Can Chickens Eat Bugs? Everything You Need to Know

Weevil Scarab on Wood (image by TieuBaoTruong, Pixabay)

Article Summary

  • Chickens actively hunt, peck, and scratch to uncover bugs in the soil, compost, or vegetation.
  • While most bugs are harmless and nutritious, chicken owners should monitor for allergic reactions, prevent consumption of poisonous insects, avoid insects from pesticide-treated areas, separate ill chickens after insect ingestion, and safeguard young chicks when introducing insect supplementation.
  • Baby chicks can eat bugs, and introducing insects into their diet benefits their growth and development.

Chickens are omnivores, meaning they enjoy a diverse diet of both plant-based and animal-derived foods. This raises the question – do chickens eat bugs and insects? While we often think of chickens pecking away at feed or grazing in a pasture, their natural diet consists of much more than just seeds and grass. Understanding what chickens eat can provide insight into proper poultry nutrition and natural chicken behavior.

An Overview of Chicken Diets

The natural diet of chickens consists of seeds, plants, and insects. Chickens are adept at finding nutritious foods and employ their sharp beaks to peck, scratch, and dig through the soil to uncover delicious morsels. Chickens have traditionally been regarded as herbivores or plant-eaters. However, chickens are actually omnivores and thrive on diversity in their diets.

While commercial chicken feed provides a balanced diet, chickens are allowed to free-range supplement their feed-based nutrition with plants, worms, bugs, and more from the environment. Their natural behavior is to forage and eat a wide variety of foods.

Do Chickens Eat Bugs and Insects?

Yes, chickens absolutely will eat bugs and insects as part of a natural, free-range diet! Chickens will consume almost any insect they can capture, including flies, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, caterpillars, maggots, worms, grubs, ants, earwigs, and millipedes. Chicken keepers observing their flocks will notice chickens actively hunting, pecking, and scratching to uncover bugs in the soil, compost, or vegetation.

NOTE

Insects provide essential amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and protein to chickens, ensuring a well-rounded diet that supports their immune system, feather quality, and overall well-being.

What Are the Benefits of Chickens Eating Bugs?

There are many excellent benefits to chickens consuming insects:

  • Protein – Bugs can provide a substantial source of protein, important for egg production and growth.
  • Amino acids – Essential amino acids like lysine are found more abundantly in insects versus seeds.
  • Fat – The fat content in bugs like grubs and caterpillars meets a chicken’s needs.
  • Vitamins and minerals – Many bugs have high levels of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins.
  • Gut health – Chitin in insect exoskeletons may improve digestion and reduce parasites.
  • Foraging behavior – Hunting insects stimulates natural chicken behaviors.
  • Economical – Eating insects from the farm landscape reduces reliance on expensive feed.
  • Pest control – Bugs like ticks, flies, termites, and locusts are seen as pests by farmers. Allowing chickens to eat these insects supports natural pest control efforts.
Brahma
A Brahma on Pasture

Potential Risks of Chickens Eating Insects

While most bugs are harmless and nutritious chicken treats, there are some precautions chicken owners should take:

  • Monitor for signs of allergic reaction to stings or bites
  • Prevent consumption of poisonous insects like blister beetles, wasps, or centipedes
  • Avoid insects from areas treated with chemical pesticides
  • Separate chickens that appear ill after insect ingestion
  • Safeguard young chicks and juveniles when first introducing insect supplementation

What Kinds of Bugs and Insects Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens will eat almost any insect they can catch. Here are some of the most common bugs and insects chickens love:

Worms and Grubs

Worms and grubs contain nutrient-dense fat and protein levels ideal for chicken diets. Earthworms, mealworms, wax worms, and soldier fly larvae are excellent feed supplements.

Crickets and Grasshoppers

A Cricket on Soil (image by Bergadder, Pixabay)
A Cricket on Soil

These jumps contain abundant protein. They also have a satisfying β€œcrunch,” which attracts chickens.

Beetles

With over 400,000 species, beetles are a diverse order of insects. Chickens will eat ground beetles, dung beetles, June bugs, and more. Avoid potentially toxic varieties like blister beetles.

Caterpillars

The larval form of butterflies and moths are a favorite, fatty snack. Just monitor for signs of black widow spiders where caterpillars are caught.

Ants

Ants contain ample fat and protein. Chickens will happily consume ants of all varieties, sizes, and life stages.

Fly Larvae and Maggots

A Fly on a Tree Branch (image by mikadago, Pixabay)
A Fly on a Tree Branch

Found in decaying matter, maggots are packed with nutrition. Their soft bodies are easy for chickens to rapidly consume.

Cockroaches

Roaches are an abundant feed supplement in urban environments. While argued to be cleaner insects, limit intake to avoid the potential for toxins.

Termites and Winged Reproductive Termites

Swarming, flying termites are a challenging-to-catch, rare treat. More commonly, chickens eat worker termites from nests.

Mosquitoes, Flies, and Other Flying Insects

Chickens will chase, leap, and fly short distances to catch and eat flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, and other flying insects.

Can Baby Chicks Eat Bugs Too?

While they may be initially hesitant, chicks can absolutely start eating insects at just a few days old. In fact, mother hens in the wild will actively teach chicks to capture bugs. Chicks need extra protein for rapid growth.

…mother hens in the wild will actively teach chicks to capture bugs.

Offer crushed eggshells to provide the needed calcium alongside insect protein. Introduce softer-bodied insects first, avoiding hard-shelled varieties that are difficult for a chick to digest. Supervise to ensure no choking hazards.

Conclusion

Chicken keepers don’t need an insect phobia! Bugs are a natural, nutritious part of a chicken’s diet. Allowing chickens access to forage naturally will allow them to balance their own nutritional needs through insect and other animal consumption. Observing flock foraging behaviors and diversified diets is one of the many joys of raising chickens.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can chickens eat bugs alone?

Yes, chickens can eat bugs alone as a substantial part of their diet. Bugs provide essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals for chickens. Incorporating a variety of bugs into their diet contributes to a well-balanced and nutritious feed.

Can baby chickens eat bugs?

Yes, baby chickens, also known as chicks, can eat bugs. In fact, introducing bugs into their diet at an early age is beneficial for their growth and development. Bugs provide the necessary nutrients for the formation of strong bones, feathers, and overall vitality in young chicks.

Will chickens eat ants?

Yes, chickens will eat ants. Ants are a common insect found in the environment, and chickens naturally forage for them. While ants alone may not provide all the nutrients chickens need, they can be a part of a varied diet that supports the overall health of the birds.