Better Eggs from Backyard Chickens Without Grain

Not only that, your costs will plummet and the meat will be better too. You don’t have to feed chickens grain, and they will be healthier birds if you don’t. Chickens raised in this manner don’t need drugs or vaccinations to remain disease-free. Imagine organic meat and eggs that are safer and cheaper to produce.

Chickens naturally prefer bugs, grubs and worms over that modern concoction so ingrained in raising chickens for meat or eggs. Before farm machinery entered the picture, chicken and eggs were a staple on every farm, but no one was feeding them grain. They ate kitchen scraps and whatever they scrounged up scratching around in the soil and barnyard. All you need is a compost pile that is part food scraps, part horse or cow manure, and part bad hay.

Totally Sustainable Chicken RaisingWhy have you never heard of this before? Because there is only one farm that raises its chickens in this manner. It began as sort of an experiment after a local vegetarian restaurant’s composting waste out back got vetoed by the city. So Vermont farmer Karl Hammer agreed to let the owner send his pile and future waste out to the farm. The question of just how much grain chickens actually need came up, and the answer surprised everyone being the answer was zero percent of their daily diet.

Sound too crazy to be true? How about this? The farm has a flock of 1200-1400 free-range chickens that feast on the fresh compost piles 365 days a year, and he’s been doing his egg production this way since 1998. Fifteen years and thousands of dozens of eggs later, it would be hard to say it’s a questionable practice. The only grain used at all in Karl’s flock is for newly hatched chicks who are fed mash for a few days before being released to work the compost piles with the big birds. He’s not losing huge portions of his flock to illness, though there is always some loss over a year with chickens through predators and accidents. Especially when they have the run of the place, though intrusion and theft of his chickens are kept to a minimum by well-trained German Shepherds who guard them constantly.

There’s a lot more to know about the no-grain way of keeping chickens and the practices used on Karl Hammer’s egg farm. His chickens range even in winter, but the compost piles make this possible, and they continue to lay eggs in winter too with LED-lit egg sheds. The best cold-tolerant breeds have small combs like Australorps and Light Brahma chickens. They are less apt to suffer frostbite than fancy comb and wattle breeds. Montpelier, Vermont is in USDA growing zone 4b, which can be as cold as -20 to -25F in the winter. Obviously, these are some hardy chicken breeds!

This no-grain/recycling system is totally sustainable food production and a beneficial service to the community providing a receptacle for compostable waste. And the chickens keep working the compost pile for you. Just an added benefit. Let your birds do some of the work involved in composting. Following Karl’s lead, you can even get paid to haul away community food waste – as long as you undercut the local dump by a long shot.

More info:


Similar articles

Keeping Ten Hens And A Rooster Happy Throughout The Winter

How do you keep ten hens and a rooster warm throughout the winter? Easy! Regan Moran offers tips on structure, bedding, and special treats to keep them happy.

Local Growers Extended: How Porcupine Experimental Forest Farm Makes It Work

Porcupine Experimental Forest Farm has been years in the making. Once an empty lot of gravel, the property now boasts thriving gardens. Here’s how it happened.

Permaculture Diaries: Why Raising Chickens in the Forest is Best

Raising chickens is turning into a popular hobby as people look to become more sustainable. Regan Moran talks about why raising them in the forest is best.

Leave a Comment

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

  • Sidney says:

    You might need to correct the farmer’s name. It’s Karl Hammer, not “Karl Hammond”

  • Jo says:

    So which eggs can I buy, knowing that the hens did not eat grain. I am gluten-free. And I know when a chicken has eaten wheat by what the egg does to my system. It may seem silly to some people, but it’s a proven fact to my system. You are what you eat

  • Amy says:

    Wow! This is an amazing concept, especially now in 2022 when our chicken feed costs have doubled. I’m going to do more research on this, thank you! I see that this article was published many years ago. Do this farmer still feed his chickens this way?

    • Serena says:

      Hello Amy,

      Check out the articles I added above. They contain current information on raising chickens. Regan talks about feed in the article, “Keeping Ten Hens And A Rooster Happy Throughout The Winter”.


    • Pascale says:

      I suppose in the winter, you ll need grains
      My polish parents would still use grains, on top of organic scrap…

    • Lynne says:

      Hi, it’s not an amazing concept. Rearing hens the natural way. My mum inlaw in the 1940’s would visit the family farm with her grandma. When visiting she was given the job of collecting the eggs. I asked her, ‘What did they feed the hens?’
      ‘They didn’t feed the hens anything. Why would they? The farmers then couldn’t afford to feed hens! They scratted about in the compost heap, eating the worms and bugs and the rotting veg’
      Similarly, free to roam pigs ate the fallen fruit and nuts from the trees and vegitation, and topped up with food scraps. I even remember in the late 60s that waste from school dinners was transported to pig farms!
      Its about time people could access real food from farmers. It’s about rearing animals in a humane way and feeding breed appropriate food to create healthy human beings like farmers used to do.

    • Eric Coulombe says:

      I agree 100%, but so much of was once common practice has been lost. Like how ALL gardening was once organic an so on…
      Great point, thank you.

  • Kay E Connor says:

    Where can I buy chicken and eggs that was raised without grains? I live in Phoenix Arizona

  • Rudi Kempner says:

    Where can I get chicken eggs & chicken sausage with NO GRAINS in their diet? I live in Clearwater, Florida,

  • Rudi Kempner says:

    Where can I get chicken eggs & chicken sausage with NO GRAINS in their diet?

  • Casey says:

    Hatching my own chics because of my food allergies. Want to go grain free and plan on compost method but what do I feed the baby chics?

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      Hi Casey,

      I can certainly understand how that could help you, but you have to make sure the chickens get all of their protein needs met. This overview of raising chicks without grain might prove very useful.

      Hope that all goes well for you and your flock.

  • Mistie says:

    This is fabulous!!! We began a coop yesterday then I got to thinking about the cost or organic feed. In my neck of the woods its basically $1 per lb. We don’t make a lot of money so to find out that we can actually go without or minimal feed is wonderful. And you made a great point, there was a time when no one used grain. Thank you for posting this article!

    • Tammy says:

      Hi Mistie,

      Glad you found it useful. I think if raising meat birds, I would use some grain in their diet – they might be tough, dry eating without it. If I were to go back to having a laying flock, I would definitely feed them this way. Chicken feed is not cheap!

      Miss having fresh eggs in the backyard, but the hawks here would eat the hens.


Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.