Do Chickens Eat Hay? Discover the Surprising Truth

Can Chickens Eat Plants Like Dried Hay?
Dried Hay on The Field

Article Summary

  • Chickens can eat hay, which provides them with nutritional benefits and engages their natural behaviors.
  • Hay contains fiber that aids in digestion, helps wear down beaks, and offers chickens places to perch, dust bathe, and lay eggs.
  • It’s essential to feed clean, mold-free hay to chickens, avoiding hay treated with chemicals and ensuring it’s complementary to their primary diet.

Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. While the main component of a chicken’s diet is grain-based feeds, chickens enjoy and benefit from eating a variety of greens and other plant materials. This leads to the question – do chickens eat hay?

Can You Feed Hay to Chickens?

Yes, you can feed hay to chickens. In fact, providing chickens access to hay can be beneficial for their health and happiness. Chickens naturally enjoy pecking and scratching at loose materials like hay. Allowing chickens to engage in these natural behaviors keeps them active and prevents boredom. 

Fresh Eggs on Hay in a Farm

Hay also provides nutritional benefits. It contains fiber, which aids digestive health. The act of pecking hay helps chickens wear down their beaks and keep them from overgrowing. Hay bales offer chickens spots to perch, take dust baths, and lay eggs in secluded nests.

Do Chickens Like Hay?

Most chickens do enjoy eating hay. The loose, tangled structure and diverse seed heads make for an enriching pecking experience. Chickens will nibble and pull at hay, selecting the most appealing bits like fresh green shoots, legume heads, and edible flowers.

…loose, tangled structure and diverse seed heads make for an enriching pecking experience.

The enjoyment chickens get from hay may depend partially on the type provided. Fragrant, green, early-cut hay usually appeals more than stiffer, drier hay. Mini bales or loose clumps allow easier access than tightly packed large bales.

Is It Safe for Chickens to Eat Hay?

Baby Chicks on Top of a Hay
Baby Chicks on Top of a Hay

Eating moderate amounts of clean, mold-free hay is safe for chickens. However, a few precautions are recommended when feeding hay:

  • Select hay that has been properly cured and stored to avoid mold.
  • Prevent access to hay treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Chop or shred long-fibered hays to prevent entanglement and choking.
  • Feed hay complementarily to a complete feed ration, not as the main diet.

As chicken keepers, choose and feed hay responsibly. It can be a safe, healthy supplement for chickens. Monitor their droppings for signs of any digestive upset.

What are the Benefits of Feeding Hay to Chickens?

Hay offers chickens many health and behavioral benefits, including:

  • Fiber for healthy digestion
  • Enrichment from foraging/pecking
  • Opportunities for nesting and dust bathing
  • Aid in beak conditioning
  • Nutrients like beta carotene, antioxidants, and prebiotics
  • More varied, natural diet
  • Lower feed costs compared to commercial feed

Hay also absorbs odors and moisture in the coop. The small amounts chickens scatter around benefits their litter quality.

What Kind of Hay Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can eat several types of hay:

  • Grass hays like timothy, orchardgrass, ryegrass, oat hay, and brome.
  • Legume hays like alfalfa, clover, and lespedeza. These offer more protein.
  • Cereal grain straws like oat, barley, and wheat straw. Provide more variety than hay.
  • Avoid moldy hay or straw.

RECOMMENDATION

Good, green grass hays are a great starting point for most flocks. Alfalfa—chopped alfalfa hay as nesting material or food—is high in protein, so feed it in moderation. Oat and wheat straws offer long-strand fiber benefits.

Do Chickens Eat Timothy Hay?

Yes, chickens can safely eat timothy hay. This common grass hay provides good fiber and is usually easy for chickens to nibble and digest. There are a few advantages to choosing timothy hay for chickens:

  • Timothy hay is lower in protein than legume hay, making it less likely to cause diarrhea if overeaten.
  • It contains antioxidants like carotenes and vitamin E.
  • It has a moderate calcium-phosphorus balance.
  • The long strands provide fiber without excess minerals.
  • Many chickens seem to relish the sweet flavor of timothy.
Timothy Hay in a Barn
Timothy Hay in a Barn

As long as it has not gone to seed, timothy hay makes an excellent supplement for most flocks. Introduce it slowly and provide free-choice to allow chickens to self-regulate intake.

Do Chickens Eat Alfalfa Hay?

Chickens can eat alfalfa hay. This legume hay has some benefits for chickens:

  • High protein levels are especially helpful for growing chicks.
  • Good concentration of vitamins and minerals.
  • Low in fiber but high in nutrients compared to grasshays.
Roll of Alfalfa Hay
Roll of Alfalfa Hay

However, alfalfa hay also has downsides:

  • The high protein content poses a risk of digestive upset if fed excessively.
  • Levels of calcium, phosphorus, and potassium may be overly rich.
  • Does not provide as much beneficial fiber as grasshays.

Feeding chickens a moderate amount of alfalfa hay blended with grass hay provides a good balance. Limit alfalfa hay for mature, inactive chickens due to the mineral levels.

Straw or Hay for Chickens?

Both straw and hay have a place in a chicken diet. Straw refers to the dried stalks left after grain harvesting. Hay is made of mowed grasses and legumes.

Some key differences that impact feeding choices:

  • Straw has a lower nutritional value than hay but provides excellent scratching texture.
  • Hay offers more variety in flavors, textures, and nutrients.
  • Long-stem straws are important for gizzard health and deterring egg eating.
  • Hay provides higher protein and energy.

Straw is ideal as bedding material; scattered hay in clumps for foraging enrichment…

For optimal diet diversity, offer chickens both straw and hay. Straw is ideal as bedding material they can forage in. As a way for foraging enrichment, scatter hay in clumps. The combination provides fiber, protein, and behavioral benefits.

Do Chickens Eat Hay or Grain?

While chickens eat both hay and grain, their dietary staple should be complete poultry feed or grain. Hay is a supplemental feed for chickens.

Grain provides the concentrated energy, protein, and balanced nutrition chickens need. Whole grains or pelleted feed should make up around 90% of a chicken’s diet.

Chickens Inside a Run
Chickens Inside a Run

Hay is lower in energy and protein than grain. Chickens love pecking hay for behavioral enrichment, not primary nutrition. Limit hay to about 10% of the diet.

Offer chickens free-choice hay in addition to their main grain ration. Think of hay as vitamin-enriched snacking material, not a substantial feed source.

Do Chickens Eat Hay in the Winter?

Chickens can eat hay in the winter months. In fact, providing hay during winter has some advantages:

  • Hay adds warmth and insulation when scattered in sleeping and nesting areas.
  • The nutrients in hay help meet the higher energy demands chickens have in cold weather.
  • Pecking and scratching in hay provides exercise and warmth.
  • Hay bales can create wind blocks in exposed areas of the coop or chicken run.
  • When fresh greens are scarce, hay offers variety and vitamin A.

NOTE

To ensure safety, only provide mold-free hay stored properly after baling. Check hay frequently for any rotting or freezing. Remove hay if it becomes damp, dirty, or unappetizing.

With some precautions, offering hay during winter provides comfort, nutrition, entertainment, and warmth for chickens.

Chickens can eat hay, which provides them with nutritional benefits, engages their natural behaviors, and can be a part of their varied diet. In addition to hay, chickens also enjoy and benefit from eating a variety of other plants. Offering these birds access to a diverse range of greens and plant materials not only adds variety to their diet but also provides them with essential vitamins and minerals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of hay is safe for chickens?

Chickens can safely consume a variety of hay, including timothy hay, orchard grass hay, and meadow hay. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the hay is free from mold, pesticides, or any harmful contaminants. Offering clean, high-quality hay can provide chickens with additional fiber and enrichment, supporting their overall health and well-being.

Can chickens eat lucerne hay?

Yes, chickens can eat lucerne hay, also known as alfalfa hay. Lucerne hay is rich in protein and calcium, which can be beneficial for chickens, especially during periods of high egg production or growth. However, it’s essential to provide lucerne hay in moderation, as excessive consumption may lead to imbalances in the diet. Always monitor your flock’s intake and consult with a poultry nutritionist if you have specific concerns.

Do chickens prefer hay or straw?

While both hay and straw can be used as bedding or forage for chickens, preferences may vary among individual chickens. Some chickens may show a preference for straw due to its structure and ability to form cozy nests. On the other hand, hay may be favored by chickens seeking softer bedding or additional forage. It’s advisable to offer both options and observe your chickens’ behavior to determine their preference. Providing a variety of bedding materials can also offer enrichment and encourage natural behaviors.