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What Can Chickens Eat? [The Definitive Diet Guide]

If you are new to chicken keeping, then one of the foremost questions you will have is what can, or should your birds eat?

Heck, even experienced poultry keepers sometimes ponder if they can offer new foods.

I get it.

Having raised a flock in the past, I was always questioning whether I could feed this specific fruit, this specific scrap.

And while most foods do tend to be okay, there are a few that can be fatal if you do decide to offer without first checking.

So being mindful and vigilant at all times is paramount.

Below, I will walk you through the various elements of the diet, with specific recommendations, serving sizes, and frequencies to help you plan out your flock’s optimal diet.

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What Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can eat grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and insects, among a number of other table scraps. However, commercial poultry feed should always be are the forefront and remain the mainstay of the diet.

What do I mean by forefront?

Well a good rule of thumb is:

Chicken’s Daily Det = 90% Pelleted Feed, 10% Other Foods (Fruits, Vegetables, Scraps)

Now there is one other caveat. The pelleted feed itself.

You need to ensure that your flock is on a diet tailored to their age and needs.

For instance, chicks have different nutritional requirements than mature laying hens or meat birds.

Each stage of a chicken’s life comes with its own unique set of demands.

Thankfully, commercial feeds are meticulously formulated to address these needs, especially for laying hens.

The beauty of these specialized feeds is that they offer a balanced mix of proteins, vitamins, and minerals necessary for optimal growth, egg production, and overall health.

While it’s tempting to spoil our flocks with an array of table scraps and treats, it’s crucial to remember that these should only be supplementary.

In fact, overloading on treats can lead to nutrient imbalances, impacting the health and productivity of your chickens.

So, while it’s fun to watch your chickens excitedly peck at a watermelon slice or chase after a bug, always ensure that the bulk of their diet comes from a high-quality formulated feed.

This approach guarantees not only their happiness but also their well-being and longevity.

Feeding Suggestions For Chickens By Age

Chicken AgeType of FeedFeeding Suggestion
Spring-born chicks (Day 1 to week 18)Starter-Grower FeedOnly feed starter-grower. Introduce treats after the first egg, ensuring they get all 38 essential nutrients.
Laying HensComplete FeedApprox. 0.25 lbs or one-half cup daily. Treats should not exceed 2 tablespoons daily.

What Fruits Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can eat various fruits, with the best being those that are low in sugar. Berries (cranberries, blackberries, elderberries) are ideal, as are apples, and pears, which are relatively low in sugar. Avoid high-sugar fruits and toxic ones like avocados.

FruitServing Size SuggestionServing Frequency Recommendation
Bananas1/4 bananaOnce a week
Apples1/4 apple (no seeds)2-3 times a week
Pineapple1 sliceOnce a week
Cherries2-3 cherries (no pits)Once a week
Kiwi1/4 kiwiOnce a week
Figs1-2 figsOnce a week
Elderberries1 tablespoonOnce a week
Olives2-3 olivesOnce a week
Cranberries1 tablespoon2-3 times a week
Pears1/4 pearOnce a week
Cantaloupe1/4 slice (chopped)1-2 times a week
Blackberries2-3 berries (whole or chopped)1-2 times a week

What Vegetables Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can eat a variety of vegetables. The best ones include leafy greens like kale and spinach, broccoli, green beans, and carrots. These veggies are nutritious and safe. Always serve in moderation and avoid toxic vegetables.

VegetableServing Size SuggestionServing Frequency Recommendation
Spinach1 handful2-3 times a week
Mushrooms2-3 piecesOnce a week
Lettuce1-2 leavesDaily
Cauliflower1/4 head2-3 times a week
Peas1 tablespoonDaily
Beets1/4 beetOnce a week
Dandelions1 handfulDaily
Kale1 handful2-3 times a week
Cucumber1/4 cucumber2-3 times a week
Carrots1 small carrotDaily
Cauliflower1-2 florets (chopped)2-3 times a week
Peppers1/4 pepper (seeds removed, chopped)1-2 times a week

What Worms/Insects Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can consume various worms and insects such as earthworms, mealworms, crickets, and ants. These provide essential proteins and nutrients. Ensure insects are pesticide-free and offer them as treats or foraging opportunities.

Worm/InsectServing Size SuggestionServing Frequency Recommendation
Slugs2-3 slugsAs available
AntsFree rangeAs available
Worms5-10 wormsDaily
TicksFree rangeAs available
Crickets5-10 cricketsDaily
CockroachesFree rangeAs available

What Scraps Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can eat scraps including bread, cooked rice, non-salty popcorn, leftover vegetables, and fruits. They can also have egg shells for calcium. Avoid salty, moldy, or spoiled foods, and toxic foods like chocolate and onions. Always serve scraps in moderation.

ScrapServing Size SuggestionServing Frequency Recommendation
Bread1 small sliceOnce a week
Popcorn1 tablespoon (unpopped)Once a week
Egg ShellsCrushed, as requiredDaily (for calcium)
FishSmall pieceOnce a week
HamSmall pieceRarely
Cheese1 small cubeOnce a week
Dog FoodAs supplementOccasionally
Fat Balls1 small ballRarely
HayFree rangeAs bedding or occasional treat
Lentils1-2 tablespoons (cooked)2-3 times a week

What Not To Feed Chickens

  • Avocado: Especially the pit and skin which contain persin, toxic to chickens.
  • Chocolate: Contains theobromine and caffeine which are harmful.
  • Coffee and Coffee Grounds: Caffeine can be toxic.
  • Green Potato Skins: Contain solanine, a toxic substance.
  • Raw Beans: Can contain phytohaemagglutinin, toxic to birds.
  • Rhubarb: Contains oxalic acid which can be harmful.
  • Moldy or Rotten Food: Can contain toxins harmful to chickens.
  • Onions: In large amounts can cause digestive issues.
  • Garlic: In excess, can taint the taste of eggs.
  • Salt: High salt items can lead to salt poisoning.
  • Citrus Fruits: Some believe it can interfere with calcium absorption.
  • Sugary Foods: Can interfere with their digestion.
  • Processed Foods: High in salt and additives, not suitable for chickens.

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