What do Chickens Eat?

What do chickens eat?  They are like us and can eat or will eat just about anything. 

To keep your chicken feed costs down, understand what do chickens eat that's already available in your backyard or in your kitchen.

Chickens can find most of their own food when given enough access to pasture that has greens and protein such as bugs or worms. 

And if you have cows, they love fresh cow patties!

However, if you don't have enough pasture to properly feed your chickens, supplement their diet with food from your kitchen, fermented chicken feed, or a compost pile.

Knowing how to properly supplement their diet can actually help you to save money and get better quality eggs.

What do Chickens Eat to Lay Eggs?

Chickens will require a certain amount of nutrition in order to lay eggs for you and your family.  And during the winter months you may have to increase their calories in order for your chickens to keep laying.

  • Make sure that egg laying hens get at least 17% protein in their diets (or they will pick their feathers) and enough calcium to produce hard egg shells. 
  • They love worms and bugs for protein.  And you can even grow your own worms for really cheap. 
  • You may be shocked, but chickens also really love raw meat!

Your chickens can get their calcium from eating greens, crushed egg shells, or by giving them raw dairy foods. 

And chickens will need an ample amount of clean water to produce their eggs. 

You must also let your chickens get enough sunshine for eggs to contain a good amount of vitamins D and A.

What do Chickens Eat in General?

  • Insects and Grubs
  • Grits (tiny bits of stone and gravel)
  • Diatomaceous Earth (for worming and parasites)
  • Oyster Shells (supplemental calcium)
  • Crushed Dried Egg Shells (supplemental calcium)
  • Raw Dairy like Milk and Yogurt
  • Dehydrated Meal worms and Alive Worms
  • Table Scraps and Leftovers
  • Various Meats and Raw Meat Scraps
  • Stale, Wilted, and Overripe Foods
  • Seeds like Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
  • Whole Grains like Organic Corn, Kamut Wheat, and Oats
  • Fermented Whole Grains
  • Commercial Chicken Feeds and Scratch (organic please)
  • Grasses, Weeds, and Alfalfa Hay
  • Organic Fruits (supposedly not citrus)
  • Some Greens (lower oxalate) and Some Types of Herbs
  • Many Organic Vegetables (cooked or raw)

Feeding chickens grit will help them to digest their food.  However, if chickens are allowed to roam and scratch in an area that contains dirt or gravel, this will satisfy that need. 

Otherwise, you will need to supply grit by sprinkling some on their food or in the area where they like to scratch.

What do Chickens Eat when Fed Compost?

This is my boyfriend's favorite way of feeding chickens - compost. 

There is a lot of life and critters that live in compost that will help to give your chickens the protein they need in their diet.

It also gives your chickens something to do and it will also end up giving you incredible compost that you can use in your garden to grow more food.

This is probably the most economical way of feeding chickens!  And this is just one system of feeding chickens using compost, there are many others.

Feeding chickens your food waste or your neighbor's food waste that you compost can save you a lot of money. 

Chicken feed and grains can get very expensive! 

To top it off, I believe feeding chickens too much grain and chicken feed will shorten their lives and the productivity of your laying hens.

What do Chickens Eat
Pasture Rotation Systems?

A pasture rotation system is especially great for flocks of 50 or more hens.  You'll need a large enough coop and enough land to move the coop regularly. 

If your lucky enough to have cows, chickens can follow your cows.  And they will be able to get a lot of protein from the cow patties.

If not, than at least once a day, offer some sort of supplemental feed in addition to what they can find on the pasture. 

This can be leftovers, compost type food waste, sprouted grains, fermented grains, or organic chicken feed.

You will also have to set up some sort of watering system for your chickens.

An electric fence is used to keep the chickens confined to the area and to keep many predators out. 

I like that he weed whacked because putting up an electric fence in tall grass is not fun at all.

Guardian birds like roosters and geese kept with hens helps to protect them as well.

Although, you will have to lock your chickens up at night when they go in to roost.  And be sure your locks are racoon proof!

Be sure to let them out in the morning, so they can start foraging for food again.

Also, be sure to collect your eggs every day to prevent your chickens from eating their own eggs. 

And if they eat their own eggs on a regular basis, this could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency.

What do Chickens Eat
to Better Digest Grains?

If you insist on feeding chickens grains or chicken feed, learn how to properly ferment this food before giving it to your chickens.

This is a much more economical way to feed chickens and will be much better for their health. 

Benefits of Fermenting Feed and Grains

  • Lowers Anti-Nutrients
  • Chickens will Have Stronger Immune System
  • Increased Egg Weight and Stronger Shells
  • Creates Probiotics for Better Digestion
  • Increased Absorption of Nutrients in Feed
  • More B Vitamins

What do Chickens Eat
- My Personal Experience

Because of my personal experience, I believe that chickens fed fermented feed will be much healthier than chickens that are fed unfermented chicken feed.

And I have also seen egg production increase with the addition of fermented feed (good quality feed with some whole grains). 

One of the last farms we visited had about 40 chickens that only produced 1 egg per day. 

We increased their care, fed them fermented feed, Asian pears, and gave them more access to cow patties (pasture rotation on a more regular basis).

With these changes their egg production went to over 2 dozen eggs per day within a month during the Winter!

You Will Save on Your Chicken Feed Bill!

Fermenting will cut down on the amount of feed that you will need to give your chickens by at least 1/3 to 1/2 to get the same results.

Be sure to use a high quality feed - just because it says it's organic doesn't mean its going to be quality feed.

How to Ferment Feed

  1. Fill appropriately sized glass jar 1/3 full with your choice of grains or chicken feed.
  2. Add non-chlorinated water to the jar to cover grains or feed by 2 inches or so. 
  3. Stir and cover the jar with a breathable cloth.  Secure cloth with a rubber band or piece of string.
  4. Leave on your kitchen counter or other suitable area to ferment for 3 days - stirring occasionally.
  5. Then drain the water and feed to your chickens.

What do Chickens Eat
when Fed Commercial Chicken Feed?

Laying Mash - a complete feed made from grains that are crushed and mashed instead of in whole form. 

This type of feed is mixed with protein meal and supplements.

Laying Pellets - a complete feed made from mash that's heated and compressed to form pellets.  The protein meal can come from meat, vegetables, or from fish.

Unfortunately, a lot of commercial feeds will contain soybean meal or roasted soybeans - read your labels!

Laying Crumbles - are basically pellets that have been crumbled for easier eating. 

This makes it easier to swallow and is catered towards younger hens.

Scratch - typically a mixture of seeds, rolled, and cracked grains.  Scratch feeds are relatively low in protein and do not provide balanced nutrition for hens - it's more of a treat.

Make sure you are buying organic chicken feed that is free from toxic chemicals, toxic ingredients, hormones, and antibiotics when feeding chickens. 

Based on my own experience, I would also advise you to stay away from any feed that contains soybeans, too much salt, or is highly processed. 

If you want to find better chicken feed, look for a reputable feed store that prepares their own feed.

Remember, what you feed your chickens will decide how healthy they will be and the nutrition of the eggs you will be consuming!

What do Chickens Eat
that's Not Good for Chickens?

  • Deep Fried Foods
  • Overly Salty Foods
  • Sugary Foods like Cakes, Cookies, Donuts, etc.
  • Chocolate or Caffeine
  • Junk Foods
  • Lots of Pungent Foods like Garlic, Onions, and Shallots
  • Raw Green Potato Peels
  • Avocado Skin and Pit
  • Rhubarb
  • Undercooked Beans
  • Soy - Contains too Many Anti-Nutrients!
  • Cheap Commercial Feeds
  • GMO Foods - Toxic Food
  • Non-Organic Oyster Shell - may contain heavy metals

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