What Chickens Can Eat, And What They Can’t

Silky Hen and Her Chicks

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 I found a great list at Backyardchickens.com, which 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…

Safe Food For Chickens:

  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Peeled Bananas
  • 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
  • Berries
  • Breads (feed bread and other starches in moderation, as they have little nutritional value)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Cereal (not a sugary kind)
  • Cheese (including cottage cheese, not too much though)
  • Cooked meat, including chicken
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Cooked Eggs
  • Eggplant
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Fruit
  • Grains
  • Seedless Grapes
  • Cooked Grits
  • Lettuce and other Leafy Greens
  • Melon
  • Oatmeal (raw or cooked)
  • Cooked Pasta
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Pomegranates
  • Popped Popcorn (no butter or salt)
  • Cooked Potatoes (no green skins!)
  • Pumpkins
  • 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
  • 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)Gar
  • Fermented feed
  • Tomatoes
  • Cooked Turnips
  • Watermelon
  • Yogurt (plain is best, and a good source of probiotics)
  • Milk (sour or curdled is fine)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pet or livestock food, such as dog, 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)

Do 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)
  • Citrus (very little is okay, but go easy on it)
  • Asparagus
  • 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
  • Onions
  • Spinach (fine in moderation, but only as an occasional treat)
  • Maggots (many people buy these commercially, which is typically fine, but be careful as maggots carry the risk of botulism)

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 where 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.

updated by Rebekah White on 04/30/2018

updated by Rebekah White on 05/03/2018

Kendra
About Kendra 1123 Articles
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.

11 Comments

  1. After I realised that we couldn’t give the chickens raw potato skin I said to mum “hey it says that they can’t eat raw potato skins” because my dad gave them some raw potato skin so now that we know, we won’t do it again

    Thanks for showing the list of things they can eat and what they can’t eat. I’ve got 5 chickens mine is called Annabelle.

  2. That’s great i am watching 14 chicken for some of my friends and didn’t know whay to feed them this help so much although they loved beans and the eggs tasted fine to be

  3. Dad usually love chickens and I’m proud to know most important things can be necessary for our chickens own good on what things they can eat and can’t eat. Thanks and I really enjoying reading this. We from Kiribati.

  4. My chickens love beans. I have never noticed that it changes the taste in eggs. They have a great game of chicken football when they get them. Quite entertaining!

  5. Ok Kendra, after reading your post, I thought, ooohhhhh a chicken eating chicken? Canabalism!! Well, I made roasted chicken tonight for dinner and after taking most of the extra meat off for another meal, giving the skins and innards to the outside dog for a treat, I still had a little bit of meat left in areas that I didnt feel I would eat (I am very picky about how the meat looks…strange, I know. I picked off that meat and stuck the rest of the carcass in a pot to make stock. I gave a small amount to the outside cat and to the inside dog and thought about the chickens. Well, let me tell you, they LOVED it. They actually fought for it. I put in a piece and two fought after it and one got it. I put in another piece and the first abandoned her piece (which allowed the second to grab it)to get this new piece. A third hen came out to the run and saw the commotion and tried to get some of the other two hen’s treats and got pecked. I threw in a third piece and the three fought and the first one won again. A fourth piece got thrown in and the third hen wasnt about to lose this time and grabbed it from one of the other’s beak and ran off with it. The fourth hen stayed in the coop and missed out on the yummy treat. It was great entertainment for about five minutes!

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