What can chickens eat? If you have chickens this is definitely something you want to know. Right along with the question, “What should chickens NOT eat?”
If you want to know the answers to these questions, you have definitely come to the right place.
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What Can Chickens Eat?
Chickens are omnivores and can eat a wide range of foods. When I hear a commercial about “our chickens are fed an all-vegetarian diet” I think poor birds! Chickens and ducks aren’t meant to be vegetarians. In fact, they need a fair amount of protein in their diets.
What Do Chickens Eat In Nature?
When you think about what a chicken or duck eats in the wild, it will help you to understand what a chicken can eat in your yard.
When allowed to roam free your birds will eat grasses and weeds, lizards, mice, bugs, worms and toads, berries and seeds, and vegetation of all kinds. In the wild when there is plenty of food to eat, your chickens will choose the foods that give them the nutrition they need and leave the poisonous plants alone. They are really pretty smart that way.
So if you have poisonous plants in your yard like rhubarb or rhododendron, don’t worry, they know to leave them alone.
But if they are confined and only get what they are fed, they may have nutritional deficiencies, a feeling that they have to eat everything in their area or just build trust that what you are giving them must be good to eat. So then you need to be a little more careful what you feed to your chooks.
What Do Chickens Eat?
The first thing you need to know about feeding your chickens is not food at all. It’s water. Both chickens and ducks need water available while they eat. Water, clean, and plentiful, is the most important part of your feeding regimen.
The second thing a chicken or duck needs is grit. Birds don’t have teeth. They swallow their food whole and an organ called a gizzard uses tiny stones or shells it finds on the ground to help it grind up the food so it can be digested.
If your bird is free-ranging it can usually find it’s own stones, but not if it’s confined. However in a neighborhood lawn, there may not be many available, so it’s a good idea to provide some grit for your girls.
And last, your ducks and chickens need to eat a varied diet so they get a wide range of nutrients for healthy bodies. This includes vitamins and minerals, protein and carbohydrates in appropriate amounts and at different times during their lives.
What Do Chickens Need To Eat?
Chickens and Ducks have different needs throughout their lives. When they are young they need extra protein to grow strong bones and all those feathers.
When they are laying eggs they need extra calcium and all the minerals necessary to produce healthy eggs and eggshells.
During molting season they need extra protein again to produce fresh new feathers that will keep them warm all winter.
In the winter they can use extra carbohydrates to give them the fuel to stay warm and in the summer they need extra water and cool fruit like watermelon to help them stay cool and hydrated.
And all year long they need plenty of organic vegetables, grass, herbs, and weeds for the nutrients they provide.
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How To Give Your Chickens What They Need To Eat?
But what if you live in a place where you can’t let your girls run freely? I get it. You have to protect them from predators or you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t allow free-ranging. That’s ok. You can still provide well for your flock.
Whether you free-range or have your flock in a coop and run, you will probably want to provide them with a good quality chicken feed. It is possible to mix your own feed, but it’s really tricky to make sure you provide all the nutrients they need.
Feed them in a feeder of some type. If you just throw it on the ground, most of it will be wasted.
Then you can supplement their feed with scraps. Table scraps and weeds from the garden, vegetables, herbs, and fruits you don’t need and bugs you picked out of your garden. This helps round out your chicken’s diet and keeps them entertained at the same time.
You can also feed them treats like mealworms. Watermelon rinds and mealworms were my girl’s favorite treats. You can also give them warm oatmeal in the winter to warm them up and give them the extra carbs that they need to stay warm.
What Can Ducks Eat?
Yes, I’m including ducks in this article, because with just a few exceptions chickens and ducks will eat the same things. And besides, as much as I love chickens, ducks are my first love. 🙂 Besides, many people, like me, have both.
The two big differences are, Don’t feed medicated food to ducks. They don’t need it, and since they eat more than chickens they can actually overdose on the medication. And second, they need more niacin in their food for growing strong bones. You can read all about feeding ducklings.
What Do Chickens Eat In The Backyard Chicken Run?
There are many thoughts about your chicken feed. Most will opt for a premixed crumble. Some will want to soak or ferment it. This helps the food become more digestible and makes it stretch further.
But whatever you feed your backyard flock it should be healthy, free of mold, and not too old as food loses nutrients the longer it sits around.
Another thing many homesteaders look for is non-GMO and organic. You want the healthiest food going into your egg making machines.
What Can Chickens Eat Besides Chicken Feed?
After you have the primary staple (chicken feed) taken care of, you are probably wondering what other foods you can feed your chickens and ducks. And at least 10% of their food can be table scraps, veggies & fruits from the garden you are not going to eat, herb trimmings, and yes weeds.
This makes for cheap ways to feed chickens and reduces your food bill a lot, especially during the growing season.
Many people will grow plants just for chickens to eat. Free ranging your birds under a mulberry tree in a blackberry or raspberry patch will give the birds a chance to clean up all the berries that drop (and all that they can reach when they jump) but they will also clean up many bugs and pests all while fertilizing your tree or brambles. It’s probably best to pick all the berries you want before you let your ladies in though. They do love their berries.
Letting them into your garden at the end of the growing season will make less work for you to clean up and prepare your garden beds for winter and will help reduce the bug population that can otherwise over winter.
You may be wondering what are the best things to include in your chickens and ducks diet, and are there any things to avoid. So I’ll go over some of the most common.
What Can Chickens Eat? What Can Ducks Eat?
Can Chickens Eat Grapes?
Yes, very nutritious for your hens.
Can Chickens Eat Bananas?
Yes, and the peels too. These are very nutritious and most chickens and ducks love them.
Can Chickens Eat Pineapples?
Yes, but feed sparingly.
Can Chickens Eat Apples?
Yes, Your girls can eat apples freely. Just remember the apple seed does contain small amounts of cyanide. One or two won’t hurt them, but you don’t want that to be a regular part of their diet. If you’re going to feed a lot of apples, remove the seeds. Applesauce is great too.
Can Chickens Eat Celery?
Yes, but because it is so fibrous it should be chopped. This is great in a summertime frozen treat. Very nutritious.
Can Chickens Eat Carrots?
Yes, but they would need to be chopped to eat them if they are raw. (remember the no teeth thing). Carrot tops are good too and so are cooked carrots.
Can Chickens Eat Cucumber?
Yes, cucumber is a wonderful food for chickens and ducks. Besides plenty of nutrients, they contain a large amount of water which can help keep your girls hydrated on those hot summer days.
Can Chickens Eat Watermelon?
Absolutely! In fact, all melons are a favorite of both chickens and ducks. These are great for hydration. If you are giving them a whole one break it open for them, but they will be just as happy cleaning up all your rinds.
Can Chickens Eat Pumpkins And Other Squash?
Yes, the squash family is highly nutritious and the seeds are touted by many as being good at preventing parasites in your birds. Make sure you cut open the tough skinned varieties.
Can Chickens Eat Greens? (Kale, Swiss Chard, Lettuce)
Yes, Yes, Yes! Greens are very good for your hens. They are full of nutrients. The main one to watch out for is spinach. Small amounts are not a real problem but don’t feed too much as it can interfere with calcium absorption.
Can Chickens Eat Cabbage?
Yes, In fact, tying a whole cabbage to a string and suspending it at head height can be a fun, boredom buster activity for your chickens as they “play tetherball” as they eat chunks off from it.
Can Chickens Eat Sweet Potatoes?
Yes, These are very good for your hens. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients. They will probably prefer them cooked because they are pretty hard.
The sweet potato vine is also very nutritious and much loved by chickens and ducks alike.
Can Chickens Eat Tomatoes?
Yes, Very nutritious. I would toss a handful of cherry tomatoes to my ducks and watch the mayhem ensue as they all tried to get one.
Can Chickens Eat Eggs?
Yes but it’s better to cook them first so they don’t get the idea to eat their own. Scrambled eggs is a great cold day treat.
Can Chickens Eat Bugs?
Yes, Bugs are a wonderful, high protein snack. If you don’t have enough in your garden, they will love some dried mealworms.
Can Chickens Eat Stone Fruit? (Peaches, Apricots, Cherries)
Yes, but it is best to remove the pits.
Can Chickens Eat Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries?
Yes, and if allowed to free range around the bushes they will remove the pests at the same time.
As you can see, the list of things that chickens and ducks can eat is pretty extensive and I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface. So let’s delve into the list of things that it might be best to avoid.
What Should Chickens NOT Eat?
Can Chickens Eat Avocados?
No, It’s best to avoid this one. The skin, stone and leaves all contain pursin which is toxic to fowl. In small amounts it’s probably not a big deal, so don’t freak out if you have a tree in your yard and your girls’ free range, but I wouldn’t feed it to them on a regular basis.
Can Chickens Eat Potatoes? ( aka: Irish, white, Idaho)
Yes and No, The potato is not a problem, but if the skins are green or if they have started to sprout, those are bad. This contains a chemical called solanine and it is toxic. (to us too)
On that same subject, the one group of plants in your vegetable garden that chickens and ducks can’t eat is the nightshade family. That includes white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. The fruit is ok on all of them, but all other parts of the plant are poisonous. (sweet potatoes are NOT in this family)
Can Chickens Eat Raisins?
Only in very small amounts. Large amounts have been thought to cause health problems.
Can Ducks Eat Bread?
No and Yes, at least not in large quantities. I listed ducks here because somewhere along the line, it became “the thing to do” to feed ducks bread. White, store-bought bread is full of empty calories with very little nutritional value. There are so many good choices to feed your chickens and ducks. Bread is not toxic, it is just not good for them.
More Reading: Raising Ducks 101 – How To Take Care Of Baby Ducklings
Can Chickens Eat Rice?
No and Yes, Same as above. This goes for all highly processed, sugary, or salty foods.
Can Chickens Eat Chocolate?
No. Seriously? Someone would actually waste their chocolate on a duck or chicken? Chocolate contains theobromine which is toxic to fowl. (so yes you can keep it all for yourself)
Can Chickens Eat Moldy Food?
No, Some molds might be just fine. Penicillin and blue cheese come to mind. But there are many toxic molds too and I know I don’t know the difference. When in doubt, throw it out.
Can Chickens Eat Dry Beans?
No, When they are cooked as in refried beans or bean soup, they are fine, but in their dried form they contain a natural insecticide. Sprouting them also makes them fine to feed your chickens.
Can Chickens Eat Rhubarb?
No, The leaves of the rhubarb plant are very toxic to chickens and ducks. (to us too!)
Can Chickens Eat Onions?
No, Onions contain a toxin that destroys red blood cells in birds. If they get too much it can cause them to become anemic. However, garlic is just fine and in fact beneficial.
What You Should Be Feeding Your Backyard Chickens And Ducks.
If you have a backyard flock or a small homestead, you know you want to keep your birds as healthy as you can and one of the best things you can do is feed them right. High quality food will help ensure healthy chickens and ducks. Thank you for caring enough about your flock to check out what are the best things to feed your girls.
Now check out some more ways to keep your flock healthy and happy.
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