The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Cooking for your chickens: supplementing your layers pellets

Carol sampling mashWhy not supplement your chicken feed with homemade mash?

The cost of chicken feed is rocketing. It has already gone up 30% on last year’s feed prices. With a small flock of just five hens and the guinea fowl couple, the impact isn’t huge but any saving could be put towards maintenance and equipment costs. These can be big for people who have just started with chickens. And if you find a market for your eggs and want to expand, the investment in extra chicken housing and runs can be large. Unlike the UK human housing market, chicken houses are at a premium now. Suddenly everyone wants to keep chickens. I’ve heard of chicken houses swapping hands for £400 ($800 dollars).The market is booming.

I try and maintain our chicken houses and shelters well, so that they will have a decent innings. If I see chicken wire going cheap or thrown out – I snap it up. I always offer to buy redundant feed and water hoppers if I discover them in garages or sheds in houses that I visit. We were lucky to be able to buy a galvanised double grain bin a couple of years ago from someone who was leaving the village. This means that we can store food for the flock and the birds in a rat proof place. But there’s no point in stockpiling masses of feed as the sell by dates are not long on commercially made chicken food.

A few weeks ago I noticed that The Chicken Lady was softening kitchen vegetable scraps in a casserole dish for her chickens. I was curious.
“We simmer the peelings until they are soft and then add bran to bulk it out. The chickens love it and it makes a huge reduction in the feed bill.” Husband, S explained.

Up until now we have fed our flock of seven with fresh leftover greens, carrot peelings and chopped cauliflower stalks occasionally in the morning. Initially they were suspicious until Carol and the guinea fowl couple dived in. Now they all love the morning health bar. It’s snaffled in minutes. Layers pellets are on offer in the hopper 24/7. The latter might be nutritious but who would turn down the crunchy fresh veg?

I hadn’t thought of actually cooking for them. When I dug up a few too many Jerusalem artichokes, I tossed them in a pan with some potato peelings and water. When they were soft I stirred in some oatmeal and wheat germ. It looked like the nightmare meal from hell so I added some fresh greens to tempt them. Once Carol had given thw dish the thumbs up, the whole flock tucked in.

I worried that the flock would scorn the layers pellets with the vitamins and minerals if we supplemented the feed. The trick is to give them a smallish portion. Initially with a few fresh leaves to attract attention. Just enough for every bird to scoff and want a little more. Even chickens get bored and fractious. Supplementing their diet has lifted our flock. Egg production has improved since we started feeding them the Chef’s Special for Discerning Chickens.

It took a while for us to retain ingredients and not automatically scrape them into the compost bin. Now the Chef’s Special is a regular pot that bubbles on the stove. We are saving money, they are eating a more varied diet.

If you have the time and determination you can also make all your own chicken feed. I’m sure that it’s like moving your flock from a life of cook in sauces to delicious meals made from scratch. I have found two excellent sites with wholesome recipes.
If you try them I’d love to hear how they turn out for you and your flock.

  Leave a reply


  1. Hello,
    Thanks for the information and the sites about chicken feed. I have been feeding my girls the peelings and leftovers for years. I now only have 6 lovely birds, but they wait every morning for their homemade mash. I mix it with mixed corn and a few layers pellets, but they seem to prefer the peelings. When we go out walking with our dog we collect all sorts of green leaves – dandilions are a particular favourits – but any green things are most welcome.
    I have 3 black rock and 3 brown hybrids, the black girls are always at the front of the queue, but I make sure the others aren’t left out. A few days a week I suspend a fresh corn cob from a low branch on my wisteria which is gobbled up in minutes. As an alternative I hang a small cabbage on the same branch, as well as keeping the food out of the sometimes very wet ground it gives them something to do – jumping up to tear of the tastey bits. When I make cakes or pastry the girls all get a few crumbs of the raw pastry which they rush about hunting for, and they love cheese too. I hate waste and between the family, our dog and the chickens we waste very little.
    Thanks again for a very informative site, I will visit regularly. Best regards, Margaret

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Mell

    It doesn’t seem long we built the house and constructed the run (a nightmare). The chickens have kept us entertained since then – it’s been four years now.

    I find that keeping chickens keeps me calm.

  3. will definately let you know how it all goes with my chickens,still waiting for their house etc,i hate waiting for things to arrive!! at least the weather is geting better to do it all.have a lovely bank holiday everyone.mellx

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jo

    I am intrigued by the proposal for your meat. Could it begin with s?!

    The handbag sideline sounds like a very good salve.

    I will inquire at the local abattoir about skins.

    We have a cheap and cheerful slow cooker for ourselves and I’m going to keep an eye out for another for the chucks.

    Hi Mell

    This is terrific news! You’ll have so many hours of enjoyment from then and your very own fresh eggs!

    So pleased that you are enjoying the site. Love to hear how it all goes when the chickens arrive.

  5. used to keep chickens many years ago,after that made myself happy by filling my kitchen up with chicken ornaments,picturesetc hundreds of them!so happy my new husband has finally given in,and im getting 3 real hens soon!!!GOT MOST BITS JUST WAITING FOR THEIR HOUSE TO ARRIVE,CANT WAIT!!!!!i love your site and catch up whenever i get the time.wish me luck,will let you know how it goes.mell

  6. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Hi Fiona –

    yes, it was a dreadful day – but one which we’ve had to be realistic about; these things happen & there was nothing we could do about it. As I mentioned we’re having a bad year as 2/3 of the kids born so far, have been males; so the majority will have to go for meat, which is a truly bitter pill to swallow considering they are top pedigree animals. We have been offered an intriguing proposition for the meat – which I know you personally would especially savour – but I cannot say any more for the moment unfortunately.

    We’d heard so many good things about kid meat we almost felt we owed it to them, to try it; & all I can say is if you can get hold of some, do – as it’s absolutely delicious. The only thing is to treat it gently as it’s very lean & dries out easily.

    Oops, I spelt our tanner’s name wrong – it’s Nicki with a ‘c’, not a ‘k’! I caught up with her at the Smallholder Show at Builth Wells yesterday, an event which is always well worth a visit. As our friend’s handbag came out so well & looks so stunning we’re thinking of getting some made ourselves – they retail at up to £400, which offers a good return considering the skins would otherwise just be scrapped (a shame as they’re so beautiful).

    Nicki is one of the only organic tanners in the UK & her products are wonderful. She gives you a list of instructions on how to prepare the skins prior to sending them to her (which takes around 2 weeks). Basically you cure them in salt prior to sending them; the salt can be obtained in bulk from agricultural suppliers. It takes about another 2-3 weeks to complete the tanning porcess which costs around £20 with £50-£60 to make it into a handbag (although she doesn’t do this – you have to send it elsewhere). Add to that around £10 P&P & there you have it!

    You could always inquire at the local abattoir as to whether they have any goatskins – then you’ve got a bargain as they should give them away. For us however, as it costs us so much to rear the boys in the first place, every little helps!

    Ironically we cannot collect our own skins from the abattoir but have to drive another 30 miles to the rendering plant to pick them up because the abattoir will not give them to us direct as the animals were livestock under our CPH – & you can’t take raw products such as skin & horn back to your holding owing to biosecurity/cross-contamination measures. Once they’ve been salted they’re considered ‘safe’ however.

    I think you can get cheap n’ cheerful slow cookers in Argos & places like that; I considered getting one for us a couple of years ago until the OH ascerbically pointed out that the bottom oven of the Rayburn does exactly that job & is already on all the time! Oops!!

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jo

    I must look out for an old slow cooker – problem is that most people that I know have started using theirs again to save fuel costs!

    What a dreadful day that must have been. Bringing your kids to be slaughtered. Well done you keeping a carcass to eat – I’ve heard that the meat is exceptionally good.

    What a shame that you had so many male kids this year.

    Thanks for the information on curing skins, I had no idea. It’s useful to have the name of a really good tanner too.

    Hi Courtney

    It might be a good idea to look at the regulations regarding chicken feeding in the USA. I had no idea that they existed over here. I’ll continue to cook for my chucks in the garden shed.

  8. Courtney

    We have about 15 chickens on our farm as well as 5 dogs. All of our leftovers and spoiled foods get split between the chickens and the dogs. The chickens are given almost anything, while we avoid giving the dogs certain things that they don’t digest well or don’t like. I have never had to deal with issues of cross contamination, but then I’ve never looked closely at the US regulations for our chickens. We have them for eggs.

  9. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Hi Fiona –

    yup, the “camping stove” would be handy if you’re ever inspected by DEFRA – as even if you chop the greens in the shed but cook ’em in the kitchen, it’s still illegal to then feed them to poultry. A mate of mine used a wheezy old Burco boiler (but a slow cooker would also do the job) in her greenhouse.

    I’d love to make some mash like that for the chooks, as I’ve got a whole 20kg sack of bran which will moulder away otherwise – what a great idea! Fortunately I still have a ‘stash’ of hexamine camping stoves from my days (ooops, years!) in the RAF, which will serve the purpose…

    Thanks for your sympathy reference the goat kids. It was a terrible day, when they went on their final journey: we’d poured so much love, care & attention into bringing them up to work as happy, healthy stud males that the OH almost chucked me out of the car I was crying so much; & he was concerned it would upset the kids! Although to be honest, whilst we’re “brassic” farmers, the cost wasn’t the issue (approx £230 to raise each kid); rather, the quality of our animals’ life, is all we care about.

    I was paid a total of £95 for five out of six of the carcases (we kept the biggest – Arfryn – for ourselves); although I froze the offal for pate etc. Whilst I felt deeply unhappy about eating someone I’d so cherished & nurtured, I must admit the resultant meat was absolutely delicious: far leaner than lamb, & with a tenderness & flavour between saltmarsh lamb, & good venison.

    So this year, with 2/3rd male kids unfortunately…well, we have to be realistic regarding the fate of a few of our well-bred boys. Goat/kid meat has the same calorific/protein content as chicken – & so would prove a welcome variation for those on a suitable diet – no wonder so many restaurants are clamoring for this ‘up-&-coming’ dish. And whilst curry might be great for Ghurkas & Jamaicans, chevon is expressively more versatile than only that dish!

    We were fortunate to get our skins back at all as apparently they are considered to be of little value; & you can’t just take them with you along with the meat, offal etc from the abattoir for all sorts of legal reasons.

    We had to cure them ourselves for two weeks before they could be delivered to the talented organic tanner, Nikki Port in Herefordshire – who gave us back the most wonderful, supple skins imaginable.

    And for those ‘afficianados’ or for those who simply want something safe, warm & lovely for their baby’s crib: please, DO NOT buy any sheep/kidskin which has a clearly white underside, as this denotes said fleece has been subjected to a chemical process & could prove harmful. Organic skins are a creamy brown beneath & have no chemical smell.

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara

    Our flock have wolfed the stuff down until I gave them some cooked mashed broccoli stalks which they avoided!

    Hi Gillie

    Until now our flock were fed layers pellets and mixed wild bird seed in the mornings, with a few fresh from the plot greens (swiss chard etc). They are enjoying the mash, generally. I think that it has a novelty factor.

    Hi Sam

    I haven’t tried onions on the flock. I reckoned that they wouldn™t like them.

    Carol particularly likes the pinhead oatmeal.

    Ours have to stay in the run all the time they wouldn™t stand a chance against the Min Pins. I do toss them the occasional slug and snail though.

    Hi Velvet Goldmine

    The guineas seem to eat everything as long as it is green! Ours unfortunately cannot be free range. They are the bravest when it comes to tasting new food.

    I reckon that making your own food from scratch could be more expensive than the pellets that you buy from the store if you bought in small quantities and only used organic ingredients. However the food produced is probably better for the flock.

    Hi Moonroot

    I™d never thought of this either although Danny did mention that his mum made a mash for the chickens in the winter back in Ireland.

    Hi Jo

    Thanks for setting us straight on this front.

    I knew that it was illegal to feed your chickens meat. I had no idea about the possibility of cross contamination.

    Better keep a chopping board and knife in the garden shed from now on! A little camping stove might be handy too.

    Hi Gillie

    I couldn™t bring myself to eat our chucks either. The Min Pins would, given half a chance! Good idea only to name the breeding pairs of pigs and sheep.

    Hi Jo
    What a shame that your male kids had to go for meat – that must have been a terrible day.

    Love the idea of curing the skins and I did laugh when I read the handbag story!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,234,303 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2012 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder