Can Chickens Eat Meat? What You Need to Know

Meat at The Grocery (image by Tyler Menezes, Unsplash)

Article Summary

  • Chickens can safely eat meat in moderation, providing beneficial nutrients like protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins.
  • It is advisable to avoid feeding chickens their own species’ meat or by-products and stick to a balanced omnivorous diet.
  • Baby chicks can start eating meat from their first day, but precautions such as avoiding processed meats and seasoning should be taken.

Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. While chickens naturally prefer grains, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, they are also opportunistic eaters. This leads to the question – can chickens eat meat?

The simple answer is yes, chickens can and will eat meat if given the opportunity. However, there are some important things to consider before feeding meat to backyard chickens. This article will cover whether it is safe and healthy to feed chickens meat, what types of meat chickens can eat, and potential risks to be aware of.

Is It Safe to Feed Chickens Meat?

In moderation, feeding chickens meat is generally safe. Here are some key points on the safety of feeding meat to chickens:

  • Chickens are omnivores and can digest both plant and animal proteins. Their digestive system is designed to handle meat.
  • Meat can provide beneficial nutrients like protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins to chickens. This can supplement their usual grain-based diet.
  • Chickens in the wild will eat bugs, grubs, and even small vertebrates like frogs and lizards. So, eating meat is a natural behavior.

However, there are a few cautions to keep in mind:

  • Avoid feeding chickens spoiled, contaminated, or processed meat containing preservatives. This can cause illness.
  • Limit high-fat meats like bacon or sausage, as excess fat can lead to obesity and health issues.
  • Prevent chickens from eating their own eggs or each other’s meat. This unnatural cannibalism risks disease transmission.

Overall, chickens can safely eat fresh, raw, low-fat meat in moderation. But proper handling and feeding practices are important.

What Happens If You Feed Chicken Meat to Chickens?

Feeding chicken meat or products back to chickens runs the risk of spreading disease. This practice can transmit pathogens like salmonella and viruses rapidly between chickens.

Consuming their own species’ meat or by-products is also highly unnatural and stressful for chickens. It goes against their normal omnivorous instincts.

Eating other chicken meat has been linked to unhealthy behaviors in chickens, like feather pecking and cannibalism. It essentially “confuses” the chickens and alters their natural social order and pecking hierarchy.

Chickens eating other chicken meat alters their natural social order…

For these reasons, most experts advise against feeding chickens any poultry remains, meat, or by-products. This includes chicken meat, eggs, bones, and even chicken manure used in compost piles. Following biosecurity measures helps keep chickens safe.

Is It Illegal to Feed Chickens Meat?

In the United States, there are no federal laws prohibiting feeding chicken meat or products back to chickens. However, the FDA strongly advises against this practice as it risks spreading diseases like HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza).

Some individual states have passed more stringent laws banning the feeding of poultry remains back to chickens on both commercial and backyard farms. These help control avian disease outbreaks.

NOTE

California has banned the feeding of chicken meat, organs, or fat back to chickens since 2007. So, check your local state laws to ensure you comply with any feed restrictions.

Though legal, feeding a chicken any poultry remains or by-products is an unwise practice backyard chicken keepers should avoid. Stick to vegetarian treats or meat from other species like beef, fish, or insects for a more natural, nutritious diet.

What Type of Meat Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of meat from mammalian and fish sources. Here are some common options:

Beef, Pork, and Lamb

  • Raw, cooked, or deli-style meats are safe bets. Avoid highly processed meats.
  • Organ meats like liver and kidneys provide great nutrition.
  • Bones are okay if chickens have access to grit to help grind them.

Fish and Seafood

  • Fresh raw fish, shrimp shells, or canned fish like tuna or salmon.
  • Provides healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Limit fish bones, which can choke chickens if too large.

Insects

  • Mealworms, crickets, maggots, and grubs supply natural protein.
  • Can replicate wild diet and foraging behaviors.

Small Game

  • Some chicken keepers feed thawed frozen rodents, reptiles, or amphibians.
  • Mimics natural predation in the wild.
  • Extremely fresh to avoid parasite or disease transmission.

When sourcing meat for chickens, always go for human-grade products whenever possible. Avoid meat from carnivorous species, like dogs. Introducing novel meats gradually can help avoid digestive upset.

Can Chickens Eat Raw Meat?

Yes, chickens can safely eat uncooked, raw meat. In fact, raw meat is the best way to feed meat to chickens for nutritional purposes.

Here’s why raw meat is ideal:

  • Chickens are designed to digest raw meat, bones, and proteins.
  • Cooking meat destroys some vitamins like B6, B12 and thiamine that chickens need.
  • Raw digestion replicates a chicken’s natural omnivorous diet in the wild.
  • Uncooked meat contains more beneficial enzymes and microflora than cooked.

Of course, raw meat carries a higher risk of bacterial contamination than cooked. To prevent illness, always feed chickens meat from a trusted source that follows food safety guidelines.

Ideally, raw meat fed to chickens should be freshly thawed or refrigerated to prevent spoilage. Freezing meat for 2-3 weeks before feeding can also kill parasites.

Can Chickens Eat Beef?

Raw Beef Cuts on White Plate (image by joon2079, Pixabay)
Raw Beef Cuts

Beef is one of the most common and beneficial meat sources for backyard chickens. In moderation, beef provides:

  • High-quality protein for growth and egg production.
  • Important vitamins like B12, iron, zinc, selenium, and phosphorus.
  • Healthy fats chickens need in their diet.

Feed chickens lean raw ground beef, steak trimmings, organ meats, or beef bones. Cooked deli roast beef is also enjoyed. Limit high-fat beef like prime rib.

Introduce new meats slowly, and feed beef no more than once or twice a week as a supplement to a grain-based diet. This gives chickens a nutrition boost while avoiding excess fat intake.

Can Chickens Eat Chicken?

Raw Chicken Breasts on Chopping Board (image by manfredrichter, Pixabay)
Raw Chicken Breasts

While it’s true that chickens are omnivores and naturally eat other chickens, it’s not recommended to feed chicken meat, organs, or products back to chickens. However, some people argue that it’s safe for chickens to eat chicken as long as it’s fresh and properly handled.

If you’re considering supplementing your chickens’ diet with fresh meat, using reliable meat slicers can provide you with portions that are just the right size for their consumption.

In fact, chicken can provide healthy nutrition for your flock, including protein and important vitamins. Despite this, it’s still important to consider the risks associated with feeding chickens their own species.

Consuming their own meat or eggs can lead to “reverse zoonosis”. In this process, chickens rapidly spread and contract viruses through the flock.

Eating other chickens also causes stress, aggression, and unhealthy behaviors like feather pecking. Even chicken manure and by-products in compost piles should be avoided.

Following biosecurity principles and avoiding cannibalism keeps backyard chickens happy and disease-free. Stick to feeding chickens beef, pork, fish, or insect-based proteins instead of poultry.

Can Chickens Eat Fish?

Sliced Piece of Fish in a Pan
Sliced Piece of Fish in a Pan

Fish and seafood make an excellent protein supplement for chickens. Benefits of feeding fish include:

  • Lean protein for growth and egg production.
  • Healthy fatty acids like omega-3s.
  • Vitamins and minerals like B12, selenium and iodine.
  • Chickens enjoy the flavors and textures.

Both raw fish fillets and cooked fish scraps are suitable. Try tuna, salmon, shellfish, shrimp or any fresh fish types. Remove small bones which could choke chickens. Introduce new fish gradually.

Feed fish no more than once a week in moderation, along with their normal feed. The protein, healthy fats, and nutrients fish provide give chickens’ diets a healthy boost.

Are Chickens Carnivores?

Chickens are omnivores, meaning they naturally eat both plant and animal matter. They cannot be classified as pure carnivores.

Here’s why chickens don’t meet the definition of true carnivores:

  • Chickens have a simple single-chambered stomach, unlike carnivores, which have multiple complex chambers to digest meat.
  • Their diet consists of 60-80% plant materials, like grains and vegetation, normally. They do not require meat to survive.
  • Chickens lack specialized teeth, jaws, or intestines of dedicated meat-eaters.
  • Natural chicken behavior involves pecking and scratching for seeds, fruits, and insects, not hunting prey.

While chickens will eat meat and receive benefits from animal proteins, they do not thrive on an exclusively meat-based diet, like lions, eagles, snakes, or cats. Feeding chickens a balanced omnivorous diet is the healthiest.

Can Chickens Eat Pork?

Raw Pork Meat And Fat
Raw Pork And Fat

In the wild, chickens will eat small mammals if available, so pork is a suitable protein supplement. Feed chickens cooked or raw pork such as:

  • Lean pork chops, ham, or tenderloin
  • Liver, kidneys, hearts, and other organ meats
  • Bacon, ham, or sausage (occasionally, as these are high-fat)

As with beef, introduce pork gradually and limit it to once or twice a week to provide a protein boost. Avoid highly processed pork products with lots of preservatives, salt, or spices.

Lean pork gives chickens important amino acids, vitamin B1, and minerals like phosphorus, copper, and iron. It offers a nice change of pace from typical chicken feed.

Can Chickens Eat Lamb?

Lamb is a suitable source of meat for backyard chickens. It provides many of the same benefits as beef or pork:

  • High-quality complete proteins.
  • Valuable iron levels for healthy blood.
  • Zinc, selenium, and B vitamins.
  • Healthy fats when fed in moderation.
Raw Mutton on Black Tray (image by jsbaw7160, Pixabay)
Raw Mutton

Pieces of raw lamb meat, trimmed fat, cooked lamb scraps, or organ meats can all be fed to chickens. Introduce slowly to allow chickens’ digestive systems to adjust.

Limit high-fat cuts of lamb, like ribs or lamb shoulder. Feed lamb no more than once a week to avoid obesity and keep chicken diets balanced. Lamb offers great protein and nutrient variety.

Can Chickens Eat Meat Scraps?

Leftover meat scraps from the table make a safe, nutritious supplemental feed for backyard chickens. Scraps provide:

  • Extra protein from meat, fat, and cartilage.
  • New flavors and textures chickens enjoy.
  • Reduced kitchen waste.

Suitable table scraps include cooked poultry (other than chicken), beef, pork, fish, organ meats, or bones. Avoid highly seasoned, salty, or spoiled meats.

Remove any bones, skewers, or packaging first. Also, refrain from feeding chickens greasy leftovers, like bacon or sausage, frequently, as the high-fat content can cause obesity and related health issues.

Overall though, recycling small amounts of meat scraps safely diverts waste while giving chickens a protein-packed dietary boost.

Can Chickens Eat Meat Fat?

Chicken can eat small amounts of trimmed meat fat from beef, lamb, pork, or fish. In moderation, animal fat provides:

  • Concentrated energy source.
  • Essential fatty acids for skin and feathers.
  • Improved absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Added flavor and texture variety.
Ham For Sale (image by RitaE, Pixabay)
Raw Ham

However, too much dietary fat can negatively impact chicken health:

  • Excess fat leads to obesity, liver damage, and other issues.
  • Fat can trigger aggressive behavior between flock members.
  • Fatty foods may reduce the consumption of balanced chicken feed.

Limit high-fat meat scraps like bacon or sausage. Feed no more than one or two teaspoons of meat fat per chicken once or twice a week.

Can Chickens Eat Meat Carcass?

While not ideal, chickens can safely eat meat carcasses in moderation. Chicken keepers might feed whole wild game like quail, rabbits, or rodents thawed from frozen.

Benefits include:

  • Simulates natural omnivore behaviors.
  • A powerful source of protein and nutrients.
  • Controls pests like rats or snakes.

However, exercise the following precautions:

  • Ensure the species is safe for chickens to eat. Avoid pets or carnivores.
  • Source extremely fresh, whole carcasses frozen for 2-3 weeks to control parasites.
  • Introduce new carcass types slowly.
  • Prevent choking on small bones by supervising.
  • Limit portion size to avoid obesity.

Overall, clean raw carcasses from wild game or livestock can offer free, novel protein. But feed sparingly and take care to avoid risks.

Can Chickens Eat Meat Pies?

It’s best not to feed chickens meat pies, pot pies, sausage rolls, or similar products. Here’s why:

  • The pastry dough and thick gravy can be unhealthy.
  • Salt, seasoning, and preservatives may cause issues.
  • Risk of choking on bones or dense pie filling.
  • Difficult to digest and low in nutrients compared to fresh meat.
Baked Meat Pie (image by stevepb, Pixabay)
Baked Meat Pie

Also, these foods typically contain chicken, which should not be fed back to chickens.

Rather than meat pies, offer chickens occasional lean cooked meat scraps with no salt, spices or sauces. Or, stick to their grain-based diet and supplement with live insects or raw bones. Avoid heavily processed products.

Can Baby Chickens Eat Meat?

Baby chicks can start safely eating meat from their first day alive. In the wild, mother hens will provide tiny scraps of insects, worms, and small animals. Some tips on feeding chicks meat:

  • Start with 1-2 days old when the yolk sac reserves are absorbed.
  • Minimize the risk of choking by dicing meat finely or mincing.
  • Meat gives protein for rapid growth and satisfying omnivore needs.
  • Prioritize easily digested options like liver, heart, worms, or insects.
  • Avoid processed meats, seasonings, or salt.

Monitor to ensure chicks don’t struggle to swallow pieces. Continue providing starter feed as the diet staple with supplemental meat a few times a week. Meat gives growing chicks a nutritional head start.

Conclusion

Chickens are natural omnivores that can eat and benefit from meat in moderation. Feed raw, fresh meats like beef, pork, lamb, and fish for protein, nutrients, and natural behaviors. Avoid processed meats, and never feed chickens their own species’ meat or by-products. With sensible precautions, occasional meat provides backyard chickens with variety and nutrition. Monitoring obesity risk and introducing new proteins gradually keeps your flock healthy and thriving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to feed chickens meat?

Yes, it is generally safe to feed chickens meat in moderation. Chickens are omnivores and can consume small amounts of cooked or unseasoned meat as part of their diet. However, it’s important to avoid giving them spoiled or raw meat, as it may contain harmful bacteria. Additionally, meat should only constitute a small portion of their overall diet, which should primarily consist of balanced poultry feed.

Can chickens eat meat leftovers?

Chickens can eat meat leftovers, but there are some considerations to keep in mind. Leftover meat should be plain, without any added spices, seasonings, or sauces that could be harmful to chickens. It’s crucial to ensure that the leftovers are fresh and haven’t spoiled. While meat can be a protein source for chickens, it should be offered as a treat rather than a primary food source to maintain a well-balanced diet.

Can chickens eat meat or fish?

Yes, chickens can eat meat and fish in moderation. Both meat and fish provide valuable protein for chickens. However, it’s essential to offer them cooked and unseasoned options, avoiding any added spices, salt, or harmful seasonings. Fish should be boneless, as poultry can’t easily digest bones. As with any treats, meat and fish should complement their regular diet, which consists mainly of high-quality poultry feed and access to fresh water.