Keeping chickens is a wonderful hobby, but the price of their companionship and fresh eggs is the feed bill, which can get scary when you keep a large number of birds. In order to make chicken keeping more economical, or perhaps even profitable, here are a few things you can do to cut the expense and reduce your feed costs:
1. Free ranging and foraging.
here and here for ideas of what you can plant on a small or large scale for for the flock to forage on and here for tips on keeping a free range flock healthy and happy.
2. Keep your flock size appropriate to your needs.
Less beaks to feed = a smaller feed bill. Reduce non-productive members of the flock, such as spent layers and surplus cockerels. These can either be sold, or processed for the table. Not everyone feels comfortable processing and eating their own chickens, but selling these birds can recoup some feed money. Either way you'll come out ahead and save money.
3. Buy fresh feed and store it properly.
Buy feed as fresh as possible to ensure it provides the maximum nutritional value and store it in a dry container, out of direct sunlight. Feed is pricey and storing it properly will ensure its quality and that you will get the most value for your money. Spoiled, mouldy and stale feed is wasted feed and money. Which brings me to...
4. Prevent feed spillage and waste.
Chickens are messy, wasteful eaters and spilled feed can add up to a lot of waste and lost money over time. One way to prevent this is by using the correct (non-waste, non-spill) feeders. These can be bought (see members' reviews on feeders here), or you can make your own. (See our members DIY feeders (& waterers) here)
5. Keep wild birds away from feeders.
Wild birds learn very quickly where food can be found easily and food on tap (your chicken feeders!) will soon attract a substantial flock of wild birds. Keep feeders in a place that is inaccessible to wild birds and/or don't leave feed in them in-between feeding times. Also see here for members' tips on how to keep wild birds away from your feeders.
6. Don't leave feed out overnight.
Rodents are more active after dark and feeders full of food is very attractive to them. Not only will they eat your chickens' feed, but their droppings, urine and other unwelcome offerings, such as parasites, will cause you (and your pocket) damage in the long run. Empty, seal up, or remove chicken feeders overnight to prevent attracting and feeding pests.
7. Feed fermented feed.
According to studies conducted by our members fermented feed can save 10 - 30% of your feed bill! The process is simple and also drastically reduces feed wastes. For more information on how to ferment feed and FAQ's on the process and benefits see our discussion here.
8. Sprout grains, fodder and grow mangel beets for winter supplements
Sprouts, fodder and mangel beets can be especially useful during the winter months, when foraging is little and in many places, non-existent. These can be fed as supplements and will help meet your flock's energy and nutritional needs. See here for more on creating your own fodder system.
9. Provide deep litter in coop and run.
By providing deep litter (DLM), your birds will have lots of composting material to dig through. This method also attracts lots of beneficial insects and worms, which in itself is a food source for the flock. In addition to that it provides beneficial bacteria and fungi that improve gut flora for better digestion and immunity. See here for more info on the Deep Litter Method.
10. Supply grit.
Birds do not have teeth. They were given a gizzard and need grit to aid in breaking down their feed to help them digest it. Undigested feed = wasted feed. See here for more on feeding grit.
11. Shop around, find a local feed mill.
Buying feed from a local feed mill can save you a lot of money as they are generally cheaper than the feed stores. Shop around, ask about buying in bulk, which can work out even cheaper. If you have a small flock, ask around and split the feed (and cost) with a few other small scale poultry keepers, saving you all money in the process.
Further recommended reading:
Discussion on Feeding the Flock Frugally
Feeding & Watering Your Flock (Forum Section)