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Suggestions for Homegrown Chicken Feed

Dear Joel,

What plants should be grown in the home garden to feed a small flock of chickens so commercial feed is not needed? How do you recommend accomplishing this? Thank you!

-Laura W.


The most obvious and efficient thing to feed a home flock of chickens is your kitchen waste.  If you are cooking from scratch, and better yet growing most of your own food, you have a lot of scraps generated from just routine kitchen prep.  This can include meat as well.

As for poultry-specific things, I suggest you get Harvey Ussery’s new book, The Small Scale Poultry Flock,  from Chelsea Green publishing.  It’s a compendium of ideas, from fly larvae to soldier worms to crops.  My grandfather always grew a plot of mangels (stock beets) and skewered them on finishing nails situated about a foot above the floor of his chicken house.

Sunflowers are probably one of the easiest grains for the home gardener to grow for chickens.  No need to do anything but throw the heads in.  The biggest problem is keeping rats and mice out of them until you’re ready to feed.  In the fall, pumpkins are wonderful—see if you can collect the leftovers from Halloween.  They’ll keep well into the winter.



Dear Joel,

Please comment about the issue of licensing – small, independent farmers being told they have to get a license to fit in to the commercial system, in order to sell farm products to the public. More particularly, what about various states demanding that a “cow share” must have a license in order for members of that cow share to get raw milk from cows they own? 

Gordon W.


Western culture and developed nations are in a war with local, heritage-based food.  This is all based on health care.  When the government controls health care, it can dictate lifestyle decisions that it believes affect health.  After all, if I were paying for your health care, I’d certainly feel obligated to keep you from doing things that would make my expenses go up.  So you can’t fault a government that dispenses health care from wanting to control dietary and lifestyle decisions that impact health.

The problem is that health is extremely subjective.  Most people think health is the responsibility of doctors or the government.  Most people think food is fundamentally mechanical and not biological.  And most people think the cheaper the food, the better.  And most people still put their faith in Proctor and Gamble, Archer Daniel’s Midland, Cargill, Tyson, Premium Standard Beef, Smithfield hogs, Little Debbie, and Aunt Jemima.

The overriding paradigm in our culture is that health is something that happens outside ourselves, not something that happens inside ourselves.  A corollary is that sickness is something you catch, not a terrain you create that breaks down your immune system.  The full assault on freedom of food choice is a natural outgrowth of the idea that you and I don’t own ourselves.  Society owns me.  I am servant to the state, or to society.

Remember that the fundamental principle of licensure is that only a higher can license a lower.  Licensing establishes authority.  I can’t dispense a driver’s license to you because I do not have the authority—I am not over you in that area of your life.  So requiring a license to get milk, or a license to sell milk to your neighbor, assumes that the government has the authority over you.  Submission grants defacto agreement to that authority.  Every time I take a license, I am tacitly agreeing that the entity has authority over me in this area of my life.

Of course, the reason the state wants to license is so that it control the type of milk consumed by its subjects—otherwise known as citizens.  Food freedom of choice, in my opinion, is a more fundamental human right than religion, gun ownership, and speech.  If we can’t choose the fuel to energize ourselves to go shoot, pray, and preach, what good are those freedoms?

This is why you must very careful about taking licenses willy nilly.  Just because it’s easy, or seems accepted, doesn’t mean that’s the best way to go.  Many times, the best way to go is simply to refuse the very idea that someone has authority over you in that area.  At least you draw the battle out in the open and don’t get piecemealed out into compliance.


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