Reducing Feed Costs and Raising Nutritional Value (Questions and Ideas)

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by hcinciripini, Oct 10, 2015.

  1. hcinciripini

    hcinciripini New Egg

    Apr 27, 2015
    Long time lurker, first time poster.

    This is my first year raising chickens and it's gone pretty well. I admit that I might have gone a little overboard last spring... I think y'all might call it chicken math, but who can resist a sale right? I bought 25 chicks at a discounted price and got a free bag of feed. Luckily I've got some awesome neighbors and they hate bugs as much as I do, so the girls have been free ranging all summer. I'd let them out early and they'd forage all day, judging by the size of they're crops in the evenings I rarely supplemented any feed. But it's getting cooler, I've had to mow less often, and I've noticed fewer and fewer bugs so I've started giving feed in the evenings to hold them overnight. They started laying a few weeks ago so I'm keeping them penned up until they catch on that I want them to use MY nests... so now I feed them in the mornings too. All this to say that winter is coming, and I have a feeling they're gonna flog me in the wallet for feed.

    So on to the questions.

    I want to start mixing my own feed. I think it'll be cheaper, I'll know what's in it and I'll be able to tweak the ingredients for other animals as I expand the homestead. But all I can find are recipes with percentages of various ingredients. Does anyone have a source as to what the ingredients contribute (other than protein)? Or maybe what you mix and why you chose those ingredients? I'd like to go organic someday, but right now this is more about saving money...

    I'm planning to feed sprouted grains, but is there a reason I haven't heard of sprouting these mixed rations? Seems like it could gain digestibility and nutritional value, reduce costs and maybe soften up larger pieces so they can be kept whole. Like sprouting whole corn vs feeding cracked or meal.

    Other ideas:

    Until I start mixing rations, I plant to ferment the feed I'm already using. I'm not sure why I ever stopped. It was easy and efficient.

    I admit, I'm kind of umm... unconventional. Yeah, that's a nice way to explain why, for the past 3-4 months, I've have a stack of containers raising Darkling beetles and their mealworm offspring. So far I've converted store-bought mealworms from pupae to beetles. Those beetles have given me a batch of larvae that are almost as big as the ones I bought originally, another batch roughly half that size, and a third batch that are barely visible. (I move the beetles to fresh feed/substrate every month). They're pretty low maintenance, so that's nice.

    Small scale silage is definitely something to remember for next year. I've been mowing my grass with a bagger for composting, I'll add the chickens to the cycle, save on feed and add a decomposition step to my compost, win-win. Still need to find suitable airtight and appropriately sized containers. I'm thinking about 13 gallon trash bags this year, just for their small/useful size. But I don't like disposable bags, can you still recycle plastic bags that have stored wet organic matter for a year or more? Maybe if I can find a source for cheap open-top 30 gallon barrels...

    Speaking of compost, I found a large number of Black Soldier Fly larvae in my pile when I turned it last. I'd been watching for those buggers all year and apparently I missed out. There's another food source I plant to exploit next year. I think I might even start a second compost pile in their run (keeping an eye on potential toxins of course).

    If I didn't distract you from my questions please help me out. Feel free to add any other ideas you've found to feed your flock on the cheap and healthy.

  2. Folly's place

    Folly's place True BYC Addict

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    Welcome! Making a balanced ration at home will cost much more than the complete feeds at the farm store; it's about getting ingredients by the ton vs. the bag. Modern layers aren't designed to eat unbalanced rations, and won't do as well. I had poultry and nutrition classes in college, and I know that I'm not going to do home-made! Adding some extra goodies, and free ranging when there's no snow, will help with cost, but limiting feed is never a good idea. Mary
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Yes, a balanced or complete ration will be expensive to make. I can get away with incomplete rations if the number of birds relative to the amount of forage is low. The first limitation I run into is energy as you go into fall. Insects are more abundant than you think even going into winter although your birds will need more energy to stay warm. I start with whole corn and soaked oats watching the birds ranging habits and crop fill when going to roost. The free-range birds in my experience do not benefit as much from sprouted grans because they are already getting them in large amounts. Your location is not given but when it gets really cold the insects will be depleted. This can be offset in part by having compost areas and large areas with lots of dead vegetation. When I suspect protein is low then I import animal proteins first such as fish offal. If protein intake is low you will see interested behavior directed at high quality protein sources when made available. Be careful not to push birds to hard as you can get into trouble. First problem is they will range too far. The you will see a decline in egg production and possibly feather loss after that.
    1 person likes this.
  4. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    I couldn't agree more with @Folly's place . I've done the math many times and there is no way to provide a complete feed at home for less money Unless you live in a perfect climate, have a large parcel and continuously move your flock to better forage.
  5. barneveldrerman

    barneveldrerman Chillin' With My Peeps

    I agree trying to make it yourself won't be cheaper unless u can get all the ingredients in bulk. You would also have to have a balanced ratio otherwise it may offset your chickens.

    Hope this helped!:cool:
  6. glib

    glib Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 8, 2007
    agree. pasture is the biggest key. FF is a smaller but still significant key.
  7. pdirt

    pdirt Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 11, 2013
    Eastern WA
    There are lots of post with similar desires as yours...thinking you can save some $$ by mixing your own feed. Everyone has said it can't unless you buy in large quantities. Buying in large quantities isn't feasible for the average backyard chicken keeper. The only way you can really save is if you band together with other people in your area and buy your feed (either formulated feed or the ingredients to make your own) in bulk as a group. You don't want to store cracked grains for more than 2-3 months and whole grains not more than 4-6 months. And this is providing you are storing the grains in a cool, dark and dry place. Storing longer than that starts to become a waste because essential vitamins start breaking down.
    1 person likes this.
  8. hcinciripini

    hcinciripini New Egg

    Apr 27, 2015
    Well shoot! Then why all the tables? I guess a complete ration is out of the question, but like I said they free range the second half of the day... I just want something a bit more sustainable than an uber-processed extruded pellet.

    I was hoping to be able to buy half a dozen feed sacks or so and a few vitamin/mineral supplements and blend them together to hit protein and carb percentages. Then use the same grain to blend a feed for a couple goats while milking, and feed for a pig or two. Right now I've got a sack of dog food, cat food, rabbit food, chicken food, black sunflower seed, corn, oyster shell, grit, (eventually) goat food, pig food... Of course I'll continue to feed appropriate kitchen scraps too...
  9. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Why all what tables?
    Actually the uber-processed extruded pellet is the most nutritious. The grains and legumes are ground immediately before mixing the feed. Those ingredients and the vitamins, minerals and amino acids come out of the production line as pellets about an hour or two after the grain is ground. So you're getting the benefit of freshly ground grain when you buy a fresh pellet. Always check the manufacture date on the bag.
    Without a pellet, the added vitamins, minerals and amino acids (all added as powders) tend to sort out of a meal type of feed. As a result hens fed other than pellets may not lay as well or be as vigorous.
    If you want to provide a balanced diets using scratch grains, you will need to provide a variety of different food types and supplements to provide the extra vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc. to meet the birds requirements. It will also have to be mixed extremely well or each bird may get different amounts of those supplements.
  10. phryan

    phryan Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 9, 2014
    How much land do you have? Rotational forage where you let them into an area for a while combined with planting specific forage blends could cut back on the amount of feed they will require. My summer feed bill is a half to a third of the winter bill.

    Need to figure out how to harvest and store stuff for the winter.

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