If you’re just embarking on your chicken-keeping journey, you’ll likely be curious about what you can and cannot feed them. Since hay is a dietary staple for many farm animals, it’s only natural to question whether you can, or should be feeding it. Will chickens even eat it, if offered? Are there any benefits in doing so? Let’s find out.
So, do chickens eat hay? Chickens do eat hay, and it is perfectly fine for them to do so (in moderation). Hay provides not only nourishment (as hay often includes seeds and other tidbits), but it also provides enrichment as chickens typically enjoy tearing it apart.
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Should Chickens Eat Hay?
Chickens can certainly eat (and very much enjoy) hay, but it should only comprise part of their diet. Hay is a good source of fiber and can help chickens digest their food more efficiently, but it should always be seen as a supplement to their pelleted feed and any additional servings of grains, vegetables and fruit.
In addition, hay can harbor bacteria and parasites, so it’s important to keep the hay that you intend to feed your chickens (or any animal) dry and clean to reduce the risk of disease.
Generally, hay can be a fantastic complement to your chickens’ diet as long as you take the necessary steps to ensure purchasing quality hay and keep it dry and clean.
What Kind Of Hay Is Safe For Chickens?
The two commonly available types of hay that is safe for chickens include Alfalfa and Timothy. Though Orchard Hay is a good alternative, too.
Alfalfa should be kept completely dry, and when cared for properly, it is the perfect addition to a chicken diet.
Dehydrated and chopped, dried alfalfa makes for a super source of protein.
Always feed hay or alfalfa in small amounts and sporadically, more as a supplement and less as a staple of the diet.
Orchard hay is another options for chickens, but it is considered lower quality as it has a lower protein and calcium content.
As such, sticking with alfalfa is your best bet when it comes to giving hay to your chickens.
Why Feed Chickens Hay?
There are many reasons that chicken owners choose to feed hay to their chickens.
While many use it as a source of entertainment, it’s important to ensure that the hay you feed falls in line with a healthy chicken diet.
If you’re on the fence (no pun intended) about feeding your chickens hay, you might consider the following reasons.
Hay is a good source of fiber, which can help chickens digest their food more efficiently.
A veterinarian, or avian specialist can help you establish a well-rounded diet for your chickens, so speak with them if you are considering adding it to the diet.
You want your chickens to be as healthy as possible, and hay can provide additional nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to your chickens’ diet.
Hay is a natural source of bedding and insulation for chickens, which can help keep them warm and comfortable in colder temperatures.
However, all chicken keepers need to note that all types of hay develop mold quickly once wet, so if you’re utilizing hay as bedding, you must change it often.
Hay can help chickens maintain good oral health by giving them something to peck and chew on.
In fact, you can add brain health to this list as well, as a bored chicken is an unhappy chicken.
Despite the increase in prices, hay is an economical way to feed your chickens and can be found in abundance at most feed stores or by local farmers.
As long as you ensure that your hay provider is reputable, trustworthy, and provides high-quality cuts, you and your chickens will be thrilled with the relatively low-cost addition to their diet!
How Much Hay Can Chickens Eat?
Generally, hay should make up only a small portion of your chickens’ diet. It would help if you supplemented hay with other healthy foods as it is not nutritionally complete on its own.
Chickens will generally eat 1-2 ounces of hay per day, but this can vary based on the type and size of the hay.
You want to keep a close eye on them while eating, ensuring they don’t overeat.
Most of the food your chickens consume should come from their pelleted feed, or from certain grains, fruits and vegetables.
A balanced diet for your chickens is vital to ensure they stay healthy and productive.
Note: I can’t stress enough that hay can carry bacteria and parasites, so keep it dry and clean to reduce disease risk. If your hay has accumulated even a little moisture, don’t feed it to your chickens. It’s better to be safe than sorry, even if you have to discard an entire bale.
How To Safely Feed Hay To Your Chickens
When feeding hay to your chickens, you’ll want to inspect the bale in as much entirety as possible before you give it to them.
Look for any signs of mold or pests and discard hay that has been wet or has a strong, musty smell.
Ensure to provide enough hay for your chickens, as this will help keep them from competing for food.
Switching to a different type may be necessary if your chickens are not eating the hay. When in doubt, alfalfa is your best choice!
The Benefits Of Allowing Your Chickens To Eat Hay
Hay can be a great additional component of your flocks diet, as it provides nutrients and can aid with digestion.
Hay is an excellent source of fiber, which helps chickens keep their digestive systems working optimally.
By allowing your chickens to eat hay, you are giving them a wide variety of vitamins and minerals they could otherwise miss out on.
Beak and Feather Improvements
Offering hay helps chickens keep their beaks and feathers in tip-top shape, as the rough texture helps them keep their beaks trimmed and conditioned, possibly preventing beak injuries that may occur from a lack of natural trimming.
The aforementioned nutrients and minerals in hay can keep feathers soft and luxurious.
Hay is also superb for supplying variety in your chicken’s diet, and eating hay can provide much-needed mental stimulation and physical nourishment.
When you regularly offer your chickens fresh, dry hay, preferably alfalfa, you provide them with a tasty and exciting treat that can help prevent boredom and ensure that they stay healthy and happy for as long as you have them!
Chicken keeping is the perfect hobby or full-time job for those genuinely passionate and invested in the health and well-being of their chickens.
Knowing the basics, such as whether or not chickens eat hay, is the perfect starting point for your poultry-owning adventure.
Can chickens eat timothy hay
Chickens can eat timothy hay, but only in very limited quantities. Due to its low mineral content and longer stems, it is not considered a very good option.
Can chickens eat alfalfa hay
Chickens can eat alfalfa hay, and it is considered a superior choice if you are to feed/offer hay to your flock. This is due to the increased minerals, including the ever-important calcium.
Is it OK to put hay in a chicken coop?
It is okay to put hay in a chicken coop if you it is for the purpose of feeding. It is not considered an optimal bedding, due to the fact that it can quickly harbor mold and bacteria which can be detrimental to your flocks health.
Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my other chicken feeding guides 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.