If you own a flock of chickens, you may be wondering whether it is safe, or even beneficial, to offer them some ham. Does ham make a good treat and can you offer this as part of their scraps? This is what the research says!
So, can chickens eat ham? Chickens may be able to eat a small serving of ham every now and again. It is not the best food to offer as scraps, nor should it become a staple in your flock’s diet. Ham is typically very processed, high in fat and salt; all of which make it not best suited for the needs of your birds.
So if you do decide to offer ham you should look to offer the most minimally processed ham, fresh, and cut up into manageable-sized chunks.
You should only look to do so once per week at most.
But let’s now get into it!
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Do Chickens Eat Ham?
Chickens are likely to be fed ham if provided. In fact, they will commonly eat all the ham in which you put out (within reason).
If you were to ask any chicken keeper about the dietary preferences of their flock; you’ll often get a pretty universal response – they seem to eat most things.
They are of course omnivorous; which means that they should consume and do best with both animal and plant matter (such as vegetables) included in their diet.
With this being said, not all chickens will eat ham if you throw it out. In fact, some chickens are notoriously fussy.
Therefore, you may even find ham is left in the coop/run regardless of how, when, or what type you provide.
Chickens, like humans, do have preferences for certain foods and will be more willing to eat certain foods over others.
You might even learn that certain brands, styles, or cuts of ham are better enjoyed than others.
This is normal and there is not usually anything to be worried about.
It is only if your birds stop eating altogether, only eat specific scraps, or stop eating their main diet feed in the hope for scraps that you may need to intervene.
Ultimately, ham is usually enjoyed. If it is not, or if anything is to be left, you will need to remove it from the coop/run as soon as you can. Just like you would with other foods.
You do not want any food to begin to rot, harbor bacteria/germs, or be available as this can cause rodents, such as rats, to arrive.
Should You Feed Ham To Chickens?
The next question to naturally follow is whether chickens should even eat ham, to begin with.
While it’s true your chickens are likely to eat it, is it even advisable or preferable that they do?
For the most part, ham should be provided in limited quantities, infrequently.
Typically a small amount of high-quality ham can be provided – and once a week is probably at most.
Also consider that when you feed ham, you must ensure that it is still fresh. You also need to be careful with how long it remains in the coop/run.
Ham, along with other meat and fish, will deteriorate very quickly.
In as little as 3 hours (at room temperature), these foods would be considered dangerous to even us, humans.
This is because Salmonella and other bacteria can start to take hold. If it does, and your chickens consume these foods, they can become very ill.
Therefore, any ham that you do look to put out should be recently refrigerated and quickly removed once your chickens have had enough.
Another important consideration is the type of ham that you offer. Ham is generally a very processed food.
It typically is high in fat and salt.
As a chicken keeper, you need to monitor how much fat and salt your birds consumed. They do not need a lot of it in their diets.
If too much is consumed it can lead to health complications including excess weight gain and water retention (bloat).
While some fat is required for energy, digestion, and palatability, it is recommended that fat does not exceed 5% of the total diet of a chicken.
You should remember that fat and salt will be provided as part of their regular feed and other scraps you may offer; so your chickens can soon begin to consume too much, even in limited serving sizes.
That being said, ham does provide some protein which is, of course, essential for chickens, especially growing chicks and laying hens.
If you can source some higher quality ham, it could be a good addition if provided in small servings, infrequently.
Types of Ham
Ham comes from the leg of a pig; it is eaten in many countries and has taken its place in many cultures throughout the world.
As such, there are many different types of ham – all of which will affect how appropriate it is to feed your chickens.
Generally speaking, the best ham to offer your birds will be minimally processed, un-smoked (unseasoned), low in fat, and predominantly protein.
It should be the leanest cuts.
So, for this reason, you should think about the amount of fat and salt that could be in each ham. The more you know of or suspect, the less of it you should be feeding your birds.
For this reason, plain, uncooked ham that you can boil in water would be best.
At the other end of the spectrum, brine-cured (salty ham) or any fried ham (like bacon) would be some of the worst you could look to offer.
Here are some of the different options of hams. Based on the criteria above, I have put together a list of the better hams to offer, with those you need to be careful of.
Better Styles of Ham To Feed Chickens
- Boiled Ham
- Butt End Ham
- York (Pink) Ham
Hams To Be Careful Of When Feeding Chickens
- Ham Hocks
- Prosciutto (seasoned
- Ham Sausage
- Pork Scratchings/Rinds.
- Glazed Ham
- City Ham
One final thing to consider is where the ham is actually from on the leg of the pig. Unless you purchase a whole leg, you can usually purchase shank-end and butt-end hams.
Shank-end ham is typically fattier and less tender than the meat you’ll find in a butt-end ham.
Therefore the latter is more appropriate for chickens.
Better Scraps To Offer Chickens
For the most part, ham is quite fatty. Its also commonly found preserved in brine, or naturally high in salt (sodium).
We know these are not good for chickens in excess. Therefore, unless you can source leaner cuts of ham, or be willing to offer it less frequently, it makes sense to offer other scraps.
Below, you will find some of the best scraps that chicken keepers often feed their hens:
- Lean fish, like cod, pollock, tuna and shrimp,
- Lean meats, like chicken and turkey,
- Bread – in small servings,
- Corn – raw, cooked or dried,
- Fruits – apples, berries, grapes and melons are some of the best.
- Grains – such as rice and wheat,
- Vegetables – such as carrots, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes
It is also best to allow your chickens to free roam on the land and to consume grass, insects, and bugs that they encounter.
This promotes their natural foraging behaviors and also allows them to get additional protein, nutrients, and vitamins.
For example, the consumption of Earthworms is excellent for chickens.
From there, you can also look to purchase specific bugs for your birds. Grubbies from Amazon are a favorite among many chicken keepers.
You can get a huge bag, can offer them daily, and these specific grubs offer an ideal Calcium to Phosphorous Ratio – 3:1!
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Chickens can eat ham, although it is not the best food that you can look to offer as scraps.
While ham can provide some protein in the diet, it is by nature, a very processed food that is high in fat and salt (sodium).
Both of which need to be controlled in your flock’s diet.
In fact, fat should never exceed more than 5% of total caloric intake so you need to be especially careful with food like ham.
There are many different types of ham available depending on where you live and where you shop; the best ones are the leanest cuts – typically from the butt-end of the pig.
You can look to offer these without less of a concern. Hocks and other ham-based products (like sausages) are best avoided or need careful portion control and infrequent feedings.
Either way, ham should never become the main source of nutrition or protein for your flock.
You still need to ensure the majority of their diet comes from a high-quality feed, respective to their age and size.
Lastly, if you do decide to offer ham, while the majority of chickens will willingly eat it – not all will.
If you find this to be the case – simply pick up the scraps, dispose of them appropriately and refrain from offering them again to your birds.
The same can be said for any uneaten food – always remove it quickly from the coop/run to prevent rodents, germs, and bacteria.
Meat scraps can be fed to chickens in moderation so long as they are lean, minimally processed, and fresh cuts. You should not look to provide fatty, salty, processed, or spoiled meats to your flock.
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.