Protect Your Feed
While chicken feed is fairly easy to come by, with 50-pound sacks available at places like farm supply stores and local farms, opening a bag raises the important issue of preservation, as improper storage can expose feed to a variety of contaminants that sicken chickens. Bugs, rodents, scavenger animals and molds will appear overnight to feast on (and render unusable) an unsecured bag of chicken feed. Safeguarding against these intruders will defend flock health and protect against feed waste.
Stock Enough, Not Too Much
The first consideration chicken keepers must take into account is how much feed to keep on hand. On average, one chicken will consume 6 pounds a month, with slight seasonal variation. Feed has a shelf life of a few months. For small flocks, it's not a good idea to stockpile feed -- one bag should suffice and simplifies storage and spoilage concerns.
How to Store Feed
For that one bag of feed, however, proper storage is crucial. Feed bags are designed to preserve freshness for as long as possible, but they aren't moisture- and rodent-proof. The best plan is transferring feed to a secure storage container upon opening it. Many people use 10-gallon, lidded, metal trash cans, though these can produce moisture that hastens spoilage. Plastic bins work as well, though tenacious rodents eventually will chew through plastic. Farm supply stores sell opaque, plastic feed bins that are specially designed to protect feed. Regardless of material, however, always use a bin's entire contents before filling with a new bag, as older feed buried beneath fresh can spoil before use.
Feed bins at farm stores come at a higher price than other storage containers, but the price increase can be worth it as they are designed to protect against moisture and pests.
Location, Location, Location
Where you store chicken feed is as important as the manner in which you seal it. Place storage containers in a pest-proof building, such as a shed or garage, and station a few mouse traps throughout the area to discourage rodent activity. Cleanliness is also key to keeping out critters, so sweep the ground well and often. Feed bins should be stored off the ground, on pallets or pavers, to discourage condensation buildup on the bottom. The storage area should offer shelter from sunlight, which can hasten spoilage, and safeguard against moisture as molds produce illness-inducing mycotoxins. The ideal feed storage will be cool and offer plenty of ventilation.
Deal with Bugs
A common quandary a keeper encounters involves opening the feed bin only to find it crawling with bugs. Sometimes they find their way in, and sometimes the feed was contaminated at the mill. Chickens, as omnivores, are fond of bugs and gain valuable protein from consuming them, but the bag says to discard infested feed. Best flock management practices say to discard the feed, as bugs living within feed storage also means bug excrement and associated bacterial contamination. If insect infestation continues to be a problem, food grade diatomaceous earth can be added to feed as a control measure. Diatomaceous earth is nontoxic to larger organisms, but inhibits insect respiration and prevents insect populations.