Grain Free Chicken Feed


 

GFfeed2

It can be done. We did it. We do it every day. And the number one question I get is what in the world do I feed them.

So are you ready for the secret?  You may be disappointed.

It is not an exact science.

Really it isn’t.

Two factors keep us constantly evaluating and adjusting our feed – the health of the flock, and the cost of the ingredients.  For example, if we have primarily pullets and no roosters, then we stop buying safflower seeds because they are too hard and don’t get eaten. If we discover the bottom of the feeder full of flax, then we stop adding it in. If an ingredient sky rockets in price, we switch to an alternative. This means paying especially close attention to the care of your chickens. This is not the same as a prepackaged feed that you can just toss on the ground for your hens. It takes some extra maintenance. Quite frankly some people are not going to be a fan of that. And that’s ok. Not everyone needs a grain free chicken.

Find Some Local Help

We lucked out and there happens to be a sort-of near me feed store run by a young guy with a ton of education and experience. Here in Northern California, mom and pop style feed stores are becoming more and more scarce thanks to Tractor Supply which is the Walmart of farming. Even the few old school feed stores near me don’t have the resources to answer questions beyond produce description. Enter Curt of Wilbur’s Feed. 

Curt is entirely amazing. He is one of those people who is not afraid of saying “I don’t know”, but always follows it up with “I will find out”. That was exactly what I needed when I was trying to piece together a grain free plan. And finding someone who can explain to you the difference between sorghum and milo is pretty darn handy when you have already spent a dozen hours trying to find out on the internet. If you haven’t already noticed, there is not a lot of information out there on a grain free chicken feed.

Get to know your closest real feed store owner. They most likely didn’t just inherit a feed store, and have some significant investment in healthy animals. In Curt’s case, he stopped short of being a veterinarian because he figured if he could help with animal nutrition then he could help prevent the problems he was seeing. See?? I love that stuff.

Most feed store owners do not hold the additional certification needed to actually make a mix and call it feed. But they are going to be super valuable for helping you to mix your own.  And sourcing the ingredients locally will help keep your overall feed costs down.

The Base Recipe

Without further ado, here is the base recipe that we started with. This is not a feed for chicks. Chicks have additional feed needs. (stay tuned for that post.) This we have used once they are out of the brooder and fully feathered, at about 12 weeks old.

Grain-Free Chicken Feed Recipe

45 lbs white proso millet

27 lbs safflower seed

20 lbs sunflower seed chips

8 lbs black or red flax seeds

total: 100 lbs feed

approximately 15-18% protein content

This recipe is for chickens on pasture and getting lots of bug time and supplemental greens. This recipe is not ‘complete’. Our hens also get free choice oyster shell. And a whole lot of kitchen scraps. This protein content works well if you have chickens that are on quality pasture, otherwise you will need to increase your protein percentage for most heritage breeds to at least 20%. We are finding that some breeds will need even more.

This 100 pounds of feed lasted us 2-3 months with 6 hens in suburbia. 10-15 birds on plenty of pasture meant it lasted 3 months. And it has changed proportionately as we have increased our flock. Its actually been cheaper than the corn and soy free bagged feed we started our chicks on.

It’s O.K. To Mix It Up

We always keep sunflower seed pieces or black oil sunflower seeds in the mix because they are so high in protein and a favorite of the hens. We also use milo. We have tried peas and lentils. They don’t like the lentils and only eat the peas if they are yellow. I have no idea what that is all about.  We have also tried buckwheat and that was a flop. It is way too hard and really only beneficial to add if you sprout it first. An important part of mixing your own feed is being in tune with the needs of your flock, and periodically adjusting.

Our first backyard flock was 6 hens in about 1000 square feet on a suburban lot. We threw them a lot of scraps, supplemented with alfalfa (which they did indeed eat) and let them run the rest of the yard for bug patrol every once in awhile. We averaged 4 eggs a day and were more than happy.

Problem Solving

Overall our chickens have been low maintenance and healthy. Our birds are 100% pastured and this feed is entirely supplemental. The bigger our flock, the more supplemental feed they go through and so the more they cost. More chickens need more space in order to keep costs down.

In addition, we have certainly made some learning mistakes. I have found that problems with this feed result from two things:

problem 1- Attempting it with hybrid chickens.

This is just generally not a good idea. If you want to depend on your flock eating primarily bugs and worms then you are going to need a heritage breed that remembers how to scratch and doesn’t mind the work. We are finishing up our Freedom Ranger experiment. Those chickens are insanely close to the Cornish Cross and not designed for this type of feed. Read more HERE for information on choosing the right breeds for your flock. The breeds we currently have include Buckeye, Delaware, Dominique, Favorolles, Red Laced Wyandottes, and Austrolopes.

problem 2 – Not feeding enough protein.

Our flock is currently comprised of about 40 laying hens, one skinny little Cream Brabanter rooster named Lenny, and about 50 meat chickens on approximately 1 acre of pasture. The 50 meat birds pushed our capacity over the top and our hens are no longer getting enough protein or greens. (more to come on our Freedom Ranger experiment) In response we added free choice kelp to increase protein and vitamin amounts, and compensate for the lack of good greens in the pasture. It hasn’t been enough. Chickens are omnivores, and while a hybrid may be bred to survive on higher amounts of carbohydrates and plant matter, a heritage chicken needs a much higher amount of animal protein.

The proper solution for this problem is going to depend on your individual situation: flock size, location, budget, breed, amount of pasture. etc.  It would easily be remedied by having the right pasture to chicken ratio. What that exact ratio is will depend entirely on your own situation. I personally believe the area we have should be more than enough for 100 chickens if it was quality pasture that we kept green and growing. We blew it by throwing some meat hybrids in with our layers, and are now fixing the mess.

Other ideas for supplemental protein include red worms, meal worms, or black soldier fly larvae. Some grasses are higher in protein and you could grow fodder in your pasture. Some people run their hens with other farm animals. Some feed fishmeal. Some use whey. There is a pretty big list of options, many of which I will cover in future posts! Be sure to sign up by email so that you don’t miss them.

I’m curious what landed you here and why you might be considering grain free chickens! Would you share with me below?

And remember….

Hope is contagious! Pass it on!

~ Nichole


33 Comments
  1. Feed cost, of course..I have my feed ground at the local elevator in 1/2 ton lots, mostly corn and soy. This is sufficient for my 46 layers and 35 van tress cross meat birds. In a few weeks my meat birds will be gone and feed consumption will go down considerably. Would like to try something different, am curious if you have the mix ground or feed the seeds whole. I do not know if sunflower seed chips are available, have never noticed them, will have to visit elevator and see what kind of pricing I can get on ingredients. 4 weeks ago when I bought feed it was about $200 for 1/2 ton and feel a lot better about feeding it than commercial feed at TSC or the like.
    Thank you for the article, I will see if it works for me

    • Hi Kay!
      Those meat birds eat a lot, don’t they? We feed the seeds whole. I grind them for chicks but not the rest. Sunflower seed chips are cheaper than whole sunflower seeds (out of the shell) but tend to be one of the pricier things we use.
      Nichole Sawatzky recently posted…Grain Free Chicken FeedMy Profile

  2. I don’t remember how I got here! That is, there was an email from you in my inbox that I don’t remember signing up for, but I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. I have a mixed flock of heritage and hybrids and mutts, and they free range over several acres and get a soy-free organic layer mix. Plus I sprout wild bird seed mix (proso millet, milo, etc.) and BOSS for them daily. Plus the occasional scraps. All our birds seem more than happy to scratch and peck. I haven’t noticed any difference in that respect between the heritage breeds and the sex links.

    I tried the black soldier fly larvae last year but didn’t keep up with it. Finding a source of roadkill hasn’t been a priority but I may have to rethink that!
    I look forward to more ideas for cheap, healthful,non-grain chicken feed. Thanks!

    • Mutts :) Love it. Sounds like you have a very successful operation going on. Thats great! And thanks for the feedback on the black soldier fly larvae. My understanding is that once that system is established it pretty much runs itself. Sounds like that is not the case!
      Nichole Sawatzky recently posted…Grain Free Chicken FeedMy Profile

  3. This caught my eye because I mix my own food and I am always looking for more info. With most soy and corn being a GMO nightmare, it is interesting to see what other people are doing.
    I feed a combination of fermented seeds and grains and sprouted seeds and grain. Winter time and when we have a lot of chicks on the pasture we supplement with meal worms. I feed an organic, non GMO feed that is complete as a back up when I don’t have anything sprouted or I will be away for several days.
    I enjoyed the article, thanks for sharing info.

  4. I found this link on Facebook via GNOWFGLINS. Some friends (who live on a farm) from church offered the use of their land to raise chicks for us. They were purchasing 50 Cornish Cross chicks and we were going to do the same. The week before purchase, we were told the quantity and price of feed needed. The price of the typical feed, I liked (that’s what they used), but I wanted non-corn, non-soy. It was outrageous in price! I began a 2-day crash course in homemade chicken feed and came to the sad conclusion that there was no way we could do this at this time, up to our specifications. While researching, I also learned that the Cornish Crosses weren’t even a breed I would really want, so all in all it worked out. Thank you for this recipe and your insights— I haven’t given up my dream.

    • Heather, thank you for your note. Hang on to that dream! Sometimes we don’t get there in a way that we would expect, but that journey promises to be valuable. Keep me posted on your ventures, and good luck!
      Nichole Sawatzky recently posted…Grain Free Chicken FeedMy Profile

  5. I have been sprouting some oats and sunflowers as supplemental food and they love it, but i find it hard to stick to a routine because i’m not at the farm every day.
    Tammy Dawson recently posted…Sustainable Veggie GardenMy Profile

  6. Great article. I’m looking forward to reading about your Freedom Rangers. I read that they are a good breed for pasturing. We currently have 22 laying hens, 1 rooster, and 17 meat birds (cornish cross – which love to eat grass/greens). I’m learning a ton about mixing our own feed, right now, too and am now starting to think of it more as a supplement than the main food. I need to increase pasture (currently I seed 4 x 8 beds and place a chicken wire box over the top for the layers for them to eat, but not scratch up. I also bring in bugs from the compost pile. I need to do a lot more for bug and worm production, though. I found a great grain supplier that has what are called “sweepings” – grains that hit the floor during packaging. They vary all the time, depending on what was packed that day, but I can get some great stuff really cheap. I just picked up a 45 lb. bag of the yellow split peas, wild rice, and pearled rice. This is my first time experimenting with rice, but the chickens seems to really like it. I also mix in more seeds and grains, but no corn or soy. I will be mixing up based on price/what’s available. I’m also going to try and grow more of my own grain/seeds and see if I can offset some more of the costs. Great to find your page – a friend recommended it to me. :)

    • Wow Leanne it sounds like you have quite a production going on. How awesome! We have not tried growing our own grain or seeds yet since we dont have the room right now. With water costs here I often wonder if it would be worth the hassle. Thanks for sharing what you do!
      Nichole Sawatzky recently posted…Grain Free Chicken FeedMy Profile

  7. Hi, I received your info via Facebook . Was interested as I mix “chicken treats” for my girls (especially in winter to keep their energy up) and really would like to avoid soy and GMO corn. My chickens are in a run–we just let them out to scratch around awhile before sunset. We throw in dandelions and other greens and kitchen/garden scraps, but a goal would be to get them completely off store-bought feed. Thank you for the recipe. I will look into sources for these items and see how it goes! always appreciate learning how to do things more healthfully and at lower cost!

  8. Hi, came across your site because my daughter-in-law has bought some chickens, but definitely has a short summer season.
    I was confused by the article because I always thought millet WAS a grain….and because it is grown as a GM crop in US here and Africa!??

    • Thanks for your comment! Millet is actually a gluten free ‘pseudo’ grain that is lumped with things like corn, which is actually not a grain either. As for the GMO millet, my understanding is that it has been trialed in places such as the US and Africa, but not approved for production. Of course we know what that means as far as cross contamination,etc. I double checked this morning and was still unable to find any information regarding millet being a GMO crop. It is not listed on the Non-GMO project website, and it is listed on GMO compass as not approved. Hope that helps!
      Nichole Sawatzky recently posted…Grain Free Chicken FeedMy Profile

  9. So thankful for your information here. I am a complete beginner! We have food allergies and have been unable to find meat or eggs we can eat (corn, gluten, dairy). But I have found hope in your positive can-do info here….so thanks! Hopefully I can learn more and ask an occasional question as we begin the journey. Planning to start in the spring.
    Alisa

  10. Saw the article on FB and was curious. I saw somewhere, maybe Tropical Traditions, where they sell chicken on so different type of feed that I seemed to remember including coconut in some form. I’m not in the position to have chickens at this time but enjoy reading and learning. I have also noticed more recently that when I handle chicken, my hand seems to break out in a sort of read chapped or eczema type rash. So much to figure out.

  11. It may be controversial to some, but chickens will gladly eat meat. Perhaps you could try scraps from venison and such? Have to be careful with fish/fishmeal as it can leave a fishy taste to eggs. My birds enjoy a handful of grain-free catfood (venison, sweet potato etc.) every once in a while.

    I am by no means raising my birds grain-free. They’re made to be production birds and have a fit if the feeder is empty.. we’re just wanting to live healthier.

    This was our first year with chickens and we love it. The only issue I have is hawks. Can’t free-range because of them. Had two attacks, they both survived, but it took a good bit of patience to patch them back up. I wouldn’t have bothered, but I can’t give up on an animal that is clearly not giving up on life themselves. My white Plymouth rock that survived is the sweetest thing. Lays an egg a day.

    I’m slowly moving away from the processed junk. We’re still in the infant stages of living healthier. I’m from Europe. My mom grew her own veggies and you could trust meat, eggs and milk. We didn’t eat much boxed food, so I never really knew it could be an issue. I’ve been living in the US for almost 10 years now and long for cleaner food.

  12. keep up the good work

  13. I did a search on Yahoo “how to raise grain free chickens” and your site popped up. I eat Paleo and just moved to 10 acres in OK. I want to start raising grain free chickens for my family who are on board eating real food. Hubby, son, daughter-in-law and daughter! If I make it easy for them to eat well, they will! Kids will be kids:)

  14. I am going to start raising my own chickens, but I don’t eat grain so I would prefer that my chicken didn’t either. Thanks for the great info. I do wish that there was a 100% grain free feed out there for convience sake, but I’m finding that eating this way these days isn’t about convience that’s for sure! But I feel amazing so it’s worth it!!

  15. I think that the discussion of humans going grain-free and chickens needing to be grain-free is a totally different conversation. Chickens were designed to eat seeds naturally occurring in the pastures, along with bugs, greens, etc. Their digestive system handles seeds perfectly. Should that be the bulk of their diet? No, but they CAN eat grains as part of a healthy bird diet. Grains are generally defined as being the seed of a grass. Corn is a grass, but not a “cereal grain.” Millet is kind of a “pseudo” grain in that it is not a grass. But ultimately, we are talking about seeds. My goal is to feed my chickens without any GMO’s or seed varieties that have been jacked with too much through questionable hybridization practices as well. I try to feed my hens food that is ALIVE if at all possible. So our hens are free-range, but we supplement with sprouted barley and sprouted yellow peas. The yellow peas have a great protein profile. They also get raw milk when we have extra. For people in the greater Kansas City area, I re-sell non-gmo barley and peas and we are getting ready to start selling a sprouting/fodder system that is much more affordable than any other system on the market. It was a long journey for us to figure out how to source a non-corn, non-soy feed! We found a local farmer growing barley, and recently a great source that I am able to buy peas by the semi-load from a near-by state. Otherwise, there was nothing available commercially that was reasonably priced to feed our flock of 100+ hens. We also sprout the barley as barley grass fodder for our cows and pigs.

  16. I found your site when looking for grain free chicken feed. Thank you for posting your experiences! I’ve had no luck in asking friends, local feed store employees, etc. my 2 year old son had eczema a year ago and we’ve embarked on a huge journey to help heal his gut through diet. We are now grain, soy, dairy, and nightshade free. We have11 layers-standard feed store chickens (barred rock, buff Orpington, and reddish brown ones), and they are pastured on about 2 acres with our goats, sheep, and llama. They have been such a joy to have! I finally got the courage to do a test run of a hand mixed concoction, and they were all over it! They were also hungry, but at least they ate it! We also give kitchen scraps and are raising mealworms. I look forward to your post about what to feed chicks, since we plan to get another 24 in a few weeks.

  17. I am trying to make my own feed for my pastured chickens because of the use of glyphosate on grains, seeds and beans as a dry down agent. (Google dry down wheat glyphosate and you’ll get lots of university recommendations for harvest use.) I haven’t found a perfect recipe, but really like to get input and information about content from lots of sources. I tried adding organic alfalfa pellets and the chickens hated it, so there is a lot of trial and error and variation based on the availability of organic ingredients.

  18. Hello,thanks for sharing. I am a retired English farmer now living in rural Latvia. We keep a large garden and have six Pekin bantam hens with a rooster on guard. They roam the gardens other than the veg plots and do no damage. Eggs are good and they are pets more than anything.I intend to keep Ross broilers for meat intake.The trouble is no grain is for sale as the last winter was down below 50c and all spoiled in the fields. that is way I was drawn to see what you had to say. The thing is England has everything. Out here one has mainly to fend for oneself there are no animal feed centres.No grain stores and no good meat chickens on sale.The Latvians eat old egg hens and a fat chicken is never heard of in what was once a communist block nation.

  19. I have been looking for a grain free method of raising chickens. While I really like that your feed recipe doesn’t contain corn or soy I’m not sure it can be considered grain free since millet is considered a grain. Do you have any thoughts as to what could be used in place of the millet to make it a truly grain free feed? Thanks!

  20. I found you through a search for gluten free, soy free, corn free chicken feed. Loving the recipe and would like to try it, do you have a good resource of where to get these items?

    Thanks,

  21. I was looking for anyone selling non grain fed chicken and couldn’t find anyone that had anything remotely close. I was starting to think that it couldn’t be done. By finding your site I am hoping I am on the right path to find someone near me that would be willing to sell them to me. I have severe ADHD and I have had it since I was a child. I have been reading that grains among other things have a lot to do with it and that if I could avoid them my symptoms would get better. I am currently on a detox cleanse to rid my body of all the toxins and when I get done I would like to have found a place to buy my non grain fed meats. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I absolutely love your posts and if I ever move to a place where I could raise my own animals I would no question. Thank you again for some hope! I was in desperate need of it.

  22. I live on Bougainville island PNG – nearest feed manufacturer is an expensive 6-8 day trip away so I was searching for info to make up something out of locally available ingredients without grain as there’s none grown here – and came across your site. We have fish, giant snails, coconut, sweet potato, taro, peanuts, green leafy vegetables. Maybe some mixture of them will do. I’m sure they could live on it but need something that can be easily handled and will store for a time so could be used in small commercial operations.

  23. I am so glad I found your site! My 2 year old son has severe celiac and eosinophilic colitis and we are going grain free on our meat and eggs. I have found some bird seed mixes that have most of these items and some others with the rest, so I’m going to do some experimenting and see what we find that works best for us, plus finding different places to sell different feed. I’m going with the trial and error approach. Hopefully we will get it done! Thank you so much for sharing your information. This has helped me tremendously!

  24. Hi Nicole,

    I was looking up cage free,non grain feed chickens and came upon you website. I have just begun the Paleo Diet and finding it very difficult/impossible to find non grain feed chicken. I’ve enjoyed reading your site and hope your daughter is doing well.

    Wish me luck finding chicken meat and eggs that are truly grain free.

    Patricia
    Massachusetts

    • Patricia,
      we’re in NH, and currently working on raising meat birds that are 100% sprout fed. They are 2nd generation non-gmo freedom rangers. Their diet is a hand mix of organic grains and seeds purchased from a closed circuit organic farm. We have about 20 laying hens also on the sprouted diet, however, only 5 are of age to lay daily. We recently acquired 2 dairy goat kids who are being transitioned over to a sprouted diet, but they won’t be producing milk for about another 1.5 years.
      If you have any interest, we are not “commercial” but we are doing this for ourselves, and therefore willing to set up limited contacts who would be interested in purchasing these unique, specializied products.
      We realize that people looking to eat healthy do not necessarily understand the work, effort, research, time, and money it actually takes to grow these animals out happily and healthy…this is why these products will not be found commercially.
      If you would like a further conversation about what we are doing and what we have available, I can be reached via ML05486@GMAIL.COM
      thanks for reading, Michelle

  25. Hi Nichole, I just have one rooster named Buddy. He is a pampered pet. I grow wheat grass for him, and he gets a fruit salad in the morning and sunflower sprouts and other greens in the evening. That is in addition to a very fancy selection of grains I would mix myself. The thing was that as I grew more sprouts and greens he stopped eating the wheat and other grains and just ate the white and red millet and the other items mentioned in your mix. I was worrying that something was wrong with him, but he is shiny, healthy, vigorous and beautiful and showed no signs of illness whatsoever. We checked him over thoroughly and found nothing that would account for his change in food preference until I found your site. I think now that when a chicken is getting enough fresh grass they don’t really want grain. Buddy also loves the tops of oat hay with all the little oat groats (the only grain he is interested in these days).

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