So you have some leftover food and are wondering if it is ok to feed it to your chickens.
When fed nutritionally balanced scraps your chickens benefit from the variety. However if they are fed junk leftover food too often then they can become overweight and stop laying eggs.
The secret to good nutrition is to keep everything in proportion.
Giving chickens your table scraps helps give them some variety in their food and it is also a great way to get rid of leftovers. Leftover strawberries, watermelon and blueberries are chicken favorites and the berries are packed full of antioxidants which makes them very healthy indeed!
Below we will discuss everything you need to know about feeding your chickens table scraps and leftovers including: how much you can give them, which popular leftovers are safe to feed them and much more…
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Feeding Chickens Table Scraps And Leftovers
Chickens are omnivores, this means they will eat just about anything (including meat).
Meat scraps are perfectly fine for your hens as long as they do not have too much fat or preservatives in the meat. Turkey carcasses and other meat bones will all be picked clean by the flock. Meats such as ham, bologna and other deli meats contain lots of preservatives and salt so they really should not be fed to your birds.
Fish is another great protein source.
Your chickens will happily eat fish skin and other leftover scraps (not bones). Just remember not to feed fish in great quantities since it can taint the taste of the eggs.
As for vegetables, leafy greens such as spinach, watercress, bok choy, mustard greens, beet greens and broccoli are all high in protein, vitamins and minerals and the chickens love them. If you are using canned veggies then make sure you rinse off the salt thoroughly as too much salt can cause problems.
You should not give them uncooked or raw beans because these can be poisonous.
Quinoa and wild rice are great sources of protein and are safe for your chickens to eat. Nuts should be fed in small or ground pieces and be salt free.
Brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats and buckwheat are good for your chickens too. They help to add some starch to their diet and also provide lots of fiber.
Peas, corn and squash are all high in carbohydrates and we all know that chickens love corn! They like peas too. Squash is something that is an individual thing – some hens like it, others not so much. Seeds from squashes are enjoyed either fresh or slightly roasted.
Cucumbers can be sliced lengthwise for them on hot days – they will enjoy the cool flesh to peck at.
Carbohydrates such as breads, cereal, pasta and white rice should be kept to small and infrequent amounts since they can lead to weight gain.
Chickens do not need sugar so please do not feed them bakery goods such as cookies, cakes, jams or jellies.
As far as fatty scraps go, too much can cause your chickens to gain weight. This should be avoided because obesity brings its own set of health problems. There are only a few fatty foods that chickens should be allowed to eat, eggs being one of them.
While water may not be considered table scraps it is included to show how essential water is to chickens. They do not drink sodas, beer, juice or any of the other drinks that humans do. Clean fresh water should always be available for them. During the summer you can add a vitamin powder to make sure they do not get electrolyte depletion during the hot days.
Which Table Scraps Can Chickens Eat?
Safe Table Scraps
- Fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, watermelons, melons, blackberries, bananas, and apples
- Peaches, apricots and cherries can be given too, but remove the pits
- Leafy greens such as kale, cabbage, spinach (in moderation), beet greens, mustard greens
- Collards, lettuce, and carrot tops too
- Peas, corn, ripe tomatoes, ground tomatoes, squash and cucumber
- Cooked sweet potatoes and zucchini
- Brown and wild rice (cooked)
- Plain unsalted popcorn
- Cat food
- Dog food
Occasional Table Scraps
There are some table scraps that chickens can have in small quantities, but not on a regular basis. This list contains foods such as pizza (no more than once a week) and other high carbohydrate foods.
- Dairy products
Unsafe Table Scraps
These scraps are unsafe to feed chickens.
Many of these contain poison that are life threatening to your hens. The general rule of thumb is: if you are unsure then do not feed it to your flock.
- Raw or uncooked potatoes and potato leaves
- High sugar processed foods such as doughnuts
- Tomato leaves and green tomatoes
- Eggplant or pepper leaves
- Raw or uncooked beans
- Coffee and coffee grounds
- Salty foods such as chips
- Uncooked rice
- Rhubarb fruit and leaves
- Moldy or rotted produce
- Apple seeds
- Peach, apricot, cherry and pits
- Xylitol and other artificial sweeteners
How Many Snacks And Leftovers Can Chickens Eat?
It is important that your hens get the best nutrition so make sure the bulk of their diet is from a high quality layer pellet.
Around 10% of their daily intake can be treats or scraps.
It is probably best to feed the scraps and leftovers later in the day so you know they have eaten most of their daily feed already. They will likely eat the scraps like they have not eaten all day and then waddle off to bed! You can keep leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days but make sure nothing is starting to turn moldy or sour before you feed the ladies.
Chicks should not be fed table scraps until they are at least four months old.
They can be given very small amounts of things like scrambled egg and chopped dandelion leaves.
Tips On Feeding Scraps To Chickens
- When feeding leftovers to your flock, keep their health in mind. If what you are feeding them is junk food then their overall health is going to suffer. Make sure the scraps you give them are nutritious and relatively fresh. Never feed anything moldy to them.
- To keep vermin and other creatures away from the coop you should only give your chickens what they can eat in one day. Once they go to roost in the evening you should remove any leftovers. Any leftover food will attract not only rats and mice, but raccoons, skunks, foxes and other predators too.
- Remember when you feed things like blueberries it will change the color of their poop to a dark bluish. Do not panic as this will disappear once the berries have passed through their system.
- Each day your hen will usually eat about 1/4lb of feed each day and scraps should not be more than 10% of their daily intake. Of course you are not going to measure it out exactly, but simply eyeball it and sometimes they will get more, others less.
- To make sure your chickens fill up on their feed first, you should only give scraps later in the afternoon or evening. Use a bowl or some form of container rather than just dumping the food on the ground.
Fortunately here in the US we are free to feed our chickens table scraps.
While the UK and Europe they have some pretty rigid rules about what you can feed your flock.
Like most things, feeding your chickens table scraps and leftovers is ok in moderation.
You may have picked up on a theme here: too many fats, processed sugars, salts and carbs are bad for chickens. If you are feeding your chickens store bought pizza more than once a week then they are eating too much pizza!
One of the biggest problems with feeding your chickens too many scraps is that they can have too much of a good thing and become obese and unhealthy. Ultimately this can cause them to die from heart and liver problems brought on by an unhealthy diet.
The key is to give them scraps in addition to a high quality layer feed. This will make sure your flock gets a balanced diet each day.
When I am harvesting in the garden I give them beet greens, carrot tops, small or misshapen cucumbers or squash. I usually have a gang of them pacing outside the fencing waiting for their treats.
If you like to feed them treats through the winter too then frozen fruits like melons and apples can be given over the winter months. This saves on bought treats over winter and uses excess produce all year round.
Lastly you may find that a treat listed as no on our list may be listed as cautious on another. Where possible I have tried to follow the consensus of opinion and my own personal experience. I once had a hen that had stripped all the leaves of my rhubarb plant. She did not die or appear ill, but was a bit quiet for a few days.
In general chickens are fairly smart about what they eat and they tend to avoid things that would make them really sick.
Let us know in the comments section below what your flock’s favorite leftover is…