One of the biggest factors I considered raising chickens is the cost versus the return of the chickens. Chickens need a constant source of protein to stay healthy and continue laying eggs and that usually means buying chicken feed to supplement their diets. I wanted to find out how to keep chickens healthy with a diet that includes protein, but without spending a lot of money on chicken feed.
Where Do I Get Cheap Protein for My Chickens?
Bugs and Insects: Chickens will forage for protein. This is much harder for cooped chickens, but if you move your chicken coop around the yard or allow your chickens to free-range during the day, then you won’t need to supplement their diets as much. Chickens will eat bugs, spiders, insects. They will also catch mice and lizards if the opportunity arises.
Another option is to feed your chickens maggots. Maggots can be purchased or raised to feed your chickens. Some people think they are super gross so make sure you are ok raising these ugly insects.
In the winter, you can harvest bugs by putting a board on the ground. It will warm up the ground more and bugs will crawl under it to stay warm. Flip the board over after a few days and let your ladies feast.
Chicken or other poultry eggs: Chicken eggs should be cooked so that you don’t train your chickens to feast on the eggs you want to hatch or eat. Chickens can also eat any part of the chicken that is edible for human consumption. This means they can also eat the innard organs of your Thanksgiving bird.
You can also feed your chickens the leftover egg shells from your breakfast. Shells are high in protein. Eggs have about 91% protein.
Meat scraps: Chickens can eat beef, pork and lamb scraps healthily. They can eat cooked or raw meat. Chickens can be fed bones and other scraps. You can also obtain meat for free from roadkill. Roadkill usually isn’t something you’d want to eat, but it is edible and great for chickens. They aren’t as picky. Meat has approximately 70% protein.
Fish scraps: Chickens can eat fish and fish eggs. They aren’t picky and can eat junk fish found in canals, leftover fish scraps from your last fishing trip, or canned fish. Tuna and mackerel are other fish options.
If you live in an area where canals are used for farming, then watch the canals in the fall when they are drained. Often small fish are caught and die in the canals when the water goes away. This is a great free place to collect fish for your chickens. The fish can be frozen. Fish have 61-72% protein
Shellfish leftovers: Fish will eat shrimp, oysters and lobster scraps. The next time you eat out, keep the lobster shell and innards and feed it to your chickens. They eat both raw and cooked meat. Shellfish also have about 60-70% protein
Earthworms and Mealworms: You can collect earthworms to feed your chickens or purchase them. Dried and live mealworms are one of the best sources of proteins for your chickens. You can actually raise mealworms and greatly reduce the cost of supplementing your chicken’s diets. Mealworms offer 53% protein. (buy mealworms here on Amazon)
Nuts and seeds: You can feed your chickens rancid nuts too smelly for human eating. Chickens love seeds and nuts of any kind. Sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, and peanuts can all be fed to chickens. Nuts should be unsalted. Larger nuts such as walnuts and almonds should be chopped up for better consumption. Sunflowers have 26% protein. Other nuts are similar. Garden peas have 23% protein.
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds: Keep the pumpkin seeds from our Halloween jack-o-lantern. Don’t throw away the wilted pumpkins. Leftover pumpkin is a great source of protein. Pumpkin seeds have about 32% protein.
Japanese Millet, Oats, and other grains: Japanese millet is a high source of protein. It also provides other necessary vitamins and minerals needed for chicken health.
Oats are a fairly cheap way to supplement a chicken’s protein. They can be cooked or raw, which means that the leftovers from breakfast can be fed to your chickens. Chickens love any grains so old, stale, or moldy bread is another great source of protein for your chickens. Oats have 10-17% protein.
Wheat or Bean Sprouts: This includes legumes, bean sprouts, mung beans, peas, and lentils are all chicken favorites. If you grow a garden, the overripe peas and beans make great chicken feed. You can grow your own sprouts for cheaper feed. Sprouts have 26-30% protein.
Wheat can be sprouted easily by soaking in a bucket for 24 hours. Drain it, water it daily and in 7 days you will have wheat sprouts. This makes a cheap supplement for your chicken’s diet because a 50lb bag of wheat costs about $9 and will produce 400 lbs of feed for your chickens.
Chicken Feed: Chicken feed is created for chicken, but isn’t the cheapest way to feed your chickens. However, you can purchase it in bulk or order it online for a better price.
Cat Food: Cat food is high in protein, but there is a lot of debate about whether or not cat food is healthy for chickens. Chickens will definitely consume it, but some die-hard chicken breeders claim that cat food isn’t formulated to be the most healthy for the chickens.
What is a good source of protein for my chickens?
The highest sources of protein for your hens include meat scraps, egg shells and eggs, and fish. The highest plant-based protein for your chickens includes oats, millet, sprouts, nuts, pumpkins, and kale.
You can also purchase protein supplements for your chickens. These products include Dried Shrimp (50% protein), Brewers Yeast (40% protein), Larvae (40% protein), Fluffiest Feathers Ever (28% protein). Chicken feed typically has about 16% protein and can be used to provide protein to your chickens.
High protein chicken feed recipes
Chickens need protein, but they also need other minerals and vitamins usually found in plant sources. Check out these chicken feed combinations to provide your chicken the optimal diet for its health.
Daily Feed: Combine 5 cups of sprouted seeds, 2.5 cups peas, 2.5 cups oats, 2 TBSP sesame seeds, and ½ cups of mealworms. This can be fed daily to your chickens.
Dry Daily Feed: 30% corn seed, 30% wheat, 20% peas, 10% oats, 10% fish meal. You can add kelp to the recipe to add additional protein and variety.
Additional Supplements: Aragonite or feeding limestone adds calcium to chicken diets. Eggshells also do this. Grit helps chickens with digestion. Probiotics help chickens to stay healthy and fight disease. Chickens are prone to illness so this is important.
What are the symptoms of too much protein in a chickens diet? One of the greatest risks of feeding your chickens too much protein is that their diet will lack other vital minerals and vitamins. This causes health issues in your chickens and will lead to obesity, gout and liver problems. If your chickens are getting protein in their diet, but their egg production is still slow, it may be a sign that they are getting too much protein.
How much protein should be in my chicken feed? Chick feed, or starter feed, should have at least 20-24% protein to ensure healthy chickens. 7 weeks old chicks up to laying chicks need 14-16% protein. Regular chicken feed should have at least 15-18% protein to keep chickens healthy.
When do chickens need more protein? Baby chicks need a high level of protein to ensure proper growth. Plus, laying chickens need more protein or their egg production will drop and eventually stop. Molting chickens also need additional protein. Molting chickens are growing a new set of feathers and preparing for colder seasons. Feathers consist of 90% protein so it is vital that your chickens get enough protein in the fall season.
What Foods Are Bad For Chickens? Don’t feed your chickens avocados, tomato plants, potato plants, uncooked beans, foxglove, holly, or periwinkle. These foods are toxic to chickens and will cause severe health problems or death.