If you keep a flock of chickens on a busy farm or homestead alongside other animals, I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that they are more than eager to steal a little bit of food from their neighbors.
Chickens are highly motivated by food, and they seem especially eager to swipe a few bites of things that they’ve never had before.
This naturally can be a cause of concern if you don’t know whether or not certain foods will hurt your chickens.
How about horse feed, for instance? Can chickens eat horse feed safely?
Yes, horse feed is safe for chickens, but only very infrequently and they should only have very small amounts, if any. Horse feed is optimized for the nutrition of horses and too much of can cause problems for chickens.
Like many other animal foods, you don’t have to panic if your chickens manage to get a little bit of horse feed. It’s not going to kill them.
But on the other hand, you should not make it a habit to deliberately feed your chickens horse feed because it has too much of some nutrients and not enough of others, and will make your chickens sick over time.
I’ll tell you everything else you need to know about chickens eating horse feed below…
What Benefits Does Horse Feed Have for Chickens?
Horse feed has many of the nutrients that chickens need, including macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates and micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals.
It can provide chickens with energy and resources for muscle growth or tissue repair, and all of the micronutrients are vital for everything from cellular function and metabolism to circulatory health, feathering, skeletal growth, and more.
Chickens will eat it not only because they like it, but because it can provide them with the energy and other resources their bodies need.
Horse Feed Nutritional Info
The exact nutritional profile of any given kind of horse feed varies depending on the brand and what type of feed it is.
But in all cases, it will contain pretty much everything that a horse needs to thrive, including lots of protein and carbohydrates and plenty of vitamins in minerals.
Again, these are all things that chickens need, too. But horse feed is not a genuinely healthy option for chickens despite having many of the same ingredients and containing most of the nutrients that chickens need.
Horse Feed Does Not Have Everything Chickens Need
One of the primary drawbacks of horse feed when it comes to chickens eating it is that it is not nutritionally complete.
It simply does not have all of the micronutrients that chickens need in order to thrive, though it has most.
One nutrient that horse feed is typically deficient of for chickens’ health is calcium.
Chickens need tons of calcium, and not just for skeletal health: they need it in order to lay lots of eggs, and if they want thick and sturdy eggshells they’re going to need tons of calcium.
So while horse feed might come close when it comes to the sheer variety of vitamins and minerals that chickens require, it does not hit the mark.
Is Horse Feed Safe for Baby Chicks?
Horse feed is nominally safe for chicks once they’ve grown up a little bit, anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks old depending on the breed and how fast they grow.
However, horse feed is definitely a bad bet for chicks not only because it lacks certain vital nutrients but also because it has way too many calories and way too much of other nutrients.
Together, these factors can set the stage for a serious shock to a developing chick’s system.
Chicks, even when they are heading into adolescence, are quite delicate and anything major that goes wrong has the risk of serious consequences, including death.
You probably don’t need to panic if your chicks get a nibble or two of horse feed, but if they fill up on it or you decide to feed it to them regularly, you should expect a bad outcome.
How Often Can Horse Feed be Fed to Chickens?
Horse feed isn’t something you should deliberately feed to chickens except very rarely and in very limited quantities as a treat, or perhaps as an emergency food for desperate or special circumstances. More on that in a minute…
The nutritional profile of horse feed is simply too lopsided for it to have anything approximating a regular place in your flock’s diet.
It’s okay if your chickens swipe a little bit when they are allowed to roam or free range, or if you toss them a handful every once in a long while, but you should never make it a regular occurrence if you can avoid it.
Too Much Horse Feed Can Make Chickens Sick
One unexpected problem associated with giving horse feed to chickens is that it simply has way, way too much nutrients.
It sounds strange, in a way: if something is good for you, or in this case good for chickens, don’t you want more of it?
Generally yes, but even good things can become toxic or even deadly when they are consumed in excess.
Horse feed, and specifically the protein and carbohydrates in it, are the perpetrators in this case.
This is a pretty easy puzzle when you stop to think about it. Horses are far, far larger than chickens and have exponentially more muscle mass.
This means that horses need a heck of a lot more protein than little chickens do.
If chickens eat this protein-rich food repeatedly, it is going to start straining their liver and could eventually result in liver disease as the body struggles to cope with the insane amount of protein being ingested.
Even if that doesn’t occur, horse feed is far higher in calories than chicken feed by weight, and that means your chickens are going to be prone to weight gain eating this stuff.
At the end of the day, a steady diet of horse feed is going to quickly make chickens gravely sick, and eventually kill them, and even adding it to their usual diet as a periodic treat is going to have negative consequences.
You don’t have to panic if your chickens get a few bites of horse feed now and then, but you don’t want them to eat it regularly, or even semi-regularly.
What’s the Best Way to Serve Horse Feed to Your Flock?
Again, you shouldn’t be deliberately serving horse feed to your chickens except very sparingly and once in a blue moon.
When you do that, make sure it is crushed or otherwise processed into a size that is small enough for them to handle, and then you can either mix it in with their usual feed to bulk it up a little bit or just scatter it wherever they can reach it and let them peck at it.
Horse Feed Should Only Be an Emergency Food
If you are going to deliberately give your chickens horse feed, you should only do so when you have no other choice or when the situation truly demands it.
For instance, for whatever reason, if your chickens are starving and had no other food, not even stuff they could forge themselves while free ranging, it is certainly better to give them some horse feed to keep them alive rather than let them starve.
Alternately, if seriously cold weather sets in, horse feed is pretty decent as a warming feed for chickens since it is so calorie dense.
This can help give chickens the fuel they need to allow their own metabolism to keep them warm when the cold weather is truly frightful.
Once again, not ideal but also not the end of the world and not truly harmful for chickens so long as you do it in strict moderation.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.