Picture this—you’ve just finished up your dinner as a family, and now it’s time to clear the table of leftovers.
You scrape the potatoes and green beans into a bin to go out to the chicken coop, and as you prepare to do the same with the scraps of roast chicken on your son’s plate, you pause. Can chickens eat chicken?
Ultimately, the answer to this question varies.
Can chickens eat chicken? Physically, yes—and they enjoy every opportunity to do so.
However, it’s not always the best for them.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at whether you should be feeding your chickens chicken meat and what to keep in mind if you choose to do so.
Can Chickens Eat Chicken?
Before we take a deeper dive into the topic, we’ll give you a quick answer—technically, that depends on who you ask.
Chickens are omnivores, and their palate is quite broad and varied. They are known to eat other chickens as well as other meats.
Some people argue that feeding a chicken a chicken is perfectly fine, just like humans eating chicken or other meats is acceptable.
It can reduce food waste and help you make the most of the food your household consumes without having to pay a ton of extra money to feed your chooks.
However, feeding chickens chicken meat can have some potential drawbacks.
One of the most significant concerns of feeding chickens a chicken is the potential for disease transmission.
Chickens can carry diseases such as avian influenza and salmonella that can easily be passed to other chickens.
Feeding them chicken meat can cause these diseases to spread quickly.
If you choose to feed your chickens chicken meat, you’ve got to make sure you cook it first.
Cooking the meat can help lower the chances of disease transmission, making it safer for the chickens to eat.
Also, it is best to avoid feeding them raw or undercooked meat, as it can cause disease both in the chickens and anyone who consumes the eggs or meat they produce.
Feeding chickens chicken meat could cause disease within the flock, which could be detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
The last thing you want is for your chickens to become ill or for their eggs to be unsafe to eat.
If you are not sure whether your chickens should eat chicken meat, consult with a veterinarian or an expert in chicken care.
Pros of Feeding Chicken to Chickens
Purchasing feed can be an ongoing expense, and if you’re looking for ways to trim your budget, there’s no better place to start than with the food you’re feeding your chickens.
If you have leftover chicken in your fridge, you might want to consider feeding it to your birds.
But is it safe—or advantageous?
Here’s what you should know:
It’s High in Protein and (Sometimes) Fat
Chicken is a great source of protein which your chickens will love.
When it comes to ideal poultry diets, protein is the essential nutrient for healthy growth and development.
Meat is especially high in protein, and healthy chickens require a small amount of protein to remain healthy, recover from stress, and molt.
Unsurprisingly, laying hens, particularly those whose eggs will hatch into chicks, will need additional protein to ensure the healthy growth and development of their offspring.
The protein your chickens need in their diet is based on the amino acid methionine.
Methionine is an essential antioxidant that helps boost the immune system. It also plays an important role in preventing chickens from developing behavioral issues like feather pecking.
Chickens that don’t get enough protein are susceptible to a wide variety of illnesses and unhealthy behaviors.
Those who have access to chicken meat have a natural source of methionine. Chickens that are only fed on grains need a synthetic form of methionine added to their diets.
When chickens eat chicken meat, they consume all the essential nutrients that their bodies need for excellent health; thus, they are more likely to develop strong immune systems and fewer illnesses.
While chicken is high in protein, it is also high in fat. It’s essential to choose healthy chicken cuts with moderate levels of fat for your flock.
When introducing chicken to your chickens, make sure to discuss this with your veterinarian in advance.
Your veterinarian will help you choose the best type of chicken for your chickens, considering their individual needs and overall diet.
The Bones Can’t Hurt Them
Chickens cannot physically eat bones, so they won’t be in harm’s way from the bones.
Instead, they will “peck” off meat, skin, fat, and other tissues from the chicken, just as if they were eating their standard feed.
As Long As It is Cooked, Most Disease Risk is Eliminated
If you have any doubts about the safety of the chicken, simply don’t feed it to the chickens.
To avoid cross-contamination, you might consider using separate cutting boards, plates, and knives when preparing the chicken for your chickens.
In general, though, as long as you cook the meat thoroughly and it isn’t spoiled, you shouldn’t have to worry about diseases like salmonella infecting your flock.
Saves You Money
Feeding your chickens leftovers is not only a great way to prevent waste, but it can also save you money in the long run.
Chicken feed can get expensive. And if you have leftovers from your own dinner, you can feed your chickens those scraps instead of purchasing additional feed.
By doing so, you’ll likely notice a decrease in your overall feed expenses. It’s a win-win situation.
The Downsides of Feeding Chicken Meat to Chickens
Feeding chicken meat to your flock as a snack may seem like a natural choice, but it comes with some risks.
While chickens are omnivores and love a good protein source, feeding them chicken meat can promote cannibalistic behavior and may not be safe for their health.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Can Promote Cannibalistic Behavior
One of the biggest dangers of feeding chickens chicken meat is the potential for promoting cannibalistic behavior.
Chickens are social animals that form tight-knit communities, but they can also be aggressive and territorial.
Introducing chicken meat as a food source may trigger birds to become aggressive and fight for the food.
Not only can this be dangerous for weaker birds, but it can also lead to an increase in pecking and cannibalism, which can lead to serious injuries or even death.
Some farmers say that once their chickens got a taste for meat, they became aggressive and cannibalistic. While this isn’t necessarily backed up by research, it’s worth paying attention to.
Can Spread Prion Diseases (Maybe?)
There is a common misconception that feeding chicken meat to chickens can cause prion diseases, leading to a lot of confusion among poultry farmers.
While there are some downsides to feeding chicken meat to chickens, this notion about prion diseases needs to be cleared up.
Prion diseases are protein-based infectious agents. The term “mad cow disease” is often used to describe prion diseases but this term is not applicable to poultry.
While prion diseases have been found in mammals, such as humans and cows (you’ve likely heard of mad cow disease), scientists have not found any cases of prion diseases in chickens.
Chickens have shown a high resistance to prion diseases. This makes it unlikely that they would develop them from consuming chicken meat.
Furthermore, before an animal succumbs to prion encephalopathies, they tend to exhibit neurological symptoms, such as trembling, trouble walking, and disturbed circadian rhythms.
If a chicken had prion diseases, it would exhibit these symptoms. Also, the USDA would shut down the industry to prevent the spread of the disease.
To date, there have been no reported cases of prion diseases in chickens. So, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that this is anything you’d have to worry about with your flock.
It is true that prions can pass among different species, but it is highly unlikely for chickens to contract prion diseases from another chicken.
That said, there are other diseases that chicken meat can carry, such as avian influenza, which can be fatal to chickens. So, you’ll want to cook any meat you feed your chickens thoroughly.
It Just Strikes Some People As Odd
Many people feel a sense of discomfort or even disgust when feeding chicken meat to their chickens.
The idea of feeding an animal the same thing as they are seems odd to some.
After all, we feed our pets things like kibble or canned food, which often doesn’t closely resemble them.
While it’s not necessarily wrong to feed chicken meat to chickens, it’s important to acknowledge why it can strike some people as strange.
It Shouldn’t Be Done When the Meat is Old or Spoiled
Another major risk with feeding chickens chicken meat is meat spoilage.
If the chicken meat is old or spoiled, feeding it to your flock can lead to health problems. Bacteria growing on old food are not good for our chickens, and they’re not good for us either.
Have chicken meat that is a week old in the fridge, and you wouldn’t touch it? This should go in the garbage, not to the flock.
Why Do Chickens Eat Other Chickens?
A big—perhaps the biggest—concern about feeding chickens chicken meat is that it can cause cannibalism in chickens.
Ultimately, cannibalism in chickens is not a new phenomenon. It has been documented for centuries, and it is more common than you might think.
There are several reasons why chickens may attack and eat each other—and those reasons often have nothing to do with eating chicken.
One of the main reasons is stress. When chickens are overcrowded, bullied, or bored, they can become aggressive towards each other.
This can lead to pecking, which can cause injuries and even death. If left unchecked, the injured chickens can become targets for the rest of the flock, leading to cannibalism.
Lack of Protein
Another reason why chickens may eat other chickens is the lack of protein in their diet.
Chickens are omnivores, and their diet should consist of a variety of food sources, including insects, worms, and even small rodents.
However, some chicken owners may feed their flock a diet that is low in protein and high in carbohydrates, or even a “vegetarian” diet.
This can lead to malnutrition and cannibalism.
If you notice cannibalism within your flock, it is important to take action immediately.
The first step is to identify the cause of the behavior and try to address it. If overcrowding or bullying is the issue, consider providing more space or separating the aggressive birds.
If malnutrition is the problem, you must adjust the chickens’ diet to include more protein.
You can also provide the chickens with toys and other forms of enrichment to alleviate boredom.
Preventing cannibalism in chickens requires a proactive approach.
You should provide your birds with plenty of space, food, and water to ensure they are happy and healthy.
You should also monitor your flock for signs of stress, such as excessive pecking or aggression.
Remember, prevention is always better than cure, so take the necessary steps to prevent cannibalism from happening in the first place.
Is it OK to Feed Chicken Meat?
Remember that chickens are natural scavengers.
Free-ranging chickens will eat a lot of things, including frogs, mice, small snakes, and thousands of insects. This means that chickens are adapted to eat both plant and animal matter.
In fact, as mentioned earlier, protein is an essential part of their diet, as it helps them grow and lay eggs.
Therefore, feeding chickens meat is perfectly natural and can even be beneficial.
However, not all types of meat are suitable for chickens.
Again, you should avoid feeding them raw meat, as it can contain pathogens that may cause food poisoning. Instead, you should cook the meat thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria.
Also, make sure to remove any bones or gristle. Your chickens probably won’t choke on them, but too much grease or the presence of bones can make it hard for your chickens to eat and digest food efficiently.
Avoid feeding chickens processed meat, such as hot dogs or deli meats, as these contain additives that may be harmful to chickens.
The same goes for fried food. Just like fried, processed food isn’t healthy for you, it’s not the best for your birds, either.
If you want to feed your chickens meat, the best option is to give them table scraps.
Cooked meat from your leftovers is a great source of protein for chickens and can be a tasty treat for them (while also helping to reduce the food waste your household produces).
You can also feed them other scraps, such as vegetables, fruits, and grains, to give them a varied diet.
Just make sure not to overfeed them, as this can lead to obesity and health problems.
Can Chickens Eat Chicken: It Depends…
If you’re thinking about feeding your chickens meat, it’s probably safe to do so.
While it might feel a little bit “icky” to you, probably most of us feel the same way about cannibalism!
Still, the reality is that chickens are omnivores, and think of it this way—they’re like tiny little dinosaurs.
And dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs!
As long as you take steps to make sure the meat you’re feeding your chickens isn’t contaminated with any kinds of parasites, bacteria, or diseases, you should be totally fine doing so—and they’ll probably thank you for it, too.
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