What Non-Food Items Can Chickens Eat? Understanding Diet

Crowded Chicken Farm (image by davit85, Adobe Stock)

Article Summay

  • Chickens have a natural tendency to forage and may consume non-food items.
  • Unsafe non-food items to avoid include compost piles, feces of chicken predators, moldy food, and certain foods like onions, garlic, and chives, which can be harmful.
  • It’s important to provide chickens with a balanced diet and avoid giving them access to non-food human leftovers to maintain their health.

When raising backyard chickens, it’s important to know what you can and can’t feed them beyond their regular chicken feed. Chickens are natural foragers and will peck and scratch at anything they can find. While some non-food items are fine for chickens, others can be harmful if consumed. This article explores some common non-food items chickens may try to eat and whether they’re safe or should be avoided.

Do Chickens Eat Their Own Poop?

It may seem gross, but chickens do sometimes intentionally eat their own poop. This behavior is called coprophagy and it allows chickens to regain nutrients, like protein and B vitamins, that weren’t fully digested the first time around.

Eating poop is a normal, healthy chicken behavior in moderation. Just don’t let them eat so much that it affects their appetite for regular feed.

Free-ranging chickens on a balanced diet likely won’t overindulge in this habit. But chickens confined for long periods may eat more poop out of boredom or nutritional need. So, ensuring your chickens are fed with a balanced diet is essential.

Why Do Chickens Eat Dirt and Pebbles?

Chickens ingest dirt, sand, pebbles, and grit to help grind up food in their crop and gizzard since they don’t have teeth. These materials are called gizzard grit. Chickens with inadequate grit can suffer digestive issues and malnutrition.

Offer chickens a supplement of insoluble granite grit if the soil they access doesn’t contain enough natural grit. Granite remnants in the gizzard help chickens crush and digest grains and vegetation.

Granite remnants in the gizzard help chickens crush and digest grains…

Free-range chickens also deliberately eat dirt and pebbles for the trace minerals they contain. However, chickens shouldn’t eat soil with chemicals, fertilizer, or their own manure in it.

Safe Versus Unsafe Non-Food Items for Chickens

A Closeup View of Dried Mealworms

Chickens will try to eat almost anything they can get their beaks on. Here are some common non-food items they can safely consume:

  • Crushed oyster shells – provide calcium
  • Cooked pasta, rice, and grits – fill crop to prevent nighttime hunger
  • Mealworms and crickets – provide protein

Some common unsafe items to avoid are:

  • Compost piles – can harbor pathogens
  • Feces of chicken predators – may carry disease
  • Moldy food – can contain mycotoxins
  • Onions, garlic, and chives – can cause anemia

RECOMMENDATION

Don’t allow chickens access to non-food human leftovers. Stick to their formulated feed, treats of garden produce, and safe foraging items to support their health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if chickens eat small stones?

Chickens often ingest small stones or grit to aid in digestion. These stones help grind down their food in the gizzard, facilitating the breakdown of tough plant material. Ingesting small stones is a natural behavior for chickens and is generally beneficial for their digestive health.

What should I do if my chickens eat plastic?

If your chickens accidentally ingest plastic, it’s crucial to take prompt action to minimize potential harm. Monitor the affected chickens closely for signs of distress or illness. If any symptoms arise, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy, consult a veterinarian immediately. To prevent future incidents, ensure that plastic and other non-food items are securely stored away from the chickens’ environment.