If you own chickens, you certainly know by now what adventurous eaters they are. There doesn’t seem to be anything they will not eat, or at least try to eat! Every kind of meat, veggie, fruit, seed, and more will all be on the menu at some point.
They will even eat dog food! But how about a category of foods that they would never get in nature: dairy. Can chickens eat dairy products?
Yes, chickens can safely eat or drink dairy products, but with caution. It should only be strictly limited to an occasional treat. Chickens are not mammals and cannot process dairy very well. Though they are not really lactose intolerant most dairy products will cause significant digestive upset when consumed in anything but small amounts
Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cottage cheese are viable for feeding to chickens and they will get come nutrition from them.
However, you must use caution and good judgment before giving your birds dairy products. There are many different kinds out there, and some are not okay for your birds. Read on to learn what you need to know.
Nutritional Profile of Dairy Foods
The nutritional profile of dairy foods varies significantly depending on the type of food or drink. But let’s take milk as the baseline.
Milk contains water, fat, protein, lactose, minerals, and a multitude of vitamins, including A, D, E B1, B2, B6, and B12. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium.
Most dairy products will have a similar nutrient count, though caloric counts can vary significantly depending on the type of food.
Can Chickens Drink Milk?
Chickens can have milk, but they probably won’t lap it up or drink it. You can give chickens milk to enjoy by mixing in a little bit with their dry foods. Milk is usually quite fattening, so try to give your chickens 2% or leaner milk.
Can Chickens Have Chocolate Milk?
No! Chocolate milk is a no-no for chickens. The theobromine in chocolate is toxic to all birds and many other animals.
It can cause an irregular heartbeat, seizures, and even death. Aside from that, it is loaded with sugars that are always bad for your birds.
Can Chickens Eat Yogurt?
Yes, chickens can have yogurt, and they usually have an easier time eating it than they do try to sip liquid milk.
You can mix yogurt into their feed or offer it to them as a treat on its own. Just like with milk, there are different types of yogurt on the market with greatly varying ingredients.
You should not give your chickens any yogurt with add-ins they cannot have. More on that in a moment.
Can Chickens Eat Cottage Cheese?
Yes, chickens can have cottage cheese, and they will likely enjoy it more than the other dairy products since they can easily pick up a nibble of the curds.
You can mix cottage cheese into their feed or give it to them as a treat on its own as with yogurt.
And just like with milk and yogurt, there are different types of cottage cheese on the market with different ingredients, so care must be taken when giving it to your birds.
Can Chickens Eat Butter?
Chickens should not eat butter. Though it is not specifically harmful or toxic, the high concentrations of fat and, typically, salt make butter very unhealthy for them. High salt intake puts a serious strain on a chicken’s kidneys.
Can Chickens Eat Cheese?
Like butter, chickens can eat cheese but they should not. High calories and fat, high salt, and often preservatives as well make cheese a decidedly unhealthy choice for your chickens.
Never Serve Chickens Dairy Products Containing Ingredients they Cannot Have
You should never give your chickens any dairy product that contains ingredients they cannot have.
For example, many yogurts contain fruit or other add-ins like candy that can be harmful to your birds. Chocolate is also a common yogurt flavor and, as previously stated, chocolate is toxic to all birds.
Flavorings, sugar, and many preservatives too are all bad for your birds and commonly found in store-bought dairy products.
Problems Associated with Dairy Consumption by Chickens
While milk does contain some important nutrients, such as protein and calcium, it also contains high levels of fat and calories.
This can lead to obesity and other health problems in chickens. In addition, dairy products are difficult for chickens to digest and can cause diarrhea.
Furthermore, virtually all dairy products are high in moisture. High moisture foods can lead to an increased risk of bacterial growth and foodborne illness, both of which can be deadly to your chickens.
For these reasons, it is best to give chickens only small amounts of milk and other dairy, or to avoid giving it to them altogether. If you do decide to give your chickens dairy, try to choose a low-fat variety.
How Often Can You Give Chickens Dairy Products?
Rarely, even compared to other “treat” or supplemental foods. Once per month is adequate, or a tiny amount every week.
As a general rule, no more than 10% of a chicken’s diet should be treats and supplemental foods of any kind, and dairy products should be a small fraction of that.
Preparing Dairy Products to Give to your Chickens
For solid dairy foods, you can give them to your chickens as-is. They can nibble on curds or easily gobble up yogurt. Milk and butter, if given, should be mixed into dry feed or other solid foods.
Never Give Your Chickens Spoiled or Moldy Dairy
If you decide to give your chickens dairy, always make sure it is fresh. While you might not think that a spot of mold on cheese or some slightly rancid butter could be much trouble for tough birds like chickens, this is not the case.
Never give them spoiled milk or any other dairy product. Spoiled dairy can cause food poisoning in chickens, which can be deadly.
Can Baby Chicks Have Dairy?
No. Baby chicks should never have any dairy, not even milk. Dairy is difficult for their young systems to handle and can cause crop and other gut problems. It just isn’t worth it.
Always Cleanup the Leftovers if You Give Your Chickens Dairy
As with any food, it is important to clean up any dairy products that your chickens do not eat. Uneaten dairy can spoil quickly and cause illness in chickens.
Worse yet, it will likely attract many harmful insects and rodents which can prey on your chickens or their eggs.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.