When we first got chickens, I was told that they would be thrilled to eat our table scraps. But I wasn’t really sure what chickens could eat, or what they would like and dislike.
Then at some point, I found a list that tells you everything that is safe to feed your chickens, and what you should never give them.
I was glad to learn that our flock could eat almost anything we had to throw at them! Here’s what the experts recommend…
Table of Contents:
Why a Balanced Diet is Important For Your Chickens
If you’re going to raise chickens, the most important aspect of day-to-day care is feeding them the proper diet. Get it right, and you’ll be rewarded with a happy flock of hens who lay tons of eggs for you!
Fail to do it correctly, though, and your chickens will not only fail to be productive in their egg laying, but they may also succumb to a variety of health problems, too.
Luckily, feeding chickens is pretty straightforward. You’ll want to start with a basic layer feed (this can be formulated as a mash, crumble, or pellet).
For adult chickens, a pellet is usually recommended as it occurs in a more solid form and will be easier for your chickens to eat without creating a ton of waste.
Mash and crumble are both fine, too, but they can be a bit messy. These are more easily digested by young chicks, though.
The pellet, mash, or crumble, regardless of the form you choose, should be specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of your birds in all stages of their lives, from chick to adulthood. If you are raising laying chickens, you will need a different feed than if you are raising meat birds, too – so that’s something else to keep in mind.
In addition to the commercial feed, you will also want to feed your chickens some treats from time to time!
Not only can throwing in a few treats cut down on the amount you have to spend at the feed store (as long as you are feeding treats you already have lying around, like table scraps), but it can supplement your chickens’ diet and provide them with valuable nutrients even if they aren’t able to free range.
Ideally, your feed should be high in protein (the percentage varies depending on the age of your chickens, with baby chickens needing more protein than adult birds).
Free-range chickens rarely overeat, but they might gorge themselves on commercial feed (though this, too, is rare). Just make sure you don’t leave feed out overnight, as this can attract pests.
The exact amount your chickens need to be fed will vary depending on a multitude of factors. How many birds are you raising? What breed are they? Are they egg layers or meat producers? What time of year is it, and are your chickens free-ranging?
As a very general rule of thumb, most chickens need about a pound and a half of chicken feed each week. This is very much a ballpark figure, though, so make sure you adjust accordingly depending on the needs of your unique flock.
You can feed your chickens once a day or more or less often, depending on your needs. Invest in a high-capacity feeder, and you may find that you need to add food only once a week or so.
If you have lots of chickens, it may be worth your time to invest in multiple feeders even if you have a high-capacity feeder. That way, more dominant chickens won’t bully more submissive ones away from the food supply.
Pay close attention to the diet of your chickens. If you notice any change in their eating habits or health, there could be something off with the feed.
Some signs that the diet needs to be adjusted are pretty obvious. For example, you might notice that your chickens stop laying as many eggs. Sometimes, this drop in egg production has to do with the time of year. Chickens naturally lay fewer eggs during the colder months.
However, if that’s not the case, check the feed. The same goes for if your eggs are looking small or abnormal in any way.
Finally, if your chickens seem to be acting differently toward each other – perhaps they are more lethargic, or they are experiencing general unrest or unwanted behaviors like feather picking – it might be time to reevaluate what you are feeding your birds.
A Balanced Chicken Diet
While the right balance of nutrients for your chickens will depend based on the many factors I listed above, you’ll want to make sure your chickens are getting at least 90% of their nutrients from their chicken scratch and feed. Read the labels!
A good feed will have protein, usually a plant-based protein, which is necessary for growth and energy. It will also have carbohydrates for energy along with certain vitamins and minerals. Chicken feed should also contain enzymes and fats which help your chickens absorb vitamins and digest their food properly.
Don’t Forget the Water
Water is just as important as feed – in some cases, even more so. While your chickens may be able to find the food that they need while foraging around the run, they are going to have a harder time finding water if you don’t supply it to them.
Make sure your chickens have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Buy a drinker designed specifically for chickens to use and never let your birds run out.
Although this is especially important in hot weather, it’s equally important in the cold.
Remember that water in the waterers can and will freeze, so you may want to invest in a heated waterer – otherwise, you’re going ot need to break up the ice each morning.
Best Commercial Chicken Feeds
Once you start looking around, you’ll find that there are thousands of chicken feeds you can choose from. There’s no single best chicken feed for every flock.
However, you may want to consider one of the following options. Each offers the right combination of nutrients for chickens at various stages of life and production.
However, some are organic (which may or may not be important to you) while others have unique special features that may be more attractive to you instead. This list is not, of course, exclusive – as long as you find a chicken feed in your budget that has all the nutrients your chickens need, you will be good to go.
- Manna Pro Chick Starter
- Prairie’s Choice Non-GMO Backyard Chicken Feed
- Healthy Harvest 1 Piece 17-Percent Layer Pellets For Poultry
- Kaytee Chicken Supplements Scratch Grain
- Kaytee Laying Feed
- Nutrena Country Feeds Layer Pellets
Affordable Chicken Treats
While the cornerstone of your chickens’ diets should be one of the commercial feeds mentioned above, there is also nothing wrong with giving your chickens some treats from time to time.
After all, treats add a great deal of nutrients to your flock’ diet. It’s also fun to hand-feed your birds and watch them play!
Some of the best options include those that are high in protein and vitamins, like worms, pumpkins, apples, broccoli, and warm oatmeal (especially during the winter months). I’ll give you some more ideas for chicken treats below.
In general, you can feed your chickens just about anything in moderation.
Steer clear from anything bad for you, as a human (like alcohol, sweets, and heavily processed foods) along with toxic foods like rhubarb and avocado. There are a few other foods that should be avoided, too.
You can buy store-bought chicken treats, like freeze-dried mealworms and maggots, but these really aren’t necessary. Your chickens will love the homemade versions of treats just as much!
One word of caution though – when you feed your chickens treats, make sure you feed them off the ground. Do not put the treats on the ground in the coop, as this can lead to the spread of disease and parasitic infections.
Instead, use a dedicated “treat” feeder or hang the treats from the ceiling of the coop.
In addition, don’t overfeed treats – your chickens will always eat these before they eat their regular feed.
While that’s perfectly fine for some treats, other kinds of treats won’t have all the nutrients that your chickens need to thrive.
They will have some nutritional deficits if they constantly ignore the feeder for the fresh treats you are offering.
Unless it’s bitterly cold in the winter, you should try not to feed your chickens treats any more often than once a day.
Do this in the evenings- it will get them ready for bed. Feed no more than a third of a cup of treats per chicken per day.
Safe Foods For Chickens:
- ✅ Almonds
- ✅ Apples
- ✅ Artichokes
- ✅ Peeled Bananas
- ✅ Asparagus
- ✅ Herbs, such as basil, nettles, chives, comfrey, chickweed, and cilantro (basil, in particular, boosts the immune system)
- ✅ Cooked Beans (though I read this can make the eggs taste funny.)
- ✅ Beets and beet greens
- ✅ Juniper Berries
- ✅ Bread (feed bread and other starches in moderation, as they have little nutritional value)
- ✅ Broccoli
- ✅ Cauliflower
- ✅ Cabbage
- ✅ Brussel Sprouts
- ✅ Carrots
- ✅ Kiwi
- ✅ Strawberries
- ✅ Avocado flesh
- ✅ Quinoa
- ✅ Lemons (in moderation, they’re good for them but they probably won’t eat them)
- ✅ Cereal (not a sugary kind)
- ✅ Cheese (including cottage cheese, not too much though)
- ✅ Cooked meat, including chicken
- ✅ Corn
- ✅ Corn husks
- ✅ Cucumbers
- ✅ Cooked Eggs
- ✅ Eggplant (just not the plant itself – only the fruit)
- ✅ Fish/Seafood
- ✅ Fruit
- ✅ Grains
- ✅ Grapes
- ✅ Cooked Grits
- ✅ Lettuce and other leafy greens
- ✅ Melon
- ✅ Oatmeal (raw or cooked)
- ✅ Cooked Pasta (in moderation – too many carbs)
- ✅ Peas
- ✅ Peppers
- ✅ Pomegranates
- ✅ Popped Popcorn (no butter or salt)
- ✅ Cooked Potatoes (no green skins!)
- ✅ Pumpkins
- ✅ Pumpkin seeds
- ✅ Fodder
- ✅ Winter and summer squash (cut them in half and let the chickens eat the seeds and flesh)
- ✅ Raisins
- ✅ Sprouted lentils and grains
- ✅ Cooked Rice
- ✅ Duckweed (exceptionally high in protein and easy to grow)
- ✅ Sunflower Seeds
- ✅ Oregano
- ✅ Black soldier fly larvae or Japanese beetles (you can easily make traps and bags to contain these and then feed them to your birds)
- ✅ Garden weeds (such as dandelion, lambs quarter, and purslane)
- ✅ Fermented feed
- ✅ Cantaloupe seeds
- ✅ Tomatoes
- ✅ Cranberries
- ✅ Elderberries
- ✅ Turnips
- ✅ Watermelon
- ✅ Yogurt (plain is best, and a good source of probiotics)
- ✅ Milk (sour or curdled is fine)
- ✅ Sweet potatoes
- ✅ Cornbread
- ✅ Nuts (in moderation)
- ✅ Pet or livestock food, such as dog food, cat, or goat feed (wet cat food, in particular, is a great option when hens are molting, as it provides necessary nutrients)
- ✅ Bone meal
- ✅ Garlic (beneficial for immune functioning)
- ✅ Grass clippings (do not use clippings when pesticides or fertilizers where applied)
- ✅ Cover crops (such as alfalfa, oats, sorghum, or buckwheat)
- ✅ Butchering scraps (ideally cooked)
- ✅ Flowers (make sure they haven’t been treated with pesticides – good options include pansies, nasturtiums, marigolds, zinnias, etc)
- ✅ Mealworms
- ✅ Red winter wheat
- ✅ Zucchini
- ✅ Hay
- ✅ Straw
- ✅ Grape Vines
- ✅ Dogwood Berries
- ✅ Blueberries
- ✅ Celery
- ✅ Dates
- ✅ Green Beans
- ✅ Figs
- ✅ Moss
- ✅ Swiss Chard
- ✅ Clover
- ✅ Radish
- ✅ Napier Grass
- ✅ Magnolia leaves
- ✅ Maple Leaves
- ✅ Quince
- ✅ Peanut Butter
- ✅ Raspberries
- ✅ Mushrooms
- ✅ Mint
- ✅ Kumquat
- ✅ Ferns
- ✅ Jackfruit
- ✅ Peach
- ✅ Pineapple
- ✅ Kidney Beans
- ✅ Arugula
- ✅ Mango
- ✅ Honey
- ✅ Ivy and ivy berries
- ✅ Gourds
- ✅ Parsley
- ✅ Rosemary
- ✅ Limes
- ✅ Jalapenos
- ✅ Raw potato
- ✅ Dill
- ✅ Ginger
- ✅ Lemon Balm
- ✅ Sage
- ✅ Kale
- ✅ Fennel
- ✅ Catnip
- ✅ Knotweed
- ✅ Honeysuckle
- ✅ Lavender
- ✅ Roses
- ✅ Daisies
- ✅ Queen Anne’s Lace
- ✅ Kelp
- ✅ Lilacs
Can Chickens Eat Dandelion?
Dandelions are very easily recognizable and are a common weed found throughout most parts of the world. They are rich in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc.
They also have large amounts of fiber and vitamins (A, B, C, E, and K). So, next time you find dandelions in your garden don’t just throw them away; rather give them to your birds – they’ll appreciate it!
Can Chickens Eat Avocado flesh?
Yes, chickens can eat avocado flesh.
They like the taste and get a healthy helping of fiber when they eat avocado. The vitamins and minerals help with things like blood clotting and egg production and hatching.
Avocado also has a healthy amount of Omega Fats which help prevent heart problems. That said, you should serve small amounts and not on a daily basis as the flesh will contain small amounts of persin – which is toxic to your birds.
Can Chickens Eat Grains?
Yes, chickens can eat grains. Adding grains to your birds’ diet has a variety of benefits including helping to promote gizzard health and prevent digestive problems.
Can Chickens Eat Sorghum?
Yes, chickens can eat sorghum.
Sorghum has around the same amount of nutritional value as corn so the two can be used interchangeably. Its high protein content isn’t as digestible as other grains, but sorghum has been observed to reduce cardiovascular disease and the mortality rate that comes with it. It also reduces cholesterol levels and improves digestion.
Can Chickens Eat Seedless Grapes?
Yes, chickens can eat seedless grapes.
There are several health benefits that chickens get from grapes. For one thing, it makes digesting fresh food easier, and grapes are high in vitamins and minerals that help to promote healthy weight gain and bone development, and control diabetes in your birds.
They also ensure a healthy gut and strong immune system and contribute to making the eggs your hens lay much healthier. Keeping all that in mind, you should only feed your birds grapes in moderation.
Grapes are sweet and chickens love them, but they can eat too much. Overeating grapes can cause bloating and/or digestive issues.
There’s also a potential choking hazard where they may try to eat the grapes whole. Your birds will also become fussy eaters creating a pretty serious health risk. They don’t get all the nutrition they need to stay healthy because all they want to eat are grapes.
Can Chickens Eat Cooked Grits?
Yes, chickens can eat cooked grits.
Chickens can eat both cooked and uncooked grits, although they may prefer the texture of the cooked grits over the uncooked ones.
Provided you keep your flock’s diet balanced, you can feed them grits often, just make sure that you’re giving them unseasoned grits (stuff without unhealthy additives i.e. syrup).
Can Chickens Eat Winter and Summer squash?
Yes, chickens can eat winter and summer squash.
Zucchini or squash plants are highly nutritious, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. They’re also 95% water which is great for digestion and, in summer, hydration. You should feed your birds squash in moderation or they’ll miss out on other important nutrients.
Can Chickens Eat Sprouted lentils and grains?
Yes, chickens can eat sprouted lentils and grains.
Sprouted lentils and grains are a great way for your birds to get fresh greens into their diets. This is especially true if your birds aren’t free-ranging.
Can Chickens Eat Purslane?
Yes, chickens can eat purslane.
Also called duckweed, common purslane has a high level of Omega-3 fatty acids and can be added to chicken feed to increase egg production and egg weight. There are also high levels of oxalic acids which can cause serious problems in large amounts in certain parts of the plant so don’t give your birds too much.
Can Chickens Eat Milk?
Yes, chickens can eat milk.
Milk tops the list of protein supplements and is particularly good for young birds, laying hens, and fattening (meat) birds. It supplies the vitamin riboflavin which improves hatching quality.
Can Chickens Eat Catfood?
Yes, chickens can eat cat food.
Cat food is safe for chickens – to a point. Cats need a lot more protein in their diets and so their food is aimed at giving them that protein. The high protein content can be great for short-term, occasional use as a treat during molting season but it won’t be very good/healthy in the long run.
Can Chickens Eat Herbs?
Yes, chickens can eat nettles.
Nettles have been used for centuries for a variety of things including animal food. Their strong antioxidants promote general health for your chickens. Blood and blood clotting were also improved.
Yes, chickens can eat comfrey.
Comfrey is a low-fiber green that’s high in protein making it ideal for your chickens. It’s high in vitamins A and B12 which contribute to nicer, healthier eggs.
Can Chickens Eat Watermelon?
Chickens love watermelon. It’s 90% water which aids in temperature regulation (cooling them down on a hot day) and hydration. Watermelon also helps to improve their moods and, courtesy of its vitamin and fiber content, aids in digestion.
What You Should Not Feed Your Chickens
- ❌ Raw potato peel (while these aren’t necessarily toxic raw or cooked, any green parts of potatoes can be dangerous to chickens, just as they are to humans)
- ❌Green tomatoes
- ❌ Dried or undercooked beans
- ❌ Avocado skin or pit
- ❌ Raw eggs (encourages them to eat their own eggs)
- ❌ Sugary stuff
- ❌ Butter (too fatty)
- ❌ Really salty stuff
- ❌ Rotten or moldy food
- ❌ Chocolate or candy
- ❌ Anything containing caffeine
- ❌ Leaves from tomato or eggplant leaves (these are part of the nightshade family, and while the fruits of these plants are fine, unripened fruits or the plant itself should be avoided)
- ❌ Seeds or pits from fruits like apples, apricots, peaches, and pears (these contain cyanide)
- ❌ Wild mushrooms
- ❌ Rhubarb
- ❌ Raw meat
- ❌ Onions
- ❌ Uncooked Rice
- ❌ Spinach (fine in moderation, but only as an occasional treat as the oxalic acid in it isn’t good for your girls)
- ❌ Maggots (many people buy these commercially, which is typically fine, but be careful as maggots carry the risk of botulism)
- ❌ French Fries
- ❌ Thorns
- ❌ Lantana
- ❌ Pickles
- ❌ Ice Cream
- ❌ Irises
- ❌ Leeks
- ❌ Hemlock
- ❌ Acorns
- ❌ Eucalyptus
- ❌ Lambsquarters
- ❌ Jasmine
- ❌ Holly
- ❌ Foxtail
Saving Money on Chicken Feed
Consider growing your own cover crops or extra perennial plants within your chickens’ reach so that they can graze freely on low-maintenance foods.
To save money, you might also consider checking with local farmers’ markets and grocery stores to see if they have any produce or other chicken-friendly foods to throw away.
Chickens will also enjoy pecking through your compost pile if given the chance, as this gives them access to scraps and nutrient-dense bugs while also helping to aerate your pile.
You can string up larger pieces of food (like a head of cabbage) for the chickens to peck at for fun, or you can put them in a wire container that they can peck the food through.
Alternatively, you can also throw scraps into a large tray or bowl, or container of some sort. Whatever you do, it’s best to try to keep the food off of the ground to keep it out of manure.
You might also consider building a grazing box. If you have limited space and aren’t able to allow your chickens to free range, these can be a great way to feed chickens confined in runs.
Grazing boxes allow chickens to eat freely or rotationally even while they are protected from predators.
Feeding your chickens table scraps is a great way to save a little money on feed, and your chickens will go crazy for your leftovers!
In addition, providing your chickens with scraps and leftovers is a great way to add variety to their diets, especially during a cold winter when free-range nutrients are scarce.
In general, chickens won’t eat something that will harm them or that is toxic. Don’t worry too much about trying different foods. If a particular food is unpalatable, your birds will typically ignore it.
Your Printable PDF Checklist
In case you want these two lists in printed format, you can get this PDF and print it out on your printer.
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.