Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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Growing feed for your flock of chickens is easier than you might think. Even if you only have a small garden plot, growing a small batch of corn will make you more self-sufficient and your chickens healthier. Here is a guide on how to grow corn for chicken feed.
Dent corn is an excellent type of corn to grow for chicken feed. Plant dent corn 2cm to 5cm (1-2inches) deep, and 10cm to 15cm apart when the soil temperature is at least 12°C (55°F). Thin the seedlings to 20cm to 30cm (8-12inches), and provide at least 2.5cm (1inch) of water per week. When the ears are mature, you can feed them fresh to your chickens, or harvest them later to dry and store for winter feed.
No self-sufficient holding is complete without a few chickens. You will have hours of entertainment watching them scratch around the yard looking for bugs and bits of feed, and it is even better when you grow that feed yourself. We are going to discuss how to grow dent corn, which is the most common variety for animal feed. We will also look at the benefits of corn for chicken scratch.
Dent corn makes excellent feed for your chickens. Dent corn is the most commonly grown corn in the United States and most of it is used to feed livestock. Chickens are one of the few farm animals that should actually eat grain, and our flock of poultry can greatly benefit from us growing some ourselves. Dent corn is good for chickens because it grows well, is nutritious, and can be dried and stored to feed them all year round.
It is called dent corn because of the characteristic dent in the top of the kernels, which develops as the cobs ripen. A dent kernel has a soft starch on the inside and a hard starch on the outside. As the kernel matures and dries, the inner starch shrinks and causes a dent to form.
Let's take a look at how to grow dent corn to feed your chickens.
Corn is a heavy feeding plant, and it will quickly rob the soil of all available nutrients. Make sure to add tons of compost and manure to your plot of dent corn. Dig or till the compost into the soil, and rake your plot smooth.
Image by Tom Gill
Which came first, the chicken or the corn?
Plant dent corn seeds 2cm to 5cm (1-2inches) deep, and space the seeds about 10cm to 15cm apart. When the seedlings are around 10cm tall, thin them so the plants are around 20cm to 30cm (8-12inches) apart.
Dent corn is best planted when the soil temperature is 18° C (65° F). At this temperature, the seeds will germinate in about 6 days. However, the kernels can be planted when the soil is around 12° C (55° F) but the seeds may take around two weeks to emerge. Any colder than this, and you run the risk of the dent kernels dying. You can plant your dent corn under black plastic to raise the soil temperature and aid germination.
Heat is the most important factor in growing corn. In another article, we explain heat units and how they affect corn growth , but the gist is that corn needs a long, warm summer to grow full ears. There are many different varieties of dent corn on the market, so choose one that best suits your locality.
Unfortunately, we have no control over the weather. However, we can give our dent corn the other thing it needs to grow: water. Corn does best with about 2.5cm (1inch) of water per week. Giving your corn a good watering every second day will greatly benefit ear growth.
Dent corn grows with tight husks on its cobs. Because of this, it is more insect resistant than other corn varieties. Even so, regularly inspect your corn for any invasive creature that needs to be dealt with. Birds can also be a problem, so consider row covers, other physical deterrents, or maybe you want a real cornfield with a scarecrow standing guard.
Most dent corn takes around 100 days to reach maturity, though there are some short-season varieties available. Some suppliers will list two maturity dates for dent corn. If this is the case, the first one represents when it can be roasted for eating, and the latter is when it is ready for drying and storage.
When harvesting for drying, wait until the corn husks have fully yellowed. Then you can pick the ears, remove the husks, and hang the cobs in a mesh bag in a warm, airy location to fully dry.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
Before the 1920's chickens were dual-purpose, heritage breeds that were healthy and hardy animals. They were free-range, and our grandparents fed them a mix of whole grains, and corn was an integral part of this feed in many countries. It was only after the introduction of the "broiler" chicken that people started feeding their flock a specialized mix of feed-stuffs to maximize weight gain.
Whether you have a large hen house or a few chickens in the backyard, you can easily make your own chicken food using your own corn. It is important to make sure your poultry gets the protein they need as they are growing. Corn has a protein content of around 10% to 15%. This is not usually high enough to properly sustain your chickens, and definitely not enough for chicks and poults, so it is best to mix the corn with other grains, legumes, or seeds to create a balanced diet.
Corn also makes a great scratch to give to your chickens to supplement their feed. As soon as the corn is mature, you can pick the ears, remove the husks and give them whole to your chickens. They will love this edible toy, and it is a great way to keep them entertained. To make a really fun game, hang the cob from the ceiling so it is at the height of the chickens' heads. Even when the ears are dry, you can give them to the chickens and let them pick and scratch off the kernels themselves.
Alternatively, you can dry the cobs and remove the kernels to feed to your chickens as a scratch. Young chickens will need the corn cracked or ground. Adult chickens can eat whole kernels but it might be a little easier for them if it is cracked, too. It is very important to provide grit for your chickens to help them digest the grain. This is especially true in winter, or whenever the chickens have to stay inside for extended periods of time.
If you do grind or crack your corn, it is best to do it in small batches and feed it fresh. Many nutrients in the corn begin breaking down as soon as the seed coat is broken, and the quality of the feed quickly diminishes.
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