Alternative Feed For Chickens: Best Ideas!

Alternative Feed For Chickens: Best Ideas!

If you’re looking for an alternative feed for chickens that won’t break the bank and will help support your healthy flock, then you’re in luck – there’s an abundance of surprising alternatives!

While your hens should always have a high-quality layer feed, you might find yourself without a bag one day (and the feed store might be closed) OR you might have table scraps you don’t want to toss. You also might want to make your own chicken feed.

Nutritious feed doesn’t need to come with a golden price tag, but it does need to satisfy the hunger cravings of your beloved flock and provide much-needed nutrients and vitamins.

Whether you want to craft your own chicken feed or just want to give your flock some treats, it’s always good to know what chickens eat! In this article, we’ll discuss the possible alternatives to your usual feed – and you might be surprised at our list of ingredients!

What Is The Best Food For Chickens?

The best chicken feed for laying hens is a high-quality 16% protein layer feed with a calcium supplement. For chicks (under 16 weeks), a high-quality 18% chick starter is best. The feed should have the required nutrition and vitamins for them to stay healthy and become consistent egg layers. Most commercial feeds make it easy. If you want to make your own layer feed, you can use my organic homemade chicken feed recipe here.

How To Feed Chickens Without Buying Feed

While I never really recommend this, there’s plenty you can feed chickens without actually having to buy feed. You can feed them table scraps (there’s a table below of what human food they can eat), grow food for them (we have a leafy green garden for our flock), or raise mealworms or black soldier fly larvae.

You can learn how to raise mealworms here and why black soldier fly larvae are healthy for chickens here.

If you have a “corn hookup” you can feed them dry corn as well. One of our neighbors is a farmer. One year, his crew spilled a LOT of corn on the ground. He didn’t want to clean it up, so he asked if we wanted it, LOL!

It’s best to feed a 16% protein layer feed however – you want your chickens to be healthy and lay eggs consistently. Nine times out of ten, when a reader emails me because her hens have stopped laying, diet is the reason why.

What Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can eat so many things – it’s probably easier to talk about what they CAN’T eat! Chickens especially seem to love protein – insects (alive or dead) are HUGE with backyard chickens. They also love seeds such as sunflower, wheat, or hemp seeds. Of course, fruits and vegetables are popular, too (especially corn)! As for leafy greens, it’s best to stick with lettuce, kale, and spinach.

Here’s a brief table of suggested treats for your chickens (not comprehensive):

Fruit Legumes Vegetables Seeds Proteins Dairy Grains
Berries Peanuts Spinach Sunflower Mealworms Milk Wheat
Cantaloupe Alfalfa Hay Tomatoes Flax Black Soldier Fly Larvae Greek Yogurt

(Plain)

Oats
Watermelon Peas Squash & Pumpkin Pumpkin Dried River Shrimp Cheese Rye
Bananas Clover Kale Hemp Eggs Whey Millet

What Can You Feed Chickens If You Run Out Of Feed?

Alternative feed for chickens if you’re out of feed are whole grains like wheat, corn, flax, cooked rice (NOT UNCOOKED!), and raw or cooked oatmeal. Protein-rich foods like cheese, plain greek yogurt, and sunflower seeds are also good choices. Most table scraps you have on hand will also be suitable as an alternative. Bugs like black soldier fly larvae (which are remarkably easy to cultivate), worms, and crickets are options as well. Just be sure to steer clear of beans!

What Do Chickens Eat Naturally?

What chickens eat naturally (and that will cost you next to nothing) is food you can produce in your backyard, such as green plants, vegetables, fruits, and seeds. Chickens will also naturally hunt for insects such as earthworms, slugs, grubs, black soldier fly larvae, and other creepy crawlies. This alternative feed for chickens is cost-effective, full of protein, and can be found in their natural habitat.

However, before attempting to use any of the above as dinner for your flock, you should be aware of what food can harm to your flock if you’re considering an alternative feed for chickens. Bad food such as salt, sugar, coffee, or liquor and any uncooked raw or dried beans, raw green potato skins (which can contain a poison called solanine). Onions also are a poor food to give to chickens.

What Scraps Not To Feed Chickens?

What foods are toxic to chickens? Well, plenty. For starters, chickens should never consume anything moldy or rotten because it can make them sick. The chart below lists various foods and scraps that chickens shouldn’t eat:

Vegetables Fruit Legumes Grains Other
Potato skins Avocado skins & pits Dried beans Dry rice Salt
Onions Apple seeds Uncooked beans Chocolate
Chards Peach pits Lots of sugar
Rhubarb leaves Coffee

What Is The Cheapest Way To Feed Chickens?

The cheapest alternative feed for chickens would be using table scraps that don’t include anything moldy or rotten. Other free chicken feed ideas are insects such as grubs, mealworms, or black soldier fly larvae (or crawfish, if they’re in your region). Mixing your own non-gmo organic chicken feed is another option, especially if you can bulk buy ingredients at a lower cost. We have an article about making your own homemade chicken feed here.

Do Chickens Need Food And Water At Night?

Chickens typically only eat food and drink water when they are awake during the day. At night, chickens prefer to roost and get some sleep. However, there’s nothing wrong with leaving food and water in the coop overnight (especially water) if you don’t have a rodent problem. You should always make sure the feed won’t attract predators. A chicken feeder that automatically closes at night is always a good option.

What Vitamins Are Good For Chickens?

Like people, chickens need all the vitamins they can get. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can produce numerous health problems for chickens (including poor egg production), so it’s important to feed them a balanced poultry diet enriched with vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, Biotin, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin, Choline, Folic Acid, and Pantothenic Acid. Also, minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, phosphorus, and, manganese are important. Most commercial chicken feeds have all the vitamins and minerals your hens need. To ensure your flock has enough calcium to produce good eggshells, you can offer an additional supplement like oyster shells.

What Can I Grow For Chicken Feed?

You can grow garden cover crops such as alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, and annual rye. In your garden, you can grow tomatoes, leafy greens like kale or spinach, wheat (can be sprouted into fodder), bell peppers, sunchokes (boil and mash to feed), corn, and herbs. Just remember that you will need to feed your chickens year round, so if you want to grow feed for your chickens, have a plan to preserve some. Other chicken feed ingredients you can grow are wheat and millet.

If you’re wondering what to feed chickens to lay eggs, it’s important to give your flock plenty of protein. So, if you really want to grow your own chicken feed, it’s a good idea to also raise mealworms or other insects so your hens have plenty of protein.

How Much Should I Feed My Chickens?

Ideally, you should feed your chickens about 1/4 pound of feed per chicken per day, or, 1.5 pounds of feed per chicken per week. Environmental conditions, such as whether it’s very hot or very cold, can also effect how much you should feed your flock. In the winter, you’ll likely want to increase their rations so they can produce enough body heat. If your flock isn’t laying eggs consistently, you’ll want to increase their diet, as well. Typically, chicken feed 50-pound bags are sold at stores to make it easier.

Are Oats Good For Chickens?

Yes! You’ll read varying opinions about this, but oats are perfectly fine to feed your flock. You can feed them dry or made into a mash. Quick oats and instant oats are fine as well – just make sure they’re plain, and without any extra preservatives or ingredients. During very cold nights, many owners make their chickens oatmeal to give them extra energy at night. In the summer, you can mix oatmeal into frozen suet cakes.

Will Chickens Eat Roaches?

A great alternative feed for chickens are bugs – chickens love them! While there are many critters hens love to eat, cockroaches are one of them! If you raise cockroaches, then you’re in for a treat. Chickens love chasing them, and they’re full of protein.

Is Peanut Butter Good For Chickens?

While peanut butter (natural, no salt, no added ingredients) is okay for chickens to eat, it’s not the best for them. A high-quality layer feed is better. However, there’s nothing in peanut butter that will hurt them, as long as it’s 100% natural with no salt or added ingredients. Honey is also healthy for chickens, so you can mix it with honey if you want!

Summary

There’s a lot of alternative feed options for backyard chickens. However, it’s important to make sure your flock has the right amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals in their diet. Otherwise, you might not get as many eggs!

What’s your favorite alternative feed for chickens? Leave a comment below!

Why Won’t My Hens Use Their Nesting Boxes?

Why Won’t My Hens Use Their Nesting Boxes?

Is your flock refusing to lay eggs in their nesting boxes? Want to spoil your hens by creating a nesting area that’s beautiful and inviting? In this article, I’ll show you 7 most common reasons why chickens refuse to use their nesting boxes, what to do about it, and how to provide the best nesting area possible.

It can be heartbreaking and confusing when your flock lays their eggs on the ground instead of the carefully designed nesting boxes you provide. Nobody wants dirty, poop-crusted eggs! It’s also disappointing when they start hiding their eggs or stop laying completely. You spend so much time and money setting up their nesting area, after all! It can be really, really frustrating. 

Getting your flock to consistently use their boxes can take some trial and error, but it CAN be done. It all starts with providing an attractive and inviting nesting area. With the easy ideas below, you can discover if you’re making some very common mistakes in your own coop. If your hens aren’t laying eggs, be sure to print this article out. You can use it as a checklist.

Let’s cover the common reasons why your chickens might avoid laying eggs in a nesting box.

Common Reasons Chickens Won’t Use Nesting Boxes

  1. Too much noise & commotion
  2. There’s mites in the nesting area
  3. The boxes smell or are dirty
  4. The bedding is wrong
  5. Nesting boxes are too high or too low
  6. Your hens don’t like the material your nesting boxes are made out of
  7. They don’t have enough nesting boxes 

Chickens Like Their Privacy

It’s true. Even though they’re incredibly social animals, chickens like privacy when doing their most intimate business – laying eggs. Why is this? When a hen lays an egg, it can take up to 1 hour for the egg to actually emerge from her vent. She must stay still and quiet the entire time. In the last few moments, before the egg is laid, she might even have to strain a little. As you can imagine, it’s not a time when she wants roosters, humans, or other hens bothering her!

If you locate your flock’s nesting boxes in a busy area, your hens might avoid it. Similarly, if they’re easily accessible to roosters or bossy alpha hens, it’s likely too stressful for a quieter hen. In these cases, she will find her own, more suitable, area. 

Make sure your flock’s nesting boxes are inside the coop. Choose a corner where there’s no feeders, waterers, dust bathing areas, swings, or anything else that can attract another chicken to the area. Dedicate that nesting area just for laying eggs. Your hens will appreciate it!

Are Mites A Problem?

We all know what mites are. But did you know they can hide in nesting boxes? Not only that, they can turn a cozy, daydreamy nesting box into a nightmare. Eventually, mites can even cause death. If your flock’s nesting boxes are infested, your hens might avoid them altogether.

So, how do you know if there’s mites? Personally, I automatically assume mites will creep in, especially if I don’t do preventative maintenance. Regularly cleaning nesting areas helps. Spraying the area down with a cleaning solution and scrubbing it regularly is a simple but effective strategy. An all natural cleaner made from citrus is a cost-effective option. 

But don’t stop there. Cleaning prevents existing mites from making the boxes a home, but it doesn’t stop the invasion completely. Do double duty by adding herbs traditionally used to prevent external parasites to your nesting area. Herbs are a cost effective and all natural solution that can discourage mites from returning. Mites can cause anemia, which usually requires a visit to the vet to diagnose and cure. So preventing them is cheaper than a big vet bill. Always make sure to source your blends from a reliable source. We use this herb blend because it’s created specifically for chickens.

chicken mites and lice
A chicken with mites isn’t a comfortable chicken! Mites can make their nesting boxes an unhappy place to lay eggs. Get rid of them ASAP!

Does It Smell Bad? 

Finding eggs on your coop floor? Not always cleaning your nesting boxes when they need it? Then your hens are likely avoiding the smelly, confined areas. 

Who wants to lay in a dirty, stinky bed? Nobody. And your hens aren’t any different. Lots of things happen in nesting areas that humans can’t see. As the box gets dirtier and dirtier, problems compound. Eggs break. A hen drops manure or urine. Ammonia builds up. Their eyes start stinging. Feathers get stuck everywhere. It’s unpleasant.

The simplest way to avoid this is to clean the nesting boxes weekly. Remove all bedding, and do a wipe down. Then, add clean bedding and herbs. For a more detailed explanation, you can read this article to learn how to clean a coop.

It’s also important to clean any unusual messes as quickly as possible. For example, if an egg breaks, don’t allow the smell to fester and the egg to dry. It’ll be hard to get the stench out of your flock’s feathers. You’ll spend even more time cleaning. You’ll end up with stinky chickens in addition to no eggs. You want to avoid wetness, stickiness, and bad smells. Clean the box immediately, and replace any bedding and herbs. 

Which brings us to an important point: great smelling herbs are an easy way to keep your flock using their nesting boxes. Chickens are animals, and smells are very important. It’s how they understand their surroundings. They use scent to determine if an area is safe or not. We’ve found that adding herbs and dried flowers creates a more inviting area that smells better. Instead of repelling our chickens, the herbs invite our flock to use their nesting boxes. 

We like this product, which is full of fragrant, healthy herbs and flowers like calendula, lavender, chamomile, rose petals, and more. The herbs are all healthy for chickens, and other buyers report the herbs attract their chickens to nesting boxes better than just bedding alone.

Herbs can make any nesting box more attractive. This blend smells great, and chickens love it!

Is The Bedding Wrong?

Have you always used a certain type of bedding? Or, are you not using bedding at all? Chickens are sensitive, like a lot of prey animals. Bedding that doesn’t suit them – for whatever reason – can stop them from using their nesting boxes. If your flock won’t use your nesting boxes, try out different bedding options. Straw and pine shavings are two popular options. Adding herbs to bedding can also help attract your hens. In our coop, we use pine shavings from Tractor Supply and Best Eggs Ever! Nesting Box Herbs. Our flock enjoys them, and our hens always give us about a dozen eggs a day. 

Adding ENOUGH bedding is important, also. What would you rather sit on: a thin cushion or a nice, fluffy pillow? Personally, I’d opt for the fluffy pillow. I’m sure your chickens feel the same. 

When they lay eggs, the hens tuck their legs under them and bed down. Sitting on hard, cold metal hurts the shank of their legs and their toes. If their coop floor offers nice, fluffy shavings, they’ll likely opt to lay their eggs on the softer area. Add at least 1 inch of shavings per nesting box, and top it with ½ cup of herbs and flowers. Adding extra bedding and herbs can cost a bit extra, but it’s better than spending money on feed with no eggs to show for it! Your hens will show their appreciation by giving you lovely butt nuggets!

Whatever bedding you choose, just make sure to stay away from cedar shavings. While they smell good, some studies have shown that the aroma can have a long-term negative impact on your flock’s health. 

Are The Boxes Too High Or Too Low?

It’s true, sometimes chickens can sometimes be picky. While we have a lot of nesting options in our coop, for whatever reason, our flock refuses to use any that are placed too high. There’s a Goldilocks zone. If a new nesting box isn’t within those parameters, they ignore it. 

For example, a company sent us some nesting boxes to test out. The product looked perfect. But we committed a cardinal sin (at least a sin in the eyes of our chickens): We placed the boxes higher than our other nesting boxes. The hens promptly ignored them. As soon as we lowered the boxes, our chickens used them. 

It can go the opposite way, too. Sometimes nesting boxes are TOO close to the ground, and hens avoid them. This happens especially if the nesting boxes are directly on the ground. There’s a lot less privacy, and potential for opportunistic predators to infest the area to steal eggs. Bossy hens, roosters, rats, snakes, skunks, or other predators can easily enter the box. Because it’s not safe, chickens then lay their eggs in undesirable areas. 

If everything else in your coop seems okay, then perhaps the height of your boxes is the problem. Try lowering them or raising them to see how your flock reacts. It can be a chore, but so is an Easter egg hunt every day. In the long run, you’ll be happier with the results by finding your flock’s “ Goldilocks Zone.”

Choose Materials Your Hens Prefer

When we purchased our new coop, I had visions of easily removable plastic nesting boxes. I wanted to power wash them weekly to keep them dirt free. My flock had other plans. To this day, they refuse to use plastic nesting boxes. Instead, they’re fans of stainless steel. I’m still scratching my head, but that’s just the way it is.

Nesting boxes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made of wood, stainless steel, plastic, wicker, and any other material you can imagine. Like people, chickens have their own preferences. This is especially true if you have an opinionated alpha hen. She can influence an entire flock. And sometimes, chickens just prefer one type of nesting box over another. 

For example, if your nesting boxes are made of cedar, it’s possible your hens want to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. If the boxes are plastic, maybe they’re just too slippery. If it’s winter, maybe the stainless steel gets too cold. In the summer, maybe it’s too warm. Maybe it’s too sharp or too hard, and it hurts them. 

Examine your own flock’s habits. Observe them as they interact with the nesting boxes. From there, you can figure out if they’re avoiding their boxes because they don’t like what the boxes are made from. You’d be surprised what you can learn by spending a few hours watching your chickens. You might end up investing in new nesting boxes,  but it’s cheaper than getting a big feed bill with no eggs to show for it.

When they love their boxes, hens will double up to use them!

Make Sure You Have Enough Nesting Boxes

It’s best to have approximately 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. Yes, sometimes your hens will all use the same nesting box. But please give them plenty of options. For example, if you have 5 chickens, 2-3 nesting boxes is best. For 10 hens, then 3 nesting boxes is a good number. If you have 15 hens, 5 boxes is best.

Why is this ratio important? It comes down to promoting good behavior and cleanliness. Let’s pretend two or more hens need to lay eggs at the same time. Where will all these lovely ladies lay? Sometimes, two chickens can pile into a nesting box. 

But most boxes can’t accommodate more than two hens. More importantly, they shouldn’t. When hens pile into a box, chaos happens. Eggs break, and fights start. If it’s hot, your hens can overheat. Somebody can get smushed or suffocate. Your hens might avoid the boxes altogether because it’s too stressful.

Having plenty of nesting boxes also prevents bullying. If you have a dominant hen, she might stop other hens from laying in “her” box. Then, the other hens start laying in undesirable areas. They have to lay somewhere! To avoid all these disasters, just follow this simple strategy. Build 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. You’ll get better eggs and have happier hens!

Final Thoughts

Yes, some chickens can be picker than others. But if your flock has suddenly stopped using their boxes altogether OR if they never used them to begin with, it’s pretty safe to say your flock’s tastes aren’t the only issue. Likely, the problem is environmental. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few ideas you can test in your own coop. You don’t need to implement every single strategy we discussed. But if you notice your flock is laying eggs in undesirable areas, it’s worth printing out this article and using it as a checklist. From there, you can determine whether you’re making any of the mistakes we covered. Good luck and let me know how it works out by leaving a comment below!

13 Best Winter Vegetables To Grow: Ultimate Guide

13 Best Winter Vegetables To Grow: Ultimate Guide

What are the best winter vegetables to grow?

 

This year, we purchased a 10 foot by 12 foot greenhouse just so we can grow more vegetables in the colder months here in Southeast Missouri.

Just because the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping, it doesn’t mean that you have to set your gardening gloves aside. Winter isn’t just a time to dream wistfully of the bountiful harvests of summer – it’s also a great time to plan for the year ahead, as well as to jumpstart your garden for next year. 

There are plenty of winter vegetables to grow, particularly if you live in an area that experiences mild winters. Even if you live in an area with more severe weather, there are plenty of ways to keep your garden growing throughout the coldest months of winter. 

The 13 Best Winter Vegetables to Grow 

1. Onions

Onions are easy to plant and you won’t have to do anything all winter. In most areas, onions have a long growing season and won’t be ready for harvest until next summer anyway. Just make sure you plan carefully because they will still be in the ground when it’s time to begin planting crops in the spring. 

2. Garlic

Garlic is an easy vegetable to grow and there are plenty of varieties to choose from. Even if you experience harsh winters, garlic can survive – you will just need to mulch it heavily to protect it from the heavy freeze. Consider growing options like Chesnok Red and Wight Cristo for a variety of culinary applications. You can learn how to grow garlic here and how to store garlic here.

3. Spinach

Spinach is a cold-hardy crop that can grow throughout much of the winter months in many areas. For the best results, choose perpetual spinach varieties, which will yield you multiple cuttings throughout the season. Sow in the early autumn and you’ll have a crop well into early summer. 

4. Peas

You may not be able to grow peas if you get a heavy snowfall, but in most cases, peas are quite cold hardy. Sow rounded variants in the fall for a headstart next spring. You can also learn how to preserve peas here.

5. Asparagus

Asparagus is a perennial and takes several years to establish. It can survive even the roughest winters in colder growing zones, and fall is the best time to plant it. Choose a variety meant to be planted in the fall, like Pacific Purple. Once you get it established, asparagus will produce up to 25 spears per year – for up to 25 years. You will need to be patient, but you will get a serious return on your investment. 

6. Parsley

One of the hardiest herbs you’ll find, parsley can sometimes survive up to zone 5 in the winter. It will yield bushy greens in the spring before going to spring. Curly parsley tends to be more frost-resistant than flat-leaf parsley.

7. Carrots

Carrots can be grown outside well into the winter months in many areas. Plant them directly in beds and mulch heavily. Carrots that are hit with a frost are often sweeter, so it may actually be to your benefit to keep growing them throughout the colder months. 

8. Leeks

Leeks are inexpensive and produce a bountiful harvest. You can harvest them throughout the year and as long as you have a mild winter, you don’t have to worry about them dying. 

9. Turnips

Turnips grow great during the winter months. As long as temperatures remain just above freezing, you should be able to harvest both the roots and the tops during the winter months. 

10. Leafy Greens

Kale, along with other cold-hardy leafy greens such as chard, lettuce, and bok choy, usually do just fine in the cold temperatures of the winter. You can usually harvest them straight through the winter months (and they’re great for chickens). 

In fact, most greens perform better in the winter. In the summer, these plants often go right to seed. Just don’t forget to water and fertilize when growing greens during the winter – even though they won’t need as much water, the drying air of winter can still sometimes be a problem. 

11. Potatoes

Depending on where you live, you might be able to grow potatoes all throughout the winter months. Although it’s not the best winter vegetables to grow, the potato is still a great option if you experience minimal snowfall. Learn more about growing potatoes in containers here and curing potatoes here.

12. Radishes 

Radishes mature quickly, with some varieties ready in just a month from when you have seeded them. They also don’t need a lot of heat – too much heat damages the texture and flavor of delicate radishes – so they’re perfect candidates for winter growing. 

13. Broad Beans

A sturdier variety of green beans, broad beans can often be planted in fall gardens because they are heartier and more rugged than their narrower cousins. These plants can be grown directly in the winter garden in many areas with mild winters, or they can be grown in an unheated greenhouse. 

Tips for Growing Vegetables in the Winter Months 

Use a Hoop House or Greenhouse

Growing winter vegetables outdoors might be possible in areas that don’t experience hard freezes or heavy snowfall, but if you live in a colder climate, that might not be an option. However, if you have a greenhouse or hoop house (a greenhouse covered in plastic instead of glass, you can easily grow some plants throughout the entire season. Here are some plants to consider:

  • Salad mixes (mustard, lettuce, land cress, etc)
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Thyme 
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes

You can even grow many flowers and fruits in your greenhouse, too!

If you have a greenhouse, you can choose to leave it heated or unheated. Some warm-weather plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and squash can even be grown during the winter months, too. As long as you heat the greenhouse and transfer these plants to pots, you may be able to get them well into the next growing season. 

Consider a Cold Frame 

Cold frames are a great way to extend your growing season, even if you live in a colder growing zone like 3 or 4. Essentially miniature greenhouse over your plants, cold frames can be purchased dor built inexpensively from scrap lumber and glass. 

Just be sure to vent your cold frames, as too much heat can become an enemy to plants in the winter even more quickly than too much cold can. Trapping too much hot air inside can not only dry your plants out but it can also conversely lead to fungal issues should too much moisture also get in there. 

Don’t have the time or resources to buy or build your own cold frame? Don’t worry. You can easily construct a DIY version by positioning hay bales on all sides of a planting bed and then covering the area between with old windows. 

Don’t Forget About Dormant Plants

Some plants might not actually grow during the winter months, but they won’t die back, either. They will simply remain dormant until the temperatures rise and growth can resume. Consider planting a winter vegetable garden in the late summer or early fall so that the vegetables have time to get established before they go dormant.

Mulch 

Mulching can help protect your crops from becoming too dry or frozen. It will also keep the soil warmer when temperatures plummet. Consider using mulch materials like straw or dried leaves, which will help nourish the soil as they break down, too. 

Do a Deep Clean

Even if you have a long list of winter vegetables to grow, that doesn’t mean you can neglect your normal fall planting chores. Cut away any dead foliage and make sure you throw out any diseased or damaged plants. This will prevent rot and also stop pest eggs from proliferating. 

Know Which Plants to Bring Inside

Indoor gardening is a great option for many gardeners who can’t keep things going during the winter months, either due to extreme temperatures and precipitation or because they simply don’t want to garden outside during the winter. 

Many plants can be grown inside in containers. Cold-sensitive plants like tomatoes and peppers are great candidates for this, as are many herbs. 

Protect from Frost and Wind

You can’t control when a frost might strike, but you can take steps to protect your plants. Cover frost-sensitive varieties up with blankets, sheets, or row covers that are draped over stakes. This will help get them through brief cold snaps at the very least. You can also consider heating your greenhouse.

Select Ideal Varieties

Try a variety of crops to see what works best for you, keeping your growing zone and gardening preference in mind. You might also want to experiment a bit with timing to see what planting schedule and rhythms work. Put in new crops whenever you see an empty space and save seeds when you find varieties that perform exceptionally well in your area. 

Why You Should Consider the Best Winter Vegetables to Grow

Winter gardening is a great way to keep the garden going all year long. Not only will it help satisfy your green thumb urges during the colder months of the year, but it will also provide you with plenty of healthy vegetables at a time when they are normally scarce on your dinner plate. 

Plus, growing vegetables in the winter is surprisingly easy. They will naturally grow a bit slower, but you’ll have fewer weeds to contend with. You may not even need to water much between mid-November and mid-February! 

You can start with this list of best vegetables to grow in winter. Try lots of crops to see what works best for you – perhaps start with just one this year and add more varieties as you gain experience. Stay warm!

What Can Chickens Eat In Your Garden? Planning a Chicken Garden for All Seasons: Spring

What Can Chickens Eat In Your Garden? Planning a Chicken Garden for All Seasons: Spring

What can chickens eat in your garden? Well, plenty. But you have to grow something first! And luckily, this article will show you everything you can grow as treats for your backyard chickens and ducks!

I’ve invited my friend Julia of ReformStead.com to tell us how she transforms her garden into a chicken garden each year! Growing fruits and veggies for your chickens is easy – and it’s a great way to provide fresh produce to your flock!

Planting a Chicken Garden In Spring

Planting a garden is a great way to provide an abundance of fresh, healthy food for your backyard chicken flock. It’s easy to add some of your chicken’s favorites to the garden and grow them alongside your family’s vegetables.  All you have to do is harvest and feed them to your chickens once they are ripe. As a bonus, this can help you save money on your chicken’s feed bill. With a little planning, you can do your best to provide your flock with access to these fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

What can chickens eat with tomatoes and hens

What Can Chickens Eat In Your Garden?

How to Plan & Grow a Seasonal Garden for Your Chickens

Planning a garden for your chickens doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s a good idea to have something green, or fresh, for them year-round. Pasture grass can serve this purpose during warmer seasons, however extra produce is still good for them in addition to pasture.

It’s also good to keep in mind that your chickens lay more eggs when the weather is nice, and that’s usually when you’ll harvest the most fresh vegetables. Greens high in omega-3’s, herbs, and any fresh garden produce is especially good to feed your chickens during this time (you can find a complete list of alternative feed for chickens here).

If you’re wondering “What can chickens eat from the garden,” in the following lists, I’ve focused on produce that your chickens will love best and that are easy to grow. However, don’t forget “weeds” like purslane, mallow, dandelion, and many more are great for chickens. Make sure to harvest these “weed” greens for them too as you find them in your garden this year.  Before we get to the list though, let’s talk about what chickens can eat, and what they should avoid.  

What Garden Produce Do Chickens Eat?

It is important to know what chickens can and cannot eat before you plan your garden. Chickens can eat practically anything, within reason. For starters, here’s a list of 107 things a chicken can eat. There are a few plants/foods you’ll want to avoid growing for your chickens.

Not advisable for chickens:

  • Rhubarb
  • Tomato & Eggplant Leaves (tomato fruits are fine)
  • Raw Potatoes & Green Potato Skins
  • Uncooked dry Beans & Rice
  • Onions and peppers aren’t going to be their favorites either

However, there is some debate over whether or not some of these are really bad for chickens. You can read more details in my article, 11 Things Not to Feed Chickens, where I go into this subject in more detail.

What to Grow & When for Your Chickens: Spring

Chicken Gardening by Month: Zones 3-4

Last frost date (average): May 15th

April

Start Indoors:

Start Outside:

  • Beets (chickens will eat leaves & root if you cook it for them.)
  • Radishes (chickens will eat leaves & root)
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Plant fruit trees/shrubs

(Chickens love fallen mulberries and they drop tons of fruit–good for the chickens, but make sure to plant away from walkways and living areas. Figs, elderberries, and blackberries are also good options.)

Find out what else to plant in April here.

May

Start Indoors:

  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Basil
  • Dill

Start Outside:

  • Beets (chickens will eat leaves & root if you cook it for them.)
  • Carrots
  • Radishes (chickens will eat leaves & root)
  • Lettuce
  • Kale

After the last frost, you can transplant seedlings out (after hardening them off) and plant squash, melons, tomatoes, basil, dill, etc., from seed.

Find out what else to plant in May here.

If you want to buy produce at the farmers market, here’s what’s in season.

June

Transplant seedlings

  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Pretty much all herbs

Find out what else to plant in June here

Find a list of what’s in season at the farmer’s market here.

Chicken Gardening by Month: Zones 5-7

Last frost date (average): April 15th

April

Start Indoors:

  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Rosemary (potted)

Start Outside:

  • Basil
  • Beets (chickens will eat leaves & root if you cook it for them.)
  • Carrots (Plant early in the month. chickens will eat leaves & root)
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes (chickens will eat leaves & root)
  • Plant fruit trees/shrubs (Chickens love fallen mulberries, figs, elderberries, blackberries and more.)
  • After last frost set out transplants, and continue to plant warm loving crops from seed (squash, melons, corn, etc.)
  • Rosemary (potted)

Find out what else to plant in April here.

May

Start Outside:

  • Beets (chickens will eat leaves & root if you cook it for them.)
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Squash
  • Radishes
  • Rosemary (Potted)
  • Tomatoes
  • Melons
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Basil
  • Pretty much all herbs

Find out what else to plant in May here.

If you want to buy produce at the farmers market, here’s what’s in season.

June

Start Outside:

  • Tomatoes (potted)
  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Herbs

Find out what else to plant in June here

Find a list of what’s in season at the farmer’s market here.

Chicken Gardening by Month: Zone 8

Last frost date (average): March 15th

April

Plant outdoors:

  • Corn
  • Melons
  • Tomatoes (learn to grow tomatoes here)
  • Squash
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Pretty much all herbs
  • Rosemary 

Find out what else to plant in April here.

May

  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes

Find out what else to plant in May here.

If you want to buy produce at the farmers market, here’s what’s in season.

June

Find out what else to plant in June here

Find a list of what’s in season at the farmer’s market here.

Chicken Gardening by Month: Zone 9

Last frost date (average): February 15th

(These are some of the slowest months for planting in zone 9–things are just too hot out. However, even these few plants will help your chickens a lot as we wait until the cooler months come again.)

April

  • Basil
  • Corn
  • Muskmelons
  • Radishes
  • Rosemary (Potted. I like to plant it by their coop, protect it the first few years until established and then let them eat it and enjoy the shade–they love the plant!)
  • Squash

Find out what else to plant in April here.

May

  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Moringa (I have this planted behind our chicken coop. I imagine they eat the leaves, but I know they love to hang out back there in the shade. This is a more tropical plant are requires warmth with little to no frost. It grows great in our zone 9, and it would do well in zone 10. Very easy to grow from seed.)
  • Muskmelons

Find out what else to plant in May here.

If you want to buy produce at the farmers market, here’s what’s in season.

June

  • Basil
  • Muskmelons
  • Start tomato seeds indoors for fall
  • Moringa

Find out what else to plant in June here

Find a list of what’s in season at the farmer’s market here.

Julia Hubler lives in Arizona on two and a half acres, with HOT summers, lots of cacti and amazing sunsets! A sinner saved by grace first and foremost, she is also a homeschool graduate living with her family at home and serving the King, Jesus Christ, above all. She blogs at ReformStead.com about everything homesteading. You can also follow her on Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/reformstead/ , Instagram https://www.instagram.com/reformstead/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/reformstead/ .

Still wonder “what can chickens eat in your garden?” Probably not – there’s so many options! Have fun planting your chicken garden this spring!

How Much Does It Cost Own A Chicken? Egg Cost Comparison

How Much Does It Cost Own A Chicken? Egg Cost Comparison

Many beginners wonder “How much does it cost to own a chicken?” And in this article, we’re going to talk specifics about how chicken keeping can effect your wallet.

Like many things in life, you can make chicken keeping as expensive or inexpensive as you want.

Now, just how much does it cost to own a chicken? It is important to take into account the kinds of things you’ll spend money on and the ongoing costs that come with having a backyard full of fluffy butts.

Here’s your “chicken cost calculator” guide!

How Much Does It Cost Own A Chicken?

For 5 chickens:

  • Regular feed typically costs about $30 per month, non-GMO feed about $150 per month
  • A coop can cost from $1 to $2,000
  • Bedding costs about $20 per month
  • Feeders & waterers cost about $5 each
  • Baby chicks cost about $5, adult chickens cost $1 to $30 on average

You can read more about the bedding I recommend here.

 

How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Chicken?

Buying a baby chicken can cost anything from a few cents to hundreds of dollars (for purebred breeding-quality chickens). On average, though baby chicks should cost less than $5 for most chicken breeds. The specific cost depends on a variety of factors, such as the sex of the chicken (females usually cost more than males), how rare the breed is (rare breeds cost more), and if it is a hybrid chicken (like an Easter Egger). Started pullets, which are young female chickens that are about 4 weeks old,, cost on average $15 to $25 each. Laying hens can cost anywhere from $10 (for mixed breeds) to $100 (purebred from a hatchery). Certain breeds, like the all black chicken Ayam Cemani, can cost up to $5,000!

  • Baby chicks: Starting at $1, averaging about $5
  • Started pullets (4 weeks – 16 weeks): About $15 – $25
  • Laying Hens: About $10 to $100, depending on breed

Here’s where to buy baby chicks and started pullets. If you only want female chickens (pullets), then learn how to sex baby chicks here. Layers are easiest to buy in your local area.

 

How Much Does A Pullet Cost?

It depends on the breed, but started pullets are on average around $15 to $25, although this amount varies by location. If you purchase one from a hatchery, you will also need to pay shipping. It’s typically best to buy a started pullet in your local area.

How Do You Get Chickens In Your Backyard?

To start raising chickens in your backyard, first make sure you can have chickens! Otherwise, you might have a nasty surprise visit from your city/town officials, and, heartbreakingly, you might have to re-home your flock. If you’re sure it’s okay to have chickens, you will need to make sure all their basic necessities such as the coop (or brooder, if they’re chicks), feed, water, and etc are covered. You can learn more about what backyard chickens need here.  You can also find out where to buy baby chicks here.

If you want to hatch chicks from eggs (you can get eggs from a local dealer – just make sure the flock has a rooster), you’ll need an incubator, You can read about the best incubators I recommend here, and my favorite incubator here.

Where Can I Buy Egg Laying Chickens?

You can buy egg laying chickens at a hatchery, your local farm store (like Tractor Supply, Orschelns, Southern States, or Rural King, depending on your region), or from a local breeder. To find a local breeder, it’s best to ask at farm stores in your area, or look on Facebook for groups. If you want a specific breed, you can search Facebook for breeder groups. If you plan to use a hatchery, choose one near you – the chicks will be shipped overnight or 2 day priority. A hatchery close to you means the chicks will have less time in transit.

Here’s a list of recommended hatcheries that will ship chicks to you:

  • Cackle Hatchery (this is the hatchery I personally use)
  • Murray McMurray
  • Meyer Hatchery
  • Ideal Hatchery
  • My Pet Chicken
  • Stromberg’s Chicks
  • Freedom Ranger Hatchery

When purchasing chicks from a local farm store, be sure to note the welfare of the chicks – if they don’t look healthy, or their crates don’t look clean, DO NOT BUY!!

Feeding Chickens

How much does it cost to feed a chicken per month?

On average, it costs $0.15 to feed your chickens per day, with organic feed costing at around $0.60 per pound. For a flock of 5 chickens, you will likely spend less than $30 a month, if you feed a 16% layer feed found at local farm stores. For organic feed, you will spend more – about $150 per month. If you feed treats like black soldier fly larvae or mixed treats like BEE A Happy Hen (which is really popular), you need to factor those costs in as well. However, it doesn’t pay to be cheap – chickens are living creatures, and you will need to feed them well so they lay healthy eggs for you. I have a list of what chickens can eat here.

How much should I feed a chicken?

The amount to feed a chicken varies, however, on average, 1 chicken needs about ½ – 1 cup of feed daily. You can free feed your chickens (you can use one of the chicken feeders I recommend here) or put a meal out for them daily. Check their weight and general health frequently, and increase their feed if they need it. If you see them wasting a lot of feed, then decrease the amount you’re putting out for them (or use a no-waste chicken feeder).

Do chickens need herbal supplements?

While not strictly necessary, you can offer your flock herbal supplements (such as nesting herbs, or mixing herbs in their feed) to ensure that they will be at their optimum health – and a healthy immune system will protect them against common diseases. Remember that treating unhealthy chickens can impact your wallet and result in a lost flock member.

How much does a free range chicken cost?

If you plan to free range your chickens, you can save some money on their feed. However, it’s still advisable to feed them a 16% layer feed. For a flock of 5 chickens, you will likely spend less than $30 a month, if you feed a 16% layer feed found at local farm stores. If you want to feed your hens non-GMO feed, it typically costs about $150 per month. If you feed treats like black soldier fly larvae or mixed treats like PowerHen, you need to factor those costs in as well. If you want your chickens to lay eggs for you, then you’ll need to feed them well. Free range chickens might not get all the nutrients they need, or they might eat stuff that effects the nutritional value of their eggs. I have a list of what chickens can eat here. You can find a list of alternative feeds for chickens here, if you really don’t want to purchase chicken feed.

Buying Eggs vs. Keeping Chickens

Is it cheaper to have chickens or buy eggs?

If you simply want to save money, it’s cheapest to buy your eggs from a grocery store or allow your own flock to free range permanently. However, there’s other issues with both of those options. For starters, the industrial egg industry, being concerned with profits, typically does not provide their chickens with healthy, happy lives and there’s multiple animal welfare issues. Many of these chickens are killed or otherwise disposed of after 12 – 18 months. They’re usually confined to cages or very crowded living conditions. In some cases, they’re given antibiotics continuously, which does show up in their eggs. The quality of the eggs is poor. If you’re conscious of your food sources, or an animal lover, consider raising chickens yourself or getting your eggs from a local supplier, where you can be sure the animals are treated with respect.

Chickens that free range permanently tend to have happier lives than chickens that are kept by the egg industry. However, they tend to hide their eggs (which defeats the purpose of raising them for eggs), or stop laying eggs altogether. They might also become flighty, since they have to fend for themselves (since free range chickens aren’t typically provided secure coops and runs) against chicken predators.

Another option is to allow your chickens to feed off your compost pile, develop a mealworm breeding farm, or raise black soldier fly larvae (which can also feed off your compost pile). During spring, summer, and fall months, you can provide some type of free feed to your hens (through your compost pile) but the nutritional value of your eggs isn’t guaranteed, nor is the health of your flock.

Remember that once you have an established flock, keeping chickens is a relatively low cost because unlike other pets you can greatly profit from them since they produce food for you.

How many eggs does a chicken lay a day?

Chickens lay only one egg per day (unless they’ve laid an egg inside an egg – then technically, they’ve laid two. You can read more about abnormal eggs here.) Remember that there will be some days where they won’t lay eggs at all since a hen’s body take 24 – 26 hours to fully form one egg.

Chicken Coop Costs

How much does a chicken coop cost?

The chicken coop cost is typically around $200 to $2000 if you buy them from Amazon or another store.  You can build your own chicken coop for around $100 or less (for a very simple structure) or, if you can find pallets, you can build it for the cost of nails. You can find 55+ free chicken coop plans here and a list of free pallet barn plans here. You can also find a list of what your coop should include here. You can find reviews of different chicken wire options here.

These are the coops on Amazon that we recommend:

Is it cheaper to buy a coop or build one?

It depends primarily on the materials you use and the features your coop will have. Many low cost coops (around $200 – $300) are very cheap and will break after 1 or 2 years, regardless of what the manufacturer promises. In the long run, it’s cheaper to invest in a good coop or garden shed (that can be converted into a coop) or to build a coop yourself with good quality materials.

Remember that if you purchase a garden shed and convert it into a coop, you can always convert it back into a garden shed if you decide chickens aren’t for you – so this makes buying a good quality building worth the investment and it might increase your property value.

Keeping Chickens For Beginners

What are the best chickens for beginners?

Here’s a list of champion egg laying chicken breeds:

  • Cochins
  • Delaware
  • Easter Eggers
  • Jersey Giants
  • Marans
  • Rhode Island Reds

You can also read about more chicken breeds here.

Cochins

Cochins are a lot of fun to own because they’re hardy, lay brown eggs consistently, and enjoy human company. You can get a full-sized cochin or the bantam variety – and both have feathered feet! The bantams will eat less but will also lay smaller eggs. You can read about cochin chickens here.

 

Delaware

Delawares are excellent laying chickens that can produce up to 5 brown eggs per week. They’re cold hardy, distinctive looking, and friendly.

Easter Eggers

Great for beginners because they lay consistently of about 250 eggs per year – and you might even get blue eggs! (Or green, or pink…..it just depends on the genetics of the individual hen.) You can read more about Easter Eggers here and other blue egg laying breeds here. If you definitely want blue eggs, you can learn about Ameraucanas here and Araucanas here.

Jersey Giants

Jersey Giants are a heritage chicken breed, and also one of the largest purebred chickens in the United States. They’re great egg layers producing at around 200 eggs per year.

Marans

Marans are pretty quiet, disease-resistant, and are cold-hardy chickens that don’t require a lot of work. The hens lay chocolate-colored eggs (although how dark they are will depend on the individual chicken). They’re great layers producing approximately 250 per year.

Rhode Island Reds

Rhode Island Reds are another heritage chicken breed that’s pretty popular. They require little care (except for food, water, a clean coop, and vet care), but lay large brown eggs 4-5 times a week.

Is it hard to raise chickens for eggs?

No, but like any other pet, you need to ensure they’re safe, have access to food and water, and a clean home. They’re easier than dogs or cats because they can feed and water themselves (as long as you use a gravity feeder or a DIY chicken waterer that allows them to free-feed). And unlike dogs or cats, they don’t need to be let in and out of the house constantly.

It you’re concerned about the work, it’s best to start with 3 hens, and a small coop. You can always expand and build a bigger coop later. Chickens will produce eggs if they feel they are protected and are in a healthy and spacious environment. As long as you provide this, they should prove no trouble to raise for eggs.

Selling Chickens & Eggs for Profit

How much is a live chicken worth?

A live chicken will on average cost around $3 to $30 depending on the breed and age of the chicken. Here’s some general guidelines:

  • Baby chicks: Starting at $1, averaging about $5
  • Started pullets (4 weeks – 16 weeks): About $15 – $25
  • Laying Hens: About $10 to $100, depending on breed

How much is a full grown chicken worth?

A full grown chicken can cost at around $1 to $5,000 depending on the breed and sex of the bird. Barnyard mixes (chickens of unknown lineage) can cost $1 while prized breeds like Ayam Cemani can cost $5,000. Age is also a factor: hens that come from the egg laying industry might be 12 months old, but cost $1. Older hens might be less (or even free), while chicks that are 6 months old (so, just starting to lay eggs) might cost more because they have a lot of egg laying year left. So, best to do your research first in locking down your ideal bird, then calculate how much does it cost to own a chicken for your area.

Can I make money from eggs?

POssibly. This will depend on a variety of factors, including how much it costs to raise your chickens, what your chickens eat, and how much people will pay for eggs in your area. If you only sell a dozen eggs for $1, then it’s harder to turn a profit. But if you sell your eggs for $6 a dozen, then you’ll make money, as long as your chickens cost less than $6 to feed. It’s best to write a detailed spreadsheet of expenses, then base your cost per dozen eggs off that.

How much are baby chicks worth?

The average baby chick sells for $5, depending on the breed. Purebred and unusual breeds will sell for more (maybe $7 – $10), while mixed breeds will sell for $1 or $2. Chicks over 1 week typically sell for less, also (since farm stores don’t want to keep them longer than 1 – 2 weeks). If you’re planning to hatch eggs yourself, then you will want to sell the chicks “straight run,” and tell buyers you aren’t sure whether the chicks are hens or roosters. You’ll need to decide whether you’ll sell purebred or a hybrid chicken. Cost of a baby chick varies based on these factors.

Can I sell chicken feathers?

Yes, you can sell chicken feathers – there are even special birds bred for their feathers. Many chicken owners sell feathers on Ebay or Etsy. Feathers are usually sold by the pound.

Do you still wonder “How much does it cost to own a chicken?” Do you think chicken-keeping is for you?