What Can Chickens Eat?

November 25, 2011
what can chickens eat

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.  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?

Just like humans, everything should be fed in moderation.  Chicken require the majority of their dietary intake to come from their food, 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.

Foods Your Flock Can Eat

Vegetables

Asparagus
Beets~ green tops too
Beans, must be cooked never raw
Broccoli
Brussel Sprouts
Cauliflower
Cabbage~entire head
Carrots~green tops too
Corn
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Garlic~ add raw cloves to drinking water to boost immune system
Peas
Bell Peppers
Pomegranate
Popped Popcorn
Potatoes~cooked avoid peels (see below)
Pumpkins
Squash
Tomatoes
Turnips~cooked
Sprouts
Fruits

Apples including seeds
Bananas without the peel
Berries~Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
Cherries
Grapes~seedless
Melons~Cantelope, Watermelon, Honey Dew
Peaches
Raisins

Grain/Breads

Grits~cooked
Rice~cooked
Breads- all kinds
Sugar free cereal~Cheerios
Oatmeal~raw or cooked
Pasta~cooked
Quinoa

Dairy

All cheeses including Cottage Cheese
Plain yogurt

Avoid Feeding Your Flock

Tilly's Nest- red onions

 

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
Sugar
Salt
Toxic Plants

Interestingly, chickens eat meat, however some keepers believe it makes them more aggressive.

References:
http://www.backyardchickens.com/web/viewblog.php?id=2593-Treats_Chart
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=3306742
http://www.vet.k-state.edu/features/VetQuarterly/KVQspr05.pdf
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=7857524
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=166988

This post is linked up to Deborah Jean’s Dandelion Farmgirl Friday Bloghop

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

 

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Melissa

Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.

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100 thoughts on “What Can Chickens Eat?”

  1. 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!

    Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. Confusion here…. This page shows & lists chickens eating cabbage… but on Toxic Plants, cabbage is listed as toxic.
    Gramma13

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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….

    • 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.

      Reply
  6. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  7. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
  11. 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!).

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
  12. 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!

    Reply
  13. 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!!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  14. 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?

    Reply
  15. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
  17. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  18. 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..

    Reply
  19. 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.

    Reply

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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.