How to Cut the Cost of
Raising Your Flock
By Anne-Marie Miller
I love having chickens and raising rabbits. In the beautiful weather of spring and fall we turn off the TV and tune into the chicken channel. There is something so relaxing about sitting, sipping a glass of wine with chickens scratching and pecking around you making their little chicken noises. Taking care of my animals draws me outside, where I notice the chirp of a chickadee or breathe in the fresh air of dawn.
While I can get caught up in the romance of having animals, my husband marches to a more practical tune. For instance, one day we were watching our little flock peck around us when he started asking some questions about the cost of keeping our girls. I had to reluctantly admit that organic non-GMO chicken food comes at a premium price of $28.95 per 50lb bag, which I have to shell out about twice per month for my little flock of seven. I could see the wheels turning in his mind which resulted in the comment; “Wow, honey, that is one expensive egg.” I immediately started in on my speech about how you can’t compare the eggs from my well treated flock to the caged, beak trimmed factory farmed chicken produced egg. He nodded grudgingly, but I could see the skepticism in his eyes.
Perhaps I was too relaxed or had sipped a bit too much wine because I heard myself saying; “I bet I can get the cost of that egg down to factory farm price and still have all the perks of a home-raised, nutritious, humanely treated chicken-produced egg.”
Marriage is a very tricky thing. Have you ever felt like you just walked into a hand that was very skillfully played? Even so, a challenge had been put forth and accepted! Since I REALLY hate to admit that I am wrong, it became my mission to decrease the cost of each egg that appeared in that nest box. I thought I would let everyone benefit from my stubborn nature. So here are all the ways I found to decrease the cost of the home-raised chicken egg. Each method could be an article by itself, so if you want more details on how to implement any of the suggestions on your homestead, let us know in the comments and we will break it down for you step-by-step with pictures included.
Raise insects to feed to your chickens
Although raising insects is not for everyone, when you see how it effects the bottom line, you might find yourself onboard with the idea. Raising black soldier fly larvae is the most effective strategy to decreasing the cost of chicken feed. It only works during the warm summer months, but boy does it work well with very little effort from yours truly!
The way it works is: You put food scraps in and get nutritious chicken food out. The black soldier fly is less like a fly than a small wasp-like insect. Black soldier flies do not sting or bother livestock or humans around the homestead. They just quietly decompose garden waste and crawl out to provide a source of food for your chickens.
The next insect, chickens go crazy for! Bad news is: They must be raised inside. Good news is: No one will even know they are there! This nutritious insect I am referring to is the common mealworm. Again, they are super easy to raise and will keep your chickens from getting bored. I sprinkle them around in my chicken yard and the girls spend all afternoon making sure they haven’t missed one. I raise these nutritious insects in an aquarium on top of my drier in my laundry room. Think about it, how many people go have a look around in your laundry room? The only input is wheat bran from the feed store and the occasional old potato for moisture. That is very little input for a huge output of nutritious food for your feathered omnivores!
Feed your kitchen scraps to your chickens
Although this seems like a no brainer, I have a little twist on the idea. Several of my neighbors, who don’t have a compost pile or chickens, have wanted to contribute to my flock. Give your neighbors a compost bucket with a lid to be picked up or for them to drop off and you have doubled your kitchen scraps for your chickens. Although it is not healthy for chickens to eat everything, I have found that they pick through the scraps and eat what they like. The two things I never give my chickens are avocado and moldy or spoiled food. Save that for the soldier flies. Having the compost pile in your chicken yard really helps, as they stir it around and any food they leave can add to the compost for your garden. Along with this idea, any garden waste, including weeds, can go to the chickens.
Ferment your chicken food
I recently started putting my chicken food through a fermentation process and I will never go back to conventional chicken food again. It is very easy to do. A 3-gallon food grade bucket from your store deli, chicken food and water is all you will need. I add a little whey from my milk kefir to help the probiotics along, but that is not necessary. If you are like me, you were experiencing a lot of waste with your chicken food being kicked around the yard. Let me tell you, they love this fermented stuff! They will not waste it. In fact, their bowl will look like it has been licked clean by your Labrador! Try it, you will see. Not only will you be serving out half the food you were using, but the nutrition of the food will be doubled by the fermentation process!
Think outside the commercial chicken feed box
Organic non-GMO chicken food is a big business. Maybe, just maybe, we have all bought into that big business out of convenience or because the feed companies have convinced us that our flock needs a certain percentage of this and that. I talked to my friend about my little egg challenge the other day. Maybe you have someone in your life that loves to read and research? My friend is the most amazing person. I can just input a suggestion into her brain and she will work it over like a dog with a bone. That came out all wrong. What I meant to say is: My friend is a tech savvy person of utmost wit and sagacity whom I trust implicitly to glean info on most any subject that she wishes to pursue. Whew, that’s better. Now I won’t have to worry about my friend calling me and asking why I compared her to a dog.
I went back a few weeks later to glean the wisdom that her brain had soaked up on the subject. This farmer has started feeding her girls one third oats and the other two thirds wheat. Both these grains are livestock grade but organic non-GMO, just without the big price tag. She gets both these grains from a local feed mill for $6 per 50 lb bag! Compared to my $28.95 this is a huge savings. I live in the city so I cannot quite match this great deal, but I can come close at $10.00/50lb for wheat and $11.95 per 50 lbs for oats. The point is, maybe we urban farmers have bought into the idea, literally, that only packaged chicken food is good for our flock and we are paying the price for it. I should also add that she uses the same fermenting process for her grains thus increasing the nutritional value. She is also able to pasture raise her chickens. Speaking of pasture raising, what is an urban farmer to do? Keep reading to find out.
Grow green fodder for your chickens
Being an urban farmer, it is impossible for me to pasture raise my chickens. That has always chapped me a bit to tell you the truth. Although I couldn’t help but notice that my new neighbor appears to have difficulty controlling his vegetation, meaning he mows his lawn roughly 2 times a year. Seeing as I have hungry chicken and rabbit mouths to feed I am sure we can work something out. I am working on building a chicken/rabbit tractor to “help” him with his lawn maintenance come spring. I think this could be a win-win for everyone!
In the meantime, I have been growing sprouts/greens for my egg-laying divas. I simply fill up a plastic tray, that I got free from a plant nursery, with soil out of my chicken yard. Potting soil could work, too. Little known fact: If you go into one of the big box stores with a roll of packing tape, they will let you tape up and purchase torn open bags at a steep discount. After I have my tray filled up with soil I sprinkle clover, wheat, barley or black sunflower seed liberally over the surface. Then I water, wait and repeat. Every few days I fill a tray with soil and seed, therefore enabling me to have continuous nutritious sprouts for my egg-laying divas. I can use the sunshine in the great state of Texas for this, but I am working on an indoor stackable fodder system now. I have to try it a bit to make sure I produce lots of good greens instead of lots of mold! I’ll keep you posted.
Another way to provide green forage for your chickens is to build a raised bed just for them. Be sure to build a chicken wire frame around it to protect the food as it grows. Then take off the frame and let the girls chow down. I only had room for one 8’ x 4’ raised bed, but if you had room for two that would be ideal. Having two raised beds would allow you to always have one growing for your girls. Even if you live in a cold climate a hoop house, a cover over the garden bed would ensure a good crop of greens year round.
By incorporating all these ideas, how much have I saved on chicken feed? How much have I decreased the cost of that egg in my nest box? So far, I have cut the cost of my feed more than half! I am going to try to break down the exact cost of one dozen eggs so I can hold those eggs under my hubby’s nose and dance around him claiming my rightful victory. Wait, maybe it’s his victory? I told you marriage is a tricky thing. The main thing is, my girls have never looked better and those eggs just keep coming. I mentioned to my knight in a baseball cap and jeans that I was looking forward to getting new baby chicks this spring to add to the flock. I asked him how many he thought I should get. I almost fainted because he answered, “An even dozen always seems good.” This is my practically minded, reluctant homesteader husband wanting one dozen chicks! Now that is VICTORY! Again, if you want a more detailed article on any of these methods I have mentioned above, then let us know in the comments. The Urban Farm team is all about helping you be successful and cost effective in your gardening and farming endeavors!
Hungry for more? Read the rest of the series:
1. How to Cut the Cost of Raising Your Flock (currently reading)
2. Raising Nutritious Insects
3. Fermenting Feed
4. Growing Greens
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.