What do Chickens Eat? Try Vegetable Scraps
My chickens love young and tender grass…it’s a natural food for chickens.
When you consider what do chickens eat, one of the first things that comes to mind is grain. They’re birds, so they eat grain. Next on the list might be a line from a song we’re familiar with, by Charlie Daniels, “chickens in the bread pan picking out dough.” Okay, so they like grain and scraps from the kitchen. That’s great, but grain costs a bunch, and there are only so many scraps one might generate in the kitchen to keep a small flock in food.
What’s a boy to do?
Just the other day I was digging in the garden and my chickens were right there with me grabbing worms out of the freshly turned over soil. That’s great, but I can’t be digging in the garden all day just to feed my chickens. Certainly there are other sources of natural food. And, there are!
Natural Food for Chickens
If you let chickens browse as they might, you’ll notice they like grass and weeds and bugs and such. We’ve just fenced in another large section of our yard so our chickens can enjoy natural tall grass and all of the goodies it offers. There are those who pasture raise chickens, and I think that can work out just fine.
If you let chickens into your garden, you’ll find they go nuts over vegetables, especially young vegetable plants. One way to feed your chickens on the cheap is to simply grow their food. They love lettuce, summer squash, all sorts of greens, fresh corn and tomatoes. Some of the root crops like turnips can provide an above ground food source while the root is maturing, and then the root crop can be fed to them as well…sometimes raw and sometimes softened up a bit by cooking.
What we really need is a giant source of kitchen scraps, or the next best thing, vegetable scraps from the produce department at a grocery store.
What do Chickens Eat? Vegetable Discards
We’ve been very fortunate this year to find a small natural food store that is willing to exchange their vegetable scraps for a dozen eggs a week. Usually, this sort of trade isn’t possible because of concerns about people eating discarded food. In our case, the store employees are glad we’re able to put their discards to good use. We simply pick up a trash bag full of discards that they leave outside behind their store.
This is but one pile of two that we get about every other day from the natural grocery store. What a feast for the girls.
Our chickens love this stuff. It’s usually food that is only a bit damaged, imperfect or just starting to spoil. Much of it is suitable for human consumption, it’s just not visually appealing as consumers are usually focused on perfection. It amazes how much we get from such a small natural food store. They have perhaps 30 linear feet of fruits and vegetables, and they toss away at least a bushel basket full of scraps every other day. That’s a lot of food. As my sweetheart mentioned to me just the other day, our 10 chickens wipe out all of that food in one day, yet a couple of hungry people couldn’t consume all of that food if you gave them all day long to do it.
Cooked potatoes are easy for the girls to eat.
There are plenty of times when beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes and other root crops are found in abundance among the bag of discards. The chickens are not able to eat these as-is because they’re tough. As a solution, we put them in a big pot and steam them for several hours, then slice them up into chunks and put them out for the chickens in a tray or bowl. They really enjoy this type of meal, and we’re glad to make better use of hard vegetables that would otherwise simply wind up on our combination of compost pile and worm bed (which is also food for our flock).
The bottom line is: we’re grateful for the discards and happy to share our eggs with those who are providing us with the scraps.
Beets and sweet potatoes cooked into a mush that will quickly be consumed by our flock.
Having a steady source of scrap vegetables is a wonderful resource. It answers the question, what do chickens eat, and it answers the question, what do chicken enjoy eating. Even if it takes a little work to turn the root vegetables and tubers into a meal for our flock of layers, it’s well worth the effort. It’s a minimal cost to us, and a great benefit to our flock and the eggs they so faithfully lay.
The way we look at it is whatever we give them as food comes back to us in eggs. Good food for our flock turns into good egg production in support of our interest in keeping ourselves fed.
Clair Schwan enjoys fresh eggs from his homestead, and he’s tickled that the yolks are a deep orange, a sure sign that his flock is getting good natural food that makes for nutritious eggs.