Most chickens are not picky eaters, but I’m sure you already knew that.
I have a fairly large flock of chickens, and they love to roam around my backyard, eating anything they can find – weeds, bugs, worms…you name it. But the best part is when I give them table scraps or cracked corn. They gobble it up like there’s no tomorrow.
It amazes me how much these little creatures can put away in one sitting. It never ceases to be fun watching them enjoy their food so much. You really get attached to your chickens once you start feeding them because then they’ll come running whenever they see you approach. In fact, they may even start to recognize your voice.
However, while chickens can eat most things, there are still some foods they should not eat or will not eat. They are not picky eaters, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always love the food you give them. They’re also susceptible to some foods that will make them sick if they eat even minimal amounts – like avocado pits, chocolate, coffee beans, and grounds. You also have to make sure the food is fresh, or else it could make them sick.
This article includes a list of things that people commonly ask about when it comes to feeding chickens. Read through it and learn some new facts about what you can give to your flock to keep them happy and healthy. I will keep expanding the list as I hear more questions and details about what to feed chickens.
Table of Contents
A Few Words on Feeding Chickens
Please note, just because a chicken can eat something, it doesn’t mean they will. A hungry chicken will eat almost anything, but since your chickens probably get all the feed they need, they are pickier and will generally only eat what they really enjoy.
Chickens will also usually stay away from things that are bad for them, as long as they have better alternatives. So if you happen to grow, say, tomatoes, they are not likely to pick at the poisonous leaves. But if they are bored or starving, they might try to eat something that wouldn’t be good for them.
Also, be aware that chickens need a base feed consisting of protein, calcium, and essential vitamins and minerals. Everything else should mostly be given as snacks, especially fruits with high sugar content. No more than 10% of their diet should consist of food that would be considered snacks.
Beware of Sodium and Sugar
A lot of store-bought food (such as canned beans and meat) contains salt, so if you are feeding your chickens processed food, make sure you are aware of the sodium content. High amounts of salt are dangerous for chickens and can lead to heart and kidney problems along with a host of health issues.
Sugar is also something to watch out for. Foods like grapes and pineapple contain quite a lot of sugar (more than one would expect) and should be fed in moderation. While they would probably happily eat cakes and candies, feeding your chickens these types of foods is not good for their health.
In general, chickens can eat a lot of things that humans eat. Moderation is key to many things, including the foods you feed your chickens. I have never had reservations against feeding my chickens a steak that fell on the ground – even if it was salted. But I would never feed them doughnuts or processed food with high salt content or sugar added.
What Can and Can’t Chickens Eat?
Chickens can eat the whole apple, including the core, peel, and seeds. In fact, many people feed applesauce to their chickens as a snack. Some people warn against the apple seeds, as some apple seeds contain cyanide. However, unless you somehow fed them a bag of only apple seeds, your chickens will not be sick from eating a few seeds from time to time.
A common myth that many people believe is that avocados are poisonous to chickens. This is not the case, as they can eat the flesh of an avocado without adverse health effects. However, the stone and skin are very poisonous to chickens, which is why it is important to remove any parts other than the flesh before giving it to your chickens.
Bananas and Banana Peels
Chickens can eat bananas which is a healthy food that is rich in vitamins and minerals. If you have bananas that have started to turn brown and black, it is fine to let your chickens eat them.
Banana peel is very nutritious but also tough and hard for chickens to eat. Boiling the peel will help soften it and make it easier for your chickens to digest.
Chickens can eat a wide variety of beans, including green beans, black beans, baked beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and lima beans.
Cooked beans are high in protein, soluble fiber, and amino acids, which can help reduce cholesterol and cell damage. But make sure to cook the beans first! Uncooked beans contain toxins that are very dangerous for chickens and humans alike.
Chickens can eat blueberries (both fresh and frozen). In fact, blueberries are among the healthiest types of snacks you can feed your ladies. They provide more antioxidants than almost any other berry and have only a moderate sugar content.
Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can give to your chickens. You can feed them the entire broccoli plant, including stems, leaves, and flower heads.
Broccoli is very healthy for your chickens in many ways. First off, it’s very high in vitamin C and Vitamin K, which help prevent illness and maintain a healthy immune system. Broccoli also contains calcium which helps keep your chicken’s eggshells strong during laying season.
Broccoli is also high in essential compounds called isothiocyanate, which “affect liver enzymes, reduce oxidative stress, decrease inflammation, stimulate your immune system, and combat the development and growth of cancer” in humans, and is likely also to have a positive effect on your chickens.
Chickens can eat cantaloupe and cantaloupe seeds, and they love it. However, the sugar content is a little high, so it’s not advisable to feed them cantaloupe all the time. The rind is not toxic, but they will not eat it. I recommend you throw the rind in the compost before you offer it to them or after they have picked it clean.
Chickens can eat corn. Whole, frozen, fresh, Indian corn, uncooked corn on the cob. Pretty much any type of corn is okay for them, even (unsalted) popcorn. Chickens also love cracked corn, which is a great way to keep them busy when they’re in the run.
Corn is high-calorie and great for fattening, but don’t overdo it because they can get heart disease.
Chickens can’t eat chocolate. Chocolate is a popular treat that many people enjoy, but it can be extremely dangerous for chickens. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which can cause serious stomach issues and even death. Never feed chocolate to chickens!
Chickens can eat a variety of stone fruits, including cherries. However, be careful not to overfeed them because too many cherries might give the chickens too much sugar.
It’s also worth mentioning that the pits contain cyanide, but they would have to eat a lot of cherry pits to get poisoned. Unless you feed them lots of cherries every day, they should be fine.
Chickens can eat cucumbers, and most chickens love it. They can also eat pickles in moderate amounts. A cucumber is made up of 95% water, which is particularly beneficial to chickens in the hot summer months when they need to stay hydrated. Cucumbers are also a really healthy food for chickens, containing potassium and vitamin K and C.
Chickens can eat all parts of the dandelion plant. It’s a very common, safe, and healthy plant. Dandelions are high in calcium and vitamins, which are important for your chicken’s health. Most chickens won’t eat dandelion, though, but you can dry the entire plant and feed it to them.
Dill is a popular herb that can be found in many kitchens. Like most other herbs, it’s perfectly safe and healthy for chickens. Both dried and fresh dill are fine to feed your chickens.
Chickens can eat grapefruits which are rich in vitamin C. One downside to grapefruit for chickens is that they should only eat limited amounts of this or any other citrus fruit. If you feed too much, it may inhibit their calcium absorption and lead to deficiencies.
Don’t feed the peel if they’ve been sprayed with pesticides, although most chickens will not eat the peel anyway.
Oats and oatmeal
Chickens can eat oats of any kind, including uncooked dry oats, old fashioned (rolled) oats, and steel-cut oats. Instant and raw oatmeal, as well as quick oats (cooked and uncooked), is also fine to feed your chickens, but check the nutrition info for salt and added sugar.
Oats are rich in essential nutrients like B1 vitamins that chickens need to stay healthy. They also contain iron, selenium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, and copper, which help them maintain good overall health. Oats are a great food for your chickens and will keep them happy and healthy.
Chickens can’t eat raw onions, cooked onions, dehydrated onions, onion salt, or any other form of onion. Onions contain thiosulphate, which can cause anemia in chickens. Tiny amounts are not likely to cause problems, but anything more than a small amount can lead to some serious health issues.
Chickens can eat oranges now and then as a treat, but only in moderate amounts. Feeding too many oranges can cause problems with the intake of calcium and may lead to thinning of the shell and overall health issues. Oranges, like grapefruit, can also contain pesticides, so make sure you peel the orange before feeding it to your chickens.
Peaches are healthy chicken treats. They just love to peck at the juicy fruit. There is one thing you should be aware of, though – Peaches have high sugar content. Chickens love peaches, but they also have the potential to turn into overweight birds, which can lead to health issues.
The peach pits contain cyanide, so make sure you remove them before feeding them to your chickens. Although your chickens are unlikely to try and swallow the pits, some of your larger birds might try to do so.
Pineapples er perfectly safe to feed to your chickens, and they will love it. In moderation, of course! In fact, studies in humans show that eating pineapples may actually reduce the risk of heart disease as long as it is done in moderation.
Be careful not to feed pineapples to your chickens too often because it does contain a lot of sugar. If you want to give pineapple to your chickens, be sure to do it sparingly.
Chickens can eat strawberries. It is a good source of vitamin C and also has small amounts of calcium and iron. There is also some potassium and fibers in strawberries. What you need to be careful of is the high sugar content, which can cause gut issues and overweight.
Chickens love to eat tomatoes, but they should only be fed ripe. Unripe tomatoes contain solanine which is safe for humans in reasonable amounts but harmful to chickens. You should also avoid feeding your chickens the tomato plants (leaves, stems) as they also contain solanine, among other toxic substances.
Watermelon is an excellent treat for chickens, who love to peck at the juicy red fruit. They will not eat the rind, but virtually all chickens enjoy eating the melon itself. Watermelon is also great on a hot summer day because it’s juicy and refreshing.