Chickens can seemingly eat anything, but that’s hardly the case. While the number of foods they can have is significant, there are many that should only be served cooked, in moderation, sparingly, or not at all.
I’ve taken dozens of foods one by one and explain if and how your chickens can eat them. You’ll also find a list of foods never to feed them towards the end of this article. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
What to Feed Your Chickens
To get high-quality eggs, your flock will need the proper nourishment. This includes the right feed, or rations, sunshine, water, and plenty of bugs and worms they can scratch around for.
Learning what to feed chickens in your flock isn’t complicated. Obviously, you can purchase feed from your local farm supply store.
Depending on whether you have laying hens or meat birds, your flock’s feed needs will change. Here is a basic overview.
For egg-laying pullets younger than 16 weeks old, you want them to grow slowly enough to develop good, strong bones and to reach a good body weight before they begin to produce eggs.
Higher protein diets tend to hurry the birds into production before their bodies are quite ready.
Therefore, the ratio for growing pullets, from leaving the brooder at 6 weeks to about 14 weeks, should be about 18 percent protein.
A medium-weight hen at full size can consume approximately 1/4 pound of feed per day.
At 15 weeks, it is ideal to lower the ratio to 16 percent protein., also known as “developer or finishing” feed.
From 15 weeks to 22 weeks old or until they begin laying eggs, whichever is first, protein levels should be about 16%. The object is to get them well-grown without too much fat.
Also, if they get too much calcium and phosphorus at an early age, it can damage their kidneys. It’s best to not feed layer rations until your flock is at least 18 weeks of age.
Once they reach about 18- 22 weeks, your hens should begin laying their eggs.
Hens lay an average of 5 eggs a week, depending on breed. Making sure your flock has plenty of fresh, clean water and feed will ensure they stay healthy and give the highest output of egg production.
Throughout their laying life, they will need a feed ratio of 16-18%. Calcium and minerals should be added as a supplement as well.
You can do this by adding crushed oyster shells or giving the hens back their own crushed egg shells. These should be given as a free choice supplement and will help with soft-shelled, or thin-shelled eggs.
Meat Bird (Broiler) Feed
You want to avoid giving layer rations to other types of chickens, such as meat birds due to the higher mineral content.
Some people argue that roosters can eat layer feed, but this is not a good idea, in my experience. The extra calcium can be damaging to a rooster’s kidneys. Since he’s not laying eggs, he doesn’t need added calcium to be healthy.
If you’re feeding any type of chicken besides laying hens, you should always feed broiler feed.
Meat bird or broiler feed is a type of chicken feed that is designed to promote rapid growth in chickens. This feed is typically higher in protein and energy than other types of chicken feed, and it often contains added vitamins and minerals to support the bird’s health.
While some farmers choose to raise chickens on meat bird feed from start to finish, others will switch to a different type of feed once the birds reach maturity.
Treats for Chickens
Here are some of my favorite treats for chickens.
Chicken scratch, which is a mix of grains, is a popular treat for chickens. There are several reasons why chicken owners should consider feeding their chickens chicken scratch as a treat.
First, it is a good source of protein and other nutrients, which can help to keep chickens healthy.
Second, it is a relatively inexpensive treat, making it a cost-effective way to reward chickens for good behavior. Third, chickens enjoy scratching and pecking at the grain mix, which provides them with a stimulating and fun activity.
Finally, chicken scratch can be used to train chickens to perform tricks or obey commands. Just make sure you feed chicken scratch, like all other treats, in moderation to make sure your chickens are getting most of their nutrients from their feed.
Mealworms are an excellent source of protein for chickens and can help them to maintain their muscle mass, as well as provide them with essential vitamins and minerals.
In addition, mealworms are a great treat for chickens and can help to keep them entertained.
Chickens that are bored are more likely to start pecking at each other, so providing them with enrichment items like mealworms can help to reduce aggression within the flock.
Black Soldier Fly Larvae are an excellent source of nutrition for chickens. They are rich in protein and fat, and they also contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. BSF
Larvae are also a great way to reduce chicken feed costs. They can be fed to chickens either as a supplement or as the sole source of nutrition. BSF Larvae are also environmentally friendly, as they help to reduce organic waste.
Game Bird Feed
Many backyard chicken keepers find that their chickens are fond of game bird feed. This type of feed is specifically designed to provide the nutrients that game birds need to stay healthy and thrive.
In addition to being high in protein, game bird feed also contains essential vitamins and minerals. Some brands of game bird feed also include probiotics to promote gut health.
While game bird feed can be more expensive than traditional chicken feed, many chicken keepers find that it is worth the investment.
Plus, if you’re raising game birds already (like turkeys, guineas, or quail) you might find it easier just to feed this blend to everyone rather than buying separate bags of feed.
Chickens are monogastric, meaning they have a single stomach chamber that ferments food.
Grit is necessary in their diet to help them grind up and digest their food properly. The grit also provides calcium and other minerals that are essential to a chicken’s health.
Chickens should be given grit at around four weeks old, and then every few weeks after that.
If you notice your chickens are having trouble digesting their food or seem to be losing weight, it’s a good idea to increase the frequency of their grit feedings.
In general, chickens need about 1 ounce of grit per day. If your chickens are free-ranging, you may be able to skip the grit, since the birds will pick up the small stones for their gizzards on their own.
Grains (like Corn or Wheat)
Grains like corn and wheat are an important part of a chicken’s diet, providing them with carbohydrates for energy as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
Chickens will usually eat grain willingly, but it is important to make sure it is part of a well-rounded diet that also includes other food groups like vegetables, fruits, and protein.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables can be a great supplement to their diet, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, make sure that the fruits and vegetables are chopped into small pieces so that the chickens can easily digest them. Second, avoid feeding the chickens moldy or rotten produce, as this can make them sick.
Here’s a full list of things to feed them:
- Grass (Grass Clippings)
- Green Peppers
- Cooked Rice
- Horse Feed
- Swiss Chard
- Sunflower Seeds
- Cooked Eggs
- Maple Leaves
- Avocado flesh
- Cooked Meat
- Dog Food
- Quick Oats
- Spicy Food
- Peanut Butter
- Wild Bird Seed
- Green Beans
- Poison Ivy
- Corn Husks
This type of feed is typically given to chicks from 0-8 weeks old. Starter feed is high in protein and helps to promote rapid growth. Once broiler chickens reach 8 weeks old, they are typically switched to “grower feed”.
Grower feed contains slightly less protein than starter feed and is designed to help chickens reach their full size without putting on too much weight.
For both starter and grower feed, it is important to choose a high-quality product that contains all of the necessary nutrients for healthy chicken growth.
If you aren’t raising meat chickens, then instead of grower feed, you can use layer feed once your chickens reach the right age (again, as long as there aren’t any roosters mixed in).
Medicated vs. Non-Medicated Feed
Feeding your flock medicated feed is a personal choice. You can choose either way and still have a healthy flock.
When it comes to chicken feed, there are two main types: medicated and unmedicated.
Medicated feed contains things like amprolium that help to prevent and treat disease, while non-medicated feed does not have any.
Both types of feed have their own benefits and drawbacks. Medicated feed is effective at preventing and treating disease, but it can be more expensive than non-medicated feed.
Nonmedicated feed does not contain any questionable substances, but it may not be as effective at preventing and treating disease.
Crumbles vs Pellets vs Mash
When it comes to chicken feed in the above categories (layer, broiler, chick starter, game bird, etc, there are three main types of food: crumbles, pellets, and mash.
Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to choose the right food for your chickens.
Crumbles are small pieces of feed that are easy for chickens to eat. They’re also high in protein, which is essential for chicken growth.
However, crumbles can be messy and can attract pests. Pellets are another type of chicken feed. They’re slightly larger than crumbles, so they can be more difficult for chickens to eat. However, pellets are less likely to attract pests and are less messy.
Mash is the third type of chicken feed. It’s a mixture of crumbles and pellets that have been ground up into a fine powder.
Mash is easy for chickens to eat and is less likely to attract pests. However, it doesn’t contain as much protein as crumbles or pellets, so it’s not ideal for growing chickens.
Other Kitchen Scraps
In addition to fruits and vegetables, there are a number of other table scraps that you can feed your chickens.
Many types of grain, such as rice, oats, and barley, make excellent chicken feed. leftover cooked pasta and bread can also be given to chickens, as well as cooked beans and peas.
In addition, chicken can also eat some types of seeds, such as sunflower seeds. So, there are a number of different kitchen scraps that you can give to your chickens – just be sure to avoid anything that is moldy or otherwise spoiled.
By weight, chicken eggshells consist of about 94% calcium carbonate.
Chickens need a source of calcium in their diet to produce strong, healthy eggs. One way to provide this essential nutrient is through the use of oyster shell supplements.
Oyster shell is made up of calcium carbonate, which is easily absorbed by the chicken’s body.
In addition, oyster shell supplements can help to increase the density of eggshells, resulting in fewer cracked and broken eggs.
For best results, oyster shell supplements should be fed to laying chickens on a regular basis. This will ensure that they receive the necessary calcium to produce strong, healthy eggs.
Fermented feed is an excellent source of nutrients for chickens, and there are several reasons why you should consider feeding it to your flock.
First of all, fermented feed is easier for chickens to digest than unfermented feed. This is because the fermentation process breaks down the cell walls of the plants, making it easier for the chickens to extract the nutrients.
In addition, fermented feed is packed with beneficial bacteria that can help to improve the health of your chickens’ digestive systems.
Finally, fermented feed is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, which can help to keep your chickens healthy and productive.
Other Plants and Grasses Chickens Can Eat
Can Chickens Eat Pine Needles?
Yes, chickens can actually eat pine needles. Pine needles are a great supplement for wintertime when there isn’t a whole lot of greenery.
They’re packed with vitamin C, minerals, forage, and antioxidants and help to control worms. Now, while chickens like the flavor, it shouldn’t be used in place of regular feed; it should be used in moderation as a treat.
Can Chickens Eat Nettles?
Yes, chickens can definitely eat nettles. Nettles are a great source of vitamins and minerals for your chickens.
When it comes to giving your birds nettles, you should try giving them fresh first and see if they like it. If they don’t eat them fresh, then try cooking them like spinach and see if that works.
Can Chickens Eat Lilac?
Yes, chickens can eat lilac. However, lilac is something that you should be a bit more careful about when it comes to your birds.
The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is considered non-toxic to humans and animals – they’re edible when well-washed. On the other hand, you have the Persian lilac (Melia azedarach) which is poisonous to animals like dogs, cats, and horses.
Can Chickens Eat Leeks?
Yes, chickens can and will eat leeks. Chickens love leek. It has a sweet flavor and is vitamin-rich. Leek has a high sulphuric content which helps your flock to fend off pests like lice, worms, and mites.
Another bonus feature of feeding your chickens leek is that it boosts egg production meaning you get more nutritious eggs from your hens.
Can Chickens Eat Straw?
Yes, chickens can eat straw. Straw is a favorite treat for chickens and they will gleefully tear into a straw bale if one’s available. The goal? To get to all the tasty, sweet grass, insects, and other tidbits hidden inside. Additionally, it gives your birds something to do when they’re bored.
Can Chickens Eat Roses?
Yes, chickens can eat roses. Not all chickens like them, and, apart from a little bit of vitamin C, roses have little nutritional value for them. Still, they are certainly safe for your chickens to eat.
Can Chickens Eat Silage?
Yes, chickens can eat silage. Silage is rich in protein and encourages natural foraging behavior in chickens. This reduces the odds of them picking at their own feathers.
Can Chickens Eat Romaine?
Yes, chickens can eat romaine. Romaine lettuce is rich in vitamins and minerals, but it has a low nutritional value for your birds as far as protein and fiber go. That said, it’s got high water content, good calcium, magnesium, and potassium content, and is rich in antioxidants.
Can Chickens Eat Orchard Grass?
Yes, chickens can eat orchard grass. Chickens love a good portion of orchard grass. This cool season, broad-leafed grass is nutritious and gives your flock a good start with their spring greens.
Can Chickens Eat Grape Vines (Grapes)
Yes, chickens can eat grape vines and grapes. Chickens love grapes and they’re packed with vitamins and minerals that, when fed in moderation, make them very good for the flock.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that store-bought grapes may need to be washed before serving – to rid them of any traces of pesticides and/or herbicides.
Grapes may also need to be cut to make them easier to eat.
Can Chickens Eat Daisies?
Yes, chickens can eat daisies. Daisies are safe but generally untouched. Chickens aren’t typically too keen on or interested in eating them.
Can Chickens Eat Jerusalem Artichokes?
Yes, chickens can eat Jerusalem artichokes. These are very good for your birds. They’re high in electrolytes and minerals like iron, copper, and potassium. Jerusalem artichokes also stimulate growth in broiler chickens and help to fight endotoxins and pathogens.
Can Chickens Eat Oatmeal?
Yes, chickens can eat oatmeal. Oatmeal is a favorite snack, chickens love it! It’s rich in vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. It’s an energizing snack that’s packed chock full of nutrients including iron, copper, zinc, calcium, and more.
Can Chickens Eat Lamb’s Quarters?
Yes, chickens will happily eat lamb’s quarters. This plant’s other name is ‘fat hen’ which should give you some idea of how chickens react to it. They love this stuff and will pick a plant clean with no hesitation whatsoever. Lamb’s quarters is a plant that will certainly keep your birds happy.
Can Chickens Eat Magnolia Leaves?
Yes, chickens can eat magnolia leaves. They’re not toxic but chickens aren’t too keen on them and will typically only eat them if they have no other options available otherwise, they’ll avoid them. Magnolia leaves are thicker and broader than other leaves and don’t make good chicken food.
Can Chickens Eat Knotweed?
Yes, chickens can eat knotweed. According to the USDA website, it’s safe for both humans and animals. It contains vitamin C and is classified as an invasive weed, having chickens around can help you to get rid of it.
Can Chickens Eat Clover?
Yes, chickens can eat clover – in reasonable quantities. It’s packed with calcium, iron, potassium, and other good stuff.
Clover works to stimulate the liver and digestive system and helps out with maintaining respiratory health. Of course, if they get too much clover, it’ll make them sick, but you probably knew that already.
How to Store Chicken Feed
Whether you’re a small-scale farmer with a few chickens or you run a large-scale operation, it’s important to store your chicken feed properly.
Chicken feed is subject to contamination by mold, insects, and rodents, so it’s important to keep it in a cool, dry place.
The ideal storage temperature for chicken feed is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too hot, the feed will spoil; if it’s too cold, the nutrients will lose their potency.
The best way to ensure that your chicken feed stays fresh is to store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Once you’ve opened the container, be sure to use the feed within a few weeks.
Start by giving them good quality chicken feed, which you can buy at most farmers’ supply stores.
The amount you give them will depend on the age and size of your chickens. Baby chicks will need more food than adult chickens, and larger breeds will eat more than smaller breeds.
As a general rule, you should provide 1/4 to 1/2 pounds of chicken feed per day for each chicken.
In addition to chicken feed, you can also give your chickens scraps from your kitchen, such as vegetable peelings and leftover cooked rice or pasta. Just be sure not to overdo it, as too much human food can cause digestive problems in chickens.
It’s important to stick to a regular feeding schedule. Most chicken experts recommend providing chickens with a fresh supply of food and water twice a day.
In the morning, chickens should be given enough food to last them through the entire day. Then, in the evening, they should be given a second helping. This gives them plenty of time to peck at their food throughout the day.
Of course, you’ll also need to provide your chickens with access to fresh water at all times.
If you choose, you can provide your chickens with access to continuous feed throughout the day with an automated feeder. This will save you time and make sure each and every chicken is able to eat her fill, too.
Chickens are omnivores, which means they can eat a variety of different foods. However, not all food is good for chickens. In fact, there are some common household foods that can be downright dangerous for these feathered friends.
Here are a few examples of what not to feed chickens:
- Avocado skin and pits contain a substance called persin, which can be toxic to chickens.
- Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which can be harmful to a chicken’s heart and nervous system.
- Raw beans contain a poison called lectin, which can cause gastrointestinal distress in chickens.
- Onions and garlic contain sulfur compounds that can lead to anemia in chickens.
- Tomato and potato plants contain solanine, a nerve poison that can make chickens sick.
So, when it comes to feeding your chickens, be sure to stick to chicken-safe foods like grains, vegetables, and insects. Your chickens will thank you for it!
Chickens are interesting creatures, and each one has its own personality. They are also very good at hiding when they are not feeling well. This can make it hard to tell if your chickens’ diet isn’t quite right.
However, there are a few telltale signs that something is off. For example, healthy chickens will have bright eyes and smooth feathers. If their feathers are ruffled or they seem lethargic, it may be a sign that they are not getting enough protein.
Chickens also need plenty of fresh water, so if their water dish is empty or the water is dirty, it could be a sign that they are not getting enough to drink.
Lastly, if you notice that your chickens are eating less than usual or seem uninterested in food, it could be a sign that they are not getting the right nutrients.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian or chicken expert to ensure that your chickens are getting the proper care and nutrition.
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.