Chicken Crack: Homestead Upcycling

I am not the first to observe that livestock are an excellent way to convert waste scraps into food. But seeing your chickens go to town on a big bowl of, essentially, garbage, really hammers home the adage that one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

This past weekend, like many, Homebrew Husband spent five leisurely hours brewing a batch of homebrew. We were out of Red Special, our house pale ale, and Nick couldn’t let that stand. When he was done mashing and sparging, he had over eleven pounds of brewers grains to discard.

Normally after a brew, I tell Nick which fallow garden bed needs a little organic matter boost and he spreads the spent grains out over the bed and we let the worms take it from there. This time, we decided to see what would happen if we gave the grains to the chickens.

Two words: Chicken Crack. This video, sadly, does not capture the initial chick reaction to the grain, which was roughly the same as the reaction our son has when I dangle my car keys in front of his face. By the time I stopped laughing and found the camera, they had calmed down a bit, but were still clearly very happy with the enormous bowl of brewers waste.

That got me to thinking: what else can we or do we upcycle around the homestead?

The grain that makes the beer feeds the chickens that make the eggs. The shells from the eggs become the calcium supplement for the chickens and the slug deterrent around the brassicas. The beer that doesn’t make the cut for drinking becomes the malt vinegar that flavors dinner.

The blackberries make the jam which makes the tarts which make tea parties with my girl extra special. The blackberries also make the wine which makes the gardener happy, and which makes the blackberry vinegar which makes the salad dressings sing.

The gardening shorts get too holey and get ripped up to be made into wicking strips for the self-watering containers which hold the tomatoes. The milk that becomes the yogurt comes in containers that become the organic fertilizer scoops. The broken handle from the garden fork becomes the perch in the chicken coop and the leaky hose becomes a pinch guard covering the chain of the neighbors tire swing.

And so it goes. What do you upcycle or repurpose in your home and garden?

Reminder: Today’s the last day to enter to win an at-home Oyster Mushroom Kit. The contest is open until midnight tonight (Tuesday, June 14th) and the winner will be announced this Thursday. Good luck!


  1. says

    Upcycling is my life. We actually give all of our kitchen waste to our chickens – even dairy and meat (we don't, however feed them chicken because, while they would eat it, it's just weird). I also hang onto a large amount of eggshells, crush them up and then throw a handful of them in the hole when I transplant tomatoes and peppers. Seriously helps stave off blossom end rot.

  2. says

    ok, my ladies and goats would NOT eat the leftover mash from the brew. What is up with that? Maybe they just didn't know. I will try again. My latest upcycling would be several pounds of stale nuts fed the the cluckers. They were super happy with that. I expect very orange yolks in the near future.

  3. says

    Time was everything went into the compost pile for use in the garden. Now, the choice stuff goes to the girls and the rest goes to the compost, which in turn creates worms that are treats for the girls. I haven't thught about crushing egg shells for brassica slug support. I will do that! I have read you can crush them, bake them and feed them to the hens. I will research that when the time comes.

    Otherwise, boxes get recycled, but not until after my sons have had a crack at makeing something with them.

    Lastly, I'm planning on using my partially composted bedding from the girls to mulch around my blueberries to boost the acidity. Left overs goes for much needed browns in the compost.

  4. says

    I cut different size doll blankets from anything. These are sent to grandchildren. The other scraps from clothing or sewing scraps go into a rag bag for cleaning up nasty messes that I don't want to use dish towels to clean. Since I don't use paper towels, just dishtowels, there are things I do NOT want to wash. Bits of cloth go into my trunk for checking oil. I give these to men friends for their car trunk, too. A nasty looking worn blanket goes in the trunk for kneeling to change a tire in the mud.

    Egg shells go back to hens for their calcium and around plants to ward off slugs. I do not wash the shells as advised. The goo is protein. I do put a pan full in the oven after I have baked something and brown them a little. Then, I crush them for the hens. The reason you bake the shells is so you can feed the half shells to dogs and not turn them into egg eaters. Dogs sometimes got into trash years ago, so this protected the eggs from dogs that might develop a taste for eggs. Now, I bake the shells so that any ecoli, if there, will not be passed back to the hens.

    Hens have no moral center. They will kill and eat each other and chicks. So, mine get the chickens bones to pick clean. They also get any fat, skin, or gristle I will not eat. The get no raw meat whatsover. I cook the back, neck, and giblets for them. I really do like the neck and eat some before I give it to them.

    I get produce from the farmer's market. The hens like the ends cut from corn or the ears of corn half filled out that are discarded by the market.

    My hens have never had commercial food, antibiotics, or vaccines. I spend nothing on them. They run free in the yard when I am here, so they get plenty of grass. I upcycle grass into healthy eggs that have Omega3 in order to protect my heart. grass–>hens–>me–>heart

    I only have three hens since a raccoon killed one. So, the hens come inside in a cage near the back door each night. I use newspaper from many people to line their cage each night. That is going to the Master Gardeners for their compost bins.

    Old washcloths are used instead of tp. There is only me here. I do keep tp for company and hide the washcloths that usually are on the back of the commode.

    There is more, but that's all for now.

  5. says

    Love the ideas! I've been challenging myself with a Zero Waste Home challenge based on the blog Zero Waste Home. Right now, I'm working on my office, but I'm still looking for ideas to reduce waste elsewhere in our home. We don't have chickens yet, and thanks to a recent township regulation we may not be able to get them. However, I know someone at school who has chickens and I want to ask her about trading veggies for chicken poop!

  6. says

    I used to just put everything in the compost pile, too. Now, I have a big bucket for all of our food scraps. I take it down and dole it out, the goats get the crunchy carrot and celery ends, the chickens get anything grainy or green, and the pig, well, she snarfs up pretty much anything! My compost pile and worm bin may be suffering, but it helps my feed costs!

  7. kirsten says

    this is so funny to me – i know it’s not the norm, but i catch myself thinking, “you mean not everyone lives this way/does this shit?” lol!

  8. Dana Stokes says

    LOL Kirsten, I say the same thing to myself all the time! Erica, I have just found your blog, and after reading 3 or 4 of your posts, I do believe you may be my long lost twin! LOL My husband has just entered the homebrew arena. I’m so confiscating his leftovers for Chicken Crack! ROFL My first girls (and 2 boys) are 2 weeks old and I’m super psyched about the upcoming eggs. I have no qualms in culling my flock, though – just so you know. I informed the family today that the 5 wk old buck goat was getting his name changed from “Cheddar” to “BBQ” because he WILL pull his weight one way or another! ;-) That being said, just wanted to tell you how I recently upcycled an old futon frame into a hay feeder for my goats. The metal bars made the perfect V-shaped stand in a box made from pallets to hold their hay and alfalfa. Thank you for an entertaining time reading your posts!

  9. Jane says

    All my scraps go to the compost, but I have chickens coming next week! Yay! I remember how my mom’s chickens LOVED scraps, so I’m sure they will enjoy mine. I have 4 ‘keyhole’ gardens made from leaky Rubbermaid stock water troughs. They are about 5 ft long, 2.5 ft wide and 3 ft tall with a hardware cloth ‘tube’ in the center for compost. I layer limbs from the yard in the bottom, then leaves, grass clippings, or recently, limbs of rosemary that I cut back. Then, (the best part) I layer as much cardboard as I can fit, top with ‘not quite ready’ compost then composted soil, and finally plant! Every 6 months or so (whenever the ‘soil level’ falls) I dig it all out and re-layer. The cardboard keeps the dirt from falling down through the limbs for a while. When the dirt starts falling, the cardboard has become soil! Last week, I ended up with extra soil for other projects! Win Win!

  10. Jeff says

    That is an excellent post helping to promote “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Our chickens are also recyclers if the compost bin is full.

  11. ms says

    A plastic kiddie pool with a puncture in the bottom is actually the perfect ‘curing station’ for old chicken coop litter when it’s still to nitrogen-hot to mix with the regular compost. The hard plastic bottom makes it super easy to turn the pile regularly with a flat shovel. And the sides keep it neatly contained until the litter is ready to be used.

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