Chickens can be extremely entertaining and useful to have around the homestead. They can also be extremely valuable, providing eggs and meat as well as helping control bugs. Plus, they’re a lot of fun to watch! While there are a lot of things you can feed your chickens aside from feed to keep them healthy and happy, there are also some things that ought to be avoided.
Things you should feed your chickens
Every chicken is a little different, but in addition to a balanced feed diet, here are some things that you might want to consider adding to your girls’ diet:
Calcium – egg production requires a lot of calcium and it can be hard on your girls. While balanced feed will have some calcium in it, some hens will require some extra feed. Some people offer their girls leftover eggs shells, but I personally feel a little wrong doing that and I have heard that some hens may cannibalize their own eggs for the calcium if they are used to eating chicken egg shells. I’ve never seen it happen, but just to be on the safe side, I recommend offering oyster shells in a separate container so they can eat it when needed.
Grit – this depends entirely on whether your chickens are free range or not, but grit is basically tiny pebbles that chickens keep in their gizzards to grind up food. A lot of times, free range chickens will be able to scratch and find enough on their own but offering it is never a bad idea as it is not super expensive and necessary for their health. If you offer treats to your girls, offering grit as an option is a good idea.
Scratch grains and Treats (in moderation) – Scratch grains are important to help keep your chickens from getting bored and to help them with the urge to forage. Spread these grains in the run or yard and let your girls go at it! Treats, by the same token, can be a lot of fun but should be given in moderation.
Things you should not feed your chickens
It’s worth noting that for the most part, these things will not immediately kill your chickens, but rather can be harmful if fed regularly. However, when it comes to the health of your girls it’s usually better to be safe than sorry!!
Spoiled, moldy or rotten food – this is a no-brainer. While extremely ripe or wilted food is fine, if it’s no good, just throw it out.
Avocado skins, flesh or pits – the avocado contains the toxin persin which is really bad for your girls.
White potatoes – part of the nightshade family, white potatoes are potentially toxic and contain solanine which can cause diarrhea and heart problems.
Tomato leaves, eggplant leaves, rhubarb stalks or leaves – also part of the nightshade family, these should also be avoided. Green tomatoes are a no-no as well, although ripe red tomatoes and ripe eggplants should be fine as they do not have high levels of solanine.
Seeds/pits from apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears and plums – all contain cyanide in small doses, but which may harm your birds. The flesh of the fruits is just fine however.
Raw dried beans – if you’re going to feed beans to your girls, either soak and cook them first or sprout them to get rid of hemaglutin, which is a natural pesticide and can be harmful.
Onions – excessive amounts of onion can cause jaundice or anemia so it’s best to avoid.
Chocolate, caffeine or tea – caffeine is bad for chickens and chocolate is toxic
Raw eggs – I don’t know why you’d want to feed your chickens raw eggs, but there’s a small chance it will encourage your girls to cannibalize their own eggs when they are stressed or need more calcium.
Tobacco and alcohol – nicotine is poisonous to animals and alcohol is a bad idea as well and may harm your birds.
Things only to feed in small amounts
Treats ought to only make up about 10% of your chicken’s diet, but while these things aren’t likely to really hurt your girls, they ought to only be a rare thing just to be safe:
Citrus – some sites say never feed citrus, but a little as a treat isn’t going to hurt. Be aware that citrus can interfere with calcium absorption so is a bad idea for chickens who require extra calcium and not a good idea in large doses.
Spinach – okay in small doses, spinach also interferes with calcium absorption and should only be an occasional treat.
fried food and junk food – if it’s bad for you, it’s bad for your chickens and can lead to overweight chickens which is not healthy. Use common sense.
Overly salty food – again, in large doses this can effect overall health and lead to salt poisoning. Overly processed or super sweet food is also a bad idea.
Asparagus – while this is technically fine for your chickens, it may effect the taste of the eggs
Iceberg lettuce – not only does it have very little nutritional value, but in some chickens it can cause diarrhea when fed in large amounts. You’re better off with other leafy greens like kale or cabbage.
White rice, pasta and bread – while it won’t harm your birds, these have next to no nutritional value
Dairy products – this is technically fine, but in large doses can give chickens diarrhea since they are not equipped to digest dairy products. Pay close attention if you give them dairy treats.
Do you have something that your chickens absolutely love to eat, or anything they just hate? Tell me in the comments!!
Good info. I currently live outside of city limits and a lot of my neighbors raise chickens. I’ve been considering getting one or two myself for egg laying.
Sandhills Patty says
I have had chickens for over 30 years. Since I live in Ne. Sandhills, wild marijuana grows rampant. Chickens love to eat it at any time of growing season. I throw them just a few plants a day and tell my customers that I have happy eggs. In the late summer they enjoy the seed part of it. In raising baby guineas, I discovered harvesting the small seeds (stripping off small buds and seeds of plants) about July… and feeding them to a few week old birds, helps calms them down……..hence reducing pasty butt.