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10 Clever Ways to Keep Chickens from Wasting Food

Raising chickens can be all fun and games until you’re spending an arm and a leg on feed just for a significant amount of it to go to waste. Now, if you have this frustrating and costly problem on your hands, don’t worry. It’s something we all have to deal with at one point or another as backyard homesteaders. So how do we keep our chickens from wasting food?

Here are 10 simple ways to minimize or eliminate wasted chicken food without breaking a sweat.

  1. Change your chicken feeder.
  2. Try rationing feed.
  3. Experiment with other chicken feed types.
  4. Stop mixing feed with treats.
  5. Ferment your chicken feed.
  6. Introduce a hen to a flock of chicks.
  7. Feed your flock dressed chicken feed.
  8. Secure chicken wire over feeding trays.
  9. Keep your flock entertained.
  10. Withhold more feed until the food that’s already there is eaten.

Now, there’s obviously some nuance and awesome reasoning behind each of these steps. So make sure you keep reading – and I’ll tell you exactly how to do these steps – the easy but effective way.

An image of my chickens inspecting an apple for the first time. They ate the whole thing!
An image of my chickens inspecting an apple for the first time. They ate the whole thing!

Why Do Chickens Waste Feed?

Before we dive right in, let’s look into why your flock may indulge in this nerve-racking and wasteful activity.

Chickens don’t waste food on purpose. They’re built to scratch, peck, and forage for food. They eat what looks best first. Then they eat whatever else they find that looks good. And because they’re scratching around with their claws, the food tends to go everywhere.

So chickens don’t mean to waste food – it just happens because of the natural way that chickens forage for food. It’s really not personal, I promise.

This problem can also be caused by(or worsened by) opportunistic animals trying to steal your chicken’s feed and certain weather conditions.

So instead of fighting our chicken’s natural feeding instincts, let’s work with them to save some chicken feed.

How Do You Save Chicken Feed?

Chicken feed, while not expensive, does add up if it gets wasted. That’s why every savvy chicken owner either looks for a way to reduce spillage or ration feeds. That way, their flock has just enough to eat and nothing goes to waste. But it takes a lot of knowledge, experience, and effort to get this right.

Ditching a feeder or feeding tray and throwing chicken feed right on the ground makes it almost impossible to save feed. Although it might appear like it tackles the wastage problem just fine, using this feeding method not only poses a great health risk to your flock but does nothing to prevent waste.

You’re probably thinking, “wait a minute… you just told me that the natural feeding behavior of a chicken is to peck and scratch around the ground for feed. So why is throwing feed right on the ground, for them to eat, suddenly the wrong move?”

\Now, it’s ok to throw large-sized treats (like whole-grain scratch) or treats in general on the ground for your chickens to eat. We do that all the time with half-eaten apples that my kids decide the chickens should finish.

But feeds that have fine consistency (like crumble and mash), are best served in a feeding tray or feeder. This is because the fine consistency of these feeds can easily get mixed into the droppings of your chickens or the soil and get lost.

Plus, if crumble or mash gets wet? It’s turned into expensive, molding dirt. You definitely don’t want your chickens eating moldy and degraded feed.

Your home bred chickens are most likely not as resistant to infections and diseases as wild undomesticated breeds.

The task of saving feed isn’t a clear-cut one, you’ll need to experiment with a number of methods until you finally find what works for you. So to help you get started, here are a few clever ways that help in tackling feed waste for you to choose from.

But don’t worry. I’ll show you what we do. It should save you some of the painfully expensive and time-intensive learning process!

An image of a woman feeding her chickens.

Tip #1: Change your chicken feeder

Using the right feeder can go a long way in preventing feed waste and spillage. For this tip to work for you, you must choose a feeder that works for your backyard homestead. Many homesteaders find that feeders that are elevated or suspended work great. Trough feeders, treadle feeders and gravity feeders are other popular options.

You can also make your own feeder yourself with PVC or other basic home items like empty storage containers. Implementing this tip might be the only thing you need to do to stop feed waste, there are dozens of feeder designs you can choose from.

You can also go the extra mile and put an oil pan, rubber pan, or plastic mat underneath your feeder so that you can easily gather and store spilled feed. You don’t have to, though – I don’t.

On the other hand, if your feeder is too low you may not have to replace it, you can simply use a brick or any other item to elevate it so that your chickens can’t easily use their feet to scratch out any feed.

Here’s what our feeder looks like. (Spoiler: it’s awesome!)

This type has worked well with any chicken feed we’ve tried. It taps into the chicken’s natural feeding habits of pecking and scratching. It doesn’t completely eliminate waste, but it does minimize it. And most days, the chickens end up picking up after themselves anyway.

Tip #2: Try rationing feed

Rationing your chicken’s feed is simply calculating or estimating the amount of feed your flock would need in a day. I know – math. Don’t worry – we’ll make it easy.

  • For instance, a full-grown hen needs about 1/4-1/3 pounds (115-150 grams) of feed per day. So a chicken can go through a 50-pound bag of feed in 30+ weeks.
  • So let’s say you have 6 full-grown hens. Your flock would consume about 9 pounds of feed in a week, which is 1.3 pounds of feed in a day. That 50-pound bag of feed would last you 5-6 weeks.
  • Due to chicken math, let’s say you’ve got a whole dozen chickens. Your chickens will now eat about 18 pounds of feed per week. So you’re going to need a new 50-pound bag of feed every 2-3 weeks.

This tip can be more hands on than the other tips, as it requires a lot of effort and knowledge to get it right. But if you’re feeling up to it you should be able to utilize a bag of feed with minimal waste.

Please keep in mind that feeding requirements vary from flock to flock. For instance, you can’t give a flock of chicks the same amount of feed as a flock of hens or a flock of layers the same amount of feed as a flock of broilers. Can you overfeed baby chicks? In general, no – but get all the details in my article here.

If you decide to input this tip, please make sure you check back in on your chickens to make sure the feed was enough. The only downside of this tip is that some chickens, low in the pecking order, may regularly not get enough feed to eat.

Here’s how I get around this tip – without having to weigh food every day. Remember my hanging feeder? I know that it holds about 1/3 of a 50-pound bag of feed. With 12 chickens, I know that I need to refill it every 5-7 days, depending on the weather or if the chickens are molting. Our chickens also have a pasture to forage, so if I miss refilling the bucket by 15 minutes, I know the chickens are just fine.

That way, I’m rationing the feed, minimizing any waste, but also not breaking my back trying to make things overly complicated.

Tip #3: Experiment with other chicken feed types

Experimenting with other chicken feed brands or feeds can also help reduce feed waste.

If you’ve been feeding your chickens crumble and it’s been wasting a whole lot, why not try feeding them pellets to see if there will be a change. You can also make your chicken’s feed yourself, there a lot of online recipes to choose from. Try switching between grains, mash, crumble or pellets, to see whether the wastage problem drastically reduces.

We originally started with crumble, but we’ve since moved to pellets. I find that they work a ton better. I did have to modify our hanging feeder bucket, though. If you use pellets, you need to widen the opening.

Another thing you can do is switch to a 100% natural, feed-free chicken diet. That will definitely remove waste. Don’t worry – I’ve got a complete guide to a feed-free chicken diet for you here.

Tip #4: Stop mixing feed with treats

Mixing feed with treats is a big no-go if you’re trying to tackle feed waste. Your hens would most likely go for the goodies and abandon the feed until later. Now, will they come back to it later when they’re hungry? Definitely. But it’s going to sit there until then.

Make sure your flock eats their regular food before awarding treats; this will definitely help in reducing feed waste.

Tip #5: Ferment your chicken feed

This tip is the perfect feed waste solution, as chickens absolutely love wet feed. So you can rest assured that it would be gobbled up to the last drop. Its oat-like consistency also makes it difficult for your flock to spill or waste.

Fermenting chicken feed has so many benefits. It enhances the nutrients in feed, it improves its taste and it saves you a lot of money because it makes your feed stash last longer. Feeding your chickens fermented feed would not only improve their intestinal and immune health but significantly improve the quality of the eggs they lay.

Whether you use crumble, grains or pellets, you can ferment pretty much any type of feed you give your flock. The type of fermentation you should subject your feed to is Lacto-fermentation. This type of fermentation locks in beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus) naturally found in the environment so that it can interact with the feed and convert the sugar and starch present, into lactic acid bacteria which leads to the formation of natural probiotics.

Here’s the easy way to do it safely.

  1. Fill a glass jar one-third to full with any feed of your choice.
  2. Add some dechlorinated water until your feed is submerged in it by a couple of inches.
  3. Cover your glass jar and leave it out for about three to four days. Make sure it’s left out at room temperature.
  4. You’ll know your feed is properly fermented when it rises, the water becomes cloudy and it foams at the top. Your fermented feed would also give off a nice and sour smell. This shows lactic acid is present.

Now, this is a simplified set of instructions. So make sure you read up on it more than this – and feel free to experiment with it once you’re confident in your fermented chicken feed skills.

Personally, I haven’t done a lot with fermented feed beyond the basics. I’ve gotten the dry feed and feed-free options down, though, so I don’t rely on this as my main go-to for reducing feed waste.

Tip #6: Introduce a hen to your flock of chicks

If you are raising chicks, then this tip would come in handy for you. Chicks are (obviously) baby chickens who are still learning how to peck, scratch, and eat. So they’re naturally messier than their adult counterparts.

So if you’ve got chicks, then you’re definitely dealing with feed waste. If it’s out of control, you may want to consider introducing a hen to the flock. She’ll help clean up the mess and teach those chicks how to scratch properly.

A word of warning, though, before you do introduce an adult hen to a flock of chicks. Due to the nature of chickens, I wouldn’t introduce a single hen. Make sure there’s 2-3 so that there’s a pecking order established. You don’t need a Darth Chickeous emerging from this.

One more caution: chickens naturally carry various germs and whatnot. It’s also safest to have a quarantine and monitored introductory period any time you’re bringing new birds into your flock. Take it slow and steady, partner.

An image of a chicken and chicks eating feed out of someone's hand.

Tip #7: Feed your flock dressed chicken feed

Dressing feed is different from fermenting it; it is simply adding another product to your feed without leaving it to sit for some days.  You can mix the product into the feed or just pour some of it on top of the feed.

As I mentioned previously, chicken’s love moist feed so you’re guaranteed minimal waste with this tip. You can dress your chicken’s feed by adding some water, fat or oil. Mix the feed and whatever product you decide to add in a bowl and serve your chickens.

My kids love to spread some of the chicken’s usual feed into their bonus feeding trays – and then mix in some seeds, scratch grains, and fruits and vegetables. The chickens go gaga over it – and it all gets gobbled right up by some happy chickens.

Tip #8: Secure chicken wire over your feeding tray

If you’ve got a shallow feeding tray, then this tip will work great. All you do is secure chicken wire over the tray.

This will keep your flock from scratching out the feed, and it’s just as good as buying a fancier feeder. You can even go ultra low-tech – just use stones to hold it in place so that your flock doesn’t topple it over when feeding.

Now, if you’ve got deeper feeding trays or small chicks who could get stuck between the wires, then this tip won’t work. For chicks particularly, this could be dangerous to do. So skip it for chicks who can get stuck.

Tip #9: Keep your flock entertained

Sometimes, chickens do waste food because they are bored. It’s not usually a problem, but it does happen. Now, this tip’s ability to curb the problem is not as significant as the other tips but there’s no harm in giving it a try.

You can divert your chicken’s favorite pastime from wasting feed to another activity. Here are a couple of things you can do to implement this.

  • Hang vegetables like piñatas so your flock can wear themselves out trying to get it. Just be careful not to use a rope, as there have been chickens who died from them. Make sure you get a safe chicken feeder.
  • You can add a swing or more perches to your coop or run – or both!
  • Throw a pile of hay into your coup. The chickens will be busy for hours searching for goodies and spreading the hay around.

If your chickens have plenty of space to roam, then you may not need to add any toys. But if space is an issue? Then you’ll definitely want to read my article about chicken toys.

Tip #10: Withhold more feed until the food that’s there is eaten

This tip might sound cruel, but it’s really not. It’s logistics. And it works for a lot of homesteaders.

When next your chickens decide to waste feed, do not clean up the mess. Instead, take away the feeder or feeding tray and let them eat the wasted feed.

Ideally, make sure the feed isn’t wasted on the ground but in a rubber tub, plastic mat, or oil pan. This will help ensure feed is healthy and safe for consumption. But if the coop has a dry dirt floor? It may still be fine. We keep a rock under our feeder now. That way, food that spills has a rock to sit on – until the chickens scratch it away. Then, they get to clean up the dirt floor. Free grit with dinner!

You can give them more feed when you have made sure they have cleaned up the waste. Also, make sure your flock has a constant water supply. Chickens can go up to a few days without feed, but not so long without water.

Final Thoughts on Minimizing Wasted Chicken Feed

Although our chickens may love to eat a great deal, they can also be pretty wasteful. But they don’t have to be – and we don’t have to be constantly cleaning up after them.

There are a lot of tactics that can help efficiently tackle feed waste. You just have to find which one works best for you. Bringing feed waste to a minimum can be as easy as changing an inept feeder or withholding feed.

But if you’re still dealing with this expensive problem after implementing these two tips then please, by all means, try out the rest of the tips elaborated above. We guarantee you that these tips are super effective in curbing the problem. You should also make sure wasted or neglected feed is not as a result of physical ailments like sour crop, crop impaction or gapeworm, in one or more of your hens. We hope you found these tips actionable and helpful.

Want help figuring out the right chicken feeder? I’ve got a whole series of videos on YouTube about chickens – and which chicken feeders actually work. Click here to check out those videos – and be sure to subscribe while you’re there.

Resources

It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂

  • Kelzey. Chickens Keep Wasting Food. 15 Oct. 2020, www.backyardchickens.com/threads/chickens-keep-wasting-food.1408913/.
  • Ly, Written by Linda, et al. “Why and How to Ferment Your Chicken Feed.” Garden Betty, 26 Nov. 2020, www.gardenbetty.com/why-and-how-to-ferment-your-chicken-feed/.

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