Can Chickens Eat Dairy? Is it Safe?

Once you’ve owned chickens long enough, you’ll probably come around to the idea that there is seemingly nothing that they can’t eat. Just about every kind of plant and veggie, worm and insect, and even lots of meat.

chickens of various breeds on the homestead

Is there anything that chickens just cannot eat? How about dairy products? They aren’t mammals after all. Can chickens eat dairy products, and is it safe for them to do so?

Chickens really should not eat dairy products, though they can tolerate some in their diet as a rare treat. Anything more than a little bit of dairy in a chicken’s diet is likely to cause crop issues and digestive problems.

It turns out that even chickens have their limits when it comes to what is safe for them to eat.

Chickens are not truly lactose intolerant in the strictest sense of the word, but they don’t digest dairy products well at all, and anything more than a little is going to cause them problems.

You might want to give your chickens a little bit of dairy as a treat every once in a while, or you could avoid it entirely, but either way I will tell you what you need to know down below.

Dairy Nutritional Info

The nutritional profile of dairy foods varies depending on the specific type. Cheese, yogurt, milk, and more all have different nutritional profiles, but that being said there are still a lot of similarities.

Most dairy products contain a good assortment of vitamins and minerals, and tend to be particularly rich in the B complex vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E.

Concerning minerals, calcium is of course the one most associated with dairy products, but they will also provide macronutrients in the form of protein, fat and a few carbohydrates.

These are all resources that chickens need, but dairy products have some definite drawbacks for them because they cannot digest dairy properly.

Much of the time, they tend to pass through their system and out the other end without benefiting the chicken at all. Simply stated, at no point would chickens normally have access to dairy products in the wild.

Even considering some of the most important nutrients that dairy products could supply to chickens, namely protein and calcium, chickens have many other good sources in their diet that don’t have the shortcomings dairy products do.

Is Milk Safe for Chickens?

Milk is safe for chickens, but only in very limited amounts. And I do mean very limited! A little splash of milk every now and then is all they should get. Anything more than that can cause digestive issues.

The good news is that chickens don’t need dairy to survive, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on important nutrients if you avoid giving them any milk at all.

Is Cheese Safe for Chickens?

Cheese is only reasonably safe for chickens, and it depends on the type. Most cheeses have lots of salt, which is not good for chickens, and softer, moist cheeses might be a choking risk, or cause infections or even blockage of the crop.

A tiny morsel every once in a blue moon is okay, but I wouldn’t do any more than that.

Is Butter Safe for Chickens?

Butter is a bad idea for chickens. It is way too rich, and most kinds are also loaded with salt.

Salt, as mentioned above, is not good for chickens. Butter can easily cause digestive issues like diarrhea if fed in anything but tiny quantities.

Is Cottage Cheese Safe for Chickens?

Cottage cheese is pretty safe for chickens as long as you feed it to them sparingly and get a variety with as little salt as possible. The curds of cottage cheese are easier for chickens to eat and also more digestible than liquid dairy.

Cottage cheese is a good option for mixing into other foods if you want to give your chickens a little bit of dairy every once in a while.

Is Yogurt Safe for Chickens?

Yogurt is only marginally safe for chickens. It is thick and wet; two things that aren’t good attributes in a chicken’s food, but a little generally won’t cause issues.

Like cottage cheese, it is a good idea to opt for a variety with as little salt as possible and consider mixing it in with other foods.

Is Dairy Still Safe for Baby Chicks?

No. Dairy is not at all good or safe for chicks. Baby chicks cannot digest dairy at all, and they are so delicate and vulnerable at this early stage of life that dairy presents something of a triple threat to them.

The digestive upset can easily cause diarrhea that could end up killing them, the nutrients in dairy cannot be effectively absorbed, and chicks that eat dairy will miss out on other, more nutritious and more digestible foods that they need during their development.

Do not give dairy products to your chicks!

How Often Can Dairy be Fed to Chickens?

Dairy should only ever be fed to chickens rarely. Even adult chickens have difficulty digesting it so it is best to give them only a tiny amount every once in a while.

If you do feed your chickens any dairy at all, make sure that it is only a rare treat for interest, not even a regular supplement. A little dairy, whatever kind it is, once every few weeks is okay, but I would be very hesitant to give them more than that.

Anything but a Little Dairy Intake Will Cause Problems for Chickens

Some serious health issues are associated with the overconsumption of dairy in a chicken’s diet. Dairy can predispose chickens to problems like obesity, loss of fertility, and severe digestive issues due to the high levels of fat and indigestible compounds present in it.

I’ve seen flocks of chickens fed yogurt on the regular suffer horrendously from diarrhea, which quickly turned into a death spiral of disease that was difficult to stop.

This is to say nothing of the hell it will put you through trying to clean up after them!

What’s worse, egg-laying hens may experience problems such as an increased risk of fatty liver syndrome and reduced overall egg production if too much dairy is included in their diet.

This is seemingly at odds with dairy foods when you think of how much calcium is in them, but remember that chickens cannot properly digest the stuff to make use of the nutrients in the first place! Chickens should get their calcium from other foods, not dairy products.

In the end, chickens should be provided with a balanced diet that is predominately feed but includes both animal- and plant-based foods as supplements.

Though they can tolerate a little bit, chickens just don’t need dairy, plain and simple.

Only Feed Chickens Plain, Simple Diary Products if at All

Dairy is already rough enough on chickens, but you can make it way worse by giving them dairy foods that have tons of extra sugar, salt and other ingredients they don’t need.

Chocolate milk, nacho cheese sauce and things like that are bad news for your birds, and you should never, ever feed those things to your flock.

If you must give your chickens some dairy foods, make them as plain and clean as possible.

Don’t Leave Dairy Leftovers Around the Run or Coop

If you do decide to feed dairy products to your chickens, you must stay on top of keeping the coop, run and surrounding areas clean.

Dairy goes bad fast, real fast, and aside from stinking to high heaven will also attract rodents and act as a vector for disease when it spoils.

Clean up any leftovers or spills immediately, don’t leave the stuff around at all. Make sure that you never give your chickens more dairy than they can eat in a single sitting. Keep things clean, and you’ll avoid trouble!

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