In the process of raising chickens we many times start out with only a few birds, and the cost of feeding is minimal. But as all chicken owners know, chicken math quickly comes into play. Our flocks increase in size very rapidly, often times more than doubling with one purchase of additional birds. Before we realize it, feed costs are rising sky-high. What now? Do we have to reduce our flocks? Or is there another option to help keep feed costs down? The answer is “yes”. Whether or not costs can be reduced significantly depends on a few factors that vary widely amongst flocks and flock owners. We’ll look at a few so you can see what measure(s) you can take to help save your pocket and your flock.
One big factor is whether or not you can free-range your birds. Birds that free-range get much of their daily rations from what they find out and about. Also, you don’t have to purchase supplements and minerals, which the birds can now find for themselves. One determinant of how effective free-ranging will be in reducing feed cost is: what breed you own. Many breeds do not forage far and wide, and would rather sit by the feeders waiting for them to be filled. Some breeds that are better for free-ranging operations are, almost all of the light breeds, most bantams and only a few of the heavier breeds, one such being the welsummer. Another factor to consider in free-ranging is how much land you have and what type of land. One thing to keep in mind is that more isn’t always better when it comes to free-ranging chickens. Five acres is better than just one, obviously, but chickens tend not to stray far from home. I once lived on a hundred acre parcel, with the immediate surroundings of the house and coop being 50/50 fields and wooded/brushy land. And from my observations, the chickens probably used far less than 10 acres of the land. The type of range you have is also important. Chickens seem to prefer woodlands and brushy areas. But fields and clearings work fine as well, providing tender greens, seeds and bugs. The more variety of range you have, the better off you’ll be for reducing feed costs because the chickens will have a wide array of different forage options.
Another consideration is the breed and size of your chickens. As already mentioned bantams and light breeds generally do better at free-ranging, but they also eat much less than heavy breeds. Light breeds eating half that of heavy breeds and bantams eating seven times less than heavy breeds. So if you don’t want chickens for meat, but eggs, stick with the light breeds and if you don’t want chickens for either eggs or meat, stick with the bantams.
An additional way for reducing feed costs is mixing your own feed. This can be complicated and It’s sometimes difficult to find the right ingredients. You should also be well acquainted with the nutritional needs of chickens. Despite the hardships though, if you feel up to the challenge it can be a very good way to reduce feed-cost; just do your homework before going into the endeavor. You can also stretch your layer pellets by mixing them with scratch grains at the rate of 50/50, since scratch grains are cheaper than layer pellets. You shouldn’t see much, if any, change in your chicken’s production in doing this. But because scratch is a large part corn, you may want to reduce their intake of it during hot weather. A good substitute for corn in hot weather is oats. Oats may also help reduce heat stress and increase productivity during this climate.
If you can’t or choose not to free-range your chickens, then providing them with kitchen scraps and any free greens that you can get will not only reduce the amount of time they spend eating feed rations simply out of boredom, but will give them their fill of healthy roughage.
Another option for saving some cash, if you have the facilities, is to buy in bulk. And also just shop around to find bargains. Kelp is known to reduce feed intake, while being very good for your chickens. But kelp presents another expense, so you’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth adding to their diet.
By using a combination of these methods you can successfully reduce your feed costs for a happier you, a happier wallet and still have happy chickens.