What Exactly Do Chickens Eat?
When we first got started with chickens, we were curious about what chickens eat.
Chickens can and will eat vegetables, fruit, grains, grass, insects, spiders, and even small animals, in some situations, cannibalism can even occur.
Chickens (gallus gallus domesticus) are omnivores! (om·ni·vore, noun, an animal that eats food of both plant and animal origin.)
So there is a large realm of possibilities for what chickens can eat, let’s dive into these nutrition facts!
|Food||Can Chickens Eat?|
|Avocado peel or pit||No|
|Beets and their greens||Yes|
|Berries (blue, black, raspberry)||Yes|
|Chocolate, Candy or any related sweets||No|
|Citrus of any kind||No|
|Cooked Potatoes (white, yellow, red…)||Yes|
|Corn, on or off cob||Yes|
|Dry beans or even undercooked beans||No|
|Green potato skins||No|
|Manufactured/processed junk food of any kind||No|
|Moldy or rotten food of any kind||No|
|Peaches (no pit)||Yes|
|Raw or Cooked Beans (NOT dried)||Yes|
|Turnips & turnip greens||Yes|
Chickens Daily Dietary Needs
In general, giving them a good laying pellet as their main source of nutrition is an excellent start. Laying pellets (or crumbles) offer the needed vitamins, minerals, and protein for health and egg production.
There are different feeds for different ages, 24% protein chick starter, 20% protein chick grower, and then 15 to 17% protein laying pellets or crumbles.
There are also flock raisers/growers. These flock feeds are typically 20% protein and made for a mixture of birds, such as ducks, turkeys, quail, and of course, chickens.
Our top favorite and recommended brands are Purina, DuMor, and Producers Pride.
Another common feed is scratch grains, it is a mixture of corn, wheat, barley, oats and millet, which averages about 8% protein.
This should not be considered the main source of nutrition for your flock!
Scratch grains are more of a treat and entertainment, they are used to encourage scratching and pecking the ground, especially for flocks that are not allowed to free-range.
Think of it this way; Scratch grain is fast food from a drive-through, and laying pellets are a steak dinner.
You can supplement with scratch grains as long as your chickens are getting a well-balanced diet from a higher protein source.
Grit And Oyster Shell
Oyster shells are a good source of calcium and can be given a free choice to adult laying fowl, it should not be given a free choice to young birds.
Another good and free option for calcium is to keep shells from your lady’s eggs, dry and crush them, then offer the shells free choice back to hens!
Since chickens don’t have teeth, they use tiny stones to aid in digesting their food. On beautiful, grassy fields, chickens struggle to find the stones or grit they need, so picking up a bag of commercial grit to offer free choice is a perfect solution and a great benefit to your flock health. Extra fine grit can be offered to chicks and young fowl.
Treats and Goodies
Chickens love a good treat just like the rest of us and can handle quite a variety of goodies!
Dried mealworms are a very popular hen treat right now, and they go nuts for them! Chickens also love fruits, veggies and live insects! Earthworms, grasshoppers, crickets and even cicadas are a welcomed tasty treat.
But don’t over do it with the treats! Like us, too much of a good thing can be bad!
Do Chickens Eat Vegetables?
Chickens absolutely love vegetables! The list is almost endless but here are several you can feed your flock;
- Swiss chard
- Corn, on or off cob
- Cooked Potatoes (white, yellow, red…)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Bok Choy
- Collard greens
- Beets and their greens
- Turnips & turnip greens
- Raw or Cooked Beans (NOT dried)
Your flock will receive many vitamins and health benefits to being given the cuttings or scraps from any of the above mentioned veggie!
Can Chickens Eat Mice?
Anything a chicken can overpower or outrun; they just may try to eat! I have witnessed chickens eating mice, small snakes, lizards, baby rats, and voles. I once heard of a hen eating a hummingbird. There is no limit to what a chicken will try!
Will it hurt them to eat mice or any of the above mentioned? No! They are omnivores and anything is fair game, in this case, they will seem rather carnivorous.
As long as there is no mouse/rat poison set on the property anywhere, the chickens are safe and doing you a favor.
And yes, you can still eat the eggs after your girls have had a meal of wild game!
Will My Chickens Eat My Garden?
Nothing catches a chicken’s eye like a bright red tomato! Or a yellow squash…
Chickens love fresh produce and do not mind taking it from your garden, so if you free range your girls, put a fence around your precious tomato patch.
You can grow some plants for the hens to have at if you like, a healthy flock would thrive off the fresh veggies you share!
Will Chickens Eat Ticks?
Chickens will eat ticks and any other pest on your property. Free-ranging biddies will eat anywhere from 2 to 300 ticks a day if the population is there, most chickens average about 80 ticks a day. The only good tick is a dead tick… especially if it feeds the hens.
Personally, I prefer chickens for ticks over Guinea fowl for a smaller property. Chickens stay closer to home than guineas do, so for me, they do a better job.
I keep a bachelor flock of roosters on my land just for tick control, they make for a colorful band of boys for pest control.
Will Chickens Eat Ants?
Some chickens may not eat ants, but typically, they will eat ants and most likely rid you of the colony. Some chickens cannot eat enough! Where others will just ignore the ant’s existence, results may vary.
They will go after carpenter ants, sugar ants and black house ants, it really doesn’t matter what kind it is to a chicken. Is it safe for hens to eat ants? Most of the time, the answer is yes!
Will Chickens Eat Fire Ants?
Chickens can and will eat fire ants; with that being said, if your birds happen upon a fire ant mound, the ants are immensely aggressive and will attack whatever is disturbing the nest, if they swarm, they can overtake your birds with painful toxic stings that have been known to kill chickens.
If you have a fire ant problem in your region, have the nest destroyed in a manner that would not harm your flock and let the chickens handle other, less dangerous pests.
Do Chickens Eat Stink Bugs?
Chickens will eat stink bugs, there are no ill effects from eating the foul-smelling insects. Chickens love protein, so they go after any creepy crawly that has it! (which is all of them!)
They smell awful and in large numbers, they can cause some gastrointestinal upset, so if you have a large scale infestation, maybe let an exterminator handle it.
Will Chickens Eat Grass Seed?
Chickens will eat your grass seed, the best way to prevent this is to have the seeded area fenced off from your chikies OR coop your beloved fowl.
Not only will they eat the grass seeds, they will also decimate the freshly sprouted and very tinder grass. Who doesn’t love a fresh baby green salad?
Will eating grass seat hurt my chickens? No, unless it is pre-treated with fertilizer or some type of coating; in that case, please keep your chickens safely cooped up until the grass is well established!
Will Chickens Eat My Plants
This is a broad question, but I will cover this as best I can…
In the garden, chickens will gladly pick off broccoli, chard, lettuce, beets, cabbage and the like. Let’s not forget how much they love red.
Flowers, I have personally witnessed three hens attack a petunia and rip all the flowers and blooms off… Again, bright colors!
Your fowl friends will also consume the tinder shoots of any young seedlings, sprouts and saplings! They love young, supple plants. Mmm tasty.
Chickens can also make decent weeders, when they feel like it. They will eat poke weed, dandelions, mock strawberries, clover, nettles, chickweed, sorrel and plantain to name a few. Which are also very healthy and nutritionally dense for these birds!
Chickens will even eat cacti! I had my flock maul my mom’s prickly pear cactus years ago, nothing is off menu for those loco pollo!
Be careful with what may be in your yard, chickens are usually pretty good and not consuming a toxic plant but always be aware of what grows within their reach.
Can Chickens Eat Bread?
Bread is fine for chickens in moderation, but please do not feed moldy bread to your birds, this can be a health hazard!
Chickens will gladly eat bread and enjoy it!
Be aware, bread can lead to blockage of the crop, which can be deadly if left untreated.
Never use bread as a primary food source; it is low in nutritional value and could potentially slow egg production and lead to reduced body condition. Only give as an occasional treat!
They can also enjoy cooked pasta, occasionally. Albeit, treat it as you would bread and don’t overdo it.
What Fruit Can Chickens Eat?
Chickens love fruit and will be so glad you decided to share!
Chickens will gladly eat;
- Pumpkins-VERY healthy and a favorite
- Watermelon-chickens LOVE this
- Berries (blue, black, raspberry)
- Peaches-minus pit
- Avocado-Minus peel and pit
All of it is safe in moderation and all fruit must be ripe! Feeding under-ripe or “green” fruit can cause digestive upset.
Can Chickens Eat Meat?
Supplementing your flocks diet with the occasional animal protein is acceptable and even healthy for them, you can give sea food, cooked red or white meat (yes, even chicken…)
Meats should really only be given during the fall/winter when bugs are scarce and protein is low…
You can supplement protein by giving your girls small amounts of dog or cat food! The problem with dog food is the chunks are large and be a possible choke or impaction hazard. Cat kibble, canned dog and cat foods are decent protein supplements in moderation.
Can Chickens Eat Eggs?
Chickens can and will eat eggs! Please just never feed a flock raw eggs, this could trigger a bad habit.
Feeding eggs to your chickens can reintroduce lost calcium and protein. The best way to do it is hard boil or scramble their eggs and feed it to your girls once it is cooled.
For the shells, dry them and crush them, then offer free choice for calcium.
Can Chickens Eat Dairy?
Raw Milk: Given sparingly, can offer benefits, and the chickens love it. Milk is typically low in protein and higher in animal fat. You can also mix some dried milk into feed for added vitamins on occasion; dehydrated milk tends to have higher protein. Milk is also known to aid in the fight against Coccidiosis.
Cheese: Yes, as long as it is REAL cheese and not some processed imitation cheese. Chickens will love and benefit from the occasional treat of cheese,
Yogurt: My hens love a treat of real yogurt in the summer! I will sometimes pour it in a watermelon rind for them, and they devour it happily.
Whey: In small amounts, whey offers some benefits because it is filled with protein. An excellent way to feed whey is by mixing it in some feed or even the feed powder in the bottom of the bag.
Caution: While dairy can offer protein and calcium to your flock, please limit the amount and how often it is given. Overdoing it can harm your birds; birds cannot process lactose in their bodies as mammals can. Again, limit the amount! Milk sugars can and will cause diarrhea; diarrhea can be fatal. Chickens livers cannot process an overabundance of fat and sugar, err on the side of caution with any dairy.
What NOT To Feed Chickens
Chickens will surprise you with the amount of things they will eat! But here are a few things you should keep away from your girls;
- Moldy or rotten food of any kind
- Chocolate, Candy or any related sweets. Too much sugar is VERY bad for chickens!
- Dry beans or even undercooked beans
- Dry Rice
- Citrus of any kind
- Manufactured/processed junk food of any kind
- Green potato skins
- Avocado peel or pit
- Anything overly salty
- Grass clippings
Mushrooms (Yes some can be good for the flock but for their safety, I give a NO, a simple misidentification can take a bad turn)