Update: Download the Garden Betty Chicken Feed Calculator to easily manage costs, calculate protein content, and formulate your feed on the fly!
I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately about one of my most popular posts, Garden Betty’s Homemade Whole Grain Chicken Feed.
Since I started feeding my chickens a whole grain diet in December 2011 (when they were still pullets), they’ve been as happy and healthy as ever. All three ladies are in peak egg production: My Barred Rock lays 6 to 7 eggs per week, my Easter Egger lays 5 to 6 eggs per week, and my Cochin lays 3 to 4 eggs per week.
Their feathers are soft and glossy, their wings strong and quick, their combs and wattles meaty and well-formed. They are also the most active, affectionate and sociable chickens, behaving just like my dogs. I love their little personalities!
Over the past year, I’ve made small changes to their feed here and there, depending on what ingredients were in stock at my co-op. I still swear by a whole grain diet (considering how easy and accessible it is in my area), and it seems like many of you are looking to go this route as well. If you’ve ever wanted to find out how to adapt my feed to baby chicks, or what kind of substitutions can be made to the original recipe, the comments on that page are a great place to start!
It also reminded me that I should update the recipe with one I’ve been successfully using for the last couple months. One of the most common questions I always get is: How do you make this recipe corn-free?
Chicken keepers want a corn-free feed for any number of reasons, the main one being that corn has little nutritional value compared to many other grains and seeds. Field corn (the type of corn grown as livestock feed and processed into things like high fructose corn syrup) is also one of the most genetically modified crops in the world. GMOs weren’t a concern for me as I used human-grade organic corn in my original recipe, but I ended up making a corn-free feed because my chickens stopped eating corn, as well as lentils and kamut. (What can I say? They’re picky little ladies.)
Eliminating corn from the recipe wasn’t a big deal, but I did need to find a protein-rich replacement for the lentils and kamut.
Triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye, contains 17 percent protein and is an excellent source of energy. It also happens to be carried by my delivery co-op, Azure Standard, where I buy most of my other bulk grains.
Rye contains 13 percent protein and something in it makes my chickens go crazy! They gobble the grains out of my hand like it’s candy. It’s fairly cheap and easy to find, though the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture suggests feeding rye only to laying hens.
I also increased my sesame seed serving to 2 cups, and kept the rest of the recipe the same. The girls still get grit and oyster shells in separate containers to peck as they please… but these days, I’ve simply been washing and crushing up their eggshells in place of the oyster shells because I can’t make it to our local feed store. With an average of 14 eggs laid a week, there are plenty of eggshells to go around! (We even crush up eggshells to provide extra calcium for our garden.)
This updated recipe is still within the 17 percent protein range for laying hens and still costs the same to feed them.
If you’re having difficulty finding any of the ingredients below, keep in mind that plenty of other grains, seeds and legumes can be substituted and this recipe is not meant to be a rigid diet for your flock. You should still be giving your girls a variety of healthy treats, such as fresh greens and dried mealworms, and spring is the perfect time to let them loose in your garden and help you turn over your soil.
For most chicken keepers, the easiest and cheapest source of (non-soy) protein is split peas and field peas, which I would wholeheartedly use if my chickens actually ate legumes. (They hate them.)
If your local supplier doesn’t carry soft white wheat berries, you can simply use 6 cups of the more common hard red wheat berries instead.
Brewer’s yeast and kelp can be found at well-stocked pet stores and feed stores, health food places, or even online. If you’re not able to source them, you can order Fertrell Poultry Nutri-Balancer from your local feed store, or ask if they carry any other vitamin/mineral premix. (It might be a good idea to find other farmers to go in on an order with you, as a 60-pound bag of Nutri-Balancer would last foreverrrr.)
For more recommendations, as well as information on how all of these grains are beneficial for your flock, check out my original post and its comments. Happy formulating!
Garden Betty’s Homemade Whole Grain Chicken Feed… Updated and Now Corn-Free!
Makes 8 1/2 pounds (fills 10-pound feeder)
4 cups oat groats
4 cups black oil sunflower seeds
4 cups hard red wheat berries
2 cups soft white wheat berries
2 cups triticale berries
2 cups rye berries
2 cups millet
2 cups sesame seeds
1 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup brewer’s yeast
1/4 cup kelp granules
Free-choice oyster shells (or crushed eggshells)