This post was most recently updated on January 12th, 2021
If you are planning on raising chickens in your backyard (and you should!) you need to know how to feed your chickens and what not to feed them.
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How you choose to keep your chickens will have some impact on what they eat. Chickens kept in a coop will only have access to what you provide for them to eat.
Chickens that are allowed to free range will eat a wide range of foods, including green leaves, bugs and worms.
What do chickens eat in the wild
Chickens originated in South East Asia. There they roam the forest floor in large flocks of hens, a single adult rooster and often a couple of juvenile roos.
They spend their days foraging for bugs and leaves in the undercarriage of the forest. Their digging and scratching helps turn the leaf litter in to earthy compost.
What do free range chickens eat?
If you are able to let your chickens out to free range they will be able to get up to 50% of their feed requirements from what they find.
Free range chickens eat a range of insects, spiders and worms as well as vegetation that they have access to. Free range chickens love to scratch and dig in the top 4 inches of soil for the soil life that make up a portion of their high protein requirements.
Chickens love to eat grass and other leafy weeds. If you let them have access to your vegetable garden they will also eat the vegetables that you have growing, so it is best to keep them away from your vegetable and herb garden unless you want it cleared.
Do chickens eat meat? Can chickens eat chicken?
Chickens love to eat meat! Their diet in the wild consists of lots of bugs, insects, rodents and carrion.
Can chickens eat chicken? Ideally you wouldn’t feed them raw chicken, as the risk of weird diseases starts to climb when you do things like that – think of the beginning of the Mad Cow epidemic.
Well cooked meat will not contain bacteria or viruses, so if you have cooked chicken or eggs, chickens can eat these without risk of transferring diseases. To ensure the meat is cooked well, boil it for at least 30 minutes.
In the wild chickens will scavenge any meat they can find. They actually have quite high protein requirements so that they can lay those nutritious eggs.
If you have meat scraps, feel free to throw them to the chickens, they will love it.
Does this mean chickens eat worms?
Yes, as gross as it is, chickens love to eat worms!
Chickens dig and scratch for bugs and worms to keep their protein intake up. If your girls need more protein in their diet (this is especially true during their moult) it is recommended that you supplement with these.
Do chickens eat corn?
Chickens will gobble down cracked corn quite happily. Be aware that while corn might be cheap, it is not nutritious enough for chickens to live off.
Corn is the best food to make something fat. Perfect for finishing pigs, not so perfect for providing protein for a lean mean laying machine.
If you do want to feed your girls corn, keep it as a treat after they have had their proper feed, and scatter it on the ground to encourage them to dig and scratch and move their legs.
Can chickens Eat Swiss Chard or Silverbeet?
Chickens do love to eat Swiss chard, and it is great for producing lovely orange, healthy yokes due to the high vitamin content. Swiss chard is a leafy green belonging to the Chenopodioideae family that also contains spinach and beets. Its leaves and stalks provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds and chickens love to eat the leaves and the stalks both raw or cooked.
I usually try to plant enough for the family AND the chickens.
Can chickens eat parsley?
Parsley is a leafy green herb that is rich in a wide range of vitamins, such as vitamins A, B, C, E, and K. As well as containing iron, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Chickens enjoy eating parsley and it is very good for them.
Do chickens eat mice?
Chickens enjoy eating a wide range of protein, including insects, spiders, invertebrates and small rodents. They will actively chase and hunt down small prey when the opportunity arises. I have seen chickens chase after and kill a mouse, they really are tiny T-rex!
Will eating mice make my chickens sick?
Eating a mouse is perfectly normal behavior for a chicken and does not pose a danger to your chickens and will not make them sick. Rodents are known to carry many diseases, but these are unlikely to cross over to your chickens as most diseases are species specific.
However, if you have recently laid mouse and rat poison nearby, eating a mouse could cause the poison to be passed on to your chickens making them unwell.
Can chickens eat zucchini?
Zucchinis or courgettes are safe for chickens to eat. They contain a large percentage of water, are rich in fiber, and contain various beneficial vitamins, and minerals. Zucchini make a delicious and healthy addition to your chickens diet.
They can be fed either raw or cooked, and chickens enjoy both the skins, flesh and the seeds as well as being able to eat the actual zucchini plant leaves and stem.
Can chickens eat cauliflower?
Cauliflower is a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Chickens can safely eat the whole cauliflower plant including the florets, stem and leaves as well as the flowers and seeds.
Due to the hard texture of the stem, cooked cauliflower will be easier for the hens to peck at.
Can chickens eat mushrooms?
There are certain mushrooms that chickens can eat, however they cannot eat all mushrooms. Cultivated varieties like button, oyster and morel mushrooms are safe for chickens to eat, as well as with many other cultivated varieties.
However, wild mushrooms and toadstools can be toxic and cannot be fed. Therefore, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the different types of mushrooms that grow in your area, where they do so and if your chickens can access them when they are free ranging. Generally, chickens will avoid toxic foods instinctively.
Generally, if a mushroom is safe for a human to eat they should be safe for a chicken to eat.
Can chickens eat peppers?
The fruit of all pepper plants are safe for chickens to eat. However, leaves, stalks, and stems of all pepper plants are not safe for your chickens to eat. This is because peppers are part of the nightshade family of plants that contain the glycoalkaloid poison solanine.
Solanine is deadly to chickens who can quickly sicken and even die from ingesting the leaves and stems of pepper plants.
Some underripe green peppers may also contain this toxin which is unaffected by cooking so it best to feed them only ripe peppers and keep them away from any pepper plants you have.
Can chickens eat chili peppers?
Chickens cannot taste capsaicin, the substance in chilies that give them their heat. However, chili plants and leaves also contain solanine so the same cautions apply as with bell peppers.
Do chickens eat ants?
Chickens are omnivores and are will eat any insects that they get access to, ants included. Ants are safe and healthy for your chickens to consume and you do not need to necessarily remove them from the area of your chicken coop.
Ants are a natural source of free protein for your chickens and they will usually decimate an ant hill if they get the chance. However, not all chickens will choose to eat ants.
Red fire ants can also cause danger to chicks and weaker birds, so it is best to treat these so they do not annoy or injure your flock.
Can chickens eat lettuce?
Chickens can eat some types of lettuce, including Romaine and other loose leaf lettuces, however due to its high water content combined with a low nutrient content, it is not the best food for them. Iceburg lettuce can be particularly problematic, causing diarrhea in some birds. If you want to feed your chickens lettuce, it is best to feed it only in moderation and never offer it spoiled or slimy.
Can chickens eat carrots?
Chickens can eat carrots safely. They enjoy eating the carrot greens and these are high in vitamins and minerals for the chickens. The carrot root is starchy and quite high in sugar and it is best fed in smaller quantities.
While chickens will peck at raw carrots, they will eat them much easier (with less waste) if they are cooked until tender. Carrot peel from your family vegetable scraps makes a good treat for your flock after they have had their normal balanced feed portions.
Can chickens eat onions?
Raw onions are pungent and unlikely to be enjoyed by chickens, however they are not toxic to them. Cooked onion is usually eaten quickly by the flock and enjoyed.
Onions are also packed full of vitamins and mineral. These include vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, and Potassium. These accompany the other plant compounds like anthocyanins, quercetin, sulfur-compounds, and thiosulfinates that can help improve the immune system and overall health of the animal.
Can chickens eat squash or pumpkin?
Like zucchini, winter squash is a good source of fiber and nutrients. Pumpkins and squash contain many different vitamins: A, B and C, as well as zinc. The seeds are loaded with vitamin E. So, can chickens eat pumpkins? Of course! Chickens will happily eat them either raw or cooked and they can also eat the seeds, stem and leaves as well.
A pumpkin cut in half is a great way to relieve boredom in the coop, as it takes them a while to peck away at them as they roll around the yard.
Chickens will enjoy eating the guts of your jack-o-lantern at Halloween.
Can chickens eat pumpkin seeds?
Pumpkin seeds are full of nutrition and are non toxic to chickens. There are some people that swear by worming their flock with pumpkin seeds too.
Can chickens eat celery?
Celery can provide chickens with vitamins A, C, K, and more. It also gives your chickens a healthy dose of riboflavin (B vitamins). Celery is also an excellent source of calcium. However there are two problems, the fibres and the flavour.
Celery is not toxic to chickens, but often they choose not to eat it. They are more likely to eat it when it is cooked. The long stringy fibers in the celery stalk can be difficult for the chickens to digest and pose a choking hazard and can cause an impacted crop. To avoid this you can cut the celery in to smaller slices. Cooking it will also help.
Can chickens eat peaches?
Chickens really enjoy eaten peaches as a treat now and then. Peaches contain Vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and iron and are a nutritious addition to their varied diet. Chickens that range in the bottom of an orchard will help eat fallen fruit and this not only adds to their diet, but it helps reduce the number of pests able to live in fallen fruit and affect the tree later in their life cycle.
Peaches are high in sugar, so too much of a good thing can upset the bacterial balance in their crop causing sour-crop, so it is best to only feed peaches after their have had their fill of their normal feed ration.
The pit also called a stone or a seed of a peach does contain a compound called amygdalin, which when ingested breaks down into hydrogen cyanide. Generally, chickens won’t eat them, and in small quantities they will not hurt your flock, but it is worth knowing and avoiding large numbers of pits in your chicken food.
Can chickens eat cantaloupe?
Cantaloupe (also known as Muskmelon) is a safe addition to your chicken’s diet. They can eat the flesh, skin, seeds and plant. Cantaloupe is mostly made up of water so it is a great fruit for hot summer days. It also has good nutritional value too. Cantaloupe is a good source of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and Vitamin A and C.
The best way to feed excess cantaloupe to your chickens is to simply cut it in half and place it in the coop, letting the chickens help themselves. They don’t mind if it is overripe, but avoid feeding rotten or moldy fruit to your chickens.
Can chickens eat cantaloupe seeds?
The seeds are safe for chickens to eat, though they have little nutritional benefit.
Can chickens eat bird seed?
Chickens can eat the seed blends made to feed other birds like canaries, budgies and cockatiels, however their main portion of feed should be made up of a feed specifically designed for chickens.
Birdseed is great for using as a scratch food to throw out after they have been fed. This encourages the chickens to scratch and peck. It is quite high in protein, which is good for chickens. Millet has about 11% protein and black oil sunflower seeds have 16% protein.
Can chickens eat potato skins?
Potato skins and one of the most debated of all the vegetable scraps. Potatoes are part of the nightshade family of vegetables, and they can contain harmful toxins. If the potato or potato peel is green that means it contains the toxin solanine – this is not safe for chickens to eat. The most concentrated areas on the potato that go green are the peel, the eyes, and of course, the leaves are green.
Solanine can cause gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. If your chickens consume food containing solanine they can expect diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pains, headaches. In larger quantities, paralysis, fever, and even death.
If you want to feed your chickens potato skins it is recommended that you cook them first as it makes them easier to digest.
Can chickens eat kiwi fruit?
Kiwi fruit are perfectly safe for chickens to eat. They can have the skins, seeds and flesh. They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as being a good source of dietary fiber.
Simply throw the whole fruit to the chickens, or your scraps after you have enjoyed the flesh and the chickens will peck away at it.
Can chickens eat asparagus?
Asparagus is a powerhouse of nutrients – minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. Chickens love to eat asparagus either raw or cooked and it is good for them too.
Do chickens eat grass?
Chickens enjoy grazing on grass. Pasture raised chickens make highly nutritious meat and eggs. Grass is considered an organic, dark leafy green and is full of vitamins and minerals for your flock.
You can give your chickens your (fresh) lawn clippings, use a scythe or knife to harvest long grass, have a pull around pen, grow fodder or simply let your chickens free range to get grass. Grass is a cheap and easy way to ensure your birds are getting fresh food.
Do chickens eat worms?
Worms are one of chickens favorite snacks. Full of protein, worms from the garden or worm farm make a great addition to your chickens diet. Chickens that have access to dirt will scratch and dig in the top layer of the soil searching for worms to eat.
If you want, you could raise meal worms inside for your chickens. While they are not the same animal as garden worms, they are just as beneficial to eat.
Can chickens eat green beans?
Green beans have trace amounts of cyanide in them. Small amounts will not kill them but it is a poison and you should avoid giving them raw green beans if possible.
Ideally you would cook all beans before feeding them to chickens. The cyanide is in the bean seed itself, so the risk is low feeding immature green beans, and they chickens are fine eating the leaves of the plant.
Can chickens eat peanut butter or have peanuts?
Peanuts and peanut butter are safe for chickens to eat. They are highly nutritious, contain plenty of protein and are small enough for chickens to eat once they are out of their shell.
You can feed peanuts raw or cooked, and peanut meal is often added to feeds in some countries to increase the protein content.
Can chickens eat oranges?
Chickens can eat orange and other citrus flesh but they are unlikely to eat the skins due to their bitter flavour and strong scent.
Generally oranges are considered safe for chickens to consume. However, some breeds can be very sensitive to these fruits and it is believed that the combination of vitamin C and citric acid might be the main cause of excessive feather plucking in some cases. Then, there is also some evidence that citrus fruits might interfere with the absorption of calcium. This could lead to fewer eggs and as if that would not be enough, the eggs would also have thinner shells.
Vegetables for chickens
Most vegetables that humans can eat, chickens can eat.
Chickens love to forage for their own food, and will basically never choose to eat a toxic plant.
A simple list to start with for feeding chickens vegetables from your garden would be:
- Lettuce (all types)
- Silverbeet/swiss chard
- Tomatoes (not the leaves)
- Carrot tops
- Cooked carrot root
- Beet tops
- Cooked beet root
- Peas, both pod, kernel and plant
- Beans, both pod, kernel and plant
- Bok choi
- Stone fruit
- Cooked potatoes
- Cooked yam
Foods you can feed chickens
There are other food from your kitchen that you can also feed chickens!
- Deli meats
- Rice/bread – watch these two, only in small amounts, too much can get stuck in the crop!
What food will kill chickens? what can’t chickens eat?
There are a few foods that won’t necessarily kill your chickens, but could make them very ill, or taint the taste of the eggs.
- Onions and garlic can give the eggs an off taste
- Fresh potato peels, especially those tinged green, contain a toxin called solanine.
- Avocado pits and skins both include a potentially fatal toxin called persin.
- Avoid feeding your flock rhubarb and citrus.
- Undercooked or dried beans contain an avian toxin called hemaglutin.
While I have never had an issue with chickens eating what they shouldn’t, it is prudent to avoid feeding these things all the same.
Supplements for chickens
Chickens that are laying eggs need to be getting plenty of calcium, magnesium and protein, as well as other micro nutrients.
The best way to ensure that all these requirements are being met, is to feed a specially formulated chicken feed.
The next best option is to allow free access to a mineral supplement in their coop. I like this one.
Grit for chickens
Chickens need access to grit.
Birds do not have teeth to break down food for digestion. Food is swallowed whole and goes to the crop to be stored and mixed with saliva.
The feed then passes to the stomach where it mixes with digestive juices. From the stomach, the feed then passes into the organ called the gizzard.
The gizzard contains small stones, which the bird has eaten to help the gizzard to grind up the food for digestion.
Nutrients are then absorbed as the feed passes along the intestine. The chicken must swallow the stones that the gizzard requires to grind up the food.
Grit is the term for these tiny stones. Granite and cherry stone are two recommended grits. I like this one.
Limestone and Oyster shell are good supplements for shell production, but are not acceptable substitutions for grit because they are too soft.
Will my chickens get all the nutrients they need from scratch?
No. Scratch feeds, (usually cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats, or wheat), are relatively low in protein and do not provide balanced nutrition like complete feeds.
Too much scratch will dilute the chickens overall nutrient levels intake.
Therefore, it is recommended that scratch be fed sparingly. A general rule of thumb is to feed only as much scratch as the chickens can clean up in about 20 minutes
Can you overfeed chickens?
Generally speaking, an active chicken won’t overeat.
However, a bored chicken might eat too much, and some of the commercial meat breeds will literally do nothing but eat unless you regulate how much they have and how often.
The risk with your chickens eating too much is:
- They will get fat and production will go down
- They can get digestive issues like sour crop
How much do chickens eat? Chicken feeding guide
Check on the back of your chicken feed packet for a guideline for how much to feed each hen. Lightweight laying chickens will usually need 1/2 a cup of feed each per day.
Larger breeds and meat birds may need 2-3 times that much.
Feed your chickens their formulated feed in the morning, allow the girls time to eat and lay their eggs, then let them out for some free ranging in the afternoon.
We prefer to ferment our feed as we find the chickens need 1/3 less, and the fermented feed is more easily digested and more nutritious.
When your chickens are moulting, or if they have stopped laying, they may need some extra protein in their diet.
Dried mealworms are a perfect solution for that.
Should I feed laying hens differently than broilers and roasters?
Yes. Meat birds require a higher-level protein (approx. 20%-24%) for maximum growth.
Laying chickens can be maintained on a 16% protein layer feed that has added calcium to provide the hen with the proper nutrients to produce good eggs.
How to feed chickens without buying feed
Did you know that in the past most families kept chickens in the backyard, and actually spent very little on chicken feed?
There are a couple of effective ways to raise chickens without buying in chicken food.
1 Pasture raising chickens
It’s possible for free-range flocks of poultry to feed themselves — if they have access to enough biologically diverse ground and protection from predators.
This is perfect if you have an established orchard or food forest.
2 Raising chickens on compost
This might sound crazy, but hear me out! Chickens love nothing more than to dig and scratch. Compost is full of microbiota, bugs, worms and food scraps – perfect for chickens!
AND the chickens scratching will turn over the pile, their poop adds more nitrogen and you end up with a very good product for your garden at the end of it!
Feeding Chickens: What do Chickens Eat?
Feeding chicken is not complex, and once you know what they can and cannot eat, you will find a bunch of different foods to feed your chickens that will keep them happy, productive and healthy.