“What can chickens eat?” is one of the first things to know about raising healthy backyard chickens.
Raising chickens in your backyard can be a fulfilling experience, not only for the fresh eggs but also for the joy they bring as pets. Whether you are raising Rhode Island Reds, Lavender Orpingtons, or Leghorns, you need to know what to feed them. That’s because one of the key aspects of keeping chickens happy and healthy is offering them a balanced diet.
But what exactly can chickens eat? If you’re a backyard chicken keeper, this guide is for you.
The Basics of What Chickens Can Eat: Commercial Chicken Feed
Start with a foundation of commercial chicken feed. This feed is designed to offer a complete and balanced diet, including all essential nutrients for layers or broilers. There are three basic types of chicken feed, based upon the age of the bird.
Starter Feed for Chicks
Baby chicks need a food with a higher protein content for growth. These starter feeds provide all the nutrition chicks need in a smaller grit size that they can easily eat. A wide variety of Chick Starter Feed is available.
Chicken Grower Feed is for pullets (young hens not yet laying eggs). This is the transition food used for young chickens before they reach the beginning of adulthood.
When a hen turns 18 weeks old, she is considered an adult. That’s the time to switch her over to a layer feed. A typical layer feed includes the nutrients needed for laying eggs. These include protein, calcium, amino acids, plus vitamins A, D, and E– and more. Calcium is particularly important for developing strong eggshells.
Vegetables and Fruits
Most fruits and veggies you consume can be safely given to your chickens. Your chickens will think fresh fruits and vegetables are treats. But they also but also provide essential vitamins and minerals.
Safe options include:
- Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, and spinach.
- Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
- Cucumbers, bell peppers, and zucchini.
- Carrots (both the root and the tops).
- Apples (make sure to remove seeds), berries, melons, and bananas.
What Can Chickens Eat: Grains and Seeds
Whole grains and seeds can be a delightful treat and supplement for backyard chickens. All of these grains and seeds will be gobbled up by your flock.
- Oats, barley, and wheat.
- Sunflower seeds (great source of fat and protein).
- Quinoa, rice (preferably cooked), and corn.
Protein-rich foods can be added as treats for your chickens. Protein is also needed for the development of feathers. For extra protein, add these foods to your chickens’ diet:
- Cooked meat (such as beef, fish, and turkey). Make sure there are no bones, and it is unsalted.
- Earthworms, mealworms, and crickets. Dried Mealworms are widely available at feed stores and online.
- Cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and scrambled eggs. (Yes, chickens can eat eggs!).
What Can Chickens Eat: Leftovers and Kitchen Scraps
Many kitchen scraps can be a treat for your chickens. When you’ve got backyard chickens, there’s no need to throw these foods away. Your chickens will gladly eat them.
- Cooked pasta and rice.
- Bread and cereals (in moderation).
- Cooked vegetables and peels (unseasoned).
Grit and Oyster Shells
These aren’t food per se, but they’re essential for the health of chickens. A regular supply of grit (including ground up pieces of shells, small stones, and gravel) helps young hens digest their food. This is especially true if your chickens do not have easy access to an outdoor dirt or grass area.
- Grit: Helps chickens digest food in their gizzard.
- Oyster Shells: Provides additional calcium for laying hens.
What Chickens Can’t Eat: Foods to Avoid
While chickens are quite resilient, some foods can be harmful. Do not feed your chickens the foods listed below.
- Avocado pits and skins: Contain a toxin called persin.
- Raw beans: They contain phytohaemagglutinin which can be toxic.
- Chocolate and caffeinated beverages: Can be toxic in large amounts.
- Green potato skins and sprouts: Contain solanine, which can be harmful.
- Onions: In large quantities, they can cause anemia.
- Garlic: In moderation it’s okay. But too much can flavor eggs (and not in a good way).
- Salty or sugary foods: Not healthy in excessive amounts.
Important Tip for Chicken Keepers
Always introduce new foods in small amounts and monitor for any adverse reactions. If in doubt about a particular food, research it first or avoid it altogether.
In conclusion, feeding your chickens a varied diet ensures they will get all the essential nutrients they need. It also keeps them entertained and engaged. By providing a combination of commercial feed and the nutritious foods listed above, you will have happy, healthy hens clucking in your backyard!