How to keep the cost of chicken feed down... and some ideas for other animals.

 I keep chickens, ducks, bantams, sheep, cows, a goat, a dog and a parrot.  So far!   Last week I added ten new chickens to the mix because I want to be sure that as my hens get older I have younger ones coming on.  I want to ensure I have plenty of eggs at all times.  I love keeping chickens but I also know I have protein to feed my family and eggs to gift or barter.    So this is important to me. 

There are lots of ways to feed chickens pretty inexpensively.  As prices of all animal feeds seem to be going up I wanted to write about what we can do to keep these costs down.    Animal diets can be a bit of an area of argument so I am writing what I do and if there is anything that can help you I will be pleased. 

Also we all live in different places with varying rules and regulations etc.  I just want to encourage you do do what you can where you are.  I know not everyone can do some of these things.   That said if you have a little space and you want to increase your food security chickens are a great way to do it!   

So here goes...

The most basic chicken food supplements will come from your kitchen.  Every peel, scrap and leftover is potential nourishment for your chickens.   And they love it.  They will go for scraps every time given the choice over grain and leftovers!   Chickens love protein.  Out in the open they love bugs so your protein scraps are their idea of wonderful!  I keep a little bucket in the kitchen and everything goes in there and really nothing is wasted.

In the garden I usually grow a couple of extra rows of silverbeet or spinach especially for the chooks.  Each day I pick some leaves and add them to the feed.  While I am there I watch for weeds as they will go to the chooks too.   Anything going to seed is great too.  (After I have saved some seeds!) 

I have space so I free range some of my chickens during the day.  We have foxes so I am very careful about this and lock them up at 4 pm.  Our dog hates foxes so she is on the job!   Free ranging is the easiest way to save a lot on food.  I will work on about half a cup of grain or layers pellets per chicken per day if they are free to find their own food.   They have grass and bugs and they have a great time spending the day scratching around.  These chickens get some scraps too.   These will include all of the spent veggies at the end of summer, the weeds, grass clippings etc.

I keep scissors, plastic bags and baskets in my car.  Because I live in the country I often come home with all kinds of things I have found and picked on the side of the road.  Apples for the cows, thistles for the chickens.   I am completely unashamed about chicken keeping.  If I was at someones house and they had thistles in their garden I would ask if I could take that home for my chooks!  

A trip to the beach means I will take a bucket and get some shell grit.  This is very good.  

Another idea is to have a moving chicken house/chicken tractor that you shift daily.  I am working on this one.   This works well when you have just a few chooks and a smaller coop to move around.  But each day some of their food will be the grass in that spot. 

Mum keeps a container in her kitchen for either Chloe's chooks or mine.   I would ask anyone near by, family or friend, to be saving their scraps.  A bit of a barter system can work well here.  A dream come true scenario would be having friends with a cafe, restaurant or green grocer!  In that case you would be set! 

If you or a family member work somewhere with others there are bound to be food scraps.  I would arrive with a lidded bucket and label it chicken scraps.  Most people these days are quite into the idea of reducing waste.  I boldly ask.  I am game!  I don't care if people think I'm a crazy chicken lady.  I hate waste,  it just seems dumb to me.  

I am so game I will happily arrive at a party with a bucket for food scraps and ask if it can go into the kitchen.   I also ask at the supermarket and green grocer if I can collect the green leaves.   Our local supermarket usually has lettuce leaves that people remove and leave behind.   I bag them up and at the checkout I confess.   No one has ever said no.   I guess one day I will strike a grump up until now a trip to the supermarket means at least a good bag of free greens.   

Once a week I buy a big bag of home brand frozen peas.  These are a treat for my ducks but the chickens pinch quite a few. 

Vicky told me her genius idea.  With items like lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower,  they are usually sold per item  not per weight.  If that is the case when bagging them up you can carefully add some of the loose left behind leaves into your bag and voila once again you have free greens.  I consider cleaning up the messy leaves to be doing them a favour. :) 

Ask neighbours and family to save their garden greens, lawn clippings and even autumn leaves for you.  These all make food, compost, bedding...  people throw this stuff out!   If anyone has saw dust or shavings this can be animal bedding also.  People let fruit fall even... I get in and ask for that too.  

When cooking and there is fat left in the frypan I will soak that up with some bread or rice.  This will all go to the chickens too and they love it.  I often keep a bag of rolled oats as these are cheap and good for soaking up oils and liquids... and make good food.

Left over milk, whey, yoghurt etc is also good food.  I had some older milk power so I mixed it up and made bowls of milk for the gang.   I found this out when I lived next door to a dairy.  Each day bowls of milk went to the cat and the chickens.  No one bought such things as canned food for cats.  They got eggs and milk and mice!   

I should include ducks... This is Bill.

Scout gets mostly raw meat and bones.  I do not believe in canned dog food.  I have never known a dog to live to an old age on that.  She also gets eggs and she loves them.  When meat is cut up the little bits of meat go to the chickens too.   She gets some veggies quite often as well.

In winter we collect wood for the fire.  I keep a spade and a bucket handy as sometimes when you lift up something from the ground there are bugs underneath.   Chickens love bugs!    Also we have a Mozzie zapper outside.   As far as chickens are concerned this is a Sizzler Restaurant.  We empty all the bugs out and they go to the chooks too. 

Having a lot of animals sometimes I have to decide who gets what.   They all have favourites.   Just now I am peeling apples to cook.  The parrot loves a few apples corers.  He loves apples seeds.   Eddie... he likes them too so he will get some.   He also loves pumpkin peel.  He just goes mad for that and no one else likes it so that one is easy.  

The cows love apples.   Mainly they like greens so they get cabbage leaves and things like that as a treat. 

In summer I grow sunflowers and so does Mum.   These provide a lot of the seed for Ricky our parrot.  They are good for chickens too.  

Our Grandparents probably never purchased much in the way of animal food.  They had great tips on how to feed the animals.   Actually they had great tips on how to save on everything!  My old blog has a series called How to beat rising prices like Nana did.   

Animals bring so much joy.   I want to be the Nana with all the animals and good things at my place.  But I also want to know I can always provide at least eggs for us all.  It does not have to be expensive to get set up or to keep chickens at all.  

I hope something here might be a help to you.  If you have tips to share please do!   I do not have to consider freezing conditions for one thing!   How do you keep your hens going when it is snowing?   We have heat at times and I usually will put a sprinkler on so they have a kind of evaporative air  conditioning and this works well.  

I should add that I keep an animal pantry in my home.  I have just been adding to that.   I have boxes of old towels and bedding,  teats, bottles,  collars,  emergency bovine colostrum,  lamb and calf formulas, dry dog food for emergencies,  recipes for colostrum replacement,  Slippery Elm Bark and other medicines.   I try to keep everything on hand.   In an emergency I have had to learn some skills I never thought I would need like how to tube feed a calf or lamb.   I had a calf that would not drink and it was going to die for sure so I learned how to tube feed it and it worked.  It lived!  Then it became a good drinker.   I have revived lambs that looked dead.  I will give it a go.  Lambs by the fire are a regular in the winter!   I am so excited when successful and so upset when I am not.  

As we go into winter soon I expect more lambs and a few calves will need rescuing.  So I am ready.  And if I come to visit don't be surprised if I bring a bucket. :)  xxx


  1. I love your work!

    My chooks’ favourite greens are cobblers pegs! They are very nutritious! ..... An old pair of sheep shears helps for cutting bunches of grass for the little darlings!


  2. Another lovely and very interesting post, Annabel. And the pictures of your babies are so cute! I am in your team, too. I go with a bucket to a party and get the green leaves from the shop or the market after asking. Trade with family or friends their kitchen scrap and pick the weds, good grass or fruits when walking. Last year I had a decent onions harvest from the small onions that people or sellers from the market let on the ground as garbage. No shame here, I picked them up, planted and used them in the kitchen for several weeks. I hate waste! My dogs, cats and rabbits have kitchen leftover food and don't care very much for canned food when occasionally I am given one by my lovely cousin. I get bones and meat from the butcher and boil them, then I mix bread or rice or mashed potatoes or whatever leftover we have and they love it. My late dog, Rex, had 21 good years with us this way. These days I am waiting for some chickens and am a bit excited and nervous about it - my first ever feathered beasts. Virtual hugs from Romania, Laura_s_world

  3. You are amazing! I have so much respect for you. I love your animals, and realize it takes so much more than love to care for them properly. Thanks for sharing so much good information....really interesting.

  4. Dear Annabel, thankyou so much for this post. As you know I have chickens too. I have always feed them grain, pellets, kitchen scraps and weeds but have not thought of soaking up cooking oils. That is such a genius idea. It also never occurred to me to give them milk. So thankyou I learned a lot from this post. I will focus more on little bits and pieces for them. I like the idea of peas too. Coincidentally I was given half a bag of peas that were left in a cabin where I clean just last week. I was surprised how much the chooks loved them. I might add this to my pet shopping too. We are very lucky to know a wheat farmer not far from us who has offered some wheat. With the mice situation here, I was reluctant to take up the offer. Then another friend gave us some vermin proof barrels. What a blessing. My chooks are not laying many eggs at the moment so I felt grateful when we were gifted 4 dozen eggs from a friends battery hen farm. We were really surprised/taken aback at how pale the yolks were. I have used them mainly in cooking. We had begun to take our beautiful yellow tasty eggs for granted. Keeping chooks really is the best. Thankyou for including the measurement you use for wheat/pellets, I could never work this out. Love Clare

    1. Annabel, This morning I attended our local ANZAC day dawn service. The community generously donated a cuppa and an egg and bacon roll for everyone to enjoy afterwards. As we were saying goodbye I noticed a box full of the egg shells from the 4 dozen eggs used. I got brave and asked if they were going in the bin. They were more than happy for me to take them. They are now washed and in trays drying on my wood heater and will be ready for me to break up and put around my little seedlings when I plant them later on today or I might add some to the chook grit. Thankyou for influencing my mindset. I would have never thought like this, let alone ask to take them a few years ago (and it helped I was ready with a washable bag in the car so the yolks didn't leak through - preparedness I have also learned from you). Clare

    2. Dear Annabel, This past week I have had two days where I was able to warm up a frying pan of drippings and add oats, rice etc for my chooks. My girls and roosters Rebel and Archie, thankyou very much. The second time they saw me carrying a frypan they came running as fast as their little chicken legs could carry them. While I was stirring this mix a memory of my Nana came floating back. I remember watching her mix up Pollard - mash she called it and she said it was to warm the chooks tummies on cold mornings. I just phoned our local feed store to see if it is still a thing - and it is. He explained it is ground down to powder wheat and people use it as a filler for all sorts of animals, particularly pregnant ones. (I was thinking of your pregnant run down sheep you might be nursing). I might get a bag of it to add to the frying pan mix. I really love this idea as my husband is a real meat eater and I hate cleaning pans and disposing of drippings. Now it is a nice cook up for the chooks and less cleaning. The rice I have been using was a big bag of par boiled rice I bought in a panic at the start of covid when there was no rice to be found. It isn't the nicest but I didn't want to waste it - you gave me the perfect solution. Sometimes I wonder about my thinking mechanism when small great ideas such as "use the rice for pet food" do not occur to me until someone (in this case you) point it out. I also made a really big pot of dog food up with it. I like to feed my dogs Blackhawk which is expensive, but they are so little they only need a little bit morning and night - now I am stretching those dollars even more by feeding home pet food in morning and pellets only at night. Thanks again, Clare

  5. Oh how I enjoy your columns, on all topics. And thank you for the animal photos ;). My favorite.

  6. Very insightful and educational post. I don't have all these animals, but these are things to know and share with others. Love all the baby pics - thank you for being such a good steward to the land.

  7. Our little town has 6 feed stores. Many are happy to let you glean the lose hay. We have many breweries nearby as well and they will give away the spent grain. My son- in - law says it can go rancid very quickly. So it is something that cannot be kept but must be fed right away. We have a Apple Pie Bakery close to us and they put their peels out back for anyone that wants them for their animals.
    I read about a woman online that raised meal worms for her chickens and ducks that looked pretty interesting.
    A long time ago I went to a class on how to grow Barley Grass to feed livestock. A very cheap source of silage for larger animals. Seemed lot a lot of work. Good to know though if you wanted an organic feed or were not able to get feed.
    Loved the pictures!

  8. Our little town has 6 feed stores. Many are happy to let you glean the lose hay. We have many breweries nearby as well and they will give away the spent grain. My son- in - law says it can go rancid very quickly. So it is something that cannot be kept but must be fed right away. We have a Apple Pie Bakery close to us and they put their peels out back for anyone that wants them for their animals.
    I read about a woman online that raised meal worms for her chickens and ducks that looked pretty interesting.
    A long time ago I went to a class on how to grow Barley Grass to feed livestock. A very cheap source of silage for larger animals. Seemed lot a lot of work. Good to know though if you wanted an organic feed or were not able to get feed.
    Loved the pictures!

  9. Good on you. I do all the same but on a much smaller scale with my 6 girls. I let them into the pumpkin patch each day. Since they have been having garden time, I am getting more fruit set on the pumpkins. They found my freshly seeded area, after leaving the pumpkin patch, and had a feast. There is now a small barrier to stop this happening again.
    Bluey mows three full yards and the verge for 6 houses. All this goes straight into the chook yard and is a wonderful deep layer mulch. I rake it out every couple of weeks and put it into the compost bins. This just adds another layer to the system.
    Katie has an old ice cream container in her freezer. This is were she puts her spent coffee grounds and vegie peelings. This comes to our place when full. Some goes to the chooks and some into the worm farms.
    Bluey gets free bread from the food bank. He gets the grain loaves and some of this goes to the chooks daily. The same happens with the yoghurt that has gone past its use by date at the food bank. They also often have free fruit and veg. It is usually the blemished and odd shaped items the supermarkets wont take. Any that are getting beyond use he bags up for the chooks.
    Feeding animals can be costly if they are only fed on purchased feed mixes. You have wonderful ideas and I have picked up on a couple of them. Thank you.

  10. Dear Annabel, I LOVE your cheerful post today. So much great information, ideas and your adorable animals. Not to mention the granddaughters! We never tire of seeing those beautiful photos! Also, now I plan to work on an animal pantry :-), although we don't have nearly the number of animals you have.

    Some progress has been made on our place. One day I canned a variety of meats to replenish our pantry. We have been incorporating older foods in to our menus to keep a rotation going. I made plant markers from some old window blinds and a permanent marker. I am doing surveys online now and I earned $21 doing that in my spare time. Every little bit helps

    I rarely complain to companies about products but I made an exception and it paid off. I emailed a company because their new product I had just purchased came in a funky spray bottle that didn't work properly. In fact, it didn't work at all! Anyway, they mailed me a $10 coupon so it was worth my time to file the complaint. I transferred that cleaning product to a spare spray bottle I had saved (I always hang on to the good ones).

    I went to an estate sale just down the road from us and found a few nice things for resale plus some items we can use around here. We finally got 2 tenths of an inch of rain yesterday and it barely settled the dust. Our garden is not looking good mostly due to the drought and the cold temperatures. I am reminded that we can never depend completely on our gardens to feed us. Some years are just not going to be good for growing things.

    I wish everyone well and have a great weekend!

  11. Annabel raising farm animals is something I know nothing about, city born and bred. I loved reading this. You are thriving since your move to the farm. Sometimes I look on your old blog just to revisit your beautiful city home. Australia has some lovely old homes.

  12. Annabel,
    I don't have chickens or any animals except our beloved dog. We do however have a wild bunny that lives on our property which is just about one and half acres. I put lettuce and carrots out for it as a treat- things that would normally go into my compost. The bunny has become quite tame now and it is fun when it follows me around the yard.
    I also feed our dog only real food- pumpkin, chicken, rice, fruits and the like. I agree with you that this allows them to live a much longer, healthier life. He does get store-bought treats but they are made with all organic real food. I could make the treats myself but to be honest purchasing them is just a time saver for me. The price keeps going up though so I may have to start making my own.
    Thanks for another great and informative post!!

  13. Thank you for the helpful info. I sure enjoyed your last post as you shared about the lovely time you had with your grand-daughters!

    It is spring in Ohio. And my children have been gathering: wild chives in the park, dandelions for syrup, and wild violets for jelly. The violets make the most beautiful shade of purple jelly! We've also saved apple scraps for Jes' Apple Jewel Jelly. And drying orange peels for many projects. Next, we will gather dandelion greens for salad. Just waiting for the rain to stop. :)
    I am so thankful that my 17 yr. old son put in a better fence around our chicken yard and duck yard! And my husband is building raised beds so that I can expand my garden.


  14. I had four hens I raised from chicks I bought from the Mennonites when the chicks were only hours old. They never had any commercial food after I got them home. I went to church luncheons and begged all the scraps from the table where I sat. I did so at restaurants, too. A local farmers market, indoors, gave me a box of fruits and vegetables every week. I went through those and got the still edible items out for my use and the rest went to my chickens. I gave him eggs even though he did not expect them. When anyone mowed my grass with my mower the a grass catcher, I had them dump the cut grass into the chicken pen, a 10x10 foot dog pen. The chickens love it, and they scratched for days through it all. I picked up pumpkins from the curb after Halloween and Thanksgiving. Once again, the chickens had a ball. I dumpster dived and gave my chicken all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Yes, I ate it, too. The four of them were allowed to free range in my yard. They cleared up some of my insect problems and went down the street and helped a neighbor with her infestations, too. They would come to the back door eventually and beg. They shared one slice of bread. It was their treat for the day. They absolutely loved meat fat and skin. They do need protein.

    Any source of food I could think of was used for my precious hens!

    My hens had a Rubbermaid container to live in and one to lay eggs in. There was a tarp over the dog pen and nothing on the sides. They survived 9 degree F weather. They refused to walk in the snow we had only twice, so I had to carry them!

  15. I always learn something cool from your blog - I never knew chickens liked milk! One of these days when I can have chickens, that knowledge will come in handy. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge and anecdotes :)


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