If you’re new to the backyard chicken movement, you might be wondering what you should feed your chickens. From baby chicks, to laying hens and roosters, today we will answer the question What do Chickens Eat?
We’re also going to explore what chickens shouldn’t eat, fun snack ideas, what chickens eat when they forage, and what they can eat straight out of the garden!
Chickens are omnivores. Generally, they eat everything from plants, to meat! Oh yes, it seems kind of strange but they do eat eggs, and even chicken. Cooked chicken of course.
It’s not as morbid as it seems. Chickens eating eggs and well chicken… is a good way to get back some of the nutrients they’ve lost.
What Do Chickens Eat When They Forage?
- Plants – Chickens seem to have a keen eye for tasty treats! They might also taste something to see if it’s edible and spit it out if it’s not to their liking. They eat a bunch of plants, but they’ll also eat weeds!
- Berries – We have wild blueberries on our property, and the chickens love jumping up to get them! I hope they’ll leave some for me!
- Bugs/insects – Ticks, fleas, and ants galore! Bugs can be a delicious snack!
- Lizards/frogs – Mm, full of vitamins, if chickens can catch them, they will be a nice snack!
- Rodents – You might say EW! to this, but hey, I don’t mind my chickens helping to decrease the mice population!
Natural Snacks For Chickens
- Mealworms – Of course, these make the list. Mealworms are a favorite snack!
- Crickets – We like to get a bucket of crickets from the bait shop and then give them to our chickens. They LOVE LOVE LOVE them, plus it’s fun watching them catch them!
- Fish – I’ve seen people put fish in a kiddie pool for chickens and ducks. Who knew chickens are such great fishers?!!?
- Worms – Reportedly, worms from bait shops can have chemicals or toxins. So it’s better to get them from the dirt…
- Compost items – Many of the items you might throw in the compost can be eaten by chickens. Subsequently, my chickens can often be found foraging in my compost pile actually! However, be sure to check the list of things chickens shouldn’t eat below.
- Cooked rice – Mix it with veggies for a fun treat.
- Oatmeal – There’s nothing like a warm bowl of oatmeal on a chilly morning!
- Spaghetti – Cooked plain noodles with no sauce, salt, or seasoning.
- Eggs – Scrambled or hard-boiled. Chickens love eggs! I dry eggshells and grind them up, and then mix them into cooked eggs to give them some calcium back into their diet.
- Grains/seeds – Chicken scratch
- White meat – White meat like chicken and turkey are better options than beef and pork. I know it’s weird that they eat chicken, but they are getting nutrients and vitamins.
- Cereals – Plain cereal with no added sugar. This is junk food really. I don’t give my chickens cereal, but my husband loves spoiling the heck out of them! I’m more of a health nut when it comes to feeding everyone…
- Homemade Chicken Pecking Block
- Frozen Treats For Chickens
- Homemade Suet Cakes for Chickens and Wild Birds
What Do Chickens Eat In The Garden?
- Broccoli/cauliflower – Cooked or uncooked, diced.
- Zucchini – Cooked or uncooked, diced.
- Tomatoes – Flesh only, no vines or leaves, diced.
- Eggplant – Cooked or uncooked, diced. No leaves.
- Cooked beans – Should be cooked well. Due to a toxin found in undercooked beans called hemaglutin. You should also limit the amount since they have a high amount of carbs.
- Carrots – Cooked or uncooked.
- Bell peppers – Diced, cooked or uncooked. My chickens tend to turn up their nose to bell peppers.
- Beets – Cooked or uncooked. Fresh is better than canned. Avoid leaves.
- Bok choy – Sliced
- Turnips – Cooked and diced.
- Corn – Definitely a favorite among my chickens. Generally, eaten in chicken scratch, fresh, frozen, and even on the cob.
- Peas – Fresh or frozen can be a fun treat on a hot day.
- Berries – Fresh or frozen berries are a fun treat.
- Raw cucumber – peeled or unpeeled, diced.
- Lettuce – Most lettuce varieties have little to no nutritional value, so limit the amount you give them.
- Strawberries – Fresh and diced.
- Pineapple – Flesh only, diced.
- Pomegranate – They can eat the fruit, even the seeds inside. Limit amounts to avoid impacted crops.
- Pears/apples – Soft varieties only. Apple/pear sauce are good options too. Avoid seeds, since they can have small amounts of cyanide.
- Peaches – Fresh only, diced. No pits.
- Grapes/cherries – Seedless varieties only. It’s best to cut into quarters so they’re not a choking hazard.
- Melons – They love melon. You can let them peck at a melon when it’s cut in half or just give them the rinds! They’ll love this treat!
- Squash – Cooked or uncooked, diced. Check out why you should feed your chickens pumpkin!
Baby Chicks | What Do Chickens Eat?
You don’t want to feed baby chicks layer feed since it has high amounts of calcium. Too much calcium can overload chick’s kidneys and cause irreparable damage.
Baby chicks eat feed usually referred to as Starter/Grower. There are medicated, and non-medicated versions.
Medicated Feed | What do Chickens Eat?
Baby Chicks to Pullets – 0 to 20 weeks old (or until they start laying eggs) – Caring for baby chicks may be a lot of work but it’s pretty simple. So is feeding them.
Baby chicks eat “Start & Grow” or starter/grower. It’s a well-balanced formula perfect for tiny little growing bodies. Another option if you can find them is to give “starter” at ages 0 to 6 weeks, and then “grower” from 6 to 20 weeks.
The medication in medicated feed is to help protect baby chicks against coccidiosis. If you purchase chicks from a hatchery it’s good to know if they vaccinate them against coccidiosis. Then, you’ll know NOT to give them medicated feed.
Just a note: Don’t give ducklings medicated feed, as they don’t have issues with coccidiosis, and can overdose on the medication.
Non-Medicated Feed | What do Chickens Eat?
If your baby chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis, you can give them non-medicated feed.
Baby chicks much like their adult counterparts also need grit, to help grind up their food. You can buy chick grit, not adult grit. It’s like baby sized grit.
Treats for Baby Chicks
Baby chicks can eat many of the same treats adult chickens can, just cut them up smaller.
I suggest that you SEVERELY limit the amount of treats! Their rapidly growing bodies require a high amounts of nutrition.
Laying Hens | What do Chickens Eat?
At around 20 weeks give or take a few weeks, hens will begin to lay eggs. At this time you will need to switch from starter grower to what we call layer feed. Layer feed is about 15-18% protein.
Layer feed contains a higher concentration of calcium to help hens develop healthy eggs with strong eggshells.
They sell layer feed in pellets or crumbles. These are the same product but the crumbles are crushed pellets basically. I find that my chickens appreciate pellets more. I like them better because it seems like there is less waste with pellets.
Roosters | What do Chickens Eat?
There isn’t much research that’s been done on roosters and they diet needs to live a happy healthy lifestyle. Many people just feed layer feed to their roosters. However, it is a widley known theory that roosters don’t need the calcium that comes in the layer feed.
Especially, because many people state that non-laying chickens don’t have a way to dispell the calcium. The calcium supposedly builds up in the kidneys and it could possibly kill them.
Now, I can’t find any hard straight facts for you on this, and I know people who have given their roosters layer feed with no issues thus far. However, I’m kinda in love with my roosters. I really want to have them live a happy healthy life, so… These are my suggestions for feeding roosters.
Roosters need a feed that’s higher in protein and one that has less calcium since they don’t lay eggs.
Consequently, if you feed laying hens Flock Raiser, you should give them some extra calcium, by giving them oyster shells or ground up eggshells. The roosters will probably avoid eating this. They are pretty good at knowing what to eat and what not to eat.
Meat Birds | What Do Broiler Chickens Eat?
Broiler chickens need a high amount of protein in their diet. Broilers need about 22% – 24% protein.
What To Feed Mixed Flocks
If you have chickens, guineas, ducks, and other poultry you may want to look into buying a mixed flock feed. We use flock raiser pellets since we have a mix of chickens and ducks.
However, when you feed laying hens this feed they will also need a calcium supplement. Either in the form of oyster shells or dried eggshells. Flock raiser tends to have less calcium. Which is better for roosters, and other poultry nutritional needs.
What NOT to Feed Chickens!
- Moldy foods – You really should avoid feeding any animal moldy food. This is a common sense thing.
- Apple seeds – They contain small amounts of cyanide.
- Avocados -Contain a toxin called persin which can have ill effects to many animals! Chickens and turkeys seem to be a little more resistant, than other animals but it’s best not to risk a serious illness.
- Green tomatoes & tomato leaves
- White potatoes – Contains a toxin called solanine. Cooking doesn’t decrease the amount by much.
- Eggplant leaves
- Onions – Not easily digested and can cause health issues.
- Citrus, Spinach, Rhubarb, turnip greens, swiss chard, endives, kale, peanuts, star fruit, sweet potatoes – Contains oxalic acid, which can lead to soft-shelled eggs.
- Dairy – Chickens don’t produce milk, they aren’t really designed to digest milk products like we are. If you must go with the FAD of giving your chickens yogurt, give small amounts, and watch for ill effects such as, diarrhea!
- Asparagus – Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily, says that asparagus can make eggs taste tainted.
- Salt, fatty, sweet foods – Generally, you should try to avoid giving your chickens junk food. Besides, being an overweight chicken is no fun, and can cause major health issues!
- Caffeine and Chocolate – These contain a toxin called theobromine, that is not good for chickens.
- Carbonated beverages – Since birds don’t burp or fart, the gasses build up in the esophagus and in their tummies. This can lead to death believe it or not.
- Alcohol – Who would do that? Well, they might get into alcohol on accident! Alcohol depresses the organ systems of birds and it can kill them.
Chickens usually know to stay away from certain foods.
You can’t always count on them to steer clear of the bad stuff though.
Toxins can build up in their systems and cause catastrophic illness!
Consequently, this can be a slow process. So if you come across someone saying, oh I give my chickens such and such all the time, and have never had any issues, well one day they might.
It’s better to be safe than sorry!
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