Don’t be fooled, “creative” is just a code word for weird. We’re about to dive into some really odd stuff here. It might make your stomach crawl, but your chickens will love it! Plus, these ideas really can help you save money on chicken feed.
We wanted our meat birds and egg-layers to be of the highest quality, raised in the best conditions, living healthy and happy lives, and of course, eating like kings. Well, it’s near impossible to have a free-ranger’s diet in the middle of January in Wisconsin… So what is a midwest chicken keeper supposed to do?
The bugs, grass, and pretty much all signs of life disappear for five months out of the year. Sometimes chicken feed, even the best feed, just doesn’t cut it. And if you free-range your chickens, you know that your feed costs go way up when the temperature goes down. Bless all those nasty little bugs.
Do you want a more sustainable way to feed your chickens?
Want to save money on chicken feed?
Do you want healthy chickens that are fed a species-appropriate diet?
Some of this information might be controversial. Chicken keepers have long disagreed on what to feed their flock- and I think that’s okay. I am definitely on the side of free-range, chickens are omnivores, a meat and bugs kind of diet. Not unlike the way of eating that Karl and I try to follow!
As with anything in life, make sure you do further research before taking an idea and running with it. We all live in different environments with different resources, pests, and diseases.
And as a last warning, probably don’t want to read this one during lunch…
Did you know that you can keep your own family of meal worms? Generations and generations of mealworms. A bin of bugs living above your washer and dryer, or better yet, under your bed.
It’s a pretty small investment for a continual supply of high-protein food for your chickens.
Once you’ve established your mealworm clan (which is very affordable!), they cost little to nothing to maintain. They are also very low maintenance- just check on them every couple days and give them a few new food scraps.
Mealworms may be available at your local pet store. Or you can buy them online- here at Amazon (at the time of posting this) you can get 2000, which is a good amount to start your colony with, for $17.67 and free shipping.
Black Soldier Fly Larva
Fly larva is just a nice way to say maggots. And no matter how much you love your chickens, no matter how cute and sweet they are when they sit on your lap, the truth is they love maggots.
Like meal worms, soldier fly larva is something you can grow in the comfort of your own home as well, although the set up is a tad more elaborate, because- get this: the larva harvest themselves. They have a migration instinct that tells them to climb up the slanted ramp you’ve given them and then they drop right into your collection vessel. How thoughtful.
There are instructions floating around online on how to make your own set-up, or you can purchase an already made all-inclusive black soldier fly home.
Since they eat a lot more than mealworms, they require more work and attention as well. Not only do these maggots like all kinds of food and food scraps, they especially love manure. In fact, they can turn a whole lotta manure into a whole lotta incredible compost. Maggot bonus feature.
Earthworms & Such
Although you can raise your own worms- I recommend just going out and collecting them.
You do have to have the right type of soil for this, or know where to find some.
You can go out with a bucket and shovel, but my favorite way to pick worms is to wait until after a good rain, or at dawn after a night of rain. You can walk by and pick them right up off the top of the ground. Or send the kids out to do this. I’m pretty sure this why people have kids.
Once you have a bucket of worms, they will keep in the refrigerator for at least a few days (cover them so that they can breathe but not escape… because otherwise, no kidding, you might have a crisper drawer full of earthworms). Poke holes in the top of the cover but make sure the cover is tight-fitting.
Consider preserving them for the colder months when fresh bugs are more scarce. Dehydrate or roast in the oven, then store in the freezer or, if dry enough, just store in a jar. Probably want to label those…
Fish & Fish Guts
Too Small to Keep
But still legal, that is. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve caught a mess of fish that were legal-size, but just too small to justify gutting, scaling or filleting. Many of the pan-fish (Perch, Crappie, Bluegill) don’t have a size limit in our area, and those 2-6” little fishies are perfect for the chickens. Don’t throw them back!
By this, I mean the fish that most people don’t eat and tend to throw back, usually because they are a pain to clean, they don’t taste good, or they are bottom feeders.
“Most people” doesn’t include my dad, who isn’t afraid to go up to the fisherman next to him and offer to take that Dogfish he’s about to throw back. “Hey, you gunna eat that?”
The point is, just because you don’t want to eat that fish, doesn’t mean your chickens (or my dad) doesn’t. Think Suckers, Carp, Bowfin, Bullhead, Catfish and even Turtle! The rule is: if it’s legal, it’s coming home.
Most people “help” the chickens by first cutting the fish open for them, or chopping it into a couple pieces to get them started. Simply throw them on the ground and watch the chickens come running.
In the cold months, you don’t want to present a frozen fish to your chickens, so you’ll have to either thaw the fish from frozen or even heat it up before giving it to them. Freeze the fish in the condition that you want to feed it to the chickens in, so you don’t have to monkey with it after it’s thawed. Little fish can be frozen whole or cut in half. Big fish should be cut into chicken-serving size (in the amount that they will eat in a meal, and not more than in a day).
Alternately, you can take your fresh fish and dehydrate it. Consider this option: bake the fish until it falls off the bones. Then you can dehydrate the meat and run it through the food processor or blender to turn it into flakes or powder that can be added directly to your dry feed.
If that particular fish species filets well, you could cut off the filets and dehydrate them. Feed the remainder of the fresh carcass to the chickens immediately.
Did you catch your weight in Salmon? Strike it big with a record Northern? Get your limit of Walleye? Save those heads and innards! And the roe! Fish eggs are a chicken delicacy.
I think fish guts are something you might want to serve immediately. Not a long shelf life. The thought of preserving fish guts just seems… messy. You could try freezing them in water blocks for a fun treat on a hot summer’s day. Store them right next to your popsicles.
So what kind of animals are we talking about here?
Definitely any animal that you’d eat, your flock can eat too. And then some!
Smaller animals can be skinned and then opened up (intestines removed or left in) and fed to the flock family-style. It helps to cut the animal open first to give the chickens a starting point. Think coon, fox, rabbit, etc.
Larger animals can be cut into big pieces and fed to the chickens in large chunks (so they can just rip off pieces with their sharp beaks). Or you can cut it up into bite-sized pieces as well. Wrap hunks in freezer paper and freeze for later. And don’t forget to label that package… Think venison, bear, pork, cow, etc.
It should be fresh, and absolutely not rancid or rotten at all.
It should also be healthy. Don’t feed them an animal you don’t know the cause of death of, because it could have been very sick. Also avoid those that are behaving oddly, because that could be a sign of illness in wild animals… like a raccoon in broad daylight stumbling across your front porch. That’s not normal behavior, that’s a sick animal.
A raccoon trying to break into the coop and eat your chickens in the middle of night is normal behavior, and… well, call me cruel but I think being fed to victims you were stalking sounds a little bit like justice in the animal kingdom.
If you’re lucky enough to bag more wild game than you can eat, consider giving some to your flock. They can eat it raw, cooked, or even dehydrated. Ground venison that has been dehydrated would be a great addition to your homemade chicken feed.
Did you do away with the fox, snake, or stray cat that was bothering your flock? Well, they can eat those too…
You know those leftovers that are three days old and still fine to eat, but nobody wants to eat them?
Chickens love three-day old leftovers.
Same rules apply- if it’s safe for you to eat, it is safe for your flock.
But do understand the difference between what you would eat, and what is safe for you to eat (even if you wouldn’t choose to). Chickens aren’t as picky as you. Just because you wouldn’t eat it, doesn’t mean they won’t. Don’t you waste that perfectly good meat!
This is a great way to get free, high-quality protein. In our neck of the woods there are deer on the sides of the road all the time.
Many counties have a road kill list- that is, a list of folks interested in road kill that they will call to come pick them up. Or consider listening to a police scanner for tips.
It’s not the bones themselves, but the meat on them. Your chickens would love to peck every scrap of meat clean off those animal bones. Especially the hard to reach places that you can’t get to with your knife, like around the spine and ribs.
Have a friend who hunts? I bet they’d be happy for you to take the bones off their hands!
Is there is a butcher or game processor in town? They might be willing to give you some bones.
Are you planning on ordering a ½ cow? Ask the butcher about keeping all the bones (not just the “soup” bones)! You are paying for them, after all.
Did you roast a chicken or turkey? Let those gals finish cleaning the last bits of meat up after your done with it.
Offal (Organ Meats)
If you’re not saving these goodies for yourself, then at least give them to your girls!
One exception: if you’ve ever butchered an animal, you know you’ve done everything in your power to not breech the intestines. And this is for several reasons, but perhaps the most powerful being that: they stink. I can’t imagine the stench of a dozen chickens eating a pile deer intestines in the yard. This goes for the gallbladder also. I wouldn’t give them these parts. At least from larger animals. This might be kind of a grey line that is more my personal preference than anything.
So what parts would I feed the chickens? The heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, spleen and…forgive me, even the testicles.
Other Small Morsels
Trapping mice in the attic? Throw ‘em to the chickens. Of course, fresh is best.
That seems like an odd thing to say about a mouse…
Frogs, gophers, moles. snakes, squirrels, and rabbits are all great sources of protein as well.
Anything your chicken would find hunting in the wild, they can eat.
Also remember that chickens may be regarded as dumb (although I don’t think so!), but they are very intelligent when it comes to knowing what to eat and what not to. On many occasions I have seen a chicken pick something up several times, check it out, and then ultimately leave it behind.
You’ll quickly learn what they like and don’t like. Every flock is different. Mine love toads but hate frogs, they live for little mouse babies but won’t bother with a pre-killed mouse. Yes, mouse babies. Don’t ask how I know that…
It’s often feast or famine with egg production. If you find yourself in excess, why not save some to feed back to your girls later? I think that dehydrating them is a great way to preserve them, plus it makes it really easy to add them to your feed.
But doesn’t feeding eggs to chickens give them a taste for it and encourage egg eating? I don’t believe that it does. Especially when dehydrated and turned into crumbles, I think they would have a hard time knowing what it was.
To make dehydrated eggs:
Simply scrambled the eggs and gently fry them up. Allow them to cool and then place them in the dehydrator overnight. Pulse the dried eggs in a blender or food processor to crumble. Store in the freezer (preferably) and add to your feed or give as a treat.
Food Scrap Seeds
Cantaloupe and honeydew melons have a concentrated pocket of seeds in them.
I often have a big bowl of tomato seeds after a canning session.
Bell pepper and jalapeño seeds are fair game.
And don’t forget those pumpkin guts littered with protein-rich seeds.
Do research what you plan on giving them before you throw it out there. Some fruit seeds can be harmful to chickens (in larger quantities, like apple seeds).
Some of my favorite chicken memories from this summer (when it was warm, the grass was lush, and the bugs were plentiful) were from happening upon a chicken who had just found a small critter- usually a toad. It doesn’t matter what it is really, if someone else has it, they all want it! Chaos ensues. If you could see the way a chicken dismembers a toad and practically swallows it whole- you’d know your flock would appreciate something other than plain old chicken feed!
And why not feed your chickens something that is high in protein and is a natural part of their diet. Plus, will help you save money on chicken feed! Everyone wins.
weird creative chicken-keeping tips? Check out:
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