What Do Chickens Eat?

Basic Diet of Chickens

Chickens are omnivores, which means that they eat both plant and animal-based foods. Their basic diet includes grains, seeds, insects, and worms. In the wild, chickens scratch and peck at the ground to find these foods. However, chickens that are kept as pets or for commercial purposes are usually provided with a formulated feed that contains all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

The formulated feed for chickens typically contains a mix of grains, such as corn, wheat, and barley, along with soybean meal, which provides protein. It also contains added vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, to support bone health and egg production.

While the formulated feed is a convenient and balanced source of nutrition for chickens, it’s important to also provide fresh water and access to natural foods, such as grass, weeds, and insects, as these provide essential vitamins and minerals that may not be present in the feed. Chickens may also benefit from grit, which is small stones that they consume to help them digest their food.

Nutritional Requirements of Chickens

Chickens have specific nutritional requirements to maintain their health and produce high-quality eggs. The main nutrients that chickens need are protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein is essential for growth and development, as well as egg production. Chickens require about 16% protein in their diet. Good sources of protein for chickens include soybean meal, fish meal, and meat and bone meal.

Carbohydrates provide energy for chickens, and they can be found in grains such as corn, wheat, and barley. Fats are also important for energy and for maintaining body temperature, especially during the winter months. Good sources of fats for chickens include vegetable oil and animal fat.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for overall health and egg production. Calcium is particularly important for eggshell formation, and it’s usually provided in the form of crushed oyster shells or limestone. Other important vitamins and minerals for chickens include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and selenium.

To ensure that their chickens are getting all the necessary nutrients, many farmers and backyard chicken keepers supplement their chickens’ diets with vitamin and mineral mixes or other supplements.

Common Foods for Chickens

In addition to formulated feed, there are many common foods that chickens enjoy and that can provide them with additional nutrients. Some of the most common foods that chickens eat include:

  1. Fruits and Vegetables – Chickens love fruits and vegetables such as berries, apples, melons, lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers. These foods provide essential vitamins and minerals that may not be present in their formulated feed.

  2. Grains – Grains such as oats, rice, and quinoa can be fed to chickens in small amounts as a treat. They can be cooked or served raw.

  3. Insects and Worms – Chickens love to hunt and eat insects and worms. Mealworms, earthworms, and crickets are all good sources of protein for chickens.

  4. Dairy Products – Small amounts of dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk can be fed to chickens as a treat. These foods provide protein, calcium, and other nutrients.

It’s important to remember that while these foods are a great addition to a chicken’s diet, they should not replace their formulated feed. Chickens still require a balanced and complete diet to maintain their health and produce high-quality eggs.

Treats and Supplements for Chickens

Treats and supplements can be a great way to provide additional nutrients and keep chickens happy and entertained. However, it’s important to remember that treats should only make up a small portion of a chicken’s diet, and they should not replace their formulated feed. Here are some popular treats and supplements for chickens:

  1. Scratch Grains – Scratch grains are a mix of cracked corn, wheat, and other grains. They can be scattered on the ground to encourage chickens to scratch and peck, which can provide exercise and entertainment.

  2. Mealworms – Mealworms are a popular treat for chickens, and they are also a good source of protein. They can be fed live or dried.

  3. Grit – Grit is small stones that chickens consume to help them digest their food. It’s important to provide grit if chickens are eating natural foods, such as grass and insects.

  4. Calcium Supplements – Calcium supplements, such as crushed oyster shells or limestone, can be provided to chickens to ensure that they are getting enough calcium for eggshell formation.

  5. Probiotics – Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help promote digestive health and immune function in chickens. They can be added to chickens’ water or feed.

When providing treats and supplements to chickens, it’s important to do so in moderation and to choose high-quality products that are specifically formulated for chickens.

Foods to Avoid Feeding Chickens

While chickens are known for eating just about anything, there are some foods that they should not consume. Here are some foods that should be avoided when feeding chickens:

  1. Chocolate – Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to chickens.

  2. Avocado – Avocado contains a toxin called persin, which can be fatal to chickens.

  3. Onions and Garlic – Onions and garlic contain compounds that can damage red blood cells in chickens.

  4. Citrus Fruits – Citrus fruits can interfere with calcium absorption in chickens.

  5. Raw Beans – Raw beans contain a toxin called lectin, which can be harmful to chickens.

  6. Anything Spoiled or Moldy – Spoiled or moldy foods can contain harmful bacteria or toxins that can make chickens sick.

  7. Salty or Sugary Foods – Salty or sugary foods can upset a chicken’s digestive system and lead to health problems.

It’s also important to avoid feeding chickens anything that is not specifically formulated for chickens, such as dog or cat food. Chickens have unique nutritional requirements, and feeding them the wrong foods can lead to health problems and even death.

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