What Do Chickens Eat?
So, you are thinking of getting a backyard chicken, but not sure what to feed it. So, what do chickens eat? Chickens eat a variety of different foods, and have nutritional requirements like any other animal. There are many things to consider when feeding a chicken, such as egg quality, keeping your chickens healthy, and giving them some treats.
In general, chickens eat quite a bit of berries, vegetables, grains, and things for which they forage. They get a balanced diet, and keeping chickens at home can be the same.
Food for Laying Hens
First, if you have female chickens who are laying, it’s important to make sure they’re getting the calcium and protein they need. Hens can produce eggs in as little as 25 hours, and this is incredibly depleting on their bodies. A good layer pellet is essential for your chicken’s health while she is laying.
Layer pellets should really make up the bulk of the food you’re feeding to your chicken if she’s laying. It often contains a basic diet along with added nutrients to help them during their laying years. We recommend finding a healthy, organic feeding pellet and making sure your chickens have access to it all day long. Below are a few of our favorite pellets.
Grit and Oyster Shell
Grit and oyster shells are great supplements for your chickens. Chicken food helps give your chicken the nutrients it needs, and the oyster shell helps give the hen the calcium needed for egg laying. If you’re not using layer pellets, this is a must. If you are using layer pellets, this can always make a good addition to a chicken’s diet to help keep her healthy!
Scraps and Table Food
Chickens are happy to eat many human table scraps. We keep a bowl in the kitchen, somewhat like a compost bowl, but for our chickens. You can give your chickens a healthy diet of your leftover fruits and vegetables for healthy treats and snacks. Table foods that chickens enjoy include:
- Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, with seeds)
- Strawberries (they love the seeds)
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
- Spinach, kale, and other greens
- Pumpkin and squash (seeds are a dewormer and great for the hens)
- Broccoli and Cauliflower
These are treats our chickens love, but there are definitely more. However, there are some human items which chickens should not eat too much of. These include:
- Garlic and onion (gives eggs a funny taste)
- Potato peels, especially tinged green (toxic with solanine to chickens)
- Avocado pits and skins (toxic with persin)
- Rhubarb and citrus
- Undercooked or raw legumes (toxic with hemaglutin)
There are tons of treats you can offer your chicken alone or in a chicken toy. These are great little snacks, treats for when you’re training them to go into their coop, or when you simply want to offer your hens a little special food. These treats are not necessarily healthy for your chicken. In moderation, it is perfectly alright, but you don’t want to make these treats the bulk of your hens’ diets.
Chicken scratch is a great treat made specifically for chickens that they’ll love. Usually with a corn base, these mixtures are like sweet treats for your flock. You can also give them mealworm as a treat, a normal food they eat while foraging. Oatmeal and flax also make wonderful chicken treats, but make sure to use them in moderation or sprinkle them on top of their normal layer pellets.
Some breeds of chicken love foraging, while others don’t. For those that do, like the Polish chicken, they should be allowed the space and time to forage freely. This makes for a happy chicken, and allows them to get a solid natural protein source.
When chickens forage, they eat quite a few different animals. Worms are one of their favorite treats, as are little bugs and insects. Giving your hens the time to forest allows them to fulfill a natural desire and keep them happy, and also gives them some exercise. Chickens will forage all day long for little bugs and worms, and there really is no reason to stop them from doing so!
For more information on chickens, check out our Chicken Keeping Resource Guide with FAQ’s, book recommendations, information about different breeds, and all you need to know about coops, runs, feed, and more!