Let Them Out
In his 2011 book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, chicken guru Harvey Ussery outlines how to put your birds to work while at the same time scaling down their need for industrial feed.
It's easy: allow them to forage for nutritious greens and bugs on their own.
"The more I give my birds access to live, natural feeds, the less I will have to rely on my purchased feed," says Ussery. Over time, this translates into real money saved.
Ussery suggests letting chickens out for a few hours just before sunset, so they won't tear up your yard or garden, "but what they will do is eat worms and other insects. By the time they are ready to tear into the lettuce or kale, it will be dark and they will be off to the coop."
Waste Not, Want Not
Chickens also make great garbage disposals. They are happy to eat table scraps and even recently expired dairy products, which provide vital calcium to laying hens.
They'll also help you clean up any extra vegetables that may not have been harvested. Before tilling this spring, sit back and watch the birds finish up any lettuce, kale, spinach or other cold-weather crops.
Ussery believes we should all look at our own situations and try to figure out customized ways to let our flocks eat more naturally - something farmers and other poultry raisers have done for hundreds of years.
"Sometimes the best move forward is a giant step back," he says.
Composting Made Easy
Employing your chickens as fellow composters is another easy way to provide wholesome food while getting some chores taken care of.
Instead composting far away from the coop, Ussery recommends setting up the compost pile right next to the run and making a little door for easy access.
"Why let the crickets and worms and bugs in the compost pile go to waste?" he says. There is a lot of nutrition and protein in the bugs that chickens crave and need!
On top of that, the chickens can do what they do most naturally--scratch and turn earth over. This can save you the trouble of turning the compost heap on a regular basis. Plus, the extra droppings mean that much more rich fertilizer for your soil.