When you start raising chickens, one of the first questions you need to answer is “What do chickens eat?”
Whether your goal is to find the right store-bought feed or to build sustainable habits by giving the birds table scraps, this guide will give you a quick overview of chicken feed dos and don’ts.
What’s In Commercial Feed?
When buying chickens, the first thing you want to add to your cart is chicken feed. Especially if you’re just starting, using a commercial feed is the best way to make sure the chickens get the nutrients they need.
Most commercial feeds blend corn, alfalfa, peas, wheat, barley, and other grains. Depending on the ages and types of chickens you’re feeding, the ratio of the ingredients might shift. Baby chicks need more protein than laying hens, for example.
Chickens are omnivores, so even if you feed them with commercial feed, you should let them forage for grubs and mealworms outside in the warmer months.
Can Chickens Eat Household Scraps?
Since chickens are omnivores, you may be wondering if you can give your birds table scraps. The answer is yes–in most cases.
The majority of fruits and vegetables that you eat are also great for your chickens. Chickens should also avoid foods with added sugars and fats, just like humans. As a rule of thumb, remove pits and seeds from any fruits you feed them and give them cooked scraps rather than raw.
Chickens can also eat some meats, like ham. Don’t be surprised if your foraging birds snag a mouse or a lizard! Be careful about laying out rodent poison on your property for this reason–you don’t want to pass that poison along to your birds by mistake.
Basically, chickens can eat most human food. In an emergency, you can even feed your chickens cut-up boiled eggs.
Make sure to use an egg candler to check your eggs before boiling them if you breed your chickens. You don’t want to accidentally boil a fertilized egg, and you never want to give your chickens a raw egg. Giving them raw eggs can accidentally encourage them to eat their own eggs.
What Do Chickens Eat That They Shouldn’t?
Like many animals, chickens will eat things they aren’t supposed to if they can get their beaks on them.
Chickens will eat styrofoam or other household garbage if they find it. This provides no nutritional value or benefit; it just fills their stomachs and can harm the birds. Be careful to separate any garbage out when you give your chickens table scraps.
Some human-safe foods are also not good for chickens. Avocado, citrus (including peels), potato (uncooked or skins), onions, uncooked beans, and rhubarb are harmful to chickens.
You should also avoid feeding them garlic, asparagus, and other strongly flavored vegetables. While they don’t harm chickens, these foods can change the taste of the eggs.
Grow Healthy Chickens
Now that you know the answer to the question, “what do chickens eat?” it’s time to feed your birds! These low-maintenance eaters will thrive whether they’re pecking up mealworms or your dinner scraps.
For more tips on hobby farming and backyard agriculture, check out our other blog posts on lifestyle and gardening!