One thing that chicken owners tend to really appreciate about their pets is that they are walking trash cans. If you can eat something, the odds are pretty good that so can your chickens, but not everything is OK for a chicken to eat. So, we went and tracked down a ton of different table scraps that you can feed your chicken safely.
Our 61 safe table scraps you can feed chickens include apples, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, beets, berries, bread, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbages, cantaloupes (melons), carrots, cat food, cauliflowers, cereals, cheeses, corn, cucumbers, dairy products, dog food, eggshells, fish, fruit, grains, grapes, greens, herbs, honeydew melons, kale, lettuce, milk, noodles, oatmeal, pastas, peas, peppers, pomegranates, popcorn, pumpkins, quinoa, raisns, rice, spaghetti, spinach, squash, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, vegetables, watermelons, yogurts, zucchini, beans, cooked meats, eggs, eggplants, fats, garlic, potatoes, turnips, yams, and tomatoes.
However, you’ll want to go through our lists carefully because some of these need special preparation to be completely safe and one can change the way that the eggs taste if you give too much of it.
Should You Feed Your Chickens Table Scraps?
There is, surprisingly, some debate over whether we should feed chickens table scraps at all. Some chicken owners are concerned that it’s hard to monitor the overall quality of a chicken’s diet when you’re feeding it on scraps.
They point to the, very real, issues of chicken obesity (we shall look at this in more detail a bit later on) and say that if you’re not in strict control over what your chickens eat – how can you be in control of their health and weight?
We have to wonder how much waste their households produce though that their chickens should be able to live on scraps alone?
In reality, we think the majority of chicken owners would agree that it’s perfectly fine to feed your chickens table scraps (though there are things they shouldn’t eat, and we have a list of that stuff too) as part of their overall care.
Chickens are omnivores and they’re relatively unfussy eaters too, so there’s no reason not to allow them a treat from your table even though you definitely should watch their overall weight because chicken obesity is no joke.
50 Safe Table Scraps That You Can Feed Chickens
OK, now that we’ve determined that, in our opinion, it’s OK to feed your chickens table scraps we have a fairly uncontroversial list of things that are safe for chickens to eat.
Obviously, it’s important that you don’t feed them ridiculous amounts of calories – if your chickens are chowing down on the finest brie all day long, they’re going to get fat but we don’t think anyone buys good brie in order to feed it to their chickens.
like to offer up 50 absolutely safe table scraps that you can give your birds
without any worries at all:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Cat Food
- Dairy Products
- Dog Food
- Honeydew Melons
- Sunflower Seeds
- Sweet Potatoes
- Vegetables (of pretty much any kind)
11 Safe Table Scraps You Can Feed Chickens (But Each With A Warning)
have a list of 10 table scraps that are OK to feed chickens as long as you take
a little care over things. We wanted to point out that eating chicken feels
wrong to us and that garlic can change the taste of the eggs but the other 8
must be prepared carefully to avoid harming the chicken.
- Apples – remove the pips which are poisonous
- Beans – these must be cooked, or they won’t be digested and they can be poisonous
- Cooked Meat – yes, including chicken but all the same, yuck, right?
- Eggs – only cooked eggs, a chicken given raw eggs is likely to start eating their own eggs
- Eggplants – not the leaves though which are poisonous
- Fats – pure fats can also be given to chickens but be careful about giving them too much
- Garlic – be careful, too much garlic can make the eggs taste really peculiar
- Potatoes – must be cooked and without any green lumps
- Tomatoes – don’t include the leaves
- Turnips – must be cooked
- Yam – must be cooked
If you’re in any doubt about the safety of any given item for a chicken, it’s always best to be safe rather than sorry and just throw out the scraps. If you have a composting bin, they don’t need to go to waste in most cases, anyway.
Seasonal Table Scraps
Chickens live outdoors and their lives tend to revolve around the seasons. This can mean that there are good times and bad times for particular kinds of table scrap.
In the summer, for example, if the chickens are struggling with the heat – you could freeze any leftover fruit (cut it up in chunks that are easy to digest for a chicken, first) and let them cool down more easily.
When the fall arrives, so does the molting season, that means you might want to give them foods with a little more protein in because it will help boost feather production and replacement. Eggs, meat, dog/cat food, etc.
In Winter, it’s a good idea to scatter things like corn or grain to get them scratching around to find it and warm up. Also, dry corn is thought to help a chicken stay warm on a Winter night too.
However, don’t stand on ceremony, if you have table scraps, it’s better to feed them to your chicken than to throw them away. As long as your birds are healthy and happy, you’re not doing them any harm.
10 Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Chickens
If we’ve looked at things that are perfectly OK to feed your chickens from your table, we should for the sake of balance also examine the things that are completely not OK to feed your chickens too. The 10 items on this list avocados, rotting/moldy meat, McRubbish, raw eggs, onions, uncooked beans, citrus fruits and anything sugary are probably best avoided.
This one might come as a surprise, but avocados are not recommended fodder for chickens. Why not? Well, because the contain a chemical called persin, which can kill chickens. Now, we’re not sure that an avocado or two contains enough of this chemical to kill chickens, mind you, but we don’t see any reason to take any chances.
Rotting Or Moldy Meat
A chicken isn’t going to get on with food that’s unfit for consumption. They are not carrion, and nobody has ever conducted a Tibetan sky burial with chickens in charge of devouring the dead. If your meat is clearly covered in mold or rancid – it’s time to skip the chickens entirely and dump it in the bin.
Don’t forget that your chickens will be gorging themselves on bugs they find around the yard, you’re not depriving them of protein if you don’t feed them rotten meat.
However, we’d be happy to confirm that it’s fine to feed chickens meat at other times and though we prefer to feed ours cooked meat, raw meat shouldn’t be harmful as long as it’s not turned.
You shouldn’t feed human beings junk food if you can get away with it and you certainly shouldn’t feed it to your chickens. These are foods that are packed to the brim with sugars, fats, etc. You’re begging to turn your birds into blimps if you start feeding them fries from your local burger joint or slices of pepperoni pizza.
One thing you should stay away from in this category for another reason is popcorn that’s already been popped – it has the potential to get stuck in a chicken’s throat and might cause an impacted crop.
You can also add doughnuts, cakes, buns, etc. to the list of food that will make your chickens fat and unhealthy.
Chickens are nastily predisposed to any kind of cannibalism. They will happily eat cooked chicken (though we try not to give them any as we’d prefer that they didn’t develop a taste for each other) and they will often also scoff down their own eggs.
One way to encourage them to start eating their own eggs is to feed them raw eggs in the form of table scraps. After they learn how nice they taste, they might just start snacking on their own eggs, which kind of defeats the point of owning a chicken, right?
We’re not at all certain that chickens can suffer from Heinz Anemia which is a condition caused by eating onions, maybe. However, given that this condition can kill, and the symptoms are incredibly unpleasant, we have joined the group of chicken owners unwilling to risk feeding their birds onions.
We mentioned this once before, but it’s worth touching on again. Not only do chickens have a hard time digesting uncooked beans, they are full of a substance called hemagglutinin which is toxic to chickens. So, they’re best avoided.
We’re not convinced but some owners claim that their chickens will pick at each other’s or their own feathers after consuming citrus. We’d say that you might just want to keep an eye on them and see if your birds act funny after eating citrus and if they do, stop feeding them it.
We know, it’s more junk food but no boiled sweets, no chocolate bars, no candies, nothing whatsoever that is made out of large amounts of sugar. Your birds will end up as stars of “My 600lb Chicken Life” if you start feeding them sugar, they really don’t need it.
A Bunch Of Bad Herbs
find most herbs to your chickens without a second thought but there are a few
that they should avoid too:
- Black Nightshade
- Castor Bean
- Morning Glory
- St. John’s Wort
- Sweet Pea
- Trumpets Vine
The reason to avoid these herbs? They’re poisonous or they might be if given in big enough quantities. We like to err on the side of caution when it comes to our chickens.
Your chickens are not goats and they do not need you to add salt to their diet. It’s OK for them to get a little bit of salt on say table scraps but you shouldn’t add any salt and any food that is particularly high in salt you should avoid altogether.
Chickens can’t sweat which means they’re not going to lose salt very often and their bodies are very good at self-regulating salt content. So, try to avoid it.
Can You Feed Chickens Only Food Scraps?
No. You can’t if you want your chickens to lead a healthy life then you definitely cannot base their diet solely on food scraps. It’s actually very difficult for somebody who has not been trained in animal nutrition to provide a balanced diet to a chicken.
And if your chickens aren’t eating a balanced diet – they may end up with a bigger problem: chicken obesity.
The Problem Of Chicken Obesity
There is a growing problem with chicken owners over feeding their birds. In fact, pet owners in general seem to be overfeeding their pets. This is not good for your chickens, at all.
Now, if your birds can run around all day and you’re sticking to the basics of a healthy eating plan for your chickens, a few table scraps and treats are not going to hurt. Your chickens will probably be running off much of the excess calories without thinking about it.
However, if you start dumping high sugar or high carbohydrate foods out in the garden to eat – they’re going to start getting fat and this is not going to be good for them at all.
Chickens And Obesity Can Equal Death
A chicken that is fed too much will end up with a large fatty deposit growing over their liver. This is every bit as unhealthy as it sounds. An ordinary sized chicken should live 8-10 years, an obese one can be dead much, much sooner.
If you keep chickens as pets, it’s probably, in part at least, because you love them and enjoy their company – making them fat will kill them, which will make you sad and leave the chickens permanently beyond a sense of sadness.
The Main Causes Of Death For Chicken Which Are Obese:
- Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome (FLHS). You can actually feel the fat pushing out of the chicken as a pad when this gets bad enough. Unfortunately, once it gets this bad – death is probably imminent. Before then, it may cause multiple-yolked eggs, eggs that are much bigger than normal, egg-binding and may even lead to a prolapse vent. The final end for a bird with FLHS is to bleed to death on the inside.
- Heat stroke. Carrying extra weight is both exhausting of itself and worse, that weight acts an insulator for the bird. The hotter it gets outside, the harder it is to waddle around and the hotter the bird becomes while doing so. An obese bird can, quite literally, expire of heat exhaustion in a few minutes!
How To Avoid Having Obese Chickens
If you want to make sure your chickens don’t turn into piglet-chickens, then you need to adopt a very simple program to keep them on track. We use a four-step process: monitor their weight, keep a check on their diet, keep a close eye on tasty treats, and make sure they get plenty of exercise.
The Chicken Weigh In
Weighing a chicken is very easy, you don’t need a complex set of scales. We use some simple electronic scales that we bought on Amazon but basically any scale that your bird will fit on that weights in pounds or kilos and will go up to say 10 kilos (which would be a huge chicken) will do.
Your hens should maintain the same weight for most of their lives. A hen that is losing weight might be sick and you should consider talking to a vet if you can’t identify the problem and the same is true if they gain weight. Is it too much food? Or is a tumor or something else unpleasant?
A weigh in every fortnight helps you to head off any problems at the pass and ensure that your chickens don’t veer off track. We’d recommend finding a weight chart for your breed of chicken and making sure that they stay within the “normal tolerances” for their age.
A Balanced Diet
OK, we know that there are a million people out there trying to assemble vegan lives for animals, and low cost diets that you can assemble from household items, etc. we don’t recommend that you follow their advice.
The funny thing about owning chickens is that because they are kept on an industrial scale, what a chicken should eat is very clearly understood and the chicken feeds you buy from a feed merchant are completely tailored to ensure your chickens live long, healthy, happy lives.
You do not need to play dietitian or follow silly fads when it comes to your chicken’s diet – just buy the feed that you’re recommended to and then feed the birds the right amount of that food each day.
This won’t just stop them from getting fat, it will also ensure that they do not suffer from any unpleasant vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
Chicken eat regularly across the course of the day (and if they are free range – they will not eat at the same time, mostly) because they don’t have a big stomach to hold food in. Thus, when they have the right kind of food on hand – they tend to eat only when they’re hungry and that food is exactly what their body needs.
If you are using a restricted feeding schedule (e.g. your birds are not free range) then you may need to be very careful about the feeder mechanisms, you install. If there’s not enough room for all the birds, some are going to be pushed out by the flock and end up going hungry and eventually they may starve to death.
Taking Control Of Your Chicken’s Treats
Right, now that we know we’re supposed to feed our birds the recommended food – how much extra stuff (including those table scraps) can we let them eat?
Experts say no more than 5% of a bird’s diet ought to consist of treats. This means roughly 2 tablespoons of treats per chicken about 3-5 times a week. No more than that.
So, if you were planning on using your chickens to replace the waste disposal system in your home – you might want to buy a pig, instead. Pigs will eat rather more than a small flock of chickens, that’s for sure.
Also, as a side note: chickens do not need fattening up for winter. It’s just as dangerous to be a fat chicken in the middle of January as it is in July. It’s OK to include some fat in a chicken’s diet but you don’t want to lay on tons of the stuff and certainly not in an effort to get them to put weight on to stay warm.
Chickens Need Exercise
The bare minimum amount of space that chickens need to run about in is 10 square feet per bird but honestly? That’s not enough for them to get an effective amount of exercise.
Just as with humans – running around helps a chicken not just burn calories but also it helps them raise their metabolic rate so that they burn calories at a higher rate all day round.
Free range chickens rarely get fat because they have space to play and run around in all the time – those that are limited to small runs need more careful watching.
Also, one interesting thing about free range chickens is that they don’t tend to overeat. If they have too much food in their feeders, they just ignore it. It seems that a content chicken simply doesn’t have any urges to comfort eat. In that, chickens are a lot like humans.
But we’d recommend that you don’t leave too much food out for your chickens because this can attract pests such as rodents and/or insects. So, once you know how much they need – try to stick with that.
What Do You Do If Your Chickens Are Fat?
Let’s acknowledge that it is perfectly possible for a chicken to start gaining weight without you really noticing and that you might just wake up one morning and realize that your chickens are now a little on the portly side.
This is nothing to panic about. It’s pretty easy to get a chicken to slim down because you’re in charge of the food supply. Cut their daily ration of whatever they’re meant to be eating by 5-10% until they reach the healthy weight.
Don’t feed them any treats during the period of weight loss. Once they’ve returned to normal, you can allow a few treats to work their way back into the chicken’s diet.
So, there we have it there are 61 safe table scraps you can feed chickens as part of a healthy diet, though 11 of those scraps have mild caveats about their use. There are also 10 foods that you probably shouldn’t feed your chickens at all.
Chicken obesity is not a joke, sadly, and fat chickens will not lead happy, healthy lives and you may even jeopardize their egg laying if you allow your pet chickens to turn into porkers. So, make sure to take full control over how your chickens eat and don’t let the occasional treat become an hourly ritual.
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: