What to Feed Backyard Chickens?


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Chickens are among the most rewarding animals to care for  – they’re independent, they like the quiet life (to an extent!), and are perfectly happy bobbing around their coops and eating a variety of food. But what if you’re struggling to work out what to feed backyard chickens – where do you even start?

Chickens need a balanced diet that is composed of complete feed and additional treats, usually in the form of fruit, vegetables, certain types of seed, and other organic foods. 

Chickens certainly have their favorite foods, though as we all know, favorite dishes don’t always tend to be the healthiest! Let’s take a look at what you should ideally feed your backyard chickens – and what they’ll happily peck away at without the health risks.

What’s the best food to give to chickens?

Naturally, it would be best to start with specifically formulated chicken feed. The reasons for this should be obvious – the best chicken feed, developed and prepared by leading brands and nutritionists, will know how to appeal to a chicken’s needs as well as their tastes.

Therefore, be willing to be picky when it comes to chicken grains and feed. Buying the cheapest feed available is unlikely to get you a good mix of nutrition, and what’s more, your coop deserves better – surely!

There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that chickens will happily eat which are healthy to peck into. These include:

  • Corn
  • Apples
  • Broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Pumpkins
  • Kale
  • Squash
  • Beets
  • Berries
  • Peas
  • Cabbage

When preparing fruit for chickens, always remove any pips, seeds, or stones. This even goes for apple seeds – the pips in apples contain cyanide. There’s certainly not enough to kill human beings, but the level is concentrated enough to bring harm to a hen. 

What food should chickens avoid eating?

Make sure to learn more about the food you should never give chickens – some organic produce can prove poisonous. The following organic produce, for example, should never find its way into your chicken feed:

  • Raw potato and potato leaves
  • Citrus fruit
  • Avocado
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Tomato leaves
  • Pepper leaves
  • Rhubarb

Occasional treats for chickens

Did you know that it’s safe for chickens to eat peanut butter? It may have a little sugar and fat, but an organic mix is tasty and full of protein.

In terms of other treats, chickens can even enjoy a mix of beans, rice, pasta, and bread – providing they are plain. You should never give a chicken anything with added sugar, oil, salt, or other artificial spices. Keep it plain; keep it natural.

You can give chickens sunflower seeds, too, providing you source them responsibly, and don’t overdo it. Birds, much like people, have a taste for treats – but again, like people, too many treats is always a bad thing.

Can chickens eat my kitchen scraps? 

When it comes to your kitchen scraps, stick to plain, organic foods. Never give your chickens food that you have prepared for yourself in salads, casseroles, even sandwiches. It’s not necessarily that your cooking won’t suit your chickens’ tastebuds, but it has more to do with what you are likely to put on your food! 

Fruit and vegetable peelings and choppings (such as those from the list of ‘best foods’ above) are great if you haven’t handled them with any oils, spices, or other flavorings. Plain or non-flavored food might not appeal to you, but chickens are not particularly picky.

Therefore, don’t feel bad if you only have a few dry carrot shavings to offer – your hens will love you for giving them a tasty twist on their daily feed!

Do chickens eat bugs?

Yes, chickens are known to feast on various minibeasts, and there seems to be a split opinion on whether you should feed them on bugs and insects alone. Ultimately, a balance is always good.

Chickens are known to tuck into grasshoppers, ants, crickets, grubs, beetles, slugs, ticks, termites, and more. Therefore, as you can imagine, hens can make brilliant pest removers. However, if you leave them out on your grass for too long, chickens can easily destroy lawns – so if you want to balance out the bugs, try and source some healthy dried options from your local feed store or an online retailer you know and trust.

Mealworms are regarded by many as some of the best ‘live’ treats you can give to your chickens. They are crammed full of protein, and what’s more, hens tend to adore munching down on them. However, there’s some controversy over mealworms’ legality as chicken feed in some territories, so be sure to do further research, and ask your local feed store for advice.

Can chickens eat plants and weeds?

Chickens will eat weeds and garden growths, but again, there’s a split opinion over whether or not they should. A chicken is unlikely to show much of a discerning taste between a dandelion and a foxglove, for example – the latter of these being immensely poisonous (even to humans).

Therefore, if you’re unsure whether or not your chickens should be acting as organic lawnmowers, it’s likely best to stick to the grain and feed they love – with a few chunks of fruit and vegetables thrown in, too.

Can I feed my chickens on fresh food alone? 

As good as fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried insects can be for your chickens, they do not contain all the nutrients and vitamins your coop will need. To have a truly balanced diet, you will need to offer them complete chicken feed. 

That’s why it’s a great idea to consider choosing formulated chicken feed first and then building from there – adding in fresh food and treats as supplements. This is important for many reasons – for example, many sources suggest that chickens need additional protein to help them regain strength through molting seasons. Studies into molting and feeding chickens, however, are ongoing.

What should I feed backyard chickens for the best eggs?

Of course, one of the most popular reasons for keeping chickens at all is for the regular egg crops. However, did you know that what you feed your chickens can impact the quality of eggs they lay?

There’s no way to make your chickens lay more eggs – but you can help them lay more nutritionally-rich eggs with a balanced diet. We mentioned mealworms earlier – and again, they can come in very handy for boosting egg quality. This is all to do with protein – balancing protein-rich food with healthy fruit and vegetables may well result in some of the tastiest eggs your chickens will ever lay.

Am I feeding my chickens properly?

Raising backyard chickens can be a careful art – and if your chickens appear to be sluggish, are molting, or are not laying eggs as they should, it may be that you need to change elements of their diet. Even slight changes can help to improve their everyday wellbeing – however, before you go ahead and experiment with their everyday feed, do make sure to contact an animal nutritionist who can help you find the perfect balance.

If you are worried that your chickens’ diet may be to blame, the best thing you can do is keep them on plain, fresh water and to ensure that they only consume balanced, specially formulated chicken feed for an extended period. Again, if you are unsure whether or not you’re feeding your coop the right balance, make sure to reach out to an expert.

Otherwise – don’t let your chickens dictate to you what they can and can’t eat! Chickens are famously voracious and are never likely to turn their beaks up at something tasty. Therefore, you need to take responsibility – and ensure they enjoy a healthy balance.

About The Author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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