We all love our chickens and want to do what’s best for them. I know I love nothing more than spoiling them with kitchen scraps and homemade treats, but did you ever stop to think you might be feeding your chickens to death?
Over-feeding your girls can lead to obesity and a whole lot of health issues.
Not only that, but many foods which humans eat, such as avocados, are actually poisonous to chickens and can do a lot of damage.
It’s hard to know exactly what you should feed your girls and how much to feed them.
So today, we will look at how you are feeding your chickens to death and how to prevent it… before it’s too late.
#1 Feeding Your Chickens to Death: Obesity in Chickens
Perhaps one of the major problems our birds face today is us killing them with kindness!
We love to give them treats– it’s hard to resist when they rush to the gate expectantly to see what goodies you have for them.
If your hens range over pasture and get plenty of exercises, you are very unlikely to have fat hens.
On the other hand, if your birds are confined to the coop and run, obesity can become a problem.
What treats you give your hens is very important. If you give them healthy snacks such as greens, mealworms, fruits, and veggies, make sure it is in moderation.
Even mealworms can cause problems in excess!
They should not be eating the leftover pizza, white rice, and bread! These are all high carbohydrate foods that the chicken does not need.
The only exception to this is feeding corn to your chickens in the winter- even then, moderation is the key.
Avoid Feeding Your Chicken to Death by Learning How Much Food Your Chicken Should Eat?
The average hen will eat around ½ cup of feed per day. In addition to their feed, you should limit treats to about 10% of their daily intake.
An excessive intake of fatty foods such as suet (flock blocks) and sunflower seed can cause Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome.
It is as nasty as it sounds, and it can kill your hen without much warning. Fat tends to build up around the liver, becoming soft and more prone to bleeding.
A hen straining to lay an egg can bleed to death.
Typically hens who suffer from this disease are usually 20% or more overweight and are laying hens.
We mentioned meal worms earlier. They are a high-protein snack that chickens love, but too many can cause kidney disease and gout because they are high in protein.
A small amount is ok- but remember, mealworms are about 50% protein, and a laying hen needs only 20 grams of protein per day.
Note: Remember to clean up any excess feed and treats left on the ground overnight because this will attract pests.
Feeding Your Chickens to Death Try Avoiding These Poisonous Chicken Treats
As for garden and produce treats – there is an extensive list of no-nos for chickens. I will select just a few since these particular items are popular in the garden and toxic to your flock.
There are several extensive lists of poisonous plants out there. Try not to get too paranoid!
For instance, three of my new pullets destroyed the leaves of my rhubarb – they are still alive and healthy.
I now have put a fence around the plants to keep the ladies out.
- Avocados: It contains a toxin that can be fatal not only to poultry but dogs, cats, and cattle.
- Tomato Plants: The fruit is a wonderful treat for the flock, but leaves, stems, and vines are poisonous.
- Potato Plants
- Rhubarb Leaves: Another nightshade family member! The leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which can cause kidney failure.
- Eggplant Leaves
- Uncooked Beans: They contain hemagglutinin which is very poisonous to birds. However, cooked beans are ok.
- Lupines: As beautiful as those blue and pink spires are, keep your birds away. The plant can cause nervous system problems.
- Periwinkle (Creeping Myrtle): It too can cause nervous system failure and death.
- Foxglove: Contains digitalis, a cardiac drug that causes the heart to slow down.
- Holly: Ingestion of leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
This is a brief list of some of the more poisonous things that a curious bird might eat.
It is by no means comprehensive, so be sure to research your flowers and vegetables before you let your hens run wild!
Alternative, healthy snacks include cucumbers, melon, squash, strawberries, broccoli, and kale, to mention a few.
You can read about my girls’ favorite treats here.
What To Do With Obese Chickens
Obese hens do not generally get enough exercise. If they are confined to a coop and run, there probably isn’t enough room for them to get enough exercise.
It really is a vicious cycle- the hen becomes obese, doesn’t want to exercise, so they eat more. They also tend to lay oversized eggs.
Oversized eggs may sound great – who doesn’t love a large egg? However, these oversized eggs can cause egg binding, a potentially fatal occurrence in the hen.
Egg binding can lead to peritonitis, and the hen will die if not treated.
You can help them to exercise with games such as cabbage tetherball. Throwing a handful of corn or scratch around will encourage them to hunt and peck for their treats.
A suet cage filled with greens hung at just above head height will tempt them to do some jumping jacks! A rolling treat dispenser will promote a game of hen football.
Even just allowing your birds to wander over the pasture looking for bugs, greens, and other tasty bugs is so much healthier for your hen, both physically and mentally.
They must remain as active as possible over the long winter months.
Boredom and inactivity can lead to nasty habits such as picking, feather eating, and a general feeling of unrest!
The Right Way to Feed Your Chickens
The chicken diet of today is much different from the way our grandparents raised chickens.
Chickens are omnivorous, and the barnyard hen of yesteryear survived on hunting for bugs, grains, and the occasional table scraps from the farmer.
Essentially it was a subsistence diet, and the hen produced fewer eggs per week.
Hens of today have a luxurious lifestyle by comparison because we recognize that good nutrition is important for producing eggs, meat, and baby chicks.
This is why we feed our chickens commercial pellets; it gives our girls a complete source of essential nutrition.
Take a look at the table below to determine exactly how much feed you should be giving to your chickens.
It is essential to feed the correct mix to your birds as chicks, and growing birds need more protein than laying hens.
Don’t worry if you happen to run out of a particular feed. The birds will not suffer if you give them a different type of feed for a few days!
However, make sure to resume the correct feed as soon as possible.
Some people prefer to mix their own feed for their hens.
This is typically cheaper than buying pre-made chicken feed; however, if the homemade feed doesn’t meet their nutritional requires your girls won’t be as healthy or lay as many eggs.
The homemade receipt needs to ensure the correct amount of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements are being provided.
As with humans, deprivation of certain vitamins or minerals can lead to serious health problems.
If you decide to mix your own feed, you need to ensure the birds get all necessary nutrition, whether from the feed or as a water-soluble vitamin supplement.
Although it’s rare for a hen to die from malnutrition, it can die from the depletion of vitamins necessary for its good health.
Another thing we rarely think about is ensuring your feed is fresh, whether it’s store-bought or homemade.
Vitamins start to degrade over time, so feeding old, out-of-date feed can lead to deficiencies.
Moldy grain can also cause sickness and death in chickens. Remember, if your feed doesn’t look or smell quite right, throw it out and get some new feed.
Healthy Treats for Chickens
In moderation, treats can be healthy and beneficial to your chickens. As long as you avoid the poisonous or toxic treats, you can still enjoy giving your flock some goodies from time to time.
Here are a few treats that your hens will love and will benefit them (and your eggs) nutritiously.
- Mealworms – a great source of protein, but make sure you don’t over-feed.
- Black soldier flies – a great source of protein, but make sure you don’t over-feed
- Scrambled Eggs – I know this sounds strange, but if your chickens need a protein boost, and you have some extra eggs laying around, scramble them up and serve them!
- Corn – chickens love corn, and if they have the choice, they will probably eat the corn out of their feeder before their crumble. So, feed sparingly and separate from the regular feed.
- Watermelon- chickens go crazy for watermelon! They love it, and it’s a great treat for a hot summer day. The extra hydration is a bonus!
Conclusion on Feeding Your Chickens to Death
Feeding your chickens should be enjoyable!
However, overfeeding your chickens or feeding them poisonous food such as rhubarb leaves can be incredibly bad for their health.
Ensuring you feed them the correct food and the right amount of food is your most important job as a backyard chicken keeper!
In addition to this, keeping your girls active and letting them roam around will do wonders for their health and wellbeing.
Let us know how you keep your hens active in the comments below…
READ NEXT: 9 Healthy Treats Your Chickens Will Love
54 thoughts on “Why You’re Feeding Your Chickens To Death And How To Stop It”
Great article! Learned a lot. We have 27 hens and four two month old chicks which are separated. Don’t know anything about raising hens and getting good egg production. We are feeding them organic feed plus scraps from the house. I like the idea of hanging a cabbage from a rope and letting them jump on it. How often can I give them a flock block? It keeps them busy
I tend to give them a flock block once every two weeks 🙂
Thanks so much! Love your blog!
Hi I have 9 hens who sadly don’t have access to a grassy yard large enough to sustain them. I was thinking about giving them lots of chopped alfalfa and lentil sprouts to add green to their diet but I don’t want to over feed them. Can you give a chicken too much greens
It’s surprisingly hard to over feed them!
If they don’t want it they simply won’t eat it- so don’t worry about giving them too many greens,
We have six red sexlink hens and I fashioned two PVC pipes vertically as feeders. Each feeder holds around 8 cups of feed and I have to refill each pipe everyday as they are empty. A large amount ends up in the dirt and never eaten. I have been buying Country Companion Layer Pellet from a local ranch store. Why are they waisting so much?
I would move them to a traditional feeder to prevent the feed getting wasted!
It was the same with a traditional feeder too. They peck through it to find what they want and leave the rest in the dirt. Do I need to get different feed?
Hmmm- it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try.
Let me know if you’re still having any problems after changing the feed.
We had the same problem and this is how we fixed it: Add a two inch extension of the same size PVC pipe to the mouth of the feeders. That is enough for them to reach the feed and prevent their natural instincts to spread the feed with their beaks from leaving the feeder. I also guessed your pvc feeder openings were of the “y” shaped variety…
No, you can use your same feed, but you need a feeder that has a rim around it and dividers in it. I switched to one of these and I no longer have feed on the floor. Try to look for one where you can raise or lower the feeder for the feed you are using.
Thanks Robinl 🙂
my Husband took a cap and drilled a large hole off center so they could no longer knock the feed out. We also cap them at night to keep out mice. The feed is kept outside of the coop due to no room. They have a coop inside of a 10×10 dog run. I only have 3 hens.
You’ve listed 12-13 lbs weekly for pullet grower per week which seems very high compared to the other numbers listed. Can you please confirm or clarify?
I loved this blog and learned so much. I have just created a coop and have 9 new layers that are just getting started. They have only been here 5 days and we have had 3 eggs. What might be a realistic expectation of egg production and when? I am sure the trip was a bit traumatic. We do have a rooster also.
I’m so happy the website is helping you 🙂
It really depends on what breed they are. If they are a ‘good layer’ you should expect a minimum of 7 eggs a day!
Best of luck,
Don’t refill food Gil they clean up the ground! They will eat it all if you wait!
In two or three weeks you should be getting 4 to 5 eggs a day and they will fluctuate due to trauma weather heat cold hunger and predators.
I fear my kid’s may have overdone the meaworms. I have a pretty sick and lathergic hen (maybe it’s just coincidence), but she’s has occasional clear liquid coming from her beak, and a greenish liquidy poop. I saw her eating today which is progress… curious how long you all typically ride it out when a chicken seems to unwell.
Give your hens about a half a cup of dramaeteous earth mixed into their feed this will help with parasites and diarrhea and other health problems.
Hi. Thank you so much for your input and advise. I do have one question though. I have 19 hens (a mixture of all different breeds) I used to feed them in a pvc pipe as well, but when I got my second batch of chicks I had to separate the older ladies from the young, so I started feeding them by scattering feed on the ground. Now that all the ladies are together and eating the same feed I tried to fill the pvc pipe again. But they eat all the food right away and their crops are huge and swollen. So I’m back to feeding them by scattering the food twice a day. I’d like to go back to just filling the feeder but without them eating the whole thing. If that makes sense… I just don’t know how to do it. Winter is coming and their run isn’t covered. So I’d be throwing their food in snow :/
I would try again using the PVC pipe. Hens generally won’t overeat so they should be fine.
Buy a grampa’s feeder. It takes 40 pounds of feed is waterproof and rat proof and operates when the chicken steps onto the metal plate it will open up access to the food and when they step off of it it will close. The chickens also cannot scratch the food or pick out the food on to the ground this will save the food from waste.
Thanks so much am new in keeping and I’ve just learnt how I was over feeding them
So happy you’re learning from the website Esther 🙂
I was wondering about my bird feeder with winter upon us, this is my first year with my 3 hens and the free range in the afternoons when I’m home from work, but is there anything I shouldn’t put in my bird feeder this year e.g fat balls, nuts, that when they drop my hens may pick up..love this site by the way helped me so much in my first year with my girls !
I love hearing when the site helped people so thank you 🙂
This article discusses what you shouldn’t feed them in more detail:
Also as a general rule of thumb, if you can eat it, they can too- just avoid sweet and salty foods…
In addition to daily free ranging I’ve made chooks a wicking bed in their coop. Like a big self watering pot (vegie box- lots of diy on web), but there’s a headspace of 15 cm between the soil level and the top which is coverered in a sheet of weldmesh. The chooks can walk on the weldmesh and peck the greens without trashing them. By the time they reach the top most plants have strong enough root systems to avoid being pulled up. I used a mix of self seeding annuals and perennials. Sometimes i make sporuts, throw half to chooks, and throw a handful into box to top up plant desnity.They can’t scratch etc for bugs, so it’s not a be all end all, nor is it menat to be, it gives them some resilence if we go away for a weekend, etc.
What a great Idea Amanda
I am going to get my grandchildren to help make one for our chickens this weekend
This week we received a malnourished hen (she was a rescue). She is about 15 weeks. This is our first time with a chicken so we feel a little out of water. She eats all the time, anything we give her. To my surprise, she eats it all! Yesterday she eat about 8 broccoli florets, 6 greens beans, 1/3 of a banana, and organic chick feed. She’s drinking lots of water, happy, and buzzing around. I left for work today with the feeder available for her. Should I be worried with all this and high amount of fiber she has eaten?
You can’t change her past so don’t worry about that. Just keep doing what you’re doing and feed her a complete layers pellet and then supplement this with healthy snacks 🙂
I have a house chicken who practically eats what I eat, as well as her main diet of regular chicken feed. She goes insane over noodles. She’s almost had avacado so I’m glad to have read this before I made this mistake.
I have a bushel of green beans that won’t be used by my family. Can I give green beans to grown chickens?
Cook them off and feed it to them in moderation Kay and it will be fine 🙂
Good morning Claire, love the site and blog. Really helpful as I have just started out with two gorgeous Vorwork chickens. They are free range and do not seem to want to eat their pellets. How can I ensure that these two wonderful layers are getting a balance diet, please?
You can ensure this by not over feeding them with snacks and making sure they have access to pellets throughout the day. They will figure the rest out themselves 🙂
I have some girls that hatched in March that I believe to have been a bit malnurished before we got them. They are small and still not fully feathered (almost though). I have them on grower feed but my fear is they are probably 1-2 months out from laying age and far from big enough. Is there anything I can do to help them grow? Any concern about them being so close to laying age and still not feathered!?
You can’t change the past, all you can do is ensure that all their dietary requirements are being met now 🙂
I was researching about feeding my chickens because i feel that they are under weight. I have had 2 of them for almost a year and 1 for 3 months. When each one came they were plump and you could not feel their brest bones. Now i can feel their bones. They roam around on several acers and they eat grains every night but they wont plump back up. Is this what a normal hen feela like, where they over weight when they came to me?
Please send us an email or share a photo here so I can take a look 🙂
My vet has explained to me that hens should not be plump and that you should be able to feel their keel / breast bone. If you cannot feel their keel bone they are overweight and a likely candidate for fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome (FLHS). FLHS will lead to them dropping dead usually without any obvious warning signs. When they are free ranging they are likely to be healthy as they have access to grass, weeds, insects and plenty of exercise.
i am feeding my 4 chickens layering pellets through traditional feeder. they seem to be eating all day and drinking a lot of water. im conserned of over feeding them
What is “leftover pizza”?
Seriously though, enjoy reading through all of the articles!
Hi. Our chickens are free range, however we supplement scratch feed.They stopped laying and our Neighbor suggested we feed them fish as that is what he feeds his caged chickens. It has more protein. At first they didn’t want to eat it. Now they are always underfoot wanting feed. You would think these fat girls were starving the way they beg for food. They even compete with our dog for his dry dog food. What’s going on?. Does fish food harm them. They still scratch for bugs but its winter and their supple might be limited.
What is your location? Winter free ranging is tough. Mine are free ranging and trying to scratch into whatever they can scrounge up but I always supplement with protein. Their latest target is my front landscaping mulch, disaster of a mess. I am as eager for spring as they are.
My hens don’t eat there feed, I give them veggies ,corn, mealworms, birdseed. Am I giving them to many treats
I feed my grils on the ground. They get layer mash and lots of treats. Frozen greens as in fresh greens frozen in a block of ice in the hot summer months. Always kitchen scraps every thing go’s to tje grils beef bones leftover meat. vegetables eggs absolutely no chicken. Winter mostly grains. No extra light and they lay yesr round. Be nice and You’re hens will reward you.
Great article! I’m a new chicken owner and still a lot to learn. I’m so glad I ran across this – just yesterday I tossed a tomato plant in for the girls. I noticed it still laying and not being touched – so whew…… I’m also planning to give them green bean and cucumber vines as I clean up the garden. Are these safe?
Can you direct me to a place to get an extensive list of “no-no’s” to feed chickens.
Where can ya find a grampa feeder this sounds great
Hi, where … can you purchase a “grampa feeder” ?
Love your site & your information – Great !
We have 5 hens – Black Sex Link chickens.
Thank you in advance of your response
Only dried mealworms have a 50% protein content. Live mealworms are about 20% protein.
Some bird watchers believe that buying bird feeders locally is better because you can actually see the birds personally and touch them. However, buying online certainly has its advantages as well.
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