The Coronavirus is a powerful example of why local food and local resilience is so very important. In a crisis such as this, when lock-down can happen suddenly and when supply chains may be disrupted, having locally available food is a safety net that every community should have.
If you have a flock of chickens, you have a ready-made source of food for yourself. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and critical amino acids that can help keep your body strong and your immune system humming through the crisis.
But what happens if you are afraid to go out and pick up feed for your chickens?
What if local feed supplies run low? How do you feed your chickens so that you can keep having those nutritious eggs for yourself?
Alternative Chicken Feeds Exist Everywhere
Here are some alternative options for feeding your birds if the supply of commercial products runs low. Chickens have been feed by humans for thousands of year, long before pelleted feed and scratch were the staple diet of the modern chicken.
In fact you don’t need to wait for a crisis to use these alternative feeds on a regular basis. Check these out:
1. Kitchen Waste
Peels poulet: Kitchen waste makes excellent chicken feed! If you haven’t been feeding your vegetable trimming and leftovers to the birds, now is a great time to get acquainted with this practice. Chickens can eat most of the things we do – vegetables, rice, pasta, oatmeal, meat, leftover meals, old bread. They are happy to help you get rid of all the parts you don’t want to eat yourself and turn those scraps into fresh eggs.
If you already feed your kitchen scraps to your chickens, and need more feed still, then ask your neighbors for their scraps too. Now is a great time to create a local chicken-feed supply chain.
Remember to avoid feeding foods that are moldy because this could make your chickens sick.
- How to feed it? I usually feed kitchen scraps to the birds on a daily basis. You can put it out in a dish or feed pan and let the birds pick out what they want, or scatter it with their scratch. My birds routinely get a variety of feeds. I don’t worry if one day they get greens and the next day it is pasta leftovers. I just feed them whatever I have. They seem to enjoy the variety and hunting for their favorite things. Remember to pick up uneaten scraps and move them to the compost pile so you don’t attract rodents or end up with a moldy mess.
2. Clean out your cupboards and freezer
Cupboard Clutter: You know what I mean! All the stuff that gets shoved to the back of the cupboard and is too old for you to want to eat. Outdated supplies in your cupboard can be fed to chickens as long as they are not moldy. I avoid using food from damaged tins or jars with broken seals because these could be contaminated with bacteria that would be harmful to the chickens. Everything else is fair game for chickens in a pinch.
Freezer Detritus: And same goes for the stuff at the bottom of your freezer! If you dig down and find some freezer-burned meat or vegetables, you can thaw these out and feed them to the chickens.
- How to feed it? Typically if the item is something I would cook for myself to eat (like raw meat for example) then I would also cook it before feeding it to the chickens. Otherwise, I just treat it the same as I would the kitchen scraps. Use it as part of the daily feed for the birds, and let them pick and choose what they want.
3. Grocery Store Wastes
Shop From the Back Door: While restaurants may not be running, most grocery stores still are. Any store with a vegetable department has wasted food – stuff that has wilted, been dropped on the floor, is bruised or has sat out too long can make great alternative chicken feed. Usually you can get a bag or box of scraps if you ask for it, and it can develop into a regular free supply of food for your chicken.
- How to feed it? Usually things come whole – like whole celery or droopy broccoli for example. If your birds are adventurous you can feed it whole. I usually chop it up into small pieces to ensure that every bird gets some vegetables, instead of just the most dominant ones. I avoid onions, potatoes and citrus fruits when asking for grocery store scraps, but many other vegetables and fruits are fair game. My birds LOVE old bananas (but the peels go in the compost or worm bin).
4. Alfalfa hay
By the Bale: My birds LOVE when I give them alfalfa hay to play in. They scratch and dig and eat up the leaves. It keeps them busy and happy and is a nutritious supplement. Alfalfa typically has 18% protein which is higher than many commercial brands of chicken feed.
- How to feed it? Alfalfa hay usually comes by the bale. A small square bale can weigh anywhere from 50 to 80+ pounds. Sometimes smaller mini-squares are available. If you only have a few birds, one bale of alfalfa is going to last a long time.
- The bales typically break up into slices that are 1 or 2 inches thick. I usually take one of these slices (a flake) and divide it among my bird pens. See how long it takes the birds to clean up most of the greens and adjust accordingly. I also like to put some hay into the next boxes as well. Remember to store the rest of the bale up off the ground in a dry place so it doesn’t go moldy.
5. Feed back extra eggs
Eggs-traordinary Feed: Chickens are cannibals and will eat other chickens and eggs without a second thought. If your hens are laying, then you can always feed any extra eggs back to the birds. Eggs are super-nutrition for people and birds alike.
- How to feed it? To avoid creating a flock of egg-eaters (birds that break eggs in the nest) though, I always cook the eggs before chopping them up and feeding them back. It doesn’t matter how you cook them – poached, pan fried with some oil or butter, scrambled – whatever works. I chop up the cooked eggs and feed as noted above.
Disruptions Will Be More Common – Feed Alternatives Just Make Sense!
No one likes being caught off-guard! Coronavirus is perhaps the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential disruption to our lives that could be headed our way as climate change continues to unfold and our globalized lifestyles come back to bite us hard.
Raising some of your own food is a way to combat these impacts and reduce your anxiety in a crisis.
But in a crisis, you may also need to figure out how to sustain your flock as well as yourself to keep benefiting from having those chickens close at hand.
There are many alternatives to commercial feeds that you can give your chickens.
Feeding your chickens from more local sources is a positive action you can take any time to reduce your carbon footprint. It just makes good sense to start learning about what is available to you in your area.
Looking for supplies that will simplify your farm work? Check out the recommendations I’ve put together on the Shop for Products pages. These are things that have worked for me on my small farm!