Most chickens’ owners know already that their birds seemingly eat just about anything. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.
From wild plants and seeds to fruits and veggies, meat to insects and everything in between. In fact, chickens are such varied eaters it might make you wonder what foods that we humans eat that our chickens can also eat.
So, what are some human foods that chickens can also eat?
The majority of meat, fruits and vegetables along with most nuts, seeds and grains are human foods that are safe for chickens to eat: everything from chicken, beef and fish to apples, spinach and broccoli, grains like wheat, oats and corn, peanuts, almonds and walnuts.
Chickens really can eat anything it seems, in moderation at least. There are always exceptions, however, and you’ll want to know what they are if you want your birds to stay happy and healthy. We will tell you all about that and much more in the rest of this article.
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Chickens are Omnivores
Chickens are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. In the wild, chickens will forage for a wide variety of food including seeds, fruits, greens, insects and even small reptiles or mammals along with plenty of small fare like insects, worms and slugs.
This naturally varied diet helps to keep them healthy and provides all the nutrients they need.
While we may not think of it this way, most of us are omnivores as well by choice, and definitely omnivores by nature.
Our diet comes from plant matter – fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds – but we also eat meat- poultry, fish, beef and other animal products, including insects!
Like chickens, this varied diet helps to ensure that we get all the nutrients we need for good health.
So in that sense it makes sense in a way that chickens should be able to eat many of the same things that humans eat, categorically. What varies, of course, are what kinds of nutrients they need the most, and in what quantities.
Avian biology is very different from our mammalian, human biology! So long as you always keep that in mind, you should be able to make sure your chickens get everything they need from their diet – no matter what kinds of foods you include.
The next sections will highlight what “human” foods are in each category that your chickens can also eat.
Most vegetables are perfectly safe for chickens to eat, and in fact they are a very important part of their diet.
Just like us, chickens need plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables to maintain good health. Here are some common vegetables that chickens can eat:
- Beets and beet greens
- Broccoli and broccoli leaves
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage and cabbage leaves
- Carrots and carrot tops
- Celery and celery leaves
- Collard greens
- Corn (really a grain, but included here since we use it as a veggie)
- Lettuce (all types)
- Peas (fresh or frozen)
- Peppers (all kinds, even the hot ones)
- Potatoes (cooked, no salt)
- Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds
- Squash (all kinds)
- Tomatoes (no leaves or greenery)
- Turnips and turnip greens
The one thing to keep in mind is that many plants produce fruit that is safe to eat, while other parts of the plant might not be.
A great example of this is found in the tomato and potato plants. Both, believe it or not, are in the nightshade family.
Both tomatoes and potatoes are perfectly safe for chickens to eat, but the leaves, vines and roots of both plants contain solanine which is poisonous to chickens and humans alike.
So just be sure to keep an eye out for anything like this when feeding your flock fresh produce.
Chickens love fruit, and there are many kinds that they can enjoy safely. As with vegetables, the key is to make sure that any fruit you feed your chickens is ripe and free of rot or mold. Here are some fruits that are safe for chickens:
- Apples (no cores or seeds)
- Apricots (not the pits)
- Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
- Cherries (pitted)
- Kiwi fruit
- Lemons and limes
- Nectarines (pitted)
- Peaches (pitted)
- Pears (no cores and seeds)
- Plums (pitted)
- Watermelon (seeded)
As with vegetables, there are some fruits where only certain parts are safe to eat. For example, the core of an apple contains seeds that contain cyanide, which is poisonous.
So it’s important to remove the cores from any apples you feed your chickens. The pits of stone fruits like apricots, cherries, peaches and plums also contain cyanide and should be removed before feeding these fruits to your chickens.
It is also worth mentioning that chickens usually only need fruit on a supplemental basis: it is all moist and sugary, and that can lead to problems with the crop and other digestive troubles.
But so long as your flock gets fruit in moderation they will definitely benefit from the nutrients and they are sure to love the taste.
Chickens eat meat, animal protein, and there is no two ways about it. In the wild, chickens are known to eat all kinds of small animals including lizards, snakes, mice and even young birds.
They are also opportunistic feeders who will eat flesh from a fresh kill if they are lucky enough to come across it.
So if you have ever wondered if it is okay to feed your chickens, well, chicken, the answer is yes! Here are some other meats that are safe for chickens:
- Chicken (yes, really)
- Fish (including shellfish)
But, even though chickens wouldn’t have the luxury in the wild, make it a point to cook any meat your give to your flock.
This will radically cut down on the risk of disease and parasites. You should also make sure that any meat you feed your chickens is not prepared with any harmful ingredients or seasonings that might hurt them. More on that in a minute.
Nuts and Seeds
Being birds, you would expect chickens to love eating nuts and seeds, and you’d be right! Chickens will eat just about any kind of nut or seed, including the ones we all enjoy as a snack or around the holidays. Here are some examples:
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Again, make sure the nuts and seeds you feed your chickens are plain, unsalted and unseasoned.
None of the extras that people like are good for your birds, and are safe only in very limited quantities.
Grains should not make up the majority of a chicken’s diet, but they are nonetheless safe and wholesome for them so long as you mind the amount they are allowed to have.
As a supplemental item or a component in a nutritious mixture with other ingredients they are just fine, and a great way to give chickens some quick energy. Here are some examples of grains that are safe for chickens:
- Brown rice
- Rice (no, it won’t blow their stomach up.
- Wheat berries
Grains are good since they are usually cheap and offer a variety of textures and tastes that can really keep your chickens entertained.
Just like with other foods, make sure the grains you give your chickens are plain and unseasoned for best results, though you can consider cooking them to make them more appealing.
What are Some Human Foods Chickens Should Never Eat?
There are some foods that you should never, ever give to your chickens. Some of these foods can kill them outright while others will make them very sick. Here are some examples of food to avoid feeding your chickens:
- Avocados (the pit and skin contain a substance called persin which is toxic to chickens)
- Chocolate (contains theobromine which is poisonous to birds)
- Green potatoes or tomatoes (contains solanine which is poisonous)
- Moldy or spoiled food of any kind (can cause respiratory problems)
- Onions and garlic (safe in very small amounts, contains sulfur which can damage red blood cells)
- Raw beans (contains hemaglutinin which can be toxic)
- Rhubarb leaves (contains oxalates which can hurt the digestive system)
- Salty foods (can cause sodium poisoning, potentially fatal)
- Sugary foods (can lead to obesity and digestive upset.)
These are just some examples of human foods that you should never give to your chickens.
If you have any doubts about whether or not a food is safe for your birds, hold off and don’t give it to them. Contact a vet or certified avian nutritionist for more info.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.