If you are keeping chickens in your back yard, you may be wondering what you can and cannot feed them. What about bread? Where does this stand? Its often a staple in a humans diet but is it safe to feed this to our chickens? Having looked after several flocks of chickens over the years, I have come to learn all about their diets. Regarding bread, I would like to share with you my knowledge, research and experience here with you today.
So, can chickens eat bread? Chickens can eat bread. It is perfectly safe to offer. In fact, chickens cannot get enough bread when it is fed freely to them. For this reason, you must only feed them bread in moderation and limit the quantity that is offered at each feeding.
Chickens will eat almost anything, even food that’s bad for them. Because they don’t have this awareness, you need to be intentional about keeping certain foods out of their reach.
Whatever you give them to eat, it will affect the quality of their eggs, so remember that when you are feeding them scraps.
Chickens And Bread
Bread should only be considered a treat, and not something you give too often.
It’s natural to want to spoil your birds but treats, like bread, should only make up no more than 5% of their diet; in specific terms, we’re talking about two tablespoons, of treats, a week.
There is a danger with bread, and if a chicken consumes too much it can lead to what is known as a crop blockage.
What Is Crop Blockage (Sour Crop)?
The crop is part of the anatomy of a chicken. Its an area located just beneath their necks Its purpose is to help digest the food a chicken eats, and food typically is stored there for several hours at a time.
This generally empties over night as your chickens fully digest their food which then goes through the rest of their digestive system. So, by each morning the crop should be empty.
However, the crop is susceptible to blockage and later infection as food ceases emptying. The food ferments, leading to issues with bacteria and yeast.
Bread can be a cause of this, along with other ‘yeasty’ and fermentable foods like grass and pasta.
Preventing crop blockage can be achieved by preventing access to difficult to digest foods, limiting foods like bread and ensuring your chickens are consuming enough fresh water.
You can even add Apple Cider Vinegar a few times a week (1 Tablespoon per gallon of water) to support their digestion.
Moreover, if you are looking to serve bread, you can also serve it having soaked it overnight in Apple Cider Vinegar.
The acidity will break up the fibers of the bread, making it easier for the chicken to digest and prevent balls from forming in the crop.
If your chicken does experience crop blockage (whereby you can physically see and smell it on your chicken(s)), you should isolate your chicken immediately.
You can hold them upside down and start to massage their crop gently to induce vomiting.
Also be sure to give them plenty of Apple Cider vinegar to held break down the food within their crop.
If after a few days symptoms do not subside, you should visit your vet. In fact, this is usually a good idea to do first if you suspect any potential issue with your chicken(s).
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What Can Chickens Not Eat?
While it’s true that chickens are not very fussy and will eat almost anything, certain foods are toxic to them and should not be part of their diet. Let’s look at the list of foods that are unsuitable to feed chickens:
- Avocados – as they have a potentially deadly toxin called persin
- Potato peels – as they have a toxin called solanine
- Citrus fruits and rhubarb
- Onions and garlic – the flavor with come out in the eggs
- Dried or under-cooked beans – as they have a toxin, that is harmful to all birds, called hemagluten
- Apple seeds
Most of the foods listed above taste bitter to chickens, so a well-fed chicken will typically avoid most of these foods, if they’re very hungry nothing will stop them so it’s best to keep these foods away from them.
What Should Chickens Eat?
Treats (including bread) should only comprise a small part of their diet, the bulk needs to come from a mix of nutritionally balanced chicken/ poultry feed.
Commercially produced chicken feed is perfectly acceptable. The feed is prepared by experts who understand the right amount of nutritional content a chicken needs.
Getting the right feed depends on the age of the chicken and whether it’s a meat bird or egg laying bird.
Chick Starter Feed
This feed is suitable for the first six weeks of a baby chick’s life. It contains 22-24% protein for meat birds and 20% protein for laying birds. You can purchase medicated feed, but organic producers tend to make non-medicated feed.
Grower Pullet Feed
Laying breeds are put on a lower protein diet to slow growth and increase bone strength, in preparation for the adult body to lay eggs. Grower pullet feed contains 18% percent protein and this is fed to chickens until they reach 14 weeks.
Pullet Developer / Finisher Feed
At 14 weeks, young pullets are lowered to a 16% protein feed until they start laying eggs.
At around 22 weeks mature birds are ready to start laying eggs and need a 16%-18% level of protein, they also need extra calcium and minerals in order to lay good quality eggs.
These are high-protein feeds, designed specifically for meat birds. Broiler rations contain 18%-20% protein
Making Your Own Chicken Feed
If you’re feeling brave and you want to try making your own feed, there is a lot of information available on recipes.
You must make sure that there is a balance between fats, carbs, protein, vitamins, and enzymes.
This will involve much trial and error until your custom mix contains the correct balance of macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. You can make your main feed from the following:
- Alfalfa meal
- Field Peas (avoid soybeans)
You can add the following to your main mix:
- Cultured yeast
- Crab meal
- Fish meal
- Oyster shell
If you want to raise your chickens on pasture, this is a really easy and economical way to feed your chickens.
This is the most natural diet and it will require a lot of space for your chicken. They will be able to self regulate their intake and obtain most of their protein from insects and bugs.
Just ensure that your pasture is not treated with any harmful chemicals, sprays or any other products that could mean your chickens consume toxic chemicals.
Healthy Treats For Chickens
While there are foods your chicken should not consume, even as a treat, we know that bread is perfectly acceptable, in moderation.
There is a range of fruit, vegetables and proteins that are healthier as treats than bread, even so, treats should only be given in moderation.
Feeding your chicken treats in excess can lead to a number of health issues for your bird. Lets look at a list of healthy treats and their nutritional benefits:
- Beef, insects, fish, and sesame seeds – provide protein
- Apples ( seedless), strawberries, raisins, and bananas – are ideal fruits
- Squashes, peppers, peas, cauliflower, beans, beets, broccoli (and other brassica) – are ideal vegetables
- Cereal, pasta, oatmeal, sprouts and bread – are the more ideal whole-grains
Important Tips To Consider When Feeding Your Chicken
- If you’re wondering can chickens eat bread? the answer is yes, but only in moderation
- Treats should make up no more than 5% of their diet and not be offered daily – specifically, no more than two tablespoons a week
- Certain foods are toxic for chickens and should never be on the menu
- Commercially produced chicken is perfectly acceptable. Getting the right feed depends largely on the age of the chicken and whether it’s a meat bird or laying breed
- You can make your own custom chicken feed, it’s important to get a correct nutritional balance between micro-nutrients and macro-nutrients
- You can raise your chicken on pasture, this is the most natural diet and chickens can self-regulate their food intake
Bread is fine as a treat, but there is a range of fruit, vegetables, protein, and whole grains that are healthy supplements in addition to their main feed.
Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my other chicken feeding guides below!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.