Saturday, January 21, 2012

Scratch - A Homemade Winter Treat for Chickens

If you have ever fed your chickens scratch then you know that it's like crack for them. They scramble around pecking it up as fast as they can, fighting and scratching for each last piece. It's like crack for chickens. Not nutritious, but a great cold weather energy source for the chickens and they love it! I toss a scoopful into the run each afternoon in the winter a few hours before dark.

As soon as I go into the tack room where I store the scratch, my girls know they are going to get some and they all gather excitedly at the gate.

Since its not nutritionally complete, scratch is not a substitute for layer feed, but should be considered a treat.  While the mixed grains are nutritious, they only contain about half the protein that chickens need in their regular diet, so should be only given after your chickens have had a chance to fill up on their regular feed.

More importantly, the body heat generated digesting the corn and grains in the scratch helps keep chickens warm during cold nights, so it should only be fed during the colder months. It also gives the chickens something to do when there aren't any bugs or grass in the run to keep them occupied. 

Berry Box Scratch Treat Toy - You can fill empty plastic berry boxes with the scratch and put them in your run. Your chickens will love kicking them around to get the treats out. This is a great way to keep them occupied and busy doing something other than pecking at each other if they are confined indoors due to bad weather.

All of the major chicken feed distributors sell pre-bagged scratch grains which contain a variety of grains and cracked corn, but you can also easily make your own mix.

Homemade Scratch -As an alternative to commercial scratch, you can easily mix up your own using bulk grains purchased from your feed store or local grocery store. I use a blend of cracked corn, oats, barley, wheat, flax seed, sunflower seed and raisins... and the girls love it.

Garlic-Infused Olive Oil Scratch Treat - Another variation is to add some garlic-infused olive oil to a mix of scratch and layer crumble. The olive oil and garlic adds more great antioxidants and nutrition for your girls.  
~recipe courtesy Hobby Farms Magazine~

Mince three garlic cloves and put them in a glass with 1/4 Cup olive oil.  Set the glass on a sunny windowsill or warm spot for 3-4 hours.  When ready to use, stir the oil mixture into 2 Cups of layer crumble and 1 Cup scratch and feed immediately.  Feeds 10 chickens.  Discard any leftovers.  If our flock is any indication though, there will never be anything left!  My girls love this recipe, I urge you to try it.

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  1. Thanks for the info. We had some hamster food that he wouldn't eat and I've been giving a handful to the girls, once a week? They go crazy when they see the plastic bag.
    I'm going to have to try that box trick. Drive em bonkers.

    cya soon
    and Fb, too.

  2. My girls are all treated to a couple of handfuls each morning and each night. It is the highlight of their day!!! They rush to see me...some even working so hard to try to fly over the tall fencing so that they can get to me sooner than the rest. It is also the highlight of my day. Never fails to make me smile!!!

  3. Lisa,in what quantity do you mix your scratch? And have you found good sources for bulk flax, raisins, oats, etc? Thanks

  4. I just kind of toss things in, depending on what I have. I buy sunflower seeds in a big bag at our local feed store, along with the grains, and cracked corn which is really cheap (of course we're in the middle of corn fields here in Virginia !), flax I buy in the Mexican section of our grocery store (its expensive so I don't add much), I buy generic old-fashioned oats at the grocery store also and the largest bo of raisins I can find. They only get about 2 cups a day in the winter, so I don't go through all that much really.

    1. I am just about to get started with my first flock, so I am a rookie. Are you talking about flax seed? I have been finding it at the dollar store for $1/ pound. I also see it at the health food store in bulk for a pretty good price.

    2. Yes regular flax seed like you see at the health food store. It's packed with nutrition.

  5. I've been sprouting lentils and giving them some every night. Once in a while they get some raisins, oatmeal, bread, squash seeds, etc depending on what I have. When my husband takes corn out for the deer he always throws some in to the girls.

  6. Never thought of flax seed and barley. We'll mix that up in the morning :) How often do you feed them this mix?

    1. I give them the scratch every night in the winter before dark. In the summer I tend to stick with just sunflower seeds and occasional cracked corn. I also mix flax seed into their daily feed mix. There's a separate blog post on that.

  7. Thanks for all this great information, again. I'm wanting ways to make my own feed instead of buying so I enjoyed this article.
    Are the sunflower seeds still in the shell?

    I've also read that cheap pasta cooked up is good for them, too.
    It's carbs that keep them warm, right?

    I love your berry box idea, too.

    Have you thought of trying to raise corn meal worms or perhaps getting them crickets from a bait shop or do they generally get enough protein in the winter?

    Sorry for all the questions, but I'm still trying to learn all this stuff.

  8. I really like the idea of the berry container...great idea!!

  9. No problem LindaG !

    You certainly can feed your chickens unshelled sunflower seeds, but mine tend to leave them (they are lazy I guess!). I add the shelled into the scratch mix, but most chickens will eat the unshelled no problem.

    I would stay away from pasta, its like white bread or rice, not much nutrition. Some whole wheat would be better.

    My husband has put his foot down at raising mealworms but I have thought about it ! I do buy them mealworms sometimes but for 21 little mouths, they don't last long and are expensive. But yes, in the winter crickets and mealworms are a great idea that they will love and will give them added protein.

    1. We both fish. While I've never fished with mealworms, I know they are a good bait. I have touched grasshoppers, but not crickets, haha! (I'm a worm girl. ;) )

      They do make little cricket tubes which I think might work like the plastic berry box.

      Thanks again for the information!

  10. I own a juice bar and have been using the spent trays from wheatgrass sprouts to give to my girls in the winter. If you have a local juice place in your area ask them to save the tray of dirt and roots after the grass is used. Or offer to pay them a couple bucks to save them for you, one tray lasts for days and will re- sprout if you water them. They love to scratch and wheatgrass is organic, delicious and nutritious for everyone.

  11. Love the box trick! Thanks for all your good ideas:)

  12. I give mine a handful of mixed wild bird feed. They love it and its reasonably cheap. I don't have room to store lots of bulky stuff.

  13. Lisa,
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful ideas and information you provide! I know you must spend a tremendous amount of time posting it all, but I find it invaluable. My poultry obsession began 2 years ago with an episode of Icarly (no joke). It has now blossomed into over 60 chickens, 9 ducks, and 2 turkeys. I love them all and find being with them and taking care of them help keep me grounded. I also feel that I am teaching my children to respect and care for all life and to be responsible. I love the great ideas I learn from you that allow me to keep m y flock happy and healthy. keep up the good work!

    Stephanie- Six Chicks Egg Productions

    1. Thank you so much! It does take some time, but I truly love what I do! Glad you have joined me in my journey.

  14. Now that we are well into Fall and Winter is just around the corner, I have begun thinking about scratch for my chickens. Thank you for this post. It is very helpful. I just bought a large bag of scratch (from Nutrena) About how much do I give them each evening? I have four hens; I don't want to overdo it. I think I will add some other items to the purchased scratch, such as in your homemade mix. They can eat raisins okay? Also, do you give them sunflower seeds in the shell or out of the shell?

    Thank you!

    1. I give mine shelled sunflower seeds because they don't seem to care to crack them open otherwise, but either is fine. I just toss a bunch out - maybe figure on a tablespoon or two each....just throwing out a random amount here.


Thank you for your kind comments and joining along with Fresh Eggs Daily as we live our wonderful, natural country farm life.

Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily