A common question many first time chicken keepers ask is: “can I feed my chickens table scraps/leftovers”? In fact we have recently had several people email and ask us this, so today we are going to delve down and take a look.
We have touched upon what to feed (or not feed) chickens in our previous blog post: why you are feeding your chickens to death, however we didn’t specifically mention table scraps within this.
We all know that chickens are omnivores. They will eat just about anything- plants, small animals, and insects’ and of course, whatever else they can find!
But with table scraps, it gets a bit tricky, so tricky in fact that in the UK, feeding table scraps to chickens is against the law.
Basic Chicken Nutrition
Before we look at kitchen scraps, let’s take a look at the basics of good chicken nutrition.
You should be feeding your birds a proprietary brand of feed every day in order to supply them with the correct amount of protein and nutrients they need. The bulk of their diet should be made up from this feed.
Truthfully, chickens would survive without any leftovers, but we enjoy doing it, and it recycles waste and cuts down on food cost. What’s not to like about that?
The dietary enemies of the hen are:
- Fats- in excess
- Processed sugars
Does this sound familiar?
Once we know who/what the enemy is, we can control how much and what we give to our birds. As much as we love them, we don’t want to kill them with kindness!
Kitchen Scraps We Shouldn’t Feed To Chickens
Now we know what a good basic chicken diet looks like, let’s find out which foods we definitely should not be feeding to our girls.
You should not be feeding any uncooked, moldy or processed meats to your flock. Processed meats usually contain fats, salt, and not to mention preservatives. Uncooked and moldy meat can lead to food poisoning.
Meat that has been cooked (e.g. cat food) are all ok in moderation. Your hens don’t need a daily diet of meat, other than what they may eat in the way of bugs.
Chickens are actually omnivores, which means they eat both meat and vegetables. In fact, if your chickens have a choice between a tasty meaty morsel or a piece of vegetation, they’ll probably go for the meat.
It might even surprise you to learn that chickens love to eat mice, frogs, and other types of protein found around the farm. And if one of your hens is lucky enough to snag one of these treats, get ready for a show, because the race is on and the rest of you flock will want to grab a bite as well.
Additionally, if your chickens are a tad under the weather or need an immunity boost, giving them some of their own scrambled eggs does wonder for their health. The extra protein is also excellent when your chickens are molting or stressed.
Your hens should never be eating leftover Pizzas, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hamburger Buns or French Fries. These are all loaded with excess fat and carbohydrates, which are extremely bad for chickens!
Popcorn is not recommended- it could cause an impacted crop.
Also, just in case you were wondering, hens do not need doughnuts- way too much fat and sugar!
Just try to remember that hens don’t need salt or any refined sugars.
There are of course, conflicting views on what you can/should feed your chickens! I have compiled a list below of kitchen scraps you should definitely avoid feeding chickens.
- Avocados: We have discussed them before. They contain persin which is toxic.
- Apricot pits and Apple seeds: Apple seeds I confess I have occasionally given to my birds and they are still healthy- but I will avoid this in future. Also please never feed them Apricot pits!
- Onions: They contain a substance called thiosulfate. I’m not going to bore you with the chemistry but it can cause something called Heinz anemia. More commonly seen in pets such as dogs that ate the garbage.
- Uncooked Beans: Definitely avoid all uncooked beans as they contain hemagglutinin which is poisonous.
- Raw eggs: You don’t want your hens to start egg eating do you?
- Cat food: This one, the jury is still out. Some say no, some say ok in moderation. In my experience this is fine providing it is in moderation!
- Citrus: Alleged to cause feather picking in birds
- Chocolate, candy, sugar: No, no, no! They do not need it. Chocolate is toxic.
Remember, if in doubt about something- don’t feed it to them. It’s better to waste a ‘treat’ than risk making your birds sick.
So Which Scraps Can You Feed Your Birds?
Many keepers make a ‘kitchen mash’ for their birds. This consists of potato skins*, seeds, veggie peelings, banana peels, brown rice, spaghetti- whatever was left-over from the night before. They add a little water and cook it down into a mash consistency, chop it in a processor if necessary and feed to the birds when cooled down.
Don’t worry about giving them long pieces of spaghetti- having watched one of my hens suck down a baby snake; I don’t think they would have much trouble with spaghetti!
You don’t have to make mash daily. As long as the left-overs are kept cool and don’t begin to mold, you can make a weekly mash if you prefer.
*There is some controversy about potato skins. As long as they are not green and have been well cooked, they will be just fine.
If kitchen mash seems like too much effort, you can still feed your chickens kitchen scraps. Just take the scraps and place them inside the chicken pen on the floor.
As with all foods it should be in reasonable sized portions. Remember, the hens’ primary nutrition comes from her feed.
If you upset the nutritional balance you can also upset the metabolism of your flock. This can cause decreased egg laying and obesity.
This time of year produces an abundance of zucchini, cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins. All of these can be halved and fed to the flock. A pumpkin or two in the coop or run over the winter months will help relieve boredom.
These treats are all natural but the key is to make sure the treats don’t make up more than 10% of their daily intake.
The bottom line with feeding table scraps to your flock is making sure the scraps are healthy and nutritious. These girls are working hard to produce yummy eggs for you, so don’t fill them up with processed foods.
If you have leftover pizza, KFC etc. toss it in the trash. Remember, just because you can eat it, doesn’t mean that your chickens can- or should.
Chickens get all of their key daily nutrition from their manufactured feed, so don’t feel badly if you don’t have a daily treat for them. They are happy just to see you.
However, from experience they will be even happier if you do have a little treat with you!
Let us know in the comments below which kitchen scraps your chickens love…