If you own a flock of chickens, then you will likely want to offer them scraps and treats from time to time. But what about fish? Can you offer fish and are there any benefits in doing so? Are there specific types of fish you should offer and is there anything in which to be aware of? Intrigued, I decided to research the topic to find out if my backyard chickens could safely enjoy this food. I will be sharing with you all of my research here today.
So, can chickens eat fish? Chickens can eat both raw and cooked fish. In fact, fish can be a very nutritious food for chickens as it contains high amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Some of the best types of plain fish to offer are Cod, Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Shellfish (Shrimp/Prawns, Mussels), Pollock, Catfish, and Tilapia.
However, some chicken keepers report that the eggs of hens that consume too much fish in their diet have a fishy taste.
You therefore will want to limit the amount of fish you offer if you intend to keep and eat the eggs.
It’s also important to be wary of and remove any large bones as these can cause a choking hazard.
Additionally, never offer fish that has been fried, battered, or contains seasonings.
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So with this, all in mind, let us now take a closer look at why fish can be incorporated into the diets of chickens and if you actually will want to do so.
We will be taking a look at some of the reasons why it may be a good idea and how to appropriately do so.
Do Chickens Eat Fish?
Most chickens will be keen to eat fish if provided. This is true regardless of the type of fish given and whether it is fed raw or cooked.
If you ask any chicken keeper about the preferences of their birds; most will tell you that that they will eat anything.
Chickens are renowned for what appears to be an insatiable appetite and demand for food.
Being omnivorous; they eat and do best with both animal and plant-based foods in the diet.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and there are some chickens that are more particular and fussy.
As such, not all chickens may eat fish if you were to offer it.
There is not always an issue if a chicken is not fond of a particular food; you may find they have a distaste for particular fish or ways in which it is offered.
For the most part, there is no cause for concern; it is only if they are put off by most foods or have developed a preference for a specific food through over-provision that additional investigation may be required.
Nonetheless, any fish that is not eaten should be swiftly removed from the coop/run along with any other uneaten foods.
This will prevent it from spoiling, attracting rodents, and harboring germs and bacteria.
Should Chickens Eat Fish?
Whether or not chickens should eat fish is open to debate. It is of course up to you as the keeper; how available fish is to you and of course the preferences of your bird.
Generally, however, there are many positives and benefits in feeding fish to chickens.
It goes without saying that you should never feed spoiled or rotten fish to your chickens, but it is important to state nonetheless.
Another important caveat is that you should never offer fried fish or fish wrapped in breadcrumbs or batter. This fish is not suitable for chickens as they are usually heavily processed with seasonings, preservatives, and oils (fats).
However, with this in mind, fresh raw or cooked plain fish is an excellent food to offer.
Perhaps the two most significant reasons to consider offering fish to your flock are due to the high protein content/quality and the nutrients (vitamins and minerals) fish is abundant in.
Let us now take a closer look at each one and how they both serve the health of your birds.
Protein is a vital nutrient for poultry, including chickens. Protein actually plays a significant role in a chicken’s growth, egg production, immunity, adaptation to its environment, and also a number of other biological functions.
In fact, poultry specialists and veterinarians even suggest that protein makes up to 16-22% of the overall dietary intake of a chicken (depending on their age, breed, size, and whether or not they are laying eggs.)
Going further, it has been found that chickens can respond differently to protein in the diet depending on the protein quality and amino acids provided.
Low-quality protein does not have the same effect on growth, feed efficiency, and egg-laying quality.
For this reason, it is imperative that as a chicken keeper you offer good quality poultry feed. This should be the main component of your hens’ diet to make sure they get all the nutrients and protein they need.
From there, you should look to introduce high-quality protein sources into your chickens diet.
Fish is considered high quality, and this can be a great way to boost the protein intake of your hens.
Alongside this, free-roaming chickens will naturally hunt the land for insects and bugs.
Nutrients (Vitamins and Minerals)
Fish is a mainstay in the diets of humans; and is commonly cited as one of the most nutritious sources of foods on the planet.
This is because most fish is rich in vitamins and minerals.
Take a look at the table below of some of the most common types of fish and the nutrients they are known to provide:
|Rich in selenium, choline, and vitamin B12. It also contains good amounts of niacin, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin B6
|Rich in B-vitamins, plus minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
|High in selenium and good amounts of vitamins B3, B6, B12, and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium
|Great source of B-vitamins and minerals like selenium, phosphorus, and potassium
|Cod is a good source of vitamins B3, B6, and B12. Additionally, cod contains selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
|Contains large amounts of choline and vitamin B12, as well as many other nutrients.
As you can see, most types of fish offer an abundance of different vitamins and minerals; and there is equally commonality between them.
However, we do need to be careful as not all fish are as beneficial to feed as others.
For example, while chickens do require some fat in their diet for energy, to improve the digestibility of protein, and to improve palatability, fat should not be a main component of the diet.
In fact, it is recommended to keep total fat intake to around 5% of the total diet.
For this reason, fattier types of fish like Salmon, Mackerel, and Herring should only be offered in moderation and in smaller serving sizes.
This will prevent unnecessary weight gain, digestive upset, and other issues known with a higher fat intake.
Whereas lower fat fishes like cod, shrimp, and tilapia can be fed more freely.
Best Fish To Offer Chickens
Now we know that for the most part, fish is a nutritious food. You may be now wondering what are the best types of fish to offer your birds.
Let us now take a closer look at the best options. These are all high in good quality proteins, vitamins/minerals, and low in fat.
- Shellfish (Shrimps/Prawns)
- Feeder Gold Fish
As you can see, there are a lot of potential options to feed. A lot of these are the kinds of fish we can buy in the store and will likely eat ourselves.
Therefore, if you are looking to offer fish to your birds simply buy more in your shop and offer the leftovers from any meals that you do not consume.
Look to offer a variety to your birds. This will help to expand their nutrition and can also help you to see what they like and what they do not. From there you can get a better understanding of their preferences.
Be sure never to offer and spoiled fish or fish that you suspect is going off.
Can Chickens Eat Fish Bones?
Chickens can eat fish bones, but depending on how large and sharp they are they can cause issues. Bones can also splinter and cause issues with your birds as and after they ingest them.
Therefore, it is best to remove larger or sharper bones ahead of any feeding. Alternatively, you can break them up beforehand – but you will need to keep an eye on your birds as you feed them.
One particular part of a fish that chickens tend to enjoy is the shells of fish. Shrimp/Crayfish shells are two such examples. A lot of chicken keepers often report that their birds love the shells and will eat them ahead of and along with the meat.
Similarly, if a fish is concealed within a shell, you will often observe your birds pecking away, and possibly eating until they can access the flesh inside.
One type of fish where bones are not so much of an issue is in Sardines. These are very small and crumble easily when consumed. In fact, these bones are almost impossible to completely remove.
One major benefit of sardine bones is that they are very high in calcium.
They can therefore boost the calcium intake in your birds; a much-needed mineral for successful egg production and formation.
How To Feed Fish To Chickens
Chickens can safely consume fish – both raw and cooked so it makes feeding your birds much easier.
Generally, there are a couple of ways you can feed fish to your birds.
The first is to provide them raw.
This works best for smaller fish, like sardines and shrimp (shells included).
When doing so, you can either place them in their feeders or drop them into the coop. You may want to even mix them in with other scraps too.
Another way is to offer fish cooked.
This is when it is useful to offer your chickens any leftovers from your family meal or for larger fish in where you would want to only offer a particular serving size (like Salmon) or more expensive cuts (like Cod).
When cooking fish for your chickens, you must ensure that it is boiled, poached, baked, or grilled.
Also be sure not to add any condiments, flavorings, seasonings, or oil.
You need to ensure you are not adding any additional fat which can cause issues in your birds.
For more expensive fish, you may find that a few flakes are all that you have available or want to provide. Again, these work well mixed in with the rest of your chickens’ feed.
You may even want to cut up the fish prior to offering it. This helps with much larger fish, or fish that contains a lot of larger bones.
You will be able to remove them and keep them away from your birds.
One other consideration is that instead of purchasing fish for your birds, that you actually grow some specifically for them.
If you have a small pond, or like the idea of one in your backyard, this works particularly well.
You can use a pond to grow both fish, and several aquatic plants to sustain your flock.
What’s great about this idea is that you can actually use your chicken’s waste as fertilizer for the pond!
Here’s a quick general overview of how this could work:
- Build out a pond, or identify one in which you can use to grow your own fish.
- Fertilize the pond by adding in the manure from your chickens. If you want to automate the process, you can even build the pond or place the chicken coop/run/house next-door to allow your birds manure to fall into the pond.
- Add a number of carnivorous fish to the pond and be sure to grow them over time.
- Harvest and cut the fish up. Then serve them to your chickens either raw or cooked.
- The best pond fish to grow and harvest include catfish, bluegill, carp and bass, etc.
In your pond, you can even look to grow the aquatic plant duckweed. This is easy to grow and can provide up to 40% protein for your birds (once dried) and fed!
Duckweed can initially be purchased from specific retailers, or online.
Chickens can eat fish, both raw and cooked, and there are many benefits in them doing so.
Fish is abundant in high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals and can easily be purchased and stored.
There are many varieties of fish in which you can look to feed; the best ones being those that a lean and low in fat.
If you do decide to offer higher fat fish (such as Salmon), be careful with the serving sizes and offer it in moderation.
Leaner scraps of fish can be more routinely fed.
However, you should remember that fish should never be the sole source of nutrition in your chicken’s diet or replace their regular feed.
You need to be wary of any bones that they contain and to take away any scraps that are left.
While the majority of chickens will love fish in all its various forms – not all birds will. They do have their own preferences and some may be fussier.
Either way, like a chicken keeper, this is the kind of scrap food you will want to offer from time to time.
So long as it is fresh and has not spoiled.
It comes as no surprise to learn that not that long ago, fish meal products were a component of some of the most common commercially produced feeds.
Chickens can eat raw fish so long as it is not spoiled. Spoiled fish will be detectable by being discolored and having a bad-smelling odor.
Chickens can eat cooked fish so long as it has been boiled, poached, baked, or grilled. You should not offer fish that has been fried to your chickens, or any fish that is in breadcrumbs or batter.
Tuna fish is great to feed chickens and they generally really enjoy eating it. Tuna fish can be offered in steak form (raw or cooked) or alternatively, can be from a can. Just be sure never to offer the tuna inside the can as this can lead to injury.
Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my comprehensive guide below:
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.