep them well fed and busy. I shake a can of pellets at their door when I want them to go in. From spring until snow fall they're pretty much on their own.

    1. You are so fortunate to be able to do that, Robin!

  3. farmgal7:59 PM

    really great post, I have never tried the horse manure maggot trick, I like it and will give it a try..

    1. It works pretty well, Farmgal. Let us know how it goes.

  4. The maggot tip was thinking out of the box. Great idea!

    My chickens love harvest time. Anything veg or fruit that's been pecked on usually goes to them. As I hoe my raised boxes, I sometimes pick up grubs. They go straight into a bucket along with their favorite weeds.

    re: fermenting
    Do you take regular lay pellets and soak them? For how long?

    I discovered one trick by accident. We had mowed a small area and for some reason I had bagged the leaves. I had picked up every bag but one that had gotten left behind at the edge of the woods. The following year my hens were free ranging and found the bag. They tore into and were eating the silage like candy. In all my days, I never saw such contented chickens.

    I took it away from them thinking it was bad for them when someone told me I had inadvertently created silage.

    1. How interesting about the leaf silage. "Accidents" are sometimes the best discoveries!

      Yes, you can ferment layer pellets. It takes just a couple of days. Here are directions... in the comments someone asked that same question and she said YES YOU CAN USE LAYER PELLETS.

    2. Thanks for the link!

      Re: silarge
      I meant mowed grass, not leaves. Oy!

  5. Love this post! Such great ideas! We use fodder all the time for our chickens because it is super easy to grow and saves a lot of money in feed too! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Annie. The June bugs have arrived so I have my bucket of water near the front door. The porch light attracts them and they fall in the water. The chickens are loving this free, live food!

  6. Great ideas for free 'grub' for the chickens! Thanks for sharing on Farm Fresh Tuesdays, Kathi! I hope you'll share more of your great posts this week!

  7. Lots of great information Kathi!! Thanks

  8. Hello Kathi! I feed my chickens much the same way you do. I have not heard of fermenting the feed, however. I entered the give away, but not sure it went through...perhaps I was a bit late to the party. I do enjoy your blog though! Have a great weekend. Karen Q

    1. Hi Karen! The giveaway begins at 8:00 am Central time on 10/26 so I think you were early to the party rather than late. I hope you'll come back and enter!

  9. I hope to try the sprouting method this winter for both my chickens and rabbits so they can have something fresh in those cold, dark days of winter.

    1. Sprouting is great for that reason!

  10. Loy Leslie10:15 AM

    These are really good ideas, Kathi.
    they will help us supplement which will save us money.
    Thanks for posting them!!

    1. You're welcome, Loy! They sure do help stretch that bagged feed!

  11. Tha ks for the chance to enter the give away. Also for the free feed suggestions, having to keep my last 4 hens penned up now. Lost over 12 to a red fox who raided our fenced in area in a 12 hr span.

    1. I'm so sorry that you lost so many of your hens! I can't let my chickens out, they disappear very quickly (coyotes, raccoons and more), so this is how I keep them happy, entertained and fed for cheap.

  12. Thanks for the chance at a wonderful prize pack!

  13. Bobbing for bugs, lol. Great ideas.

    1. Thanks. :-) One of their favorite pastimes!

  14. Anonymous3:48 PM

    Love the bobbing for bugs, lol! Great ideas.

  15. I love the idea of seed sprouting. I'm going to try that one!

    1. Mine love those fresh sprouts in winter, I'm sure yours will too.

  16. Lots of great ideas. I recently started raising mealworms.

    1. That's one I haven't tried yet. Good for you, Sue!

  17. Since we have been wanting to raise chickens, everything here is a great start to making a start. Thanks!

    1. You will enjoy having chickens, I'm sure! They're so entertaining.

  18. I was raised with chickens and never realized that besides the feed, oyster shells and bugs (the biggest grasshoppers we could catch) you could feed them so many other things! I'm so excited! Gives me one more reason to continue to try to convince my husband to let us get chickens!

    1. I hope your husband will agree! Chickens are great garbage disposers, and with these ideas the cost of feed can be minimal.

  19. I didn’t not know hens could eat their own eggs, or that the shells are beneficial to them! I recently boiled grounded up some shells for my indoor plants and I’m hoping that the nutrients give them a little boost! It’s so fun learning new stuff like this! 😆

    1. Some hens will eat their own eggs in the nest - it's a bad habit and once they've started, it's very hard to break them of it. That's why I scramble the ones I give them, and chop up the shells very fine (so hopefully they won't realize that there are shells in their nestbox too!)

  20. I am pondering raising chickens so thank you for the extra insight into the benefits of them

  21. Wonderful and helpful post. Thank you.

  22. These are all great ideas. My chickens love the pumpkin seeds from our Jack O Lanterns.

    1. Pumpkin seeds seem to be a favorite! What a great way to get extra value from a jack-o-lantern.

  23. You're so right about the watermelon, Kathi! I harvested some extra alfalfa this summer from our walks and dried it for winter. They are loving the old cabbages that split from too much rain in the garden this year. Have a great day and thanks for sharing this on Farm Fresh Tuesdays...hope to see you today!

  24. Anonymous3:36 PM


    I was wondering what breed the chicken in the top photo is. We've been raising chickens for 5 years and are getting more this week. The one pictured is very pretty. Does her breed lay well? We started free-ranging about 3 years ago and have had no predator problems, thankfully. We are well fenced and the girls have lots of places to hide from predatory birds. We do a few of your suggestions, but will be looking into a few others - NOT anything that has anything to do with maggots, though. YUK!
    Jan Olson

    1. Hi Jan! The hen is a buff brahma. They are docile and sweet. They lay brown eggs at a decent rate. I have a couple of them, some buff Orpingtons, Americanas and a couple of Rhode Island reds.

      No maggots, huh? LOL


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