Chooks make excellent waste disposal units for unwanted kitchen scraps, but their high-protein egg-laying requirements mean they need a little more in their diet to keep them healthy. For most of us, this comes in the form of commercial feed, which while it doesn’t cost much, might make even the most seasoned self-sufficiency convert feel… well… insufficient! But there are alternatives, many of which can be rustled up in your own backyard, and are closer to a chook’s natural diet in the wild. Here are our top 10 Homegrown chicken feed ideas that we’re experimenting with in an attempt to lower our reliance on commercial chicken feed.
1. Sunflower seeds
Beautiful sunflowers not only pretty up any summer garden, but they are a classic chook food! Grow a stack, hang the mature flower heads up to dry in your shed and treat your chooks to them throughout the cooler months.
Bugs. Your garden is likely teaming with both good and not so good ones, and the not so good ones make an excellent chicken snack. We have an endless supply of slaters at our place, and our chooks adore them, along with cockroaches, millipedes and other many-legged creatures! But in addition to foraging bugs for your chooks you can also employ a little more of a considered plan to get these protein-packed organisms in their diet. If you live in Sydney, or any further north, you will have access to the excellent soldier fly, which can be bred in compost and the larvae of which are a chicken delicacy. Further south, introducing soldier flys would be a bit of an environmental faux pas (they’re not native, and haven’t made further than Sydney) — but there are alternatives! Meal worms (the larvae of the darkling beetle) can be bred in oats, while for the brave amongst us “dripping” a carcass is an effective way to turn waste into chicken feed.
Both amaranth seeds and leaves are high in protein and enjoyed by those of the feathered persuasion. There has been some controversy over whether or not they can be used in a chicken’s diet, however we’re fairly confident that low amounts, or larger amounts that have been heat treated are fine (well, our chooks are still alive!)
4. Fat hen
Chickens love Chenopodium album so much, it has been colloquially named after them! The seeds and leaves are all excellent chook food, but like amaranth (above) should probably be given in moderation as there is some evidence the uncooked seeds contain saponins and other anti-nutritional things.
Worms are a protein rich snack that can be easily grown on your own kitchen waste! But you’ll need more than one little worm farm to keep up with your chooks’ taste for them.
Chooks will eat acorns, and while they won’t provide a complete diet for a laying hen, they’re great for fattening birds destined for the table, and an excellent “booster” food for hens during winter. The general rule of thumb seems to be no more than 20% of a chook’s diet and she’ll be apples (or acorns, as it were).
7. Wattle seeds
Not all wattle seeds are equal (and indeed, not all are edible) however there have been some studies done into the sort your chooks will eat or eat avidly! On the chook top foods list are Mulga, Cootamundra wattle, Cole’s wattle, Silver wattle, Black wattle, Golden wattle while there are many more species of Acacia that are palatable enough to the average hen.
8. Snails & slugs,
While to ducks they are a delicacy, chooks sometimes need a little coaxing to eat public enemy number one (slugs and snails). We’ve found that bantam birds are often only game to gobble smaller slugs and snails (fair enough too!) while teaching chicks to eat them from a very young age will give them a taste for it (much like training a toddler to eat their greens!)