Urban Farm Challenge: Growing Food for Your Chickens

We are excited to be participating in the Sustainable Eats Urban Farm Handbook Challenge this month! Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols have written a fantastic  new book Urban Farm Handbook: City Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat, which my new favorite Urban Farming resource.  I have been recommending it to clients and to friends since I first got my hands on a copy!UFHChallenge

Not everyone can garden *with* their chickens (for pest control, aeration etc), but gardeners with chickens can certainly grow food for their flock.  And in most cases, growing food for chickens means we are growing food for ourselves.  Afterall, what we feed the chickens is ultimately what we eat via their eggs and meat.

So, my Urban Farm challenge is to take a good look at 3 elements of your chicken system and ask yourself some questions:

1) What do you currently feed your chickens? Is your feed a pelletized product trucked from across the country? Is it a local, organic grain mix? What would you do if you were  in a bind if you had no feed?  How much are you supplementing their diet?  How sustainable is your current chicken food system?

2) What is already growing in your garden that you can feed your flock? What can you add to your garden specifically for the chooks?

  • Fruit from trees and cane berries
  • Greens – be it “weeds” or from a special chicken forage seed mix
  • Vegetables you’ve grown or after the leftover kitchen scraps  (go easy on any processed food snacks – we don’t want diabetic chickens!)
  • Seeds from plants you’ve grown
  • A fodder system – a simple way to grow sprouts for the birds in several trays that can be rotated
  • Worms – from your vermicompost systems (red or meal worms)
  • What else are you growing for your hens?

3) Is your garden set up so that plants are accessible for your chickens when you want them to be accessible, and protected otherwise?  How can you make your system easier for yourself to maintain and easier for the chickens to access? Below is a sample drawing from my book of a paddock system. You can fence different areas of your garden for the chickens to be rotated through, this allows the plants to be grazed at specific times of the year and then when the chickens are rotated to another area, the other zones have a chance to recover and grow back.

A sample drawing from my book: Free Range Chicken Gardens

Be sure to comment below about your chicken forage plans and let us know what kind for things you are growing specifically for your flock!  If you have a blog post about what you’ve done be sure to share a link.  And don’t forget to head back over to Sustainable Eats to comment as there will be a lot of great prize to win, including a copy of my book!



  1. We have two locations for our chickens. In the winter and spring we house them in our fenced in orchard. They have a hen house set up in the orchard but have full access to the whole area within the fence line. It’s not a huge space, but for 9 hens and a rooster it gives them plenty of room to forage and scratch. We do supplement with pellet feed, but they eat much less feed when they are able to forage.

    Once fruit starts forming on the trees, we move them to the goat pasture, where we have a second hen house set up. Again, they are able to free range within the fenced space.

    So far this arrangement is working well. It’s great for the ladies and is also intended to help keep pests down in our orchard since we grow our fruit organically.

    You can see a pic of the ladies in the orchard here: http://10yearchallenge.com/2012/03/25/and-back-in-the-greenhouse/

  2. My birds are feed locally grown & organic feeds that I purchase through our non-profit, the Seattle Farm Co-op. They also have access to 3 forage areas that I rotate them between… one is the goat pasture, the next is the backyard bee/perennial herb/cane fruit area, the third is my vegetable garden (which they only get access to in the winter months.

    I feed them red worms & meal worms for supplemental protein, give them my excess whey from cheese making, dumpster-dive the Pike Place Market compost bin for veggies/bread for them, and also deworm them regularly with an herbal wormer – might as well not be feeding the parasites!

  3. Now this has given me something to think about. We have a secure coop and run, but are working on additional fencing to better manage our garden and areas where our flock forages. I’m particularly excited about the idea of growing more of our own feed for the girls. This post seems to have some really good ideas for where to start: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/Grow-Poultry-Feed-What-Chickens-Eat.aspx.

    We currently give our chickens kitchen scraps, excess whey, and sprouts in winter, but I’m going to see what else we might be able to produce to lower our use of feed.

  4. Our chickens are still chicks right now, but we’ve been rearranging our garden spaces in the yard to make room for the chickens to forage when they get a bit bigger. I like your idea of having zones! I think this will work well for us since they will be sharing our yard with a dog and two kids!

  5. Jessi: I just received “Free-Range Chicken Gardens” for a birthday gift. I LOVE it. I was “raised” with chickens as a kid, and am just now getting back in to having them (in my 40’s). I have two giant black cochins, Knit and Purl, and they are a pure delight. Since my mom was a 4-H poultry leader, I felt like I had a pretty good knowledge base as a youngster, but your book is very informative and an interesting read. Thanks for sharing your love of chickens and your expertise!

  6. We buy our chicken feed from a local farmer, all of which we have grown here in trials, to learn how to should the need arise. We also use a sprouting system and have a ready supply of greens from the garden and raise meal worms for additional feed in the winter. Our chickens have a rotational paddock system, of which all allow for exploration out to larger pastures also on a rotational basis. We are presently designing/building a moveable system for out in our cow pastures.

  7. I am plotting to make more of my garden available to the girls, beyond their 200 square foot open-to-the-sky run under 2 pear trees. I sprout a mix of grains purchased from Whole Foods — not local, but healthy. I need to research better local sources. Our local area is pretty sketchy for traditional agriculture, but if I stretch ‘local’ to a 100 mile radius, I suppose I can take in the flax & wheat fields around Dufur. I plant lots of extra greens for my girls, but that is only available during our short growing season. Harvey Ussery has some interesting suggestions of ‘grow your own chicken feed’ in his excellent newish book: The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.

    Mix and sow leftover seed from old veg & flower seed packets (I have done this with lettuces)
    Birdseed (niger, sunflower), wild grass seeds
    Sorghum (broom corn shorter strains)
    Green manure mixes (oats, buckwheat, cowpeas, clover)
    Put boards down overnight, bugs will congregate, let the girls at ’em
    Regular pasture grass
    * Dry or puree & freeze greenery during times of plenty for winter feed

    Sadly, we have no lawn. I spent the first 20 years or so in this yard, gradually replacing the lawns with flower borders and vegetable beds. Ironically, now that I have chickens, I wish I still had some lawn!

  8. We are redoing our ‘temporarily’ fenced chicken yard, done with herring fishing net, this year after 7-8 years of having it serve us well.

    We hope to include a electrified net that we can move around some and a ‘day house’ for them to seek shelter in. Given we must ‘walk’ them out to it each day and bring them back into their more secure house at night I need an easy system.

    This will let us make better use of the pasture/green spaces around us. Given we are in Alaska, although not in the super cold areas, we are very limited in how we much we can come up with economical supplemental feeds in the winter.

    We also must be sure to keep the chickens inside a double electrical fenced, one smaller enclosure inside a larger more general enclosure, due to Brown Bear and foxes, just to name the two most challenging predators.

    The chickens get to peruse the garden at the end of the season and again in the spring before we harvest to hit left overs. We grow a few things like cowpeas, buckwheat and some greens for them in the summer. We are going to expand that along with some small grains this year to see if we can dry those for winter use.

    Our feed must be shipped, air or barge, a minimum of 450 miles so the cost can make fresh eggs and meat chickens a little spendy. We keep 50-70 laying hens and then feed out about 25 meat chickens off and on, considered small scale for out here:-)

    Hopefully we can work out a way to continue raising more of our own feed and adding more moveable pens to make maximum use of our resources, at least when they are thawed!

  9. Well, since we are new to chickens this year, and new to PNW gardening, this will be a fun and eventful summer. We already feed our family mostly local organic and fresh as possible. We have been a part of the Weston A Price movement for a while. So since we will be eating products from our chickens it just makes since to feed them the same way. 😉

    We already planted some lettuce for our chickens and they have a good sized area to forge. Right now we get Scratch and Peck grower, but will be mixing my own gluten free grain mix for for our chickens since we have allergies in our family.

    Looking forward to reading your book soon!

  10. Hi,
    Just come across your page and loving it!
    Living in Queensland Australia, we have heaps of toads that are a pest and eat and poison all the good wildlife like frogs, snakes, lizards, birds and the occasional chook that decides to eat them. We use the dead toads in a bucket with a lid and holes drilled in the side. Hang it in a tree in their pen and wait a few days. The toads become fly blown and make loads of tastey maggots for the chooks to eat. They walk round and round the bucket for hours waiting for the next maggot to crawl out of one of the holes. If you can handle the stink when you collect your eggs, it is a really good sorce of protein and keeps the chooks amused for hours. The other thing I do is to get an old wire bed base and plonk it over the top of some seed pread on the ground in their pen. They love the sprouted grain as it come through the wire or you can just move the base along and let them go their hardest.

  11. Esther Reeves says:

    We are just embarking on having chickens and as yet have not got any as we are in the middle of building the coop. Once that is done given our garden is small we will have to feed them bought in pellets as thier main food but there is a good local chicken farm, sell chickens and feed etc who sell a range of feeds. Longer term we have an allotment, which is a food garden away from the house together with lots of other gardens rented by different people and we can keep chickens there too and more importantly grow extra food for them. We want the chicken at the house to start with for two reasons, so the boys can help look after them and because the allotment is a bit of a distance away and while most of the time things are fine up there people have had their chickens killed in the past by people who have broken into the site.

  12. Wow. In our suburban area the neighbors are pleased to offer our chicken their overripe berries and vegetables. Corn muffins and whole wheat bread seem to be a delightful addition to their scratch. I have my ‘urban’ chickens as a help to my garden. We rip up most safe weeds and seed heads, let them dry and add that to their diet as well. Not that they have ay trouble eating the greens fresh! When the sunflowers come and go, the chickens are thrilled with a flowerhead for lunch. GardenGreenAngels.com

  13. Jessi, I’m new to chickens (6 week olds out in the coop) and I saw your book, among many others, at the Ace Hardware store and bought it immediately. It’s interesting and informative and combines my love of gardening with chicken info.

    I hadn’t thought much about purposely growing my own food like grains until now but I’m excited to add this to my plan. Right now they are on chick starter and I give them some greens. I’ve just started letting them out. I plan to give them the garden area to till and compost during the fall/winter pre snow. I’ll do some thinking on zones but not sure super feasible with my yard.

    Thanks so much for all the great ideas in the book and on this site.

  14. Very great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly loved browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and I hope you write again soon!


  1. […] to keep you, the chickens, and the garden all at peace with one another. And she’s got a challenge for you chicken owning gardeners. So click on over to her blog and take her challenge. And remember […]

  2. […] Chicken Gardens challenge- Jessi Bloom: find alternate sources for chicken […]

Speak Your Mind