20 Things Chickens Can Eat and 17 Things They Cannot

baby chick eating

If you’re adding a few chickens to your homestead soon, you’re not alone. Millions of people all over the country, whether they’re in rural towns or have backyard homesteads in urban areas are discovering the joys a flock of chickens.

Among the many tasks you’ll take on with a flock of your own is feeding your birds. There are many ways to feed your chickens effectively, regardless of your budget. However, there are also several foods that you definitely shouldn’t feed your birds as well; some of these foods can actually harm your birds, while others may give your eggs an “off” flavor.

So, let’s take a close look at 20 things chickens can eat and 17 things they can’t.

Things Chickens Can Eat

Standard Chicken Feeds

There are many different types of chicken feeds available. Here are a few that you’ll see at most farm stores.

  • Starter and grower feeds. These feeds are specially formulated for chicks and juvenile birds, respectively, and packed with the nutrients birds need at this stage of their growth.
  • Layer feed and pellets. If you have an egg laying flock these are a perfect choice to ensure that your flock gets what it needs to keep on laying. are a perfect choice for egg laying chickens.
  • Broiler Feeds. If you are raising meat chicken breeds, such as Cornish Cross or Red Rangers, there are specially formulated feeds to ensure that these birds get what they need to grow rapidly.
  • Game Bird Feeds. The mixed grains and higher fat content in game bird feeds can help your chickens gain weight and improve their feather health and sheen as well.
  • Cracked Corn. This is a great, inexpensive feed supplement that chickens enjoy scratching around for in the chicken run.
  • Grit. Grit, sometimes called shell grit, provides much needed calcium to chickens, which they need for egg productions. Chickens also store grit in their gizzard, which aids with their consumption of other foods as well.

Since there are so many feed choices, you should definitely talk to a trusted expert at your feed store or on a nearby farm to determine the right mix for your chickens.

Good Table Scraps

There are several table scraps that make great chicken foods. Here are a few you should consider:

  • Grains. Grains such as rice, barley and wheat are great for chickens.
  • Vegetables. Corn, sweet potatoes and most other cooked and uncooked vegetables are perfectly safe and healthy for your chickens to eat.
  • Meat. Small pieces of cooked meat are good chicken meal supplements.
  • Leftovers. leftover cereal, oatmeal, dairy products, and fruits are good choices.
  • Starches. Moderate amounts of bread, noodles, and other starches can be safely fed to your chickens. too.

Your chickens will do better if you chop the larger table scraps into tinier, easier to ingest pieces. Larger chickens definitely do better with table scraps than juvenile birds do, so you should wait until your chickens are three or months old before you start bringing the slop bucket out to the chicken run.

Garden and Yard Waste

When you have a flock of chickens, there is no such thing as garden or yard “waste;” everything you’d otherwise bag up and throw out can be used to feed your chickens!

  • Grass. Moderate amounts of fresh glass clippings can be used to supplement your chicken’s food.
  • Weeds. Most weeds from your lawn or garden are chicken-safe.
  • Garden Vegetables. Any half-eaten vegetables or greens from your garden can be tossed right over the fence into your chicken run.
  • Free Reign in the Fall Garden. At the end of the gardening season, it is also a great idea to give your chickens free reign in your garden. They can be part of the cleanup crew, eating old plants and leftover vegetables that you never harvested.

Chickens cannot subsist on these items alone, and you need to ensure that no toxic items or chemicals are mixed in with the yard waste, but otherwise it’s a good food supplement for healthy birds.

Fodder

  • Instant Sprouts. Fodder is simply grain sprouts. Fodder is jam-packed with protein and other nutrients, and it’s inexpensive as well, so growing your own fodder supply makes great sense. You can use a multi-bin system to grow a continuous supply of these sprouts for your flock.

If you’d like to learn more about growing fodder for your chickens, here is a great video:

Worms and Bugs

If you want to create a self-sustaining supply of high protein chicken food, consider raising your own supply of worms and bugs. Here a few popular choices to consider.

  • Standard earthworms. Regular earthworms are a terrific choice to raise as a no-cost, nutritious chicken food. Getting a starter culture of worms, placing them in a bin in a cool corner in your basement or barn, and supplementing the bin with food scraps is all you need to kickstart a rapidly expanding population of worms to feed your chickens.
  • Mealworms. Mealworms are actually the larval form of the common mealworm beetle. You can grow a never-ending supply of them for your chickens, too.
  • Crickets. Crickets can be a little bit more challenging to raise, but they are a great food source for your chickens.
  • Black Soldier Flies. Black soldier flies are a common insect that many homesteaders raise in a system that automatically feeds the maggot-like larva directly to their flock.

Bonus: Free Range Them!

  • Roam Wild, Roam Free. If you have a safe space for them, you should definitely consider allowing your chickens to range free so that they can forage and find food for themselves. As they roam across your yard, your flock will scratch around and find all manner of tasty morsels to eat, from leaves, plants and seeds to ticks and other bugs.
  • Chicken Tractor. If you want your birds to free range but are concerned about predators or escapes, a great compromise is mobile chicken tractor. A good chicken tractor will let your chickens “free range” as you move it onto new grass regularly and prevent your birds from getting eaten or running away. It also makes it easier to gather up eggs each day as well.

Things Chickens Cannot Eat

OK, we went through several great items for you to consider feeding your chickens. Here are some items you will want to avoid feeding your chickens at all costs…

Bad Table Scraps

While we previously discussed how to put your leftovers to good use as chicken feed, there are definitely some table scraps you’ll want to keep away from your chickens:

  • Potato Peels. Potato peels are difficult for your chickens to digest and contain chemicals that could be dangerous.
  • Avocados. The peels and pits of avocados contain toxins which can be harmful to chickens.
  • Coffee and Chocolate. Both of these foods, due to the caffeine and other substances in them, can be very unhealthy to chickens, especially in large quantities.
  • Raw Meat. Raw meat could contain harmful pathogens. Also, if your chickens start eating raw meat, it could make them inclined to cannibalism, too.
  • Salt. Excess salt can cause your chickens the same problems it does for humans.
  • Greasy Foods. Greasy foods can foul up chickens’ digestive systems and lead to their deaths, so ensure you avoid them.
  • Spoiled, Rotten or Moldy Foods. Pathogens in these foods can be harmful to poultry.

A good rule of thumb as a chicken owner is to avoid feeding your chicken food items that are unhealthy for humans, or at least limit the amounts they consume. Instead, you should just compost your questionable food items in your backyard, or otherwise toss them in the trash.

Dangerous Plants

There are many common wild and cultivated plants in your garden that could harm your chickens if they ingested them. Here a few common ones you should avoid:

  • Rhubarb Leaves. If you grow rhubarb in your garden, ensure that you don’t inadvertently feed rhubarb leaves to your chickens, they’re poisonous.
  • Peanuts and Beans. Peanuts and most beans can be toxic to chickens as well, so keep them away from your flock.
  • Foxglove. The foxglove, or digitalis, is a common garden flower that can be deadly to chickens if they ingest it.
  • Azaleas. Azaleas can be poisonous to poultry if ingested.
  • Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel. Ensure your chickens avoid these plants, and that they don’t get mixed in with yard clippings you give to your flock.
  • Hydrangeas. Another good reason to keep your chickens from scratching around your hydrangeas: ingesting them could be harmful!
  • Chemically Treated Plants. Regular plants that you know have been treated with fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides should be avoided, too, since those chemicals may harm your birds.

Bad Taste: Foods to Steer Birds Away From

Here are a few foods that, while they may not harm your birds, you should definitely ensure your chickens avoid anyway due to the impact they can have on egg flavor:

  • Onions, Chives and Garlic. Chives and onions often grow wild in yards and fields, so avoiding them is tough, but try anyway. The potent flavor of these foods could leave your eggs with an “off taste” that people would rather avoid, so this is especially important advice if you sell your eggs.
  • Raw Eggs. Feeding your flock’s eggs back to them will likely cause them to start taking it upon themselves to eat the eggs they’re laying and deprive you of an important food source. So, don’t ever feed your chickens raw eggs, and collect all of the eggs they lay as soon as possible, so they don’t get any ideas. However, cooked eggs are ok to feed your birds.
  • Asparagus. Asparagus can also affect egg flavor if your chickens consume it in large amounts, so try to avoid feeding it to your flock.

Parting Thoughts: Have a Plan

As you prepare to take care of your chickens, the good and bad foods discussed here are by no means an exhaustive list. There are tons of great things to feed your chickens, and an equal number of foods to avoid letting your chickens eat at all costs, so make sure you do your research.

However, if you are a chicken owner or are about to become one, the important thing is to have a plan. Figure out how much money you have to on hand to spend on things like chicken feed and other foods.

Once you determine your budget, you should then determine exactly what you’re going to feed your chickens and have the food on hand when your chickens arrive. If you do, you’ll have a flock of healthy, happy chickens that are ready to lay eggs, grow, and be a terrific addition to your survival homestead!


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About Tom Harkins 1 Article
In addition to taking care of his ever-increasing flock of chickens, geese, and turkeys, Tom loves to cook, preserve food, forage and take care of his homestead.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting that you say rhubarb is poisonous to chickens. My chickens love eating the leaves so much that they’ll decimate a plant in a day if given the chance. I have to build fences around my rhubarb plants and they still manged to devour any leaf too close to the fence. That’s been going on for a few years now. Not sure how poisonous they are to chickens.

    • Same thing with beans and potato peels! Our chickens have been eating left over beans, all types,for years with no issues, also, peels from potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams………all cooked, but they love them!

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