Last century chicken feed

chicken stalker

TOS Rocks!
Aug 31, 2008
Binghamton, NY
With all this talk of high food and gas prices, I started thinking how people ran farms last century or even earlier. What did people feed thier chickens prior to mass market foods (aka:feed stores)?


Green Eggs and Hamlet
12 Years
Jul 7, 2007
Middle TN
I don't really know, but I'd guess scraps from the garden and dried corn. I know my mom has mentioned having to go get food for the chickens out of the corn crib.


11 Years
Apr 28, 2008
SW of Greenwood, INDIANA
I'm glad that you asked this question because I've been wondering what people are going to do during a depression. They'll be more concerned about feeding their family, not buying chicken feed. I wish now that I'd paid attention to what my grandmother fed all of her chickens; she didn't buy chicken feed. I know that for certain. She had very healthy hens and roosters.


14 Years
Mar 24, 2008
Salt Lake City / Sugarhood
There was an article recently in Backyard Poultry about a chicken / composting operation here in Montpelier Vermont, where the owner raises about 1,200 chickens and doesn't buy feed. He does it by letting them free range on a giant compost pile, where they get to eat various compost veggies as well as bugs & worms in the compost pile. He collects the compostables from the local restaurants (they pay him to take it). Individual residents can also contract with a small business that takes compost in 5-gal buckets up to this compost operation. There are "rules" that the composters have to follow - like no chicken in the compost contributions.

This has recently been controversial, locally, because some state agencies think this guy needs a development permit for his "solid waste processing facility" whereas others feel that this is an agricultural operation which is exempt from the permitting process (obviously it is agricultural, but there's some legal technicalities).

As my own chicks are only 15 weeks old, I still buy eggs. Vermont Compost Company eggs are the best!

At my own scale, I have been trying to figure out how to do this without attracting predators. Imagine combining the deep litter method with your compost pile. VT Compost Co. has dogs that go out at night to ward off predators, and perhaps some other precautions, too.

I have also been wondering - it seems like today the "layer" feed is designed to optimize egg production. By not buying feed, the mix of protein, etc. may not be exactly optimal -- a hundred years ago, the expectations for egg production were probably a little lower. If you give chickens mostly veggie scraps, it seems like the biggest challenge is enough protein. In the summer, it is easy to give them corn on the cob (after you eat it; they vacuum the cob clean).


12 Years
May 17, 2007
I hate to say it, but I suspect a large component of our grandparents' chickens' diet was the poop of the horses, cows and other livestock.

Add to that oats and wheat residue from the thrashing and kitchen refuse and scraps from the vegetable garden.



14 Years
Dec 12, 2007
ID/WA border
chicken stalker ;p :

wow this is very interesting! I read though the pamplet from the early 1900's on post #3. Very informative. Wonder if we can still get 20lb kale plants/seeds?

I'm glad you found it interesting, chicken stalker. And yes, the "thousand-headed kale" Dryden talks about is still grown all over the US as a forage crop. I don't know that it is still commonly known by that name, however. Here's a fact sheet on kale as forage from OSU.

You may have read that "A strip of good land 16 feet wide and 100 feet long should furnish enough green feed in the form of kale for 100 hens. At that rate an acre of kale will furnish green food for 2,500 hens throughout the year."

There is a some concern these days about brassicas producing goiter in animals. I really don't have any idea how significant a problem that is. As a class, they are widely used as livestock feed.

Premier is a variety that can be purchased either in bulk or by the packet. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has small seed packets as does Reimers Seed. You may need to contact your local Cooperative Extension agent to find a source for larger amounts.



13 Years
Jan 15, 2007
Garden Valley, ca
My grand father fed only corn. He would say if they can't find anything to eat here they aren't worth having. That was in the 40s and 50s. In the 60s I only fed scratch. My neighbor of 15 years only feeds his chicken corn, that is in the winter. The rest of the time they free range.

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