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What do Chickens Eat?

Posted by Lexi Montgomery on

So, what can chickens eat?

Omnivores by nature, these beautiful creatures can take care of themselves for the most part. When provided with ample food, water, and shelter from undesirable weather conditions and predators - chickens make for the perfect backyard pet.

Some may think the world presents an all-you-can-eat buffet for chickens. Driven by a ferocious appetite and a seemingly bottom-less belly, they can hold down anything in their path. But not so fast, they may eat just about anything that they can get their beaks on. But there are a few key foods to make sure are plentiful in a healthy chicken's diet.

That said, here’s a look at what chickens eat, or should be eating:

1) Eggs

Yes, chickens can eat eggs. It sounds creepy, but just like humans can eat the placenta of their young and receive countless nutrients and dietary benefits, so do chickens.

However, they should not be eating raw eggs as they may encourage cannibalism. In some cases, chickens that are fed a raw egg diet may begin to show strange behaviors and preferences that go along with that kind of diet.

However, as long as the egg is thoroughly cooked to get rid of any traces of that raw flavor, you should have nothing to worry about. Scrambled eggs can be a delicacy for poultry, as can boiled eggs, but they will have no quarrels about either alternative. Eggs offer a rich source of protein, with the absence of the nutrients often to blame for the raw egg-eating habits among brooding chickens. In other words, chickens will eat almost anything you give them, but stay away from feeding them raw eggs.

2) Squash and pumpkin

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Well, it might have had something to do with the heap of pumpkin scraps on the other side. That was a bad joke, but what can I say, chickens love pumpkin. While raw squash and pumpkin do your chickens no harm, they can be quite picky about eating these when they are uncooked.

Chickens have no problems with raw innards and seeds so you can take these out and feed to them as is. Just be sure to boil them to soften the digestive process a bit. Aside from appealing to your chicken's preferences, cooking squash and pumpkin makes the meal more palatable and thus, more digestible. Both foods have an abundance of vitamins which can aid in egg development.

3) Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes serve up similar nutritional benefits to the above pair. These should also preferably be cooked. This will make the cell walls tender enough so that the chickens don’t have such a hard time feeding. If your chickens have a hard time feeding, they'll eat less and become less cooperative and productive.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of fiber which betters bowel movement and keeps cholesterol levels in check. They also avail essential vitamins and antioxidants.

4) Dairy products

This one comes at a surprise for many new to that chicken coop life. While milk is indigestible to chickens and poultry in general, however, a hint of milk can spruce up a powdery feed with some nutrition and make it a little softer on the palate.

Milk can also counteract the destructive effect of protozoa on the digestive lining. It was even fronted as a solution before coccidiostats came along. Kefir and yogurt are more appealing to chickens than ordinary milk, however. This has a lot to do with the fermentation process and availability of healthy gut probiotics. These come with the added benefit of improving digestibility due to the effect of the microbes therein.

5) Corn

An undoubted favorite across poultry divides is good old corn. It’s hard to find a bird that doesn’t love corn. Chickens especially have a taste for tender kernels, but they won’t turn away from nibbling at hard grains too. If you like to feed corn to your birds, it’s advisable to seek organic varieties to get around the issues of GMO and herbicide contamination. Further, avoid feeding them too many varieties of corn as they may develop preferences and afflictions making it harder to get them to eat in abundance.

In general, chicken feeds offer many of these nutrients in small, digestible quantities. Making a homemade feed will require you to purchase a commercial, heavy-duty mill to grind up the feed into small bits and pieces. You will also need some sort of storage bin to keep it fresh. Many chickens prefer homemade feeds, but you'll have to play around with how much of each ingredient your chickens prefer.

There are countless recipes online to make homemade feeds. Here's a general recipe for homemade chicken feed:

Main Ingredients

  • Wheat
  • Alfalfa meal - This has high protein and is great for chickens kept in cooler environments.
  • Corn - this is a primary ingredient in most chicken feeds, you can keep these whole by adding them after you've ground up everything else.
  • Field peas - These are great for protein, and will help you avoid soybeans.
  • Probiotics
  • Oats 
  • Barley - Grain varieties should make up less than 15% of the feed.

Additional Ingredients:

You might be surprised that chickens also like seafood. Like cats, chickens are able to digest seafood and absorb the minerals and nutrients that are available. You can also add these other to your feed in small quantities to determine if your chickens resonate with them.

  • Fish meal
  • Oyster shells
  • Crab meal - Just try to keep it in small amounts. This will offer additional protein and minerals.
  • Flaxseeds - These offer omega-3 fatty acids, you can also add these at the end to avoid them going bad.
  • Kelp and Seaweed - A great source of minerals. Studies show that sea greens mixed with sardine oil result in lower egg cholesterol with no change in the taste of the eggs. This is great to add if you plan on feeding the eggs to your family.
  • Cultured yeast - Yeast offers B vitamins, minerals, and digestive enzymes which help chickens keep a happy tummy. When your chickens have a stomach ache, they might become cranky and uncooperative. This can present many other issues if there are small children around, or you're trying to increase egg production. It's always a good idea to add some healthy yeast to their feed. Yeast works like Pepto Bismol for chickens. 
  • Salt
  • Grits

Now that we’ve looked at what chickens eat, it’s important that we also take a look at the other side of the coin.

What Chickens Shouldn't Eat

In terms of what they shouldn’t eat, there are a few huge no-no's. These include:

  • chocolate
  • onions
  • gum
  • seasonings

These rank at the top of that list of what not to feed chickens, as they prove to be highly toxic for them, as well as dogs, and other pets you might have around the house. Raw eggs are also off the menu as these can lead your babies to develop a sweet tooth for eating their own and inadvertently turn them into cannibals.

Uncooked beans and avocado skins and pits are also a big no-no as well. These will do more harm than good in terms of keeping your chickens happy and healthy.

It’s hard to watch what your flock eats, but it’s easy to control their movement so that they don’t go about eating random finds. Keep a clean yard, and look out for what other animals may bring into the environment. You'll have healthy, productive chickens that avoid eating what they shouldn’t be eating without much interference.


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