If you own a flock of chickens, then keeping them well fed will ensure they live long and happy lives. Equally, in doing so you can expect a regular supply of more nutritious eggs. But is it possible to provide too much food for your birds and can it become a problem? With such questions in mind, I decided to research into the dietary needs and requirements of these birds. What is to follow the result of what I managed to find from fellow chicken keepers all the way through to avian vets and experts.
So, can you overfeed chickens? It is possible to overfeed chickens and cause them to put on too much weight, especially if you provide too many high energy treats or the wrong types of foods as scraps.
Thankfully, chickens on the right diet do a pretty good job of naturally regulating their hunger and intake of food.
For instance, chickens that free-roam and live off the land are much more likely to instinctively satisfying their appetites. They will eat bugs and grubs as and when.
This is also why a high quality pelleted, mashed or crumbled feed comes so advised. Besides, it is designed with complete nutrition in mind.
Unfortunately, when we take care of these birds and feed them scraps, we can accidentally override these signals and overfeed our birds.
Excess energy, just like in us humans, will be stored as fat and this can lead to a number of other health complications in your flock. Beyond this, there are certain foods which can even be outright toxic if offered.
For these reasons if you keep chickens, you need to ensure you do your best to educate yourself on their specific dietary needs and requirements. This article today will help you to do just that.
Can Chickens Overeat?
It is absolutely possible for chickens to overeat. This is why we need to be so careful as chicken keepers and owners.
While chickens do a good job of stopping eating when they have had enough to eat; with the wrong foods, they are likely to eat in excess long before this signal to stop kicks in.
This most often occurs, in chickens that consume treats too regularly and too often.
Taking it a step further, certain treats can be more troublesome than others; especially those that are higher in fats, calories and carbohydrates.
So, the treats that you give your hens, the serving sizes and the frequency is all very important.
Some of the better treat options, that you can feed with minimal risk of over-consumption include :
- Specific Insects, like crickets.
Treats that are not so ideal, and can induce overeating and weight gain include:
- Breads, especially Pastries and Pizza
- Specific bugs, like Mealworms (in excess)
- Heavily Processed Foods, such as Crisps.
The only high carbohydrate food which does have its uses and serve a purpose is corn. This is ideal to provide your flock in the winter to help support them during the cold and when a higher energy intake is usually required.
While the foods may be fed in small quantities and infrequently, they pose the greater risk to your birds of overeating.
If this is coupled with insufficient exercise, then the risks of obesity rise. This is most likely to occur in birds that are confined to a small space – like a coop or a run.
This is why, it is imperative that the majority of your flocks diet is a healthy staple feed.
For the most part, a chickens weight should remain stable and within a healthy range if they consume a quality poultry pellet feed that is high in protein.
Additionally, we should look to let our hens range on fresh pastures. Here, they will eat grass, bugs, and other insects which will provide them the nutrition they need without an over abundance of calories.
Doing so will mean your birds satisfy their nutritional needs and simultaneously their desire for treats will naturally subside. You’ll also likely find that any feed presented beyond what they need, will be left in the feeder.
How Much Should You Feed Your Chickens
An average chicken will consume about a ½ cup of pelleted feed each day. This is sufficient, and will ensure they meet their energy and nutritional needs and requirements.
Beyond this, treats should make up no more than 10% of their total daily intake.
However, the following table will give you a much better and precise understanding of how much to feed, based on the age of your birds.
|Chickens Age||Feed Type||Protein Quantity||Food Intake, Weekly|
|0-6 Weeks||Chick Starter||20-22%||2-3 lbs|
|6-20 Weeks||Pullet Grower||14-16%||12-13 lbs|
|21 Weeks +||Layer||15-18%||1.8-2.4 lbs|
Equally important to quantity is quality; it is important that your chicken gets the appropriate balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
As you will see from the table above, chicks and laying birds require more protein than growing hens.
Too many fatty foods, including mealworms and seeds, can result in negative health consequences. Perhaps the main one to be aware of is Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome. It most commonly occurs in birds whom consume too high energy diets and insufficient exercise.
This condition can prove fatal relatively quickly. As fat accumulates around the liver, it can result in bleeding which can cause a chicken to loose too much blood too quickly – resulting in death.
This condition is most common in chickens that are considered at least 20% overweight. Laying hens appear to be most susceptible.
But what about table scraps?
Chickens are renown for not being fussy and being willing to eat most, if not any food. That doesn’t mean that everything should be provided.
For the most part, a small amount of table scraps can be fed. Just stick to the more wholesome foods that you have in surplus.
Not all your table scraps should necessarily be offered. This is especially true of fattier foods, those heavily processed or those rich in salt. So for example, bacon is one such food that meets all three of these criteria and is not a good table scrap to provide. Any food that has been fried is equally not a good idea.
Instead, some of the best types of table scraps include rice, fruits, vegetables and some bread.
For the most part, your flock should be able to eat most foods you and your family consume. But, you may want to serve the food differently. For example, you may want to cut the food into more manageable sizes before you throw it out into the coop/run.
How Often Should You Feed Your Chickens
Chickens can be fed in a number of different ways; all of which should enable them to meet their needs.
However, it will largely be up to you, as the chicken keeper, and what works best for your schedule.
If you have the time available, then it is probably more preferable to offer their pelleted feed throughout the day.
But for the most part we are not afforded this luxury.
Therefore, it is perfectly fine to feed them twice per day; once in the morning and once again in the evening.
When feeding food; you must ensure that all of your flock are getting access to the food. Some of the more dominant birds may attempt to eat all the food at expense of others. Therefore you may need to alternate the feeding schedule or consider getting additional feeders to ensure all of your birds obtain the nutrition they need.
How To Feed Your Chickens Appropriately
Chickens are omnivorous; meaning they can, and do best with a combination of both animal based and plant based foods in the diet.
For this reason, it can be easy to provide a sub-optimal diet without even realizing – especially as most chickens will eat what we put out for them (even if it is damaging to their health).
At the forefront of your flocks diet should be high quality pellet feed. This will ensure they get all the vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need.
Be sure to keep a sufficient stock of high-quality feed at all times. While your birds can survive without it for a short period of time, they will do better over the long-term if they resume feeding on the better feed.
While some keepers will make up their own feed for their birds; you need to be careful to ensure it has everything it needs for your birds. This includes both the macro-nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) and the micro-nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) Otherwise, you will be risking the health of your flock and you may even notice a drop in egg production.
Nutrient deficiency in chickens is a thing; and can lead to negative health outcomes if it were to go on for too long.
Lastly, ensure all the feed you provide your birds is fresh and has not spoiled. Over time, a feed will become less nutritious and can even begin to lose the vitamins it once contained.
Spoiled foods can even cause illness in your birds, and in the worst case scenario, even death.
It is also important that you never leave any surplus food; whether that be pellets or scraps out overnight. This can attract rodents such as rats and mice.
Risks of Insufficient Diet
Before we consider some of the practical things you can do to reduce the weight of your birds if they are indeed, overweight, let us briefly touch on some of the adverse affects an insufficient diet can have.
First and foremost, an insufficient diet is likely to result in certain behaviors and signs in your flock. The main ones include:
Obesity and weight gain: This may take a few weeks to observe, however your birds may start to gain weight if they are being overfed with the wrong foods.
Lethargy and disinterest: Birds fed an inappropriate diet will likely appear lazy, disillusioned and disinterested in their usual way of life.
Feather pecking/picking: Your birds may begin to peck at each other, which is often a sign that something is not right with your birds.
Reduced egg production: Of course you need to ensure that this is not due to a change in season, as hens will naturally lay less in the winter and lower light months.
Abnormal eggs: Can be observed in a number of ways. Eggshells may be weak or break, there may be an increased incidence of double yolks, or eggs may even be smaller than usual.
What To Do With Overweight Chickens
If your birds have overeaten over a period of time, then weight gain is inevitable. While it is important we help them to reduce their weight safely, thankfully there are certain practical things to start with.
The main two are:
- Cleaning up the diet
- Introducing more exercise
When it comes to cleaning up the diet, this can be achieved by limiting treats and table snacks fort a period of time. Only offering foods that are lower in total energy, fats and carbohydrates seem to work well too.
Just like us humans, overeating can be offset with frequent exercise.
So, its important that you analyse and consider the movement patterns and behaviors of your flock, along with your setup.
If you are keeping your birds confined to a small space, such as a coop and run without sufficient access to open space, your birds are unlikely to get enough exercise.
It can lead to a dangerous and self-repeating cycle:
Over-consumption of food -> disinterest to exercise -> More over-eating
And so on and so forth.
To help your birds exercise more, consider providing them with more access to space. Just make sure that the area is safe, they cannot escape and they will not be vulnerable to any potential predators.
From there you can consider introducing games that get your birds to run and move around.
One such idea I have seen from other chicken keepers is a game of cabbage tetherball. This is where a cabbage is attached to a pole and is knocked around by the birds. Many keepers report that their birds enjoy this activity as it also provides them with mental stimulation and can help to reduce boredom.
You can also look to move their food further afield, or look to introduce treat dispensing toys that require movement to release them. Of course, you can change the treats to something more nutritious and less energy dense.
Simple movement across a landscape is also beneficial. This will allow your birds to consume insects, grass and other bugs and will ensure they remain full and satisfy their appetite without feeling the need to eat more calorie dense treats.
Chickens can overeat, gain excess weight and suffer from a range of negative health outcomes as a result.
However, this is usually the result of insufficient feeding by a chicken keeper. Whether it is a lack of understanding, or general mismanagement, either way it is important that our birds are not overfed.
Perhaps the best thing you can do as an owner is to obtain the highest quality pelleted feed that you can afford. Be sure to feed your birds sufficiently, and give them plenty of access to open pastures where they can free-roam, consume naturally off the land and get some exercise at the same time.
From there, limiting table scraps and treats to under 10% of total daily food intake and ensuring these foods are safe and appropriate will go a long way to keeping your birds at a healthy weight and to prevent overeating altogether.