If you are keeping pet hens, you will be well aware that feed is one of the biggest costs you will encounter. Great nutrition produces great eggs and with chicken, there are no corners that can be cut when it comes to providing your birds with a wholesome and balanced diet.
Many hen owners are becoming adept at sourcing healthy and nutritious alternative feed formulations that not only are cost-effective, but natural and health-boosting. Some of the most popular alternatives can help fight disease and a few can be grown in your garden to create a plentiful supply.
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Read on for ideas and tips on a range of alternative feeds for your garden dwelling hens as well as key foods to avoid. All covered in this article: What to feed chickens naturally
Creating the ideal balance for your chickens.
The typical diet of hens usually is based on a nutritionally balanced poultry feed which is specifically formulated for the needs of laying hens. This pelleted feed has the protein and carbohydrates the hens need for growth and egg production as well as other essential vitamins and nutrients. Complete dried pelleted poultry feed usually includes ingredients such as:
- Cereal grains
- Soybean oil meal (as a source of protein)
This feed is provided to the birds with grit or ground oyster shells which helps the chicken break down its food in its gizzard. The feed is provided in whole pellets or as crumbles depending on the age of your hens. Plentiful water is also needed.
The need for alternatives
Poultry feed can get pricey depending on the formulation you choose and most chicken owners welcome healthy foodstuffs that can be used to supplement their hens’ diet safely.
Over time good healthful alternative feeds can save a significant amount on your feed costs and help establish a sustainable way of feeding your hens.
In previous eras, it would not be uncommon for chickens to feed themselves from shoots, weeds, insects, scattered grain and scraps foraged in their coop or on a free-ranging roam.
Need a good book to read? We recommend two:
Beginners Guide to keeping Chickens – Amazon
In many ways, your efforts in providing alternative feeds will recreate this type of diet. Below we have shared some of the best alternative poultry feeds to introduce safely to your birds. All are natural and affordable and should show up in the improved quality of your eggs.
Top natural alternative poultry feeds for your backyard hens!
Let us take a look at some alternatives to shop bought foods and in particular foods which are natural and can even be grown yourself.
Foods you can grow
There are some great options for tasty and nutritious plants that your hens will love to peck at. Either scatter or tie up leaves and shoots in the coop or cultivate them nearby.
- Garlic is a popular addition for hens as it is thought to help stave off infection and even imparts great flavor to your hens’ eggs. Add minced garlic to your hen’s water supply or offer a small number of garlic shoots within the coop to be nibbled at.
- Duckweed is a great pick and if you are a pond owner let this aquatic plant grow plentifully. Harvest it and dry it out for a protein-rich supplement.
- Alfalfa and other nutritious cover crops like buckwheat and comfrey are well worth including for a powerful nutrition boost for your chickens. You can cultivate these crops near your coop and when mature, mow, dry and scatter them into the feed. Your eggs will thank you!
- Weeds are great for ranging hens to forage as they are reservoirs of the nourishment in your backyard soils. Set your hens looks on weeds like dandelion, chickweed, and dock and get your garden cleared in record time.
Insects and grubs
These are the best kind of protein you can source for your hens and should provide a noticeable difference to the quality of your eggs. Chickens find crunching down spiders, flies, beetles, caterpillars, and worms incredibly satisfying and a keen motivator for foraging.
Power foods like black fly larvae are also set to become sustainable poultry staples in the near future. You will need to be careful about feeding certain grubs like mealworms in quantity as they can be high in fat, which is not good for your hens.
Food scraps cannot be indiscriminately fed to your birds as they may contain foods that are harmful, like meat, eggs, sugar, and high levels of fat. You will also need to ensure that the scraps are processed by boiling and cooling to create a hearty mash, so no thrown out raw peels we’re afraid. You can confidently feed your hens:
- leftover pasta and rice
Chickens greatly enjoy scraps and they keep food waste down, but they should not form the majority of their diet. In the UK food scraps have to be prepared carefully and following UK Laws and Guidelines. Click here to read more.
What not to feed your hens
If you are excited about introducing alternative feeds to your hens, it’s important to be careful about your choices and take care to maintain a dietary balance.
Some foods that appear harmless to us can actually poison or kill your hens. Also, you need to be careful about dietary fat which can rapidly make chickens overweight and cause heart disease.
Undercooked or rotting scraps can also harbor disease. Below we share a list of some foods you should definitely avoid feeding to chickens:
- Chocolate contains chemicals that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and even death in chickens.
- Avocado skin and seed contain a toxin called persin that can cause heart and breathing problems in your birds.
- Dried, uncooked beans contain toxins that can rapidly kill a hen. Raw kidney beans are particularly noxious.
- Processed foods are laden with high amounts of sugars and fats that can quickly overload a hen’s metabolism.
- Moldy foods harbor toxins that not only can harm your hens but build up in the tissues and eggs and potentially poison you too.
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What ingredients are in chicken feed?
Chicken feed contains a blend of cereal grains, vegetable and animal proteins, and added nutrients. The amounts of each will differ depending on the brand and what age of chicken the feed was designed for.
What human food can chickens eat?
Chickens are omnivores and will happily eat any baked goods, vegetables, fruit, meat, or cheese you have in your kitchen.
What do you feed free-range chickens?
Free-range chickens will eat plants, bugs, worms, and even mice. You can choose to supplement their diet with chicken feed if you are worried about their diet.
How long can chickens go without food?
Adult chickens can go up to 48 hours without food. During that time they should have access to plenty of water.
Can chickens eat rice?
Chickens can eat rice. They love brown rice or white rice as long as it is cooked.
What do baby chickens eat naturally?
Baby chickens, or chicks, eat plants and small bugs in the wild. As they get older and bigger, they can eat things like mice, or even frogs.
Conclusion: What to feed chickens naturally?
Providing natural alternative foods for your chickens is a satisfying way of caring for your birds. Most natural foods will boost the health of your chickens and the quality and even flavor of your eggs.
Ensure you keep the diet of your hens as varied as possible without reliance on any one type of food for optimal nutrition. If you have any great tips and ideas on feeding hens, we would love to know more.