As chicken owners, chances are better than average you probably have other animals on your homestead. Horses are one such popular animal that can actually get along with your chickens.
You may be wondering if it’s okay if your chickens get into the horses’ food, or even to feed your chickens horse feed. Is it okay for chickens to have horse feed?
Yes, it is safe for chickens to eat horse feed, but only in limited quantities. The vast majority of horse feed contains ingredients that are not harmful to chickens, but it is not nutritionally well-rounded enough to serve as anything but an incidental item or treat. Excess consumption of horse feed can cause malnutrition and other health issues for chickens.
Chickens are indeed omnivores, which means that they can eat a variety of different foods, including horse feed.
However, just because chickens can eat horse feed does not mean that it is the best food for them.
But in the end there is little to worry about if your chickens steal a few bites from your horses, or you want to feed them a little bit as the occasional treat. We will go into more detail below.
What Does Horse Feed Consist Of?
There are several common types of horse feed, including hay, pellets, sweet feed, and oats.
The main ingredients in horse feed are typically varying combinations of grain, hay, sorghum, molasses, wheat, oats, corn, and barley, along with vitamins and minerals.
Many horse feeds also contain additional ingredients like soybean meal or beet pulp.
The vast majority of these ingredients are perfectly safe for chickens to consume. In fact, many of them are actually good for chickens.
However, the problem is that horse feed is not intended for use as the primary part of a chicken’s diet.
Most Horse Feed Ingredients are Safe for Chickens in Limited Quantities
Many of the above listed ingredients in horse feed are actually good for chickens. For example, hay is an excellent source of fiber, which is important for keeping a chicken’s digestive system running smoothly.
Grains like wheat, oats, and corn provide chickens with essential carbohydrates and energy.
Processed soybean meal is a common protein supplement found in many commercial chicken feeds that can also be found in some horse feeds.
The vitamins and minerals present in horse feed can also be beneficial for chickens, although it is important to note that the vitamin and mineral content of horse feed is likely to be excessive for your birds.
This means that feeding your chickens horse feed on a regular basis is not a good way to ensure that they are getting the nutrients they need in the correct amounts.
Accordingly, horse feed is only suitable for chickens as an incidental food item (i.e., they are sneaking a little bit from what the horses drop) or as an occasional treat from you. Most chickens love sweet feed, for obvious reasons!
Caution: Horse Feed is not Nutritionally Complete for Chickens
As you probably know already, horse feed is designed for horses, not chickens. These two species have significantly different nutritional requirements, though there are enough similarities that chickens can eat horse feed safely, most of the time.
However, because horse feed is not designed for chickens, it does not contain all of the nutrients that your birds need to stay healthy.
For example, chicken feeds typically contain much higher levels of calcium than horse feeds. This is because laying hens need more calcium in their diet to produce strong eggshells.
Horse feeds also tend to be very high in protein. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as chickens do need protein to build muscle and feathers. Horse feeds also tend to be very high in carbohydrates.
These large and powerful mammals have drastically higher calorie requirements than little chickens!
Again, this is not inherently bad when it comes to giving horse feed to chickens, but it can cause problems if chickens consume too much.
In short, while chickens can safely eat horse feed, it is not a nutritionally complete diet for them.
In most cases, it is best to only give your chickens limited amounts of horse feed or to use it as an occasional treat.
Problems Associated with Excess Consumption of Horse Feed by Chickens
As mentioned above, one of the biggest problems associated with chickens eating horse feed is that it can lead to obesity and other health problems in your birds.
This is because horse feed is very high in carbohydrates, protein, and calories, but low certain essential minerals chickens must have
Another problem that can occur if chickens eat too much horse feed is liver disease.
This is because horse feed is very high in protein, and too much protein can easily tax the liver of a chicken.
Kidney stones are another potential problem that can occur if your birds eat too much horse feed.
One of the most common problems for laying hens is soft or deformed eggs, which can be caused by a lack of calcium in the diet.
Because horse feed is very low in calcium, it should definitely not be used as the primary source of food for laying hens.
All around, it is easy for chickens to fill up on the horse feed, and then ignore their own, nutritionally complete chicken feed. Accordingly, you cannot serve chickens horse feed as a replacement to their own.
Save Horse Feed as an Occasional Treat or Warming Feed
Instead of trying to replace chicken feed with horse feed, or “cut” their feed with it, use horse feed as an occasional treat or warming feed instead.
This way, your chickens can still enjoy the taste and high calories of horse feed, without having to worry about any potential health problems that might occur.
A good rule of thumb is to only give your chickens horse feed a few times per week, and always in limited quantities.
Generally, your chickens should get no more than 10%-20% of their total calorie intake from food sources other than their chicken.
If you are using horse feed as a warming feed in the winter, make sure that your chickens have access to plenty of clean water, as they will need to drink more to stay hydrated.
Preparing Horse Feed for Your Chickens
There’s not much to it: simply scoop some horse feed into a bowl and put it out for your chickens or scatter it over the run.
If you are using horse feed as a treat, you can mix it with their regular chicken feed, or sprinkle it on top of their food.
If you have horses near where your chickens get to roam, they will likely find it themselves!
Can Baby Chicks Have Horse Feed?
Though baby chicks can have horse feed, you should really abstain from giving them any until they are a bit older, around 6 weeks. Even then, give them some very, very sparingly.
This is because horse feed can be quite difficult for them to digest and the fact that chicks are even more sensitive to nutritional imbalance than adult chickens are.
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.