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What Can I Feed My Chickens?




Here is the short answer, in addition to chicken food, and scratch: Almost anything.



Here is the long answer for inquiring minds: Chickens love table scraps and can eat almost anything you eat and are a wonderful addition to a self-reliant, self sufficient lifestyle taking care of table and garden scraps throughout the year. I have seen literally hundreds of blog posts from people listing all kinds of off the wall things chickens supposedly can't eat. However, unless they are backed up (aka: linked to a creditable source within the article) I pay little attention. Here is a list of foods that chickens can eat that people have common questions about from the good people at the the Back Yard Chicken Forum.



Chickens CAN EAT THESE FOODS.

  • Apples  Raw and Applesauce:  (Apple seeds contain cyanide, but not in sufficient quantities to kill)
  • Asparagus  Raw or cooked:  Okay to feed, but not a favorite.

  • Bananas: High in potassium, a good treat (they usually will not eat the peel).
  • Beans:  Well-cooked only, never dry also, green beans are good.
  • 
Beets and beet greens: Go for it. 
  • Berries of all kinds:  A treat, especially strawberries.

  • Breads of all kinds: Good use for stale bread or rolls - feed starches in moderation.

  • Broccoli & Cauliflower: Good for chickens. 
  • 
Cabbage & Brussels Sprouts:  Whole head or scraps.
  • Carrots  Raw and Cooked:  They like carrot greens too.

  • Catfood: Wet and dry - in moderation.  
  • 
Cereal: Avoid highly sugared cereal such as Cocopuffs, etc.

  • Cheese:  Including cottage cheese, feed in moderation, fatty but a good source of protein and calcium

  • Cooked Chicken:  They may like it and it won't kill them, but... ummm SO wrong.

  • Corn on Cob and Canned: Raw and cooked. 
  • 
Crickets, meal worms, maggots, earth worms, etc: Can be bought as fishing bait, at pet-supply stores or you can raise them yourself. Great treats, provides protein and its fun to watch the chickens catch them.

  • Cucumbers: Let mature for yummy seeds and flesh, peels are good too.
  • Eggs:  Hard cooked and scrambled are a good source of protein, and a favorite treat.  Feed cooked eggs only because you don't want your chickens to start eating their own raw eggs.

  • Eggplant: Fruit ok in moderation, avoid peels. Eggplants are in the nightshade family and contain Solanine. 
  • 
Fish / Seafood: Cooked flesh only. Shells and peelings are high in calcium and beneficial. 
  • Flowers:  Make sure they haven't been treated with pesticides, such as florist flowers might be. Marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, etc... are all beneficial.

  • Fruit:  Pears, peaches, cherries, apples  

  • Grains:  Bulgar, flax, niger, wheat-berries, etc.  
  • 
Grapes: Seedless. Great fun - the cause of many entertaining "chicken keep away"games.

  • Grits:  Cooked "leftovers" only.  

  • Lawn Clippings: Only if it's not fertilized and not treated with chemicals or pesticides. 
  • Lettuce / Kale: Any leafy greens, spinach collards, chickweed included.  A big treat, depending on how much other greenery they have access to.
  • Meat scraps of any kind:  Not too fatty.  In moderation, a good source of protein

  • Melon:  Cantaloupe, etc...both seeds and flesh are good chicken treats.

  • Milk: Plain, raw or slightly sour - good for chickens and they love it.
  • Oatmeal  Raw or cooked:  Cooked makes a nice warm treat on a cold winter day - high in protein.
  • Pasta / Macaroni:  Cooked spaghetti, etc, a favorite next to live bugs, but does not contain much nutrition.
 
  • Peas:  Peas and pea tendrils and flowers.
  • 
Peppers: Don't really like them but won't hurt them. 
  • 
Pomegranates:  Raw, seeds are a big treat. 
  • 
Popcorn: Popped, no butter, no salt. Seeds, just like any other dried corn, will be fairly indigestible unless you grind it a bit. 
  • Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes / Yams: Cooked - avoid green parts of peels!  Starchy, not much nutrition.
  • Pumpkins / Winter Squash:  Raw or cooked. Both seeds and flesh are a nutritious treat.

  • Raisins: Go for it.  

  • Rice: Cooked only, pilaf mixes are okay too, plain white rice has very little nutrition.

  • Sprouts: Wheat and oat sprouts are great! Good for greens in mid-winter.

  • Summer Squash:  Yellow squash and zucchini, yellow squash not a huge favorite, but okay to feed.
  • Sunflower Seeds:  Sunflower seeds with the shell still on is fine to feed, as well as with the shell off. A good treat, helps hens lay eggs and grow healthy feathers.

  • Tomatos:  Raw and or cooked.  
Avoid feeding the plants (again nightshade family - Solanine).
  • Turnips: Cooked. Not a huge favorite but not harmful.

  • Watermelon:  Served cold, it can keep chickens cool and hydrated during hot summers.  Seeds and flesh are both okay to feed. They will peck a rind clean then add rind to compost pile.
  • Yogurt  Plain or Flavored: A big favorite and good for their digestive systems. Plain is better and has less sugar than flavored yogurt.
My Barred Rock hen eating a mouse

Again, meat is OK. Chickens are omnivores and in the wild they will eat mice, snakes, frogs, lizards and dead carcasses (like eagles, vultures, hawks and ravens do).  Much to my amazement I have seen feral chickens in Hawaii (visited with my folk once when I was young) stand around and eat road kill. Nasty huh?  It does not make them peck at each other, they will not pick up disease in that manner. Too many chickens in a small area makes them peck at each other.

Some people say "No Onions": Really? They point to this article (http://www.vet.k-state.edu/features/VetQuarterly/KVQspr05.pdf) and claim they cause heinz anemia. NO where in that article does it say onions are bad for poultry, chickens or birds. Onions are only a danger to livestock and dogs if they are eaten in very large amounts - if you were to apply this to chickens, onions would also be fine in small amounts. My chickens eat small amounts of onions and onion peel frequently  - they don't taint the flavor of the eggs, my flock is super healthy, and I have only had one hen die on me since I have been keeping chickens as an adult. You decide.

Some people say no Ham - because of the salt. I say ham is ok in very small amounts.

Some people say asparagus will taint the flavor of the eggs. I have fed literally pounds and pounds of asparagus to them each spring and have NEVER noticed even a slight difference.

Foods to AVOID FEEDING Chickens:
also from BYC Forum (see link above), additional linked information provided by me - click on the "blue links" to see the source of the information and learn for yourself.

  • Raw green potatoes and green potato peels: Toxic substance called Solanine.
 While not fatal they aren't "good" for chickens. Many people feed green potato peels in small amounts. Cooked potatoes that had green peels should be fine, cooking the potatoes reduces toxicity. 
  • Rhubarb leaves: are poisonous to almost everything to some extent with  oxalic acid, the fruit stalks contain low levels of the toxin but in small amounts should be fine. While muching on a few leaves may not kill them, it's certainly not good for them. The effects of oxalic acid are very well documented. 
  • Anything super salty:  Too much salt can overload their little kidneys - remember in moderation.
  • 
Citrus Peels: Supposedly they interfere with calcium absorption, I have not seen a verifiable source to back this up and debated even listing it -- but it is a mute point as they really won't eat them anyways.
  • Dried or Undercooked Beans: Contains a poison called Hemagglutinin which is toxic to birds.
 Hemegglutinin is found in Lectin - which is common in legumes (specially soybeans and kidney beans). Cooking the beans reduces the the toxicity. 
  • Avocado Skin and Pit: Low levels of a toxin called Persin. They are NOT fatal - how do I know? Cause before I learned this I feed my chickens avocado all the time and saw no ill effects. Like most of the food on this list your chickens would have to eat a lot of it to kill them. 
  • Candy, Chocolate, Sugar:  Again while not fatal, it's bad for their systems (as most processed foods are to people), and chocolate can be poisonous to most pets.
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs:  Sorry, someone had to say it - no partying with the chickens their systems can't clear the toxins. UPDATE: On a side note I was recently supplied with some information on hemp seed. It appears to be very beneficial for birds as feed - click here to learn more.
If you want, you can also check out this popular list of Toxic Plants by PoultryHelp.com....but, if you look at the very bottom of the page you will see that the list is pulled from a "reptile book" not a chicken or poultry book. While they are similar creatures they are not the same.


So here's the deal, I understand wanting to feed your chickens anything to prevent waste but if you want chickens to be a part of a "self-reliant, homegrown, organic, lifestyle" and to provide you with nice healthy eggs; does feeding them crap just because "it hasn't hurt or killed them yet" sound like good idea??? No - it doesn't. Here is what a responsible livestock or pet owner does when they find out that something is bad for the animals under their care: They STOP feeding it to them.


________________________________________________

Some History on My Background with Poultry.  

When I write articles about chicken keeping it's from my personal background and experience with keeping poultry and of course new information that I have acquired and am still acquiring by reading books, talking to vets and other chicken keepers. My personal background is this - I keep chickens myself and have for many years, I learned from my dad. Growing up we raised chickens, turkeys, chukars, quail and many different breeds of pheasants (these birds were mostly for meat and wild release). We had hundreds of birds and also competed with them in 4-H. My Dad learned from his mom. Growing up she always kept a small flock of birds, I am not sure where my Grandma on that side of the family learned as her parents came over from Norway. 

I am not a suburbanite transplant to the rural that is just learning how to keep chickens while I blog. I don't say this in a spiteful or snotty way at ALL. I think that is a wonderful thing to get out of the city and learn rural life, and writing about it as you learn is exceedingly helpful to others who are also learning. However - it is also good to learn from and publish information based on years of experience, because as you are gaining experience you may find that some of the things you once believed were incorrect. You may also find that something else works better than what you were originally doing. The information I offer is tempered by that background and experience. 

Please note: there are many lists of foods that chickens can and can't eat on the internet. My sources are linked within the article for credit, any other similarities are merely a coincidence. 

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2 comments:

  1. Can you feed chickens your leftover tea leaves? Specific concern would be any remaining caffeine.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. No partying with the chickens. ....omg....I'm going to be laughing my butt off at that line for some time to.come...lololol, thank you!

    ReplyDelete

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