Keeping a flock of laying hens is a fun way to provide a homegrown protein source, put kitchen scraps to good use, and produce far more beautiful and nutritious eggs than those found in supermarket chains. But raising chickens – especially on 100% organic feed – can get expensive. And in much of the country, the free range experience that gives chickens such a nutritious diet in the summertime almost completely goes away once the ground is covered with snow. The more limited diet can also affect how well chickens weather the cold, both physically and psychologically – their body temperature is higher when they receive a more well-rounded diet, and they’ll be happier with more interesting food. So we’ll talk about three easy ways to save money on feed and supplement the grain your layers need with a healthy diet of greens, grains, veggies and seeds all year round.

Sprouted Grains & Seeds


Wheatgrass

In fall, winter, and spring in particular, chickens can benefit hugely from some fresh greens—and this is when sprouts come to the rescue! Sprouting helps unlock protein and nutrients in dry grains and seeds, and makes them much more digestible for chickens. It’s also economical – just 1 tablespoon of some varieties can turn into a quart or more of sprouts. There’s no soil, and the chickens will eat the entire plant, root and seed, so there’s no waste. And lastly, it’s super easy—just soak, rinse, and feed the finished crop to your chickens in 3-6 days. Our favorite choices for sprouted chicken feed are:

Wheatgrass, sunflower seeds, corn, peas, soybeans and oats can be soaked in a bowl, then spread into a tray or container with drainage holes and rinsed daily until sprouts are 4” tall. Then simply dump out the tray and watch your chickens feast!

Alfalfa, red clover, and mung beans are grown similarly, but usually in a quart jar using a sprouting lid.

Leafy Greens


Amaranth

Chickens love leafy greens – especially tender ones like chard, frost-bitten kale, spinach, and the leaves of many specialty greens like amaranth, spreen and orach. Some of these plants do double-duty – you can harvest greens for the chickens during summer, then allow annuals like amaranth and orach to produce their hefty seedheads in the fall, and save the seeds for a winter feed supplement.

Storage Grains & Seeds

Many crops can be grown expressly for a winter feed supplement in the form of sprouted seeds or grain.

Mammoth sunflowers, amaranth, orach and corn are great choices if you don’t have a combine or other method of threshing the seed. Once the seedheads are dry, seeds from these crops can be easily harvested by hand.

If you have a thresher, or are willing to try threshing by hand, you could try growing wheat, buckwheat, oats or rye for winter sprouting grain.


Winter Squash

Storage Vegetables

Both pumpkins and winter squash provide an excellent source of delicious, nutritious food for chickens all through the winter. Plus, eating pumpkin or squash will help your chickens produce exceptionally deep orange yolks. You can grow these on the side of a compost pile or a corner of the yard covered with cardboard for an easy, low-budget way to grow a lot of chicken food. Just be sure to cure your crop properly before storing in a cool place with moderate humidity for the winter.