Better Eggs from Backyard Chickens Without Grain

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January 17, 2014

Not only that, your costs will plummet and the meat will be better too. The truth is that 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 their 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 Hammond agreed to let the owner send his pile and future waste out to the farm. The question of just how much grain do 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 loosing 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 is 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 Hammond’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 where it 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:

Note: There are some references to Hammond’s flock being 400 strong in recent news. I think they have picked up some old information because the more mainstream news sources state 1200-1400 chickens in pieces published over the past couple of years. Just to make you aware of what looks like a typo or reporting from old sources.

Tammy Clayton

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.
Tammy Clayton

6 Comments

  • 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!

    • 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 🙁

  • 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 March 26, 2018

      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 🙂

  • Rudi Kempner September 8, 2018

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

  • Rudi Kempner September 8, 2018

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

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