I live in the northeast US, with relatively cold winters (USDA zone 5, about -15°F ) and a short growing season (about 90 days frost-free; snow possible October through April).

I have a small flock (less than 30) of chickens for eggs, and raise a batch of chickens (less than 30) for meat each summer.

Currently I buy most of their feed in bags from the store. In fall, winter, and early spring they get to run loose and forage, but they're too destructive to gardens to run loose in the summer.

What mix of crops makes an appropriate chicken feed? What's a ballpark estimate of how much space will I need to provide about a year's worth of food for 30 hens?

(Note that I'm open to allowing the girls to help with some of the harvesting. E.g. cleaning up fallen fruit from fruit trees, and I've heard good things about Siberian pea shrub for chickens. But some of the food should be non-perishable / storable for a few months.)

5 Answers 5


My grandmother was feeding chickens with cooked potatoes mixed with bran. They will also eat practically all other kinds of food. They love corn and noodles, even raw.

But they were supplying their diet on the backyard, looking for worms, so in winter you'll have to supply them with some animal food. It can be almost everything, from worms to small fish.

Hens should eat something rich in calcium. Such as egg shells (a kind of closed cycle).

My grandmother has a fenced garden to protect her vegetables ;) Hens could use the orchard as much as they wanted, however :)


Chickens have a wide diet and will eat a lot of different things. They need a good mix of carbs, fats, and proteins with a variety of nutrients -- just like we do.

For eating "fresh" (i.e. food that won't be stored):

  • They can be pastured in an orchard to clean up fallen fruit and remove bugs. Any fruit tree seems like it would be fair game here.
  • They will eat grass/legume mixes in open pasture (or the grass/legume mix in an orchard).
  • Chickens love "salad bars" -- leafy greens like kale or chard.
  • Fast-growing green cover crops like buckwheat, oats, or mustard.
  • Leguminous cover crops like field peas -- they can eat the raw pods and beans as well as the leaves, and the plants fix nitrogen into the soil.
  • Pastured on "stubble" after harvesting a main crop like corn or small grains. They will pick up fallen grain, eat weeds, and find bugs.
  • Shrubs that drop berries/fruit for chickens to eat. Something like mulberry
  • Jerusalem artichokes seem like a possibility.
  • Siberian pea shrub is frequently mentioned, and has the bonus of being a nitrogen fixer.
  • Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) (not black locust, which is toxic) pods and seeds should make decent food. It isn't immediately clear if they can be stored. Should probably be ground up.

For stored food:

  • Smashed/cut open, pumpkins and winter squash are acceptable food. These can be stored for months given proper conditions, and chickens are not so picky about blemishes as humans are.
  • Potatoes (cooked!) as lechlukasz mentions. These can also be stored for months.
  • Dried corn can be stored for a long time. This probably should be cracked/ground before feeding.
  • Small grains like wheat or oats are a lot more work to harvest and require grinding, but could be stored for long periods. The straw can be used as bedding.
  • Sunflower seed, being oily, probably wouldn't store as long as corn or wheat, but has a high protein content (and entertainment value).
  • Soy beans, though again these have to be processed before feeding.

Avoiding the topic of meeting all dietary needs, an early and/or cold resistant grain mixed with early corn works well. More robust grains like spelt, quinoa, hard red wheat, and amaranth can provide most of the carb and protein your girls need. Amaranth is particularly attractive due to it's nutritional density and ease of harvest when grown by the small farmer/gardener.


I have kept some chickens in the past and let me assure you, they eat anything. I've observed these little dutch bantams catching frogs and mice... Also, slugs, worms and other harmful insects in my cabbage patch - as well as the cabbage underneath :-( You should really try to allow them to roam free and forage for themselves (MIRG may be an option). They absolutely love a compost heap (kitchen scraps, egg shells, as well as the insects and worms that naturally live in it). Mine could spend the whole day in it.

Now, for harsher times of the year like winter, some people have found barley sprouts cheap, easy, and beneficial. As a plus, you don't need ground, you will probably do this indoors where you have some control over humidity or at least temperature. First Google result: The Chicken Chick: Sprouting Grains for Chickens: Fodder for Thought


The best site for this is http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Feeding.html

I have read this site and his book. Take a look at what suggestions he has that will grow in your area.

  • 4
    Please include the main pieces of advice from the website into your post in case it goes offline.
    – Stockfisch
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 21:50

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