A handful of descriptors spring to mind when I reflect upon my decade-plus journey with chickens: lively, productive, challenging … messy. I’ve free-ranged suburban layers in a tidy backyard, managed flocks of over a hundred birds for market production, and pastured thousands of Cornish cross meat birds for direct meat sales in the hills of Kentucky.
Today, things are calmer, as my family and I care for a small flock of Australorp layers in a quiet neighborhood community. But as diverse as all our poultry experiences have been, there was one constant to each chicken-keeping endeavor: These birds need to eat!
Feeding chickens isn’t a difficult chore, but it is one you want to get right, from providing the right feed type for a flock’s age to keeping varmints out of the feed bag. There’s a question of pellets or crumbles, not to mention the alluring appeal of home-mixed rations (hard to get right—take my word for it). And then there’s the issue of supplemental ingestables such as grit, scraps, forage, treats and scratch.
There are some valid complications when feeding chickens and, honestly, a lot of unnecessary overcomplications. But at the end of the day (and the beginning, and often mid-day), feeding chickens is just a matter of giving them enough of the food they need to sustain themselves and produce eggs and/or meat.
Of course, you still have to choose a chicken feeder. Luckily, there are a few options depending on your preferences and budget.
DIY Trough Chicken Feeder
If you’re want to keep things as simple and cost-effective as possible, you can’t go wrong with DIY trough chicken feeders. They’re not the prettiest option, but for large flocks and poultry farms, troughs make for ease of feeding on a serious budget. (Conversely, you can buy trough feeders … but PVC is cheaper, especially for larger flocks.)
To make a DIY trough chicken feeder, you only need a large piece of PVC pipe. Cut it in half lengthwise using a jigsaw so you have two semi-circular lengths of pipe. Place this pair of troughs on the ground, put some food in them, and repeat at dinnertime.
You can add caps to the end of the PVC trough to prevent spillage. A simple, elevated base can help, too. And you’ve no doubt seen fancy PVC chicken feeder plans on the internet that promise all sorts of benefits.
There’s a lot you can do to fancy up a PVC chicken feeder. But experience and a supportive poultry community has taught me that, to maximize poultry profits, basic troughs on the ground work just fine.
For layers, you do want to have a general idea of what quantity to provide and feed at least twice a day. For meat birds, it’s essential to know exactly how much to give, usually doled out in three meals throughout the day. (Layers will only eat what they need, but meat birds will gorge themselves, even to a fatal degree, if rations aren’t controlled.)
The idea with troughs is to provide every chicken physical space to eat at mealtime. Troughs supply adequate feed at a set time, so feed doesn’t sit around all day to become contaminated by dirt, weather conditions, critters and wild birds. Chickens learn quickly to feed at mealtimes—especially meat birds, who will crowd a feeder faster than you can dump feed into it.
Basic On-Demand Feeder
For basic backyard flocks, though, it’s almost certainly worth the minimal investment of an on-demand feeder. You can pick up inexpensive plastic feeders at your local farm supply store, on digital retail sites and, in some cases, at the local department store. Filling them is dead simple, as you just put feed in the plastic dome, secure the bottom and flip it over to allow feed to flow into the dish.
Again, these gravity-fed feeders shouldn’t be used for meat birds, who will eat until they literally explode if provided on-demand food. But it’s a great option for layers.
In my backyard coop, I’ve opted for the slight upgrade to a 15-pound galvanized metal hanging feeder. Because we have a fenced-in covered run, I hang it about 6 to 8 inches from the ground, where my hens can reach it easily but vermin can’t. This way I can fill the feeder every few days—quite a change of pace from my days as a poultry farmer!
Read more: Build a DIY chicken vending machine feeder!
If you’re looking for a minimally intensive chicken-feeding option with maximum security against rodents and moisture (and you have a few extra dollars in the bank), you’ll find a load of retail options with claims to meet your needs.
Treadle feeders are an especially handy option, allowing a keeper to put in a large amount of feed (often a full 50-pound bag), which is secured in the bin against moisture, rodents and other threats. When a chicken wants feed, they simply walk up, stepping on a plate that allows access to the feed inside. Aside from fears of malfunction while a keeper is away for several days, treadle feeders offer unparalleled ease and peace of mind. And though they’re not as inexpensive as a length of PVC pipe, the prices of these feeder devices have gotten smaller in recent years.
And, finally, as mentioned above, there are plenty of DIY PVC automatic feeder plans available online if you have the time and the inclination to put one (or some) together.