If you live on a bustling homestead or a working farm, you probably already know that your chickens are opportunistic feeders, and our entirely happy to break into the enclosures of other animals in order to try their food.
Most foods that other animals eat aren’t harmful to chickens, but how about hay and haylage? Can chickens eat those?
Yes, chickens can safely eat hay and haylage in limited amounts. Chickens may eat most grasses when they are fresh, and they can eat them dry. However, hay and haylage are not nutritionally complete and should only be allowed as an incidental food item or occasional treat.
If you have horses, cows, goats, or any other larger animal that eats hay or haylage you don’t need to worry if your chickens steal a few bites.
You can even give your chickens either one of these foods periodically as a treat or supplemental food source, but moderation is important.
We will tell you everything you need to know about giving hay and haylage to your chickens in the rest of this article.
Nutritional Profile of Hay
Hay contains many nutrients, not to mention calories, that livestock needs, although one of its shortcomings is that its vitamin and mineral profile begins to degrade significantly over time.
Even so, hay contains vitamins A, D, E, and K. The protein and mineral profile present in hay varies greatly depending upon the precise species, but you can count on manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and some calcium all being present.
Health Benefits of Hay for Chickens
Hay definitely has some health benefits for chickens. Vitamin A is vital for the maintenance of nervous system tissues and those of the eyes in particular.
Vitamins D and E are important for the health of organ tissues while vitamin K is imperative for the maintenance of Bones and connective tissue.
Concerning the typical mineral content of hay, phosphorus is similarly vital for a healthy skeleton and one that is healing from injury in particular while calcium is needed for growth, maintenance of bones and also for strong and healthy egg shells in laying hens.
Then you have potassium which is important for balancing electrolyte levels in the body, and combined with good hydration will be necessary for preventing heat stress on hot and dry days.
Differences between Hay and Haylage
Hay is not just the diminutive form of haylage and the two are not the same although they are quite similar.
Hay is nothing more than cut and dried grasses or legumes, whereas haylage is the same thing but when they are stored without the presence of oxygen in order to prevent the formation of molds which might be harmful.
Chickens can and will eat both, and assuming either is in good shape both are safe for consumption.
Can Chickens Eat Hay?
Yes, chickens may eat hay safely with no ill effects so long as they eat it in moderation. Hay, although reasonably healthy, filling and a source of calories, is not nutritionally complete for chickens.
Can Chickens Eat Haylage?
They sure can. Haylage is not as popular or as common for feeding the chickens, but they will eat it all the same and derive nutrition from it.
Never Feed Hay or Haylage to Chickens that Has Molded
one important thing to keep in mind if you are considering serving hay or haylage to your chickens or you’re going to allow them to nibble from the food of other animals is that you must never allow them to eat either if it is contaminated with mold.
Mold is always all around us when in nature, and therefore all around our animals as well, and despite many of these being benign or at least not harmful, certain varieties are just the opposite.
Especially when ingested or inhaled, toxic molds present on hay and haylage can cause severe health consequences or even prove fatal for chickens.
You should never feed your flock hay or haylage that has gone bad or is otherwise unsuitable for consumption by horses, cows, or larger animals. If they shouldn’t eat it, neither should your chickens!
Beware of Pesticides on Hay and Haylage
Similarly, beware of hay or haylage that is prepared from grasses or legumes that were regularly treated with pesticides or other chemicals, or exposed in any way to any other chemicals which could prove to be harmful to your chickens.
Many of these modern compounds do not break down over time, or break down anywhere near quickly enough and can remain present at significant levels throughout hay and haylage.
When ingested, this can harm your birds or even more insidiously can build up slowly in their tissues over time resulting in severe health complications down the road.
Like all foods that you will serve to your animals, it is up to you to determine the safety and suitability of any and to know how it has been handled prior to your acquisition.
How Often Can Chickens Have Hay?
Hay is about as basic as it gets when it comes to livestock feed, and those regarded as generally wholesome and nutritious it is far from nutritionally complete.
It is an easy thing for chickens to fill up on it and then forgo their usual chicken feed or other, better foods.
You don’t want to let your chickens roam freely to pillage from your other animals as they will, and you also don’t want to serve them hay too often. Generally, giving your chickens one or two servings of hay per week is more than enough.
Remember that 90% of a chicken’s calorie intake should it come from a nutritionally complete chicken feed with the remaining 10% of alternate food items, supplemental foods, and treats, including hay.
Preparing Hay for Your Flock
There’s not much for you to do to prepare hay for serving your flock. Set it down in a pile, scatter it out, or just let the Little rascals roam near the horses and they will get after the hay soon enough.
Can Baby Chicks Have Hay, Too?
You generally don’t want baby chicks to have hay, and even when they get a little bit older around 6 weeks of age hay does not do much for them.
Baby chicks are particularly vulnerable to crop impaction, and hay is somewhat difficult for them to digest.
Considering how limited the nutrition on offer is, serving hay to your chicks is probably a losing proposition.
If you do decide to let your chicks peck on hay for a snack, keep a close eye on them to make sure they still have regular bowel movements and aren’t showing any signs of distress afterward.
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.