What Foods Can Chickens Eat? A Comprehensive Guide

What Foods Can Chickens Eat?

Article Summary

  • Chickens can safely consume many common vegetables such as leafy greens, root vegetables, squash, cruciferous veggies, peppers, green beans, sweet corn, and more.
  • Fruits are a healthy supplement for chickens and can include berries, melons, apples, citrus fruits, bananas, peaches, pears, and tomatoes.
  • Seeds are a source of protein and healthy fats for chickens, including pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds.

Chickens can safely eat a wide variety of foods beyond commercial feed and chicken scratch. As omnivores, chickens can consume plants, seeds, vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy and more in moderation. Knowing what to feed your flock provides chickens with a balanced, nutritious diet.

Can Chickens Eat Vegetables?

Yes, chickens can eat many common vegetables found in gardens or at the grocery store. Vegetables provide important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in a chicken’s diet. Here’s a list of some of the best vegetables for chickens.

Leafy Greens

Lettuce, kale, spinach and other leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamins A, K, C and calcium. Chickens enjoy whole leaves or chopped greens mixed into feed. Avoid iceberg lettuce which has limited nutrients.

Root Vegetables

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and yams provide beneficial fiber, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Cook starchy veggies to break down complex carbs.

Squash

Zucchini, pumpkin, yellow squash, butternut squash, carrots, turnips, broccoli and foods are high in vitamins A, C and fiber. Squash seeds also contain protein and omega-3s. Slice large pieces for easy eating.

Cruciferous Veggies

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and bok choy are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins C, E, K and folate.

Peppers

Bell peppers, chili peppers and sweet roasting peppers add beta-carotene, antioxidants and vitamin C. Just go light on hot peppers.

Green Beans

A favorite treat packed with thiamine, vitamin C, iron and calcium. Offer dried or blanched green beans.

Sweet Corn

High in fiber, lutein and vitamin C. Give chickens fresh or thawed, cooked corn kernels off the cob.

TIP

When feeding veggies, introduce new items slowly and chop larger pieces into bite-sized bits for safe eating. Avoid raw potatoes and rhubarb leaves which can be poisonous.

Can Chickens Eat Fruits?

A Variety of Fresh Fruits
Different Fresh Fruits

Fruits are another healthy supplement to give free-range chickens for important vitamins, minerals and natural sugars. Chickens can eat a variety of fruits including:

Berries

Raspberries, blueberries and strawberries provide vitamin C and disease-fighting antioxidants. Offer fresh or thawed berries in moderation due to their high sugar content.

Melons

Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew contain high water content to help with hydration. The seeds provide protein. Chop melons into small, thin slices without the rind.

Apples

A favorite treat high in vitamin C and fiber. Core apples and chop into small pieces before feeding. Avoid apple seeds which contain trace amounts of cyanide.

Citrus Fruits

Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes offer vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. Feed the juicy inner fruit without rinds, in small quantities. Too much citric acid can upset digestion.

Bananas

Bananas contain vitamin C, potassium, fiber and magnesium. They are high in natural sugar so feed as a treat. Mash ripe bananas before feeding.

Peaches/Nectarines

Juicy, sweet stone fruits provide beta-carotene. Remove pits then offer small, sliced pieces.

Pears

Pears offer antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C. Cut into small chunks without the stem or seeds.

Tomatoes

Technically a fruit, tomatoes contain vitamins A, C and K. Offer cherry tomatoes or chopped larger varieties without green parts or vines.

The pit/seeds must be removed from fruits like plums, peaches, avocados and cherries as they contain trace amounts of cyanide. Introduce new fruits slowly.

Can Chickens Eat Seeds?

Seeds provide protein, healthy fats and essential omega-3 fatty acids. In moderation, chickens can eat:

Pumpkin Seeds

Raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds provide manganese, copper, zinc, iron and magnesium. High in fat so give sparingly.

Sunflower Seeds

These contain protein, omega-6s, B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and vitamin E. Avoid salted seeds.

Flax Seeds

High in omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid. Grind before feeding as whole seeds pass through undigested.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp hearts offer protein, omega-3s, magnesium, iron, zinc and arginine. Can feed whole or ground.

Chia Seeds

Tiny but mighty chia seeds deliver fiber, protein, manganese, magnesium and omega-3s. Soak before feeding to soften.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds provide amino acids, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, copper and manganese. Look for unhulled.

Seeds can be fed dry, soaked or sprouted. Give a sprinkle over feed or offer free-choice in a separate dish.

Can Chickens Eat Dairy?

Milk and Cheese at Picnic Time
Milk and Cheese at Picnic Time

Chickens can eat limited amounts of dairy products like cheese, yogurt and kefir in moderation:

Cheese

Small amounts of grated hard cheeses like cheddar or parmesan add protein and calcium to a chicken’s diet. Avoid soft cheeses.

Plain Yogurt

Yogurt contains beneficial probiotics, protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B12 for gut health. Avoid added sugar.

Kefir

This fermented milk drink has probiotics to support digestion. Look for plain, unsweetened blends.

Limit dairy to occasional treats. Too much can cause loose droppings. Always avoid chocolate, which is toxic to chickens. Remove rinds from hard cheese.

Can Chickens Eat Commercial Animal Feed?

While many fruits and vegetables make healthy supplemental treats, a commercial complete feed should make up the bulk of a backyard chicken’s diet. Look for a complete animal feed formulated specifically for chickens to provide balanced nutrition. Ingredients will likely include:

  • Grains like corn, wheat, barley or oats
  • Soybean meal, beans or peas for protein
  • Dried egg shells for calcium
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements

Chicken feed comes as crumbles, mash or pellets in various stages from starter feed for chicks to layer feed for hens. Free-choice feeding lets chickens self-regulate. Avoid medicated blends without illness.

Can Chickens Eat Human Food?

Various Table Food in a Gathering
Various Table Food in a Gathering

Chickens should not eat most table scraps or leftovers made for human consumption. However, some people foods are fine in moderation:

Cooked Meat/Eggs

Cooked, unseasoned chicken, beef, turkey or eggs offer protein. Avoid bones.

Cooked Pasta/Rice

Cooked grains without sauce provide carbohydrates. Limit to treat amounts to avoid obesity.

Oatmeal

Cooked plain oatmeal adds fiber and B vitamins. Avoid instant with added sugar.

NOTE

Do not feed chickens raw meat or eggs to prevent salmonella. Avoid heavily seasoned foods. Onions, chocolate, caffeine, salty foods and alcohol are toxic for chickens. Moderation is key with people food.

Can Chickens Eat Plants?

As natural foragers, chickens enjoy eating a variety of garden plants, weeds and sprouted grains. Safe, healthy options include:

Grass

Fresh or dried grass provides fiber, minerals and greens. Allow chickens to graze or offer harvested grass.

Dandelion Greens

These nutritious edible weeds are high in vitamins A, K, E, folate and minerals. Great for chickens.

Fallen Berries/Fruit

Allow hens to nibble ripe, fallen fruits and berries with seeds around plants for natural foraging.

Fresh Sprouts

Sprouted grains like wheat, barley and oats add vitamins and digestion-aiding enzymes to a chicken’s diet.

Avoid any ornamental plants, trees or shrubs which may be toxic. Prevent foraging around chemically treated lawns. Introduce new greens slowly.

Can Chickens Eat Flowers?

Can Chickens Eat Plants Like Lilacs
A Close-up View of The Lilac Flowers

Certain edible flowers provide added nutrients and enrichment. Some safe options include:

Nasturtiums

All parts are edible and contain vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Petals add color, leaves and stems add green nutrients.

Chive Blossoms

Mild onion flavor. Petals and stems contain vitamin K, manganese and carotenoids.

Violets

Both African and English violets have edible flowers. High in vitamins A and C. Helpful for respiration.

Calendula

Bright orange, yellow and red petals have carotenoids and anti-inflammatory properties. Parts are antimicrobial and soothing.

Roses

Remove bitter white heels then offer fragrant rose petals which contain vitamins C, D, E and K.

Introduce flowers gradually to gauge reactions. Use organically grown flowers free of chemicals or pesticides. Remove thorns, stamens, pollen and other inedible parts before feeding.

Can Chickens Eat Meat?

Dried Mealworms

As omnivores, chickens can eat and benefit from small amounts of meat protein:

Cooked Meat

Shredded cooked chicken, turkey, beef or fish provides protein, iron and amino acids.

Mealworms

Dried or live mealworms are a natural food source offering protein, fat and essential nutrients. Great treat.

Crickets/Grasshoppers

These edible insects are high in calcium, protein and antioxidants like carotenoids.

Free-range chickens may eat small mice, frogs or lizards they catch while foraging. Avoid feeding raw meat or bones which are choking hazards.

Can Chickens Eat Other Animals?

On a small scale, chickens can consume other small animals as protein sources:

Insects

Chickens will naturally scratch and peck to search for beetles, caterpillars, snails, slugs, grubs and worms in the soil and foliage.

Frogs & Lizards

Free-range chickens may opportunistically eat small vertebrates including frogs, toads and lizards for protein.

Mice & Rats

Chickens are known to kill and eat small rodents that invade the coop or cross their path while grazing.

NOTE

Avoid intentionally feeding chickens large amounts of wild-caught animals which may harbor parasites. But chickens will supplement their diet with small critters naturally.

Can Chickens Eat Nuts?

A Variety of Nuts in The Market
A Variety of Nuts in The Market

While most nuts are too high in fat to be a dietary staple, chickens can eat limited amounts of certain nuts as a treat:

Peanuts

Raw, unsalted peanuts offer protein, biotin and niacin. High in fat so feed crushed or chopped in moderation. Avoid moldy nuts.

Almonds

Sliced, roasted almonds provide vitamin E, magnesium, fiber and protein. Due to fat content, use just as an occasional snack.

Cashews

Contain iron, copper, magnesium, zinc and biotin. Chop nuts to prevent choking.

Chestnuts

Lower in fat than other nuts so can be fed more regularly. Provide vitamins C and B6, folate, fiber and antioxidants.

Nuts are high in phosphorus so balance with calcium. Introduce slowly to gauge reactions. Avoid salted or sugared nuts.

Can Chickens Eat Mushrooms?

Mushrooms collected from the wild should be avoided, but chickens can safely eat small amounts of store-bought raw or cooked mushrooms. Benefits include:

  • Vitamin D from sunlight or UV light-exposed mushrooms
  • B complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid
  • Minerals including selenium, potassium, copper and phosphorus
  • Antioxidants and polysaccharides for immunity

Popular, safe varieties to feed include white buttons, creminis, shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Always start with tiny portions to watch for adverse effects before increasing quantity.

Can Chickens Eat Spices?

Spices and Dried Herbs in Kitchen Shelf
Spices and Dried Herbs

Adding a sprinkle of spices to chicken feed can encourage eating and provide health benefits:

Turmeric

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Contains curcumin.

Black Pepper

Supports digestion and nutrient absorption. Has antimicrobial benefits.

Cinnamon

Antioxidant which may support blood sugar and immunity. Has antimicrobial effects.

Oregano

Carvacrol content acts as an antibacterial. Also antioxidant.

Thyme

Antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties help maintain chick health.

Ginger

Anti-inflammatory. Settles digestive issues like crop stasis.

NOTE

Use spices in moderation and avoid salt. Check for reactions with each new addition. These provide natural supplements without medicating flock.

So, what foods can chickens eat? Chickens can safely enjoy a diverse diet of vegetables, fruits, seeds, greens, edible flowers, insects, and more in addition to their basic feed ration and grains. Incorporating variety is essential for chicken feeding and diet to achieve optimal nutrition, but it’s important to introduce new items slowly. Monitor chick health, droppings, and other impact to ensure their diet agrees with them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What food do chickens not like?

Chickens generally avoid foods that are bitter or spicy. They may not like citrus fruits, strong-flavored herbs, and certain vegetables like raw onions or raw potatoes. Preferences can vary among individual chickens.

What food do chickens need daily?

Chickens require a daily diet that includes a balanced commercial poultry feed appropriate for their age and purpose. They also need access to fresh water and grit for digestion. Foraging opportunities for insects and plants can be beneficial.

Are tomatoes toxic to chickens?

Tomatoes themselves are not toxic to chickens, but the leaves and stems of the tomato plant contain a compound called solanine, which can be harmful. Feeding ripe, red tomatoes in moderation is generally safe, but avoid giving them green or unripe parts of the plant.

Is anything poisonous to chickens?

Yes, several foods and plants can be poisonous to chickens, including avocados, rhubarb leaves, and many ornamental plants. It’s crucial to be cautious and avoid feeding chickens anything that’s not confirmed to be safe for them.

What are the best treats for chickens?

Some of the best treats for chickens include mealworms, sunflower seeds, fruits like apples and berries, and vegetables such as leafy greens. Treats should be given in moderation and should not replace their regular feed to maintain a balanced diet.