As Winter arrives, free ranging reveals less and less goodies for the flock. Covered in snow, most plants have gone to sleep that the chickens typically love to munch on. Because of this, it is important to provide your flock with treats during the Winter to help vary their diet and also prevent boredom. When I was new to raising chickens, I was not sure what chickens could eat other than their feed. For the past two years, I have tried to educate myself about supplementing their diets. I had heard of taboo things to feed chickens, like chocolate for dogs. These included potato peels, garlic, onions and citrus. So, what can chickens eat safely?
Just like humans, everything should be fed in moderation. Not surprisingly, backyard chickens require the majority of their dietary intake to come from chicken feed, such as layer pellets. These feeds are formulated to provide your flock with all necessary dietary requirements to thrive and lay eggs. Roosters can also be on layer feed as well. Too many treats, although our flocks love them, can be bad. They can compromise your flock’s health as well as decrease egg production and even cause egg malformation. So, limit the amount goodies you share with them. I typically share about 1 1/2 cups of goodies per day from the kitchen for our 8 girls. However, when you do share the goodies, I’m betting you will make a best friend or two while scattering them in the run.
- Beets~ green tops too
- Beans, must be cooked never raw
- Brussel Sprouts
- Cabbage~entire head
- Carrots~green tops too
- Garlic~ add raw cloves to drinking water to boost immune system
- Bell Peppers
- Popped Popcorn
- Potatoes~cooked avoid peels (see below)
- Apples including seeds
- Bananas without the peel
- Berries~Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
- Melons~Cantelope, Watermelon, Honey Dew
- Breads~all kinds
- Sugar Free Cereal~Cheerios
- Oatmeal~raw and cooked
- All cheeses including Cottage Cheese
- Plain yogurt
Foods Chickens Should Not Eat
- Avocado Skin and Pit~ toxic
- Rhubarb~ poisonous
- Citrus~ Some say it can cause feather pecking due to increased levels of Vitamin C. Others say it can interfere with Calcium absorption
- Onions~Causes Heinz anemia in large quantities
- Uncooked beans~contain hemagglutinin poisonous to birds
- Raw potato skins~contain Solanine poisonous to bird
- Toxic Plants
Lastly, chickens eat meat, however some keepers believe it makes them more aggressive.
This post is linked up to Deborah Jean’s Dandelion Farmgirl Friday Bloghop
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
100 thoughts on “What Can Chickens Eat?”
Thank you for this comprehensive list Melissa!
Very helpful… I had looked up similar information as well when we started keeping chickens too, just to be sure we weren't feeding them anything harmful. Our girls got much more than one and a half cups on Thanksgiving day! 🙂
Gobble Gobble… that's what they did!
where did you get the cage to put the cabbage or lettuce in. I would love to get one for my chickens. Thanks for the list we are new too. This will help a lot. thanks
Very informative list, thanks for sharing!! 🙂
Hi Michelle, the "treat ball" is from http://www.treatsforchickens.com Happy to share all chicken info! Tell them Tilly's Nest sent you 🙂
You are very welcome Candy! Glad to help!
Great list! Thanks for sharing that. I can't WAIT till we are lucky enough to have chickens!!
Thank you WannaBePioneerWoman! Bookmark it and then you are ready! I can't wait to hear about your flock!
can chickens eat pineapple? I heard its not a citrus.
Great question Hippocheeseman! I personally never feed my chickens pineapple but here is a link I found on Backyard Chickens that might be helpful to you.
Just curious – the link to toxic plants includes cabbage as being bad for chickens. I thought cabbage was OK??
Hi Helena, I feed the girls cabbage probably once a month or so. It contains goitrogens that can affect the function of the thyroid gland. With everything in life, I think you are okay using the rules of moderation. Thank you for asking.
can chickens eat kiwi?
According to my sources, chickens should not eat Kiwi. Great questions!
Can you tell me where you got the round cabbage cage in the photo above?
Sure, that is a treat ball and I purchased that one from http://www.treatsforchickens.com. They are great fun!
Confusion here…. This page shows & lists chickens eating cabbage… but on Toxic Plants, cabbage is listed as toxic.
Gramma13, great question. Cabbage leaves contain goitrogens, meaning that in large quantities they can affect the functioning of the thyroid gland. Chickens can eat cabbage in moderation and have no problems. However, if they eat excessive amounts, you may discover that your chickens develop thyroid issues. However, I have never experienced this nor have my fellow chicken friends that share cabbage with their flocks.
thats funny because i own 6 chickens and i was new to raising chickens but im doing it bc im going to show them for 4-h. but i very soon found out they eat mice and moles! it was veryy bizarre and funny. chickens are very fun and interesting.
Small snakes too….
Can chickens eat black olives?
Hi Darlene, I would avoid feeding them ones commercially available because of high salt content. I have no experiences with the one that fall naturally from the trees, that might be available in certain areas of our country where olive trees thrive.
By-pass the feed, there is not need to feed chickens toxic G.M.O. trash. Keeping your chickens free range is the healthiest and safest for both you and the chicken. Chickens didn't eat feed until modern times, no need to start.
We are very careful what we put into our flock's bodies and I am very proud to say that our chicken feed that we use is organic and contains NO pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, GMO’s, animal by-products and animal protein. There are companies like us, that have similar values.
Living in a small town, there is very little variety of feed for our chickens. I would love to know what brand you just described and where you get it. With your comment of "There are companies like us", do you mean you own a company that sells the feed?
No, when I mean companies like us, I am referring to us chicken keepers. Companies that share our values. I purchase this feed from my local feed store. Here is some info on the feed.
I use Reedy Fork Organic Feed. You can order from them. http://www.northcarolinaorganicfeed.com/retail-stores-that-carry-our-feed/ http://www.northcarolinaorganicfeed.com/41/organic-chicken-feed/
Great site! Have you ever heard of Honey being a problem? Thanks!
Thanks. I have no idea about honey and bees, I can however, tell you that fellow beekeepers allow chickens to clean the frames of their beehives and honey is definitely present. Hope this helps.
Can chickens eat my pond plant anacharis? I have to pull some out periodically and would love to be able to share with the girls in the winter.
I know that waterfowl including ducks do eat Anacharis. Turtles and small animals do too such as muskrats. As for chickens, I have never heard of any eating it. I might suggest you doing a search on backyardchickens.com for an answer. I wish I had more to tell you.
WOW.That is alot.;D
Can a chicken eat a 2 in mouse?
Yes, chickens can eat mice. But I would not advise it as they can carry illness.
I have actually seen one of my girls catch and swallow a mouse that was in their coop before I could blink twice!! Chickens are in fact carrion birds similar to the turkey vulture. There is reason they have little to no feathers on their faces and look a bit like a vulture in the face.
All birds have now been proven to be direct descendants of theropod dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous period., particularly–chickens. We all have little T-rex’ in our back yards…. That’s probably why they look, run, and eat like they do….
What is Heinz anemia
Heinz anemia is a type of anemia where the red blood cells break down. It is typically caused from onions.
Is "Old Wives Tale" true?
Can the chickens eat home-made recipes daily? Or should u only use as a supplement diet? Thanks.
There are ways to make homemade chicken feed. I would recommend researching those recipes. All other scraps should be fed sparingly and not be used as a replacement to regular chicken feed that is recommended at their age and available at the feed store.
Hi, im looking to get some chickens which.will be kept in my allotment in my garden, will i need to fence off my veggies or do the chickens not bother with growing plants?
I would suggest fencing off any plants that you do not want your chickens getting into-especially the veggies. You could plant some for them near their coop though. That would make them very happy.
I have a question, on the list of things chickens shouldn't eat is garlic but then on the list under veggies is garlic. I don't feed my chickens garlic by itself but it is cooked in food that I do feed them , pasta, pizza, and other leftovers. Is this ok?
The main reason why garlic is avoided is that some people believe that too much garlic in their diet can cause the eggs to taste like garlic. Otherwise, garlic is safe for your chickens to eat.
we are shortly getting three/four hens, the coop is all prepared and has a good enclosed run etc, will the hens be able to feed on our vegie garden once the veg has been lifted potatoes/runner beans/peas/carrots? I think your site is great
Please be sure to read the above foods to avoid. I would not let the chickens forage in the garden where potatoes, beans, peas. They can be toxic to the flock as well as a few other common plantings found in the gardens. Best of luck with your new hens.
What do you suggest you should feed (as a treat) when egg production is within 2 weeks of starting?
Any of the above safe treats are fine in moderation. Can't wait to hear about your first egg!
I was thinking live crickets from Petsmart and maybe some cottage cheese due to the protein.. I have 6 layers that are 17 weeks old and going to obtain Jersey Giants (chicks) after winter. I am thinking of also getting a rooster, is it okay to bring a rooster late in the game as a chick?
Sure, you can introduce a rooster. Integrating the flocks can be tough so here are some tips to make a smooth transition.
can i give bottle gourd peel to my chicken
My research has mixed information. Lagenaria siceraria is the scientific name. Some say safe and others say if the juice from this gourd is bitter than the gourd is toxic. Some say it causes gastrointestinal problems. Also, this gourd according to some absorbs many heavy metals from the ground while growing, which is not good. I think I would hold off on feeding them this particular gourd. Try pumpkins, butternut squash and cucumbers instead. These are all safe choices.
Thanks for this post. Winter is fast approaching hence the need to plan and prepare for my gurlz. As chickens stay more inside the chicken coop during the winter months, I also do that cabbage head trick. Hanging it from the ceiling my gurlz love to play with it, this will keep them active even when inside the coop and well fed as well. One important thing we should not miss out is ensuring there is unfrozen water inside the coop. During winter months, water freezes so I usaully put warm water in the morning, and check it out from time to time just to make sure they don't freeze. I also read that what others do is to wrap the drinkers with bubble wraps to avoid freezing, this I still have to experiment with this coming winter.
We bought a heated water pan online, it works GREAT! My girls spend a lot of time around the water pan, discussing important chicken matters and socializing. We live in Maine, and the pan has performed well at very cold temps. We hang several heat lamps over the perches to provide some heat and prevent frozen combs.
Can chickens eat banana peels?
I usually don't feed them the peel. If you feed them banana that are non-organic, that is where the pesticides are absorbed. Safer just to eat the fruit inside.
We got three chickens for Christmas….Audrey, Marilyn and Grace. They are really spoilt and have a huge area to scratch around in, but were not 100% sure if their nesting boxes and roost are set up right. Any tips?????
Oh, and by the way your site is awesome and the list of food was very helpful! Thanks 🙂
What's your take on having some sort of beak "sharpener" for them in their coop? I remember having parakeets growing up and we always had a bone type thing in their cage for them to peck at.
Chickens don't need anything in their coop for their beaks. They seem to take care of them on their own. Sometimes, they can over grow and those can be filed with a nail file back into shape.
Thank you so much for all the great information.
I was wondering if you knew the variety of the onions pictured. I had some, years ago, that looked just like those that were given to me by a neighbor. But when we moved, I didn't think to take some with me. I have never been able to find them since.
Sure, they are actually from botanical interest. Scallions to be exact. Here is a link to purchase them: https://botanicalinterests.com/products/view/0147/Onion-Bunching-Scallion-Italian-Red-of-Florence-HEIRLOOM-Seeds/srch:onions
Thank you SO much!
Anytime! Happy to help. Happy planting.
We have always fed our chickens any and all of our kitchen scraps, and have never had a problem with this. If it is something that is not good for them, they just don't eat it. I think people worry way too much about what chickens eat. As long as you give them a good variety, they will be just fine. (You don't keep your chickens out of your compost pile do you? And if you do, STOP! Chickens digestive systems are a great way to speed up the natural composting process!).
It's always a personal choice for sure. Some flocks know what is safe and others do not. I find that fascinating. It's always best to err on the side of caution, especially when chickens are pets and you do not have a large flock. Losing them due to human error can be devastating to say the least. Yes, our chicken have access to one of our compost piles, but I never put left overs in there, oils, meat and so forth. Here is how we compost here at Tilly's Nest:https://www.tillysnest.com/2011/07/composting-for-chicken-owners.html
Thank you so much for your comment and contributing to this conversation. Next time, leave a name. Anonymous seems so impersonal when you take the time to leave a great comment like this 🙂
I thought chickens can't eat eggplant and tomato
The fruit is just fine. It's the leaves and stems that are poisonous to them.
My family just became the proud owners of two laying hens. We adore Thelma and Louise. However, as new chicken owners, we didn’t realize there were foods they shouldn’t eat. They rush to the compost pile anytime someone makes a deposit. We have put onion peels, orange peels and lots of other fruit and veggie scraps in there. Plus, they have access to my garden where onions grow, but they seem to leave them alone. What do we do if they’ve eaten any of those things? Thank you in advance for your help!
Thanks for this. I gave mine some grapes last night and wanted to check that I hadn't done them any harm!
I see on your list that chickens should not eat beans….I use a soybean stubble as bedding which occasionally has loose soybeans, which they have eaten. Are those harmful as well? Thanks you!!
No problem at all. An occasional bean or two is not going to hurt them.
My chickens love pizza
Be careful with the pizza as it can be very salty and salt is not good for your flock.
Is it ok to give chicken whole grains of corn
Chickens love corn! Be sure they have plenty of grit available to help with the digestion of it.
Celery not on list. I give it after I slice it. Ok?
Celery is fine, just be sure to slice it in pieces no longer than a couple of inches. The "threads" can get stuck in the crop. Be sure to provide plenty of grit too.
Any thoughts about cranberries? I wanted to put some dried cranberries into there oatmeal, to cook together on cold mornings.
Sure they love cranberries! Just be careful as many of the dried kind have lots of sugar added for sweetening. Those you should avoid, but fresh are fine.
Hi,I have a scince project that is due tomorrow,and its a diarama about agriculture.I added chickens to my farm,and I am researching right now.Do you have any useful sites about fruits,veggies and livestock?
Check out your state's Agricultural Department-Massachusetts has a good one. Also, 4-H too.
I've raised chickens since I was a child. We were in chicken 4-H & used to show our chickens at the county fair.
All scraps go to the chickens. I have always shredded raw potatoes and carrots for them as a great winter treat. They absolutely LOVE them. This included the potato peels. I have never seen any negative effects. Green potatoes should not be eaten by anyone. I wonder if that's where the "no peels" comes from.
I have also thrown in cabbage scraps. I'm not trying to argue, I'm just saying this is what I've grown up doing and never had a problem.
Actually, the only things not given to the chickens are chocolate & onions.
We have science to thank for discovering these side effects of eating certain foods. We know that certain foods are safe and certain foods/herbs/medicines can cause harm if ingested to certain degrees. For example, alcohol in humans can be tolerated to some degree but can kill you if you ingest too much. Same goes for these foods that I listed above. You may not "see" negative effects because they are often microscopic and need to be detected in a lab but they are happening in the blood stream. The liver and kidneys act as filters to remove these substances from our blood. As we live life, everything in moderation is important. Too much of anything is not good. There are plenty of good food options for chickens in this day and age so why give them things that can harm them.
Thank you for the article. Is it not true though that asparagus is toxic to both humans AND animals if not cooked?
Raw asparagus is safe for chickens and humans. In fact, we eat it fresh right out of the garden!
Really good info. We're new to keeping chickens and this is valuable
Thank you for this list. I have been afraid to just give my girls table scraps and they have been going into the composter. My husband won't let me have a big pile of compost where the girls can forage. We have been afraid that if we put the scraps into the run it will start to get smelly. My husband insisted on building the coop and run next to the back porch. I have been letting my girls out every morning and afternoon for awhile so they can scavage but now I am wondering if that is a good idea. They might get ahold of something toxic as far as weeds go.
Just got about a yr n ahalf chickens. 5 of them. They eat pellets do i feed them grit? And how? Water bottle with holes or seperate feeder? Plus they r in a area all the time that is confinded with grass n at night they go in the coop. Do they need rocks n sand on the ground instead of the grass? N how much of the pellets n how many times a day do i feed them? Thanks you for the time to answer my questions
How exciting! I would advise you to check out my book or my introduction to keeping chickens found under the tab "chickens" at the top of the page. All of the answers to your questions can be found there.
I’d like to know where you got the ball for the cabbage treat? I just got my nine new chicks this past Monday. I’m a first time chickenkeeper. Thanks..
Sure, I got this one from Treats for Chickens online but other online feed stores carry them too.
I got mine on Amazon.
I’ve just got my new chicks. Could you please suggest me that which kind of food for URL : my chicks ? Thank you!
I would recommended purchasing a baby chick food from your local feed store designed specifically for baby chicks. The feed store people can help you.
Thank you, Melissa.
can chickens eat left over cooked cabbage?
They sure can! As long as it is not salty.
My DH and I have 8 chickens. We feed them most of the fruit and veg. table craps. I can and they get scraps from just about anything I can except meat which goes to the dog. Garden weeds and flower bed weeds go to them too. We do not use sprays etc. anywhere. In the winter I put a pan with laying mash in the coop and pour hot water over it. They line up around the pan waiting for me to finish. Except for really cold or stormy days we got at least 6 eggs all winter every day. I bed with shavings. The floor has linoleum on it and it cleans up super easy. I have noticed that they really do not like cabbage, any cracked eggs get cooked for the dog.
It sounds like you have some very lucky chickens. These are some great tips and I love hearing how people do things. Yes, I did line mine with linoleum too. I totally agree!