Homemade Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe {corn-free and soy-free}

Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe Feature

Thinking about making your own chick starter feed, eh?

When we first got our baby chicks, I was determined to be the best chick mother I could possibly be. This involved painstakingly researching exactly what they should eat, being over-protective, and taking waaay too many pictures.

There were three things I knew before getting chicks: that I absolutely wasn’t going to feed them conventional medicated chick starter, that I wanted them to have the best diet possible from the start, and that I didn’t want it to be complicated. Plus, it had to be affordable!

I’m a bit unconventional, which is probably why I thought to make my own chick starter feed in the first place…

And I’ll be brutally honest here: making your own chick feed is a lot of work. Is it worth it? I think that depends entirely on your situation and what you can source locally. I love that I get to control what the chicks are eating, and I KNOW that it is full of nutrients that will make them grow to be beautiful and healthy birds.

Please note that I am not a veterinarian nor an animal food scientist- this is merely what worked for us and I wanted to share it with you. I am someone who loves her chickens, and who successfully raised baby chicks on this recipe. I am a doctor of humans with a fondness for biology, nutrition and research, so that helps too, I suppose…

Important Information

I have two recipes for you: both are between 20-22% protein, both are soy-free and corn-free, and one contains fish meal and one does not. I prefer the recipe with the fish meal because it is simpler. I’ve also found that our chickens prefer meat and bugs whenever they can have them, so I like being able to give the chicks that type of protein.

chick gang

Don’t let their cuteness fool you- these fluffy little things will soon grow up to be mice and bug eating machines!

Grinding Chick Feed
There’s one thing that complicates making baby chick feed, and that is that you need to grind it into smaller pieces for the chicks. See grinding recommendations below in the recipe.

Chicks Need Grit
When feeding baby chicks homemade feed, they will also need to be supplemented with grit, which should be available at your local feed store, or online here. Grit for chicks is called #1 size or “chick” grit. It is important to get the correct size for their age. This is not the same as calcium/oyster shells (which they don’t need, and shouldn’t have, until they start laying). Do not mix this into the feed, but rather, offer it free-choice (just put some in a little bowl in the corner… and don’t be surprised when you find them sleeping in it!).

About Oats
The first round of feed I put together, I made the mistake of getting oats will hulls. While these are fine for adult chickens (although they generally prefer hull-less too), these don’t work for baby chicks. The hulls make the oats a lot harder to grind, and if you do grind them, the hulls come off and get mixed into the feed, and then the chicks have to pick around them. It’s a big mess, don’t use them.

Oats without the hulls are often called “oat groats,” and these are what you want. Steel cut oats are oat groats that are chopped, and these are also good (they are already ground for you!). Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats have been steamed and pressed- you can use these, but I found our chicks didn’t care for them as much as the other types. Instant oats are processed and stripped of nutrients, and I don’t recommend them for chicken feed.

Fish Meal
Wondering where to buy fish meal? I was lucky enough to find mine at our local feed store for a great price, but you can find it online also. Quality matters here- make sure that the fish meal you are buying isn’t made for gardening only; many are. 

Try these:

–> Wild Alaskan Salmon Fish Meal (5#)
–> Wild Alaskan Salmon Fish Meal (25#)
–> Scratch and Peck Brand Fish Meal (3#)

How Much Will This Cost?
It’s nearly impossible for me to break down the cost of this feed in a meaningful way for you, because where you can get your ingredients from makes all the difference. I am fortunate that I can get organic wheat, oats and peas from the feed store just down the road for a reasonable price, which is why it is much cheaper for me to make my own organic, soy-free, and corn-free chick starter feed.

I suggest you call every farm and feed store in your area, or within driving distance of an hour or so, and ask about each of the ingredients- whether they have things like organic wheat, oats and peas, and the prices. Or talk to your local food co-op about ordering some big bags of grains for a discounted price. Happy ingredient hunting!

See? Making your own chicken feed is hard work. It really does take dedication and time… so if you don’t have those things to give, I highly recommend you seek out a pre-made feed. However, you DON’T have to settle for the subpar brands at the feed store.

I Recommend this Pre-made Chick Starter Feed

Scratch and Peck Chick Starter (no corn, no soy) is what I believe to be the highest quality chicken feed available- it contains real ingredients and is from a great company. You can find it on amazon here, or use their store locator to see if it is available anywhere near you.

Additionally, if there is an Azure Standard drop site near you, they also carry it for a reasonable price.

Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe with Fish Meal

7 cups organic hull-less oats
5 cups organic wheat
3 cups organic split green peas or organic field peas
1 cup organic (shelled) sunflower seeds
1.5 cups organic/wild caught fish meal
2 Tbs blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup organic kelp
2 Tbs brewer’s yeast
egg (raw or hard-boiled: see below)
greens: fresh grass, spinach, dark lettuce or kale

Organic Baby Chick Starter Feed Recipe (No Fish Meal)

5 cups organic hull-less oats
5 cups organic wheat
5 cups organic split green peas or organic field peas
2 cups organic (shelled) sunflower seeds
1 cup organic flax meal or organic sesame seeds
2 Tbs blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup organic kelp
2 Tbs brewer’s yeast
egg (raw or hard-boiled: see below)
greens: fresh grass, spinach, dark lettuce or kale

Both of these recipes make a little over one gallon (17 cups of feed). Feel free to make as large or small a quantity as you like using the same ratios and instructions.

We’ll use the blackstrap molasses to add vitamins and get the powders to stick to the grains- and this works best using a specific technique. Mix together the ground grains, peas, sunflower seeds (and sesame if using the no fish meal recipe). Remove three cups of the mixture to another bowl, and to it add the molasses; use a large fork to stir it around until all the grains are coated. Add in the kelp and brewer’s yeast (and fish meal or flax meal) and stir again until the grains are coated with the powders. Add this mixture back in with the the rest of the grains in your bucket and stir so that all the coated grains are mixed in with the non-coated.

If the mixture has a lot of powder/crumbs in it, and they seem to fall to the bottom of the food dish and go un-eaten, feel free to mix in a little bit of water (to that day’s ration, not the whole batch) to bind the powders and make a “mash” so it is easier for the chicks to eat.

How to Grind Chick Feed
I found that my food processor was not strong enough to break down the dry grains and legumes, but a Vitamix blender worked (if making food for just a few chicks, fine… but if you have a lot, you’ll burn out your motor quickly- might want to rethink). A grain mill or even an old meat grinder might work (I haven’t tried either of these), but also remember that you don’t want to turn the mixture into flour- just smaller pieces. We have an antique hand crank corn grinder, which is the perfect tool for the job!

karl with chick

However, if you soak the ingredients for 24 hours first, you can grind them in a food processor. This will take more forethought and organization on your part. Soaked grains should be used within a couple days after soaking, which means you will need to be on top of things, so you don’t run out and don’t have more than you can use. Bonus: soaked grains are even healthier for the chicks! So if you can manage this, it is a great option. On the subject of soaking: if you do take this route, only soak the grains and peas. No need to soak the sunflower seeds, nor the kelp, yeast or fish meal. Aaand one more thing- each grain will grind differently, so it would be better to grind each type separately, otherwise your wheat might turn to mush before the peas have even started breaking down. Not totally necessary, but helpful.

Feeding Egg
If the egg is coming from my own (very healthy) flock then I leave it raw. I feel comfortable eating our chicken eggs raw, which is why I feel comfortable giving them to the chicks raw. Use at your own risk. If the egg is from a store or someone else’s flock, it should absolutely be cooked, preferably hardboiled.

This is where it gets difficult to tell you how much egg and greens to add, since everyone will have a different amount of chicks and go through a different amount of feed. The egg and greens should be added fresh the day that you feed it (as opposed to being mixed in with the above grains and left to sit for more than a day).

Aim for 1 egg for every 6 cups of chicken feed. If raw, just mix it in, and if hardboiled, chop it up finely (use a potato masher) and then mix it in to that day’s feed. So, if your chicks eat three cups of food per day, add in about half of an egg or so. Keep the rest of the egg in the fridge until you use it the next day.

Feeding Greens
I try to use what I have here on the homestead in order to minimize cost- if I have garden lettuce or kale, I use that (chopped very finely), otherwise I use grass. We have tall, thick grass in the spring, and that works well. I will pick a clump and then use a scissors to cut it into about 1/2-inch lengths. Make absolutely sure your grass wasn’t treated with any chemicals!

chicken butt

Add greens at a rate of about 1/2 cup per every 4-6 cups of chicken feed. This doesn’t have to be exact, just close. And just like the egg, mix the finely chopped greens into that day’s feed at the time of feeding.

Transitioning to Whole Grain
As the chicks get older, they will be able to eat the grains unground (which will be very nice for you!). At around 6 weeks old, start experimenting to see what they will eat whole and what they won’t. I did this by putting a mixture of the whole grains in a small bowl in their brooder and watching to see if they would eat them.

When they start to take whole grains, slowly (over a week or more) transition them by mixing some of the ground feed they are used to with the new unground version of the same feed, increasing the ratio of whole grain feed a little each day.

Congrats chick-parents! Your new fluffy little ones are on their way to healthy, happy lives!

References
Anderson, Vern 2002. A Guide to Feeding Field Peas to Livestock. North Dakota State University. Fargo, North Dakota. https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/livestoc/as1224.pdf

C. D. Bennett, H. L. Classen, and C. Riddell. Feeding Broiler Chickens Wheat and Barley Diets Containing Whole, Ground and Pelleted Grain. 2002 Poultry Science 81:995–1003

Ibrahim, M. A., and E. A. El Zubeir. Higher fibre sunflower seed meal in broiler chick diets. 1991 Animal Feed Science and Technology, 33: 343–347.

Munt R.H.C., J.G. Dingle and M.G. Sumpa. Growth, carcass composition and profitability of meat chickens given pellets, mash or free-choice diet. 1995 British Poultry Science 36:277-284.

Rama Rao, S. V., M.V.L.N. Raju, A. K. Panda, and M. R. Reddy. Sunflower seed meal as a substitute for soybean meal in commercial broiler chicken diets. 2006 British Poultry Science 5:592–598.

Wondifraw, Zewdu and Tamir, Berhan. The effect of feeding different levels of brewer’s dried grain yeast mixture on the performance of white leghorn chicks. 2014 International Journal of Livestock Production 5(1): 10-14

Want more from the homestead?

10 Creative Protein Sources for Chickens     How to Roast a Squash Feature     How to Build a Rustic Garden Gate

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Comments

  1. says

    I have been wanting to get chickens for years and we finally may be getting them this year or next! Right now, I’m just learning as much as I can about raising chicks! Thanks for sharing this great information!

  2. Sophie says

    Thank you so much for posting this! We’re getting chicks soon and I have been looking for a healthy chick starter recipe. You recommend fish meal from scratch and peck, I found this cheaper on Amazon. Does it look good?

    http://amzn.to/1RwVvUP

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Great find Sophie- yes, that one looks good!

      I see it mentions it is safe for feeding, and also I see in the comments that the manufacturer said: “It is 100% ground salmon meal from Kodiak Alaska. Really about as good as it can get as we get it directly from the ship.”

      Thanks!

  3. Anne says

    Hello! Approximately how much do your chicks each eat daily? Or maybe a better question would be; how much would a chick eat their whole “chick life” before switching to regular food? Also, do you know how many pounds your recipe makes? (or how much a cup weighs) Thanks so much!

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Anne- how much they eat varies quite a bit with breed, age, and even the quality of food you are using. I would say that our Red Ranger meat birds ate twice as much as the Easter Eggers!

      I recorded in my journal that our 35 chicks went through: Days 1-7: five pounds of food. Days 8-11: five pounds of food. So, it increases quite fast as they grow! (this was a mix of meat birds, Easter Eggers, and Buff Orpingtons).

      Unfortunately I didn’t keep track of how much they ate during their lives as chicks. I have seen other people record this info, mainly when calculating cost to raise meat birds, so your best bet might be to search for those terms.

      The recipe for 17 cups of food will be about 6 pounds, I believe.

      Hope that helps! -Crystal

  4. Shannon says

    Hi Crystal! I came across your post while I was trying to find a corn/grain/soy-free food for adult chickens on Pinterest. Do you happen to do this? If so, I’d love to know more about it! Thanks so much!

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Yes, I do also make feed for our laying hens! It is a little more complicated for us because they are partially free-range and I adjust their feed based on the weather, time of year, and temperature.

      In the winter when they are cooped up and there is nothing green or alive for them to eat outside, the recipe I use is pretty close to the “No Fish Meal” recipe for chicks, but adjusted to be closer to 16% protein instead of 20-22% (leaving out the flax meal/sesame and adding a little more oat or wheat gets you there)… and I also leave out the egg and fresh greens. We often have meat that we acquire for them as well, as a treat a couple times per week during the winter (my parents have a neighbor who is an avid hunter but a horrible butcher, so after he is done butchering his deer, we take it and get 15+ more pounds of meat from it to put away for the girls during the coldest months… which they LOVE).

      They also get food and garden scraps all year.

      Our chickens free-range during the months when there are live things outside (we are zone 4, Wisconsin). So, we let them out early in the morning and they eat bugs and plants for 4-6 hours before I give them a small ration of food. Because they are getting so many nutrients and protein from the wild, I feed them a simple mix of oats, wheat and sunflower seeds in these warm months. If it is a rainy day, or super-hot outside I will give them a more nutritious ration right away in the morning so they don’t feel the need to free range in the rain or hot sun.

      Haha, I guess I didn’t realize just how spoiled these chickens are until I just typed this out! Hope it helps! -Crystal

  5. Cara says

    Just wondering what sort of time frame this mix would last once the molasses was mixed through and should you store in fridge? I will be making this for my 3 chicks.. Do you make the mix available 24/7? With the egg added to it in the morning of feeding can you leave it until next morning or do you take out after a couple of hours?

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Everything except the egg and fresh greens is shelf-stable, so no need to store the main mixture with the molasses in the fridge. It should last for quite a long time (months?!) but if you have a small number of chicks, I might consider making half-batches at a time for ultimate fresh-ness.

      Assuming these are not fast-growing meat birds (they need a more specific feeding schedule) then yes, let the chicks have access to fresh water and food 24/7 (well, approximately).

      I try to freshen/refill their food twice per day, so the egg never sits out more than a half a day… or up to 20-24 hours at the most. If there is an hour or two in the middle of the day, or in the morning where they don’t have food, it isn’t really a big deal. This took a little bit of learning in the beginning to figure out how much they could eat in half a days time and adjust how much I was making and feeding them accordingly… and scaling it up as they got bigger and needed more.

      Hope that helps! Great questions- let me know if you think of any others! -Crystal

  6. Cara says

    Do you find the essential amino acids are lacking for good growth in chicks?
    I think the uncooked split peas would be too hard to digest do you have any other alternatives?
    I would like to add cod liver oil to the recipe how much would you recommend?

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      I actually believe the amino acid profile of this recipe is one of the best I’ve seen anywhere, according to my research. I’ve also raised turkeys and ducks with this recipe (and they even have tighter dietary requirements) with great results.

      Uncooked split peas have been shown to be a great feed option for poultry (see references listed at the end of the post) and all by themselves contain a well-rounded amino acid profile. Their limiting amino acid is methionine, which is made up for with the addition of both sunflower and egg to this recipe. You could always try soaking/sprouting/fermenting or even cooking the peas, if it worries you.

      Sorry, I’m not sure on the cod liver oil… I haven’t done any research on it. In my opinion it shouldn’t be needed with a high-quality feed :)

  7. Lauren says

    Thank you for the information and feed recipes! I’ve raised chickens for years and I am getting some ducklings in a couple of weeks. I see where you said you’ve used this feed mix to raise ducks as well. I’m getting a mix of egg layers and meat ducks. Do you feel it’s nutritionally balanced for the meat ducks?? Thank you!

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Lauren- I did use this exact recipe for our ducklings and they seemed to thrive on it! I don’t know much about “meat ducks” though and if they have any additional requirements. I would say that for normal ducklings… your everyday barnyard mix this recipe is balanced for them as well, yes.

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Debbie- it’s just a personal preference I guess. Corn also has significantly less protein than wheat and oats and more carbohydrate. And while it does have some vitamins and xanthophyls (contribute to egg yolk color!) I don’t believe corn is all that stellar, nutritionally.

  8. says

    This recipe looks great! I am gluten free do to an auto immune disorder. Would it be possible to leave out the wheat in this recipe! Thanks!

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Alex- this is a great question. I am currently doing some research in trying to figure out if the proteins from the hen’s diet make their way into the eggs.

      No, you can not simply leave the wheat out of this recipe, you would have to replace it with something- and if you are trying to avoid gluten, you shouldn’t replace the wheat with rye, barley, spelt, and probably not more oats (often highly contaminated from shared processing equipment) either. And you should probably leave out the oats as well. You would then have to recalculate the whole recipe. As you can see, this makes it very difficult…

      I would recommend to make your own, but I don’t think this is necessarily safe to do unless you learn and know a LOT about poultry nutrition (like, reading scholarly journal articles LOTS).

      I hope to have some more answers for you in the future- if I find scientific evidence that proteins from the grain do end up in the eggs, I will try to develop a gluten-free chicken feed recipe. Sorry I don’t have a more helpful answer right now.

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