39 Cheap Ways to Feed Your Chickens: Without Buying Feed!

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Tired of shelling out cash on chicken feed? Let’s explore how to feed chickens without buying feed! Get ready to save money while giving your chickens a natural, healthy, and nutritious diet.

Here's how to feed chickens without buying feed - free-ranging!
Our chickens are out and about from dusk till dawn!

Free and Cheap Chicken Feed Ideas:

Lovely red hen checking out the berry bush for a late morning snack.

1. Free Ranging

Chickens do best when they can roam freely and find their own food. This gives them a wide range of nutrients and is cheaper and healthier than feeding only commercial feed.

2. Table Scraps

Give your healthy food scraps to chickens instead of trashing them. They can enjoy many leftovers like wilted greens and stale cereal. Just avoid moldy, spoiled, or junk food.

Healthy leftover takeaway food

3. Ask for Leftovers

Bring home leftover restaurant fruits, grains, and veggies for your chickens. Ask for unused salad bar items to save money and reduce waste. Avoid greasy, salty foods but occasional treats are fine.


4. Compost

Chickens adore pecking at yard waste and vegetable scraps, and they love finding worms and insects hiding in the compost.

half peeled boiled eggs ready for snacking

5. Eggs

Feed extra cooked eggs to your hens for a calcium and protein boost, aiding in feather production. Avoid giving them shelled, whole eggs to prevent them from learning to eat eggs from the nest.


6. Weeds

Feed your chickens garden weeds; they’re nutritious and free. Your hens will love pecking at crabgrass, dandelion, and other weeds, giving them a variety of healthy food options.

Read More – What Can Chickens Eat? Ultimate List of 134 Foods Hens Can and Can’t Eat!


7. Yard Waste

When you cut your grass, rake leaves, or clip your bushes, give it to your chickens to peck at. Chickens enjoy weeds as cozy day nests or add them to your compost pile for nutritious snacks.

Grazing Box for chickens - raised bed with vegetable seedlings covered in mesh

8. Build a Grazing Box

Prepare a raised bed for growing lettuce, spinach, kale, and other vegetables, and cover it with chicken wire. The chickens can peck at the growing chutes and leaves – but not destroy the plants.

Tomato damaged by fruit flies

9. Veggie Garden Scraps

Feed your chickens garden rejects like split tomatoes or odd vegetables. They’ll love these, especially if they contain maggots, worms or slugs, giving them a nutritious treat.

colorful display of pumpkins

10. Halloween Pumpkins

Ask local pumpkin patches for leftover pumpkins after Halloween. When kept cool, they can usually last a couple of months. Cut up for immediate feeding or freeze and use as needed.

Chickens eating arrowroot, a forage plant for hens.

11. Fodder

Fodder makes an excellent source of nutritious chicken food. Feed your hens sprouted berries, seeds, barley, oats, and other plants to broaden their nutritional exposure and keep them busy. Or grow your own fodder!

Harvesting yummy sunflower seeds for snacks or for chicken feed.

12. Sunflower Heads

Grow sunflowers or ask neighbors for theirs and give the seeds to your chickens. They offer excellent nutrition, healthy fats, and fun pecking for your birds to extract the seeds.

Farming some nutritious and delicious mealworms for backyard chickens.

13. Mealworms

Raising mealworms is easy raise and require little space. They offer a high-quality organic protein for your chickens. Use a sealable container with bran or oats in the bottom. The mealworms will bed in it, eat it, and breed. Feed to your chickens as nutritious snacks anytime.

Lovely homestead with free range chickens and goats, and a vegetable garden

14. End of Season Feast

After the final harvest from your garden for the year, let your chickens run wild. They’ll find loads of leftover vegetables, juicy garden bugs, tasty blossoms, and nutritious weeds to peck at.

Chickens in the chicken tunnel through the food forest

15. Plant a Chicken Garden

Create a separate garden for your chickens using leftover seeds and perennial crops. Giving them a free-range garden space enhances their diet, provides exercise and entertainment, and keeps them out of your primary garden.

Chicken feed in a bag

16. Damaged Goods

Ask at your local feed supply store for damaged bags of commercial chicken feed. Instead of going through the problem of sending those back to the manufacturer for replacement, the manager may well agree to sell them to you at a discounted price.

farmer harvesting fresh and delicious veggies for the market

17. Ask Farmers

Get to know the farmers in your area. Stop by and say hello. Buy some of their products. Ask if they ever have scrap grain or other material lying around that your chickens might benefit from.

Fresh winter squash hybrid gourds fresh from the backyard garden.

18. Plant Winter Squash

Acorn, butternut, pumpkin, and other types of squash that do well in colder months are nutritious and delicious for your flock. Serve it cooked or raw because chickens like it either way!


19. Expired Produce

Ask your local grocery store manager for old, unsellable produce like wilted lettuce. Also ask about meat products past their sell-by dates. This option works best in small-town grocery stores, not the big chain stores, but it’s worth asking.

three fresh and juicy steaks from the local butcher

20. Befriend a Butcher

Check with your local butcher about meat scraps from deer, hogs, cattle, and other chickens. Toss succulent meat scraps such as fat, gristle, and bone into a pot to create a delicious stew that your hens will love

Horse manure in a wheelbarrow

21. Manure

Yep, chickens are poop eaters (coprophagia). Let them scratch the ground underneath rabbit pens, or throw them your Guinea pig waste or other types of manure. These materials also draw bugs, making the meal even more succulent! 

Hungry chickens foraging and grazing in the backyard clover patch.

22. Cover Crops

Grow cover crops like alfalfa, buckwheat, clover, or other grasses as chicken pen ground cover. Or use your chicken tractor to move the birds to where the cover crops are.

Cheesemaking at home with thermometer

23. Cheesemaking Scraps

If you make cheese or yogurt, soak some stale cereal or bread in the whey or other byproducts created during the process. These yummy scraps offer helpful nutrition for your chickens and leave a good flavor in the beak.

Apple peels

24. Canning Scraps

Put your fruit and vegetable scraps in a separate container when you’re canning. Apple peels, mushy peaches, rotten strawberries, tomato cores, and other leftover scraps are healthy and fun for chickens to peck at.

A big bowl of juicy fly larvae for our hungry hens.

25. Bucket of Maggots

I’ve never met a single chicken that didn’t love maggots! Drill some holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. Hang it over your chicken pen with some old meat or butchering leftovers in it. Flies will lay eggs, and delicious maggots fall out of the bucket for your hungry birds.

farmers market with fresh garden vegetables for sale

26. Farmer’s Market Scraps

Visit the farmer’s market at closing time or at the end of the weekend. Take a cart and offer vendors a few bucks for any scrap meat. Many will gladly give scraps, and you can even barter with extra eggs as thanks.

Dried black soldier fly larvae in a plastic tub for our hungry chooks.

27. Black Soldier Fly Larvae

Black soldier fly larvae aren’t your typical maggots. The flies don’t sting or bite, and they don’t carry any known diseases. The larvae are easy to raise and offer your chickens a protein-rich snack.

Japanese beetles as chicken feed

28. Japanese Beetles

Buy affordable Japanese beetle traps that don’t contain toxic bait or poisons. Feed the caught beetles to your chickens for a cost-free, high-protein treat.

Raspberry bushes planted around the perimeter

29. Grow Berry Bushes

Plant raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, or other berry bushes around the perimeter of your property. Use them for canning, freezing, or pies, and feed the rest to your chickens.

Fruit from our fruit trees

30. Plant Fruit Trees

Like people, chickens love peaches, apples, berries, melons, and other fruits. Grow these plants, collect the fruits, meet your family’s needs first, and then give the leftover scraps to your hens and roosters! Grow fruit from seed to save even more money.

massive squash bug infestation devouring and infecting a zucchini plant

31. Garden Bugs

Carry a gallon jug with some water to the garden early in the morning. Many creatures like tomato bugs, caterpillars, squash bugs, crickets, and worms will be there looking for food. Collect them to provide an organic diet for your hens.

Farm worms to feed chickens

32. Farm Worms

Vermiculture is a great method to provide worms for fishing and as chicken treats. Grow your worms in nutrient-rich soil or collect them from roads after a good rain.

PS – We have an excellent guide about raising healthy worms here. Check it out!

sneaky fox digging under chicken fence

33. Predators

When keeping chickens, sometimes it’s necessary to kill a predator, like a fox, to protect your flock. I don’t enjoy killing anything, but I don’t want anything killing my chickens. If I must kill a chicken predator, I don’t want it to go to waste. I’ll kill a fox and feed it to my chickens. Just sayin’.

Thanksgiving turkey

34. Poultry Carcasses and Giblets

Don’t assume that chickens shy away from pecking on meat bird carcasses. After enjoying your Thanksgiving turkey, share the carcass with your flock. They will quickly peck it clean, leaving only the bones behind!

35. Raise Feeder Fish

Raising goldfish or guppies is inexpensive. Release these protein-rich foods into baby pools with just a few inches of water. Show your flock and watch in amazement as they enjoy their fishy feast. feast on the fish, and it’s only natural. Don’t forget to grow some iodine-rich aquatic plants for your hens too!

Farming crickets for feeding our hungry chicken flock.

36. Raise Crickets

Start a simple cricket farm on your homestead for about $10. Give your chickens healthy snacks that involve some fun chasing. Crickets help add variety to a chicken’s diet, offering needed protein and promoting exercise and enjoyment for your birds!

Mulch for the garden

37. Spread Mulch

When you need to spread mulch, let your hens do the work. Just dump the mulch in a pile and watch your chickens scratch through it, searching for tasty bugs. They’ll naturally spread the mulch around for you over time, offering a helping hand for free!


38. Meat Carcass

If you or someone you know slaughters farm animals, don’t let the leftovers go to waste. Your chickens will love the extra protein. Leave the carcass with them for a few days, and then transfer it to your maggot bucket for even more chicken delight. It’s a treasure of fresh protein for your birds.

Read More – If you buy bulk beef from the butcher, which this guide teaches in detail – it’s the perfect opportunity to ask for leftover trimmings, meat, bones, and fatty meaty chunks.

collecting chicken eggs on the organic poultry farm

39. Just About Anything Else

Chickens have diverse diets and can thrive without store-bought feed. Chicken aren’t picky eaters – they peck at sand, rocks, bugs, and many other things. Offering them a variety of foods, including homemade feed and treats, enhances their nutrition, keeps them active, and saves you money.

Can You Raise Chickens Without Commercial Feed?

Yes, you can definitely raise chickens without buying commercial feed. Commercial chicken feed didn’t exist 8,000 years ago or even 100 years ago.

Before commercial food was available, chickens were free-range, meaning they lived like other animals in the wild. And even when domesticated, most were still free-range, even though they lived with some degree of human protection.

In the wild, roosters protected hens and chicks, and they still do if given the opportunity. Chickens understand how to care for themselves because it’s in their genetics through evolution.

Chickens do not need commercial chicken feed. But that doesn’t mean the commercial chicken feed is bad for them. It means they can eat many other things to meet their nutritional needs.

According to National Geographic, chickens are omnivorous animals, like humans! Omnivores eat meat sources like carnivores and also plant sources like herbivores.

In the wilderness or on your free-range homestead, chickens will consume many different food sources – everything from stinging nettle to Japanese beetles to the rotting carcass of a field mouse.

So, you see, chickens are not intended by nature to live only on a diet of commercialized chicken feed. These feeds usually contain a soybean, corn, or other grain-based mixture.

But just like humans, chickens can thrive more with a diverse diet. And, of course, you can always supplement your chicken’s diet with commercial chicken feed here and there, as you can afford it. Just understand that it is not necessary for your birds.

Can Chickens Free Range Without Feed?

Yes, chickens can free-range without feed. Chickens have been free-range animals for most of their (approximately) 8,000 years of evolution. They scratch at the ground and peck at various food sources to get the nourishment and sustenance they need to live happy, healthy lives. There’s no rule that a chicken must live in a chicken coop or eat commercial grain crop feed.

Of course, you can keep your chickens in a coop, deny them exposure to natural elements like rain and sunshine, and control their diet to only eat a few ingredients, but is that best?

I don’t think it is. As discussed, commercial chicken feed is expensive, especially if you care about the quality of its ingredients and if it is non-GMO and organic. If you plan on raising chickens for a long time, it doesn’t make sense to feed them this expensive commercial feed, even if you’re a multi-millionaire!

You can keep your chickens much healthier and happier by allowing them to live free-range lifestyles. Chickens will eat bugs, frogs, rodents, grass, vegetation, weeds, seeds, and many other things they find naturally outside – at no cost to you. Free-ranging also gives them a much broader source of quality nutrition, more exercise (by far), and the capacity to be real-world chickens, not jailbirds.

What to NOT Feed Your Chickens

Even chicken meat from other chickens is excellent food for chickens. But some foods you should NEVER feed to your flock. These forbidden chicken foods include high-sugar foods, including chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, garlic or onions, green tomatoes, avocado, and potato peels. And always ensure they have clean water.

And, of course, never give your chickens food that is spoiled, moldy, mildewed, or tainted with toxic substances. Just remember, if you’re going to eat the eggs that your chickens produce or the chickens themselves, what they eat matters because, eventually, you’ll be eating them.

How to feed chickens without buying feed.


I hope you have enjoyed reading along today about all of these nearly free sources of chicken food that provide a more diverse range of nutrients than commercial chicken feed alone. Even if you raise chickens for eventual slaughter, there’s no reason to deprive them of healthy, happy lives beforehand.

Feeding Chickens Resources, Guides, and Works Cited

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