How to Feed Chickens Without Grains?

Although grains are a common and popular feed option for backyard chickens, giving your chickens a balanced diet can be impossible if the birds strictly rely on grains. Moreover, feeding grains to chickens can be expensive in the long run, especially when there is a shortage of grains on the market.

Chicken raisers can ensure their flocks get a well-balanced diet by substituting grains with other healthy food alternatives. For instance, you can replace grains with vegetables, fruits, garden scraps, fermented feed, alternative protein sources, and kitchen scraps.

Benefits of Keeping Chickens Without Grain

Providing a grain-free diet to your flock can have multiple benefits. After all, chickens can’t survive strictly on grains because they are numerous food choices for these birds. These are some crucial benefits of raising chickens without grains, which will motivate you to raise your flock with a grain-free diet.

Lower Feeding Costs

Feeding chickens can be expensive, mainly if you raise the birds strictly on grains. Grain alone isn’t sufficient for chickens, even if you are raising a small flock. So you must buy plenty of grains to satisfy your birds, ultimately costing you many bucks in the long run.

The average cost of corn, wheat, and rice is around $8 per kg. Consequently, chicken owners who provide grains as the primary diet for their flocks can spend a fortune in the long run.

However, you can lower feeding costs by introducing a grain-free diet to your birds. Backyard chickens can consume various natural foods around your home. You can let your flock out to free-range instead of offering it a diet with 100% grain.

There are many naturally occurring foods for chickens outdoors, including bugs, weeds, and insects. Allowing the birds to forage for such natural foods can help you save on feeding your flock.

Ability to Give Your Flock a Well-rounded Diet

Grains are good for chickens but don’t contain all the vital nutritional elements that chickens need to maintain high egg and meat production capabilities. Whereas grains are high in starch, they don’t have sufficient protein and trace minerals your chickens require.

So your chickens won’t get balanced nutrition if they continue relying on grains. Replacing grains with tons of nutritious foods will allow your flock to enjoy a well-rounded diet that will boost their health and productivity.

Chickens that feed strictly on grain usually have an imbalanced diet, affecting their overall health and productivity, especially egg production. Excess grains can subject chickens to poor macronutrient balance. Egg production is the first casualty of a chicken’s productivity to suffer due to improper macronutrient balance.

Your Birds Won’t Overeat Grain

The critical problem with providing grain as the primary food for your chickens is that the birds will overeat the grain. Chickens will eat excessive amounts of grain as they derive other nutritional elements like vitamins and proteins from grains.

Poultry studies show that excess grain can increase your flock’s risk of obesity since grain is high in calories that make chickens obese, mainly if they are inactive.

Overeating grain can also make your chicken suffer from nutritional deficiencies, severely affecting their health and well-being. Your flock won’t overeat grain if you introduce a grain-free diet to the birds. Instead, the birds must consume other food sources, boosting their nutritional intake.

For instance, your flock will consume protein and vitamin–rich food sources if it doesn’t have grain on its menu. Consequently, the birds won’t suffer the effects of consuming too much grain.

Grain Is Unsuitable for All Chickens

Grain is great for chickens, but not all chickens. For instance, grain isn’t suitable for baby chicks and egg-laying chickens. The fiber in the grain can be too tough on chicks, exposing them to digestive problems, particularly after consuming too much grain. Chicks don’t need grains in their first days but protein-rich foods to boost feather growth.

Similarly, grain can’t help layers maintain optimal egg production capabilities. Instead, layers require protein and calcium-rich foods to boost egg production. Grains are excellent for chickens during wintertime because they help preserve energy.

Grains are disastrous to chickens that spend a considerable chunk of their life in confinement because the calories in grains can put the birds at risk of obesity and other weight-related health problems.

Will Chickens Survive Without Grain?

Chickens can survive without grain, although grain is vital for these birds. Chickens don’t have to rely on grain when consuming lettuce, turnip greens, and kale. Grain should only comprise a relatively small percentage of a chicken’s diet.

Your chickens need to consume loads of nutritious foods besides grain. For instance, your chicken can consume protein-rich foods like insects, bugs, and fishmeal. Your chicken can also survive on scraps and forage. However, you should ensure your birds get a whole diet even if you opt not to include grain in their diet.

Feeding Your Chickens Without Grain

Feeding your flock a grain-free diet can be possible and relatively easy. After all, chicken raisers benefit from providing their birds with non-grain diets.

Most significantly, you have countless feeding options if you want to try a grain-free diet on your flock. Consider these excellent feeding options if you contemplate raising a non-grain flock.

Alternative Protein Sources

Chickens relying on no-grain diets must consume high-quality protein food sources. After all, protein is vital for molting and growing chickens. Studies also show that protein is among the most crucial micronutrients for chickens.

A protein deficiency can affect all aspects of a chicken’s health, especially egg production. These are among the alternative protein sources to introduce to your chickens while feeding them a grain-free diet.

  • Garden pests– Your chickens can get vast protein from consuming many garden pests, from beetles, bugs, slugs, and critters. Garden pests can be an excellent natural protein source for protein-deficient flocks. You can let your birds out to the garden to hunt for garden pests. Your chickens won’t only get abundant protein from these pests, but they will also help rid your garden of nasty pests.
  • Legume seeds-Legume seeds are another inexpensive natural protein source for chickens on a grain-free diet. These seeds can help farmers save bucks on feed while giving a protein kick to their flocks. However, dried legume seeds can be toxic to your chickens, so you should strictly stick to raw legume seeds.
  • Cooked eggs-Cooked eggs can be a tremendous protein-rich source for chickens. It’s easy to feed cooked eggs to your chickens since you can cook them and add them to other chicken foods you provide to the birds. Consider grinding up the eggshells and offering them to the chickens. Grinded eggshells act as an abundant calcium source for chickens. Kindly refrain from giving raw eggs to the chickens because you might encourage egg-eating behavior in your flock.
  • Animal organs and entrails-It might sound pretty weird, but animal organs and entrails can be a rich source of natural protein for your chickens. They can be particularly significant for chickens with acute protein deficiency. You can cut the entrails and organs into pieces and throw them randomly to your chickens to consume. You must, however, ensure the organs and the entrails are fresh since stale food items can be fatal for poultry.
  • Fish– Fish is a readily available protein source for chickens, especially among chicken farmers that frequently go for fishing expeditions. You can provide whole fish to your flock or slice it into pieces, although you should strictly introduce fresh fish to the flock.
  • Maggots- You can collect maggots from decaying organisms and give them to the chickens to ensure they get ample protein. Maggots are particularly great for layers because their vast protein content can improve egg production.

Vegetables and Fruits

Vegetables and fruits are suitable for chickens that don’t consume grain. Various vegetables, including chard, kale, broccoli, and lettuce, benefit all poultry. Fruits like berries, oranges, and mangoes can be a healthy source of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins for chickens.

Chickens can consume almost all fruits and vegetables in your garden, provided they are fresh. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamin B12, which helps layers produce eggs with richer yolks. They are also a great source of trace minerals like selenium, iron, sulfur, potassium, and phosphorus.

The rich fiber content in most garden fruits and vegetables can improve your flock’s digestive mechanisms.

Garden Scraps

While most farmers compost garden scraps to make fertilizer for their farms, farmers can feed these scraps to their chickens, especially if their birds aren’t consuming grains. Garden scraps from garden vegetables like lettuce, kale, and cabbage can have many nutritional benefits to your flock.

Garden and fruit scraps have fiber that fills up your chickens, so they don’t consume grain-rich feeds. Garden scraps can provide your chickens with vital protein and minerals. However, your chickens shouldn’t consume stale garden scraps because such scraps harbor toxins and bacteria.

Again, ensure the garden scraps have a high nutritional value, or else they won’t meet your flock’s dietary requirements.

Insects and Worms

Insects and worms should form the most significant part of chickens on grain-free diets, particularly free-range birds. Chickens love eating insects and worms. They eat these two food items with enthusiasm. Insects and worms provide chickens with multiple nutritional benefits.

For instance, they provide the birds with vital minerals and vitamins they can’t derive from regular commercial chicken feed. Insects and worms are fabulous sources of protein for domestic birds. They also contain essential amino acids, such as methionine, which isn’t readily available in most chicken food sources.

Most insects feature exoskeletons rich in chitin, a mineral with potent immune-boosting properties. The phosphorus in insects and worms is crucial for calcium absorption in chickens. Backyard chickens consume various worms, including earthworms, red worms, and red wiggler worms.

Worms are excellent food choices for protein-deficient chickens because they are high in natural protein. Some fantastic insects to offer to your chickens include weevils and termites. While farmers can buy frozen insects for their flocks, it’s wise to let your chickens out to catch live insects instead of purchasing frozen insects.

Live insects have a richer nutritional content than frozen insects.

However, it would help if you took precautions before letting your flock forage for insects and bugs in your garden. For example, chicken farmers must understand that some insects and worms carry diseases that they pass to chickens, making the birds ill.

Some worms, like tapeworms, can transmit intestinal worms to your birds. Moreover, some garden insects and worms have deadly pesticides that harm chickens.

Sprouted Seeds

Sprouted seeds can be a fantastic diet option for any non-grain flock. Sprouting seeds helps release proteins and nutrients in the dry seeds, making the seed more digestible. You can sprout various grains and seeds for your flock.

For instance, you can sprout oats, soybeans, corn, peas, wheatgrass, and sunflower seeds. Farmers can use two methods to sprout seeds and grains for their flocks.

These two sprouting methods include the bowl/bucket method or the fodder system method. Sprouting usually takes four to seven days, depending on the grains or seeds you are sprouting.

The bowl/ bucket seed sprouting method

These are the directions for sprouting grains and seeds using the bowl/bucket method.

  • Soak the dry seeds or grains in a bucket or a bowl
  • Strain the seeds and rinse them thoroughly
  • Place the seeds in a separate bowl or bucket
  • Leave the seeds to sprout in warm temperatures for at least 24 hours
  • Rinse the seeds after every 24 hours for two to three days until they sprout
  • Give the sprouted grains to the flock

Sprouting seeds through the fodder system

Kindly follow these directions to sprout seeds or grains for your flock through the fodder system method.

  • Soak the dry seeds or grains you wish to sprout for your flock in a container for around 12 to 24 hours.
  • Ensure the container with the sprouting seeds has holes at the bottom for proper drainage.
  • Water the sprouting seeds or grains daily for a week

Fermented Feed

Like fermented seeds, fermented feed is another great diet choice for non-grain chickens. Fermenting feed has numerous benefits. For example, fermenting feed makes the feed more efficient and digestible for your flock. Fermenting feed also makes the protein in the feed readily available for your birds.

It helps your chickens eat less feed per serving. Fermentation increases the beneficial bacteria in your chickens’ gut and reduces the pathogens in your chickens’ digestive systems. Kindly follow these directions for fermenting chicken feed for your flock.

  • Put chicken feed in a large food-grade container.
  • Add water to the container until it’s two to three inches above the feed.
  • Keep checking the fermenting feed after every hour to ensure only an inch of water is above the feed.
  • Cover the container loosely with a lid or towel
  • Leave the feed to ferment for three days
  • Please wait for the feed to emit a sour smell to ensure it is ready for your flock.

Foraging Opportunities

Foraging opportunities allow non-grain flocks to access foods that match their nutritional requirements. For instance, foraging will enable flocks to consume many bugs, insects, and worms. Foraging is another excellent way for non-grain flocks to consume various vitamin and protein-rich plant materials.

It’s advisable to fence off your garden to restrict your flock’s foraging privileges, mainly if foraging can subject your birds to ferocious predators.


Compost is another easy and excellent method to go grain-free. Larvae and bugs grow in large composting piles. Chickens love scratching composting piles for bugs and larvae, which are great food for non-grain chickens.

The bugs, larvae, and all edible components in composting piles are high in calcium and protein, which benefit chickens’ egg production and overall health. Composting kitchen scraps, feed leftovers, and vegetables can save chicken raisers money on costly chicken feeds.

Composting also gives farmers a straightforward way to give their flocks the vital nutrients they require for their health and productivity.

Kitchen Scraps

Giving kitchen scraps to your non-grain chickens is an age-old trend. However, providing kitchen scraps to your chickens can have some benefits. For instance, giving scraps to birds instead of discarding them can help prevent food wastage.

Some kitchen scraps you give your non-grain flock can give it a nutritional kick, especially when the birds can’t enjoy foraging opportunities. While your flock will certainly enjoy kitchen scraps, it’s vital to strive to give the birds a well-rounded diet while feeding kitchen scraps to the birds.

Foods You Shouldn’t Feed Chickens

Chickens aren’t choosy when it comes to feeding because they can gobble up virtually anything that comes their way. However, not all foods are suitable for chickens. For instance, avocado pits and skins are toxic to chickens. They can lead to heart and breathing problems, eventually resulting in death.

Dried or raw beans are unsuitable for chickens because they can lead to severe illness or death. Here is a list of the food items your birds shouldn’t consume.

  • Stale kitchen scraps and foods
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Lawnmower clippings
  • Citrus fruits- these fruits aren’t necessarily toxic for chickens, but they can result in poor egg production.
  • Apricot leaves and pits
  • Apple seeds
  • Chocolate
  • Ivy
  • Foxglove


Chickens and other poultry can survive without eating grains. Although grains benefit every flock, they shouldn’t make the most significant chunk of your flock’s diet. With so many options for non-grain flocks, your flock can get a well-rounded diet without consuming grains.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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