Feeding kitchen scraps to chickens is an age-old practice that helps prevent food waste, and some scraps can even provide a boost of nutrients to your birds when they are unable to forage for themselves. Though chickens do enjoy snacks, it is important to focus on providing them with a well-balanced diet. A chicken’s dietary intake should be primarily centered around high quality feed. In her best-selling handbook Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, author Gail Damerow states that, “Above all else, don’t overdo any single item. The resulting nutritional imbalance can cause slow growth, reduced laying, and poor health.” Appropriately sized grit should also be offered free choice at all times, as it aids your chickens in digesting their food properly.
We strongly recommend that you wait until your chickens reach 3-4 months of age before allowing them to enjoy kitchen scraps. Chicks have very specific nutritional needs during their first few months of growth, and offering too many treats can lead to an imbalance in their diet. Again, when you do offer kitchen scraps or foraging opportunities to your young birds, make sure to provide plenty of clean water and appropriately sized grit, too.
Please consider the following list of safe kitchen scraps to offer your chickens:
- Bread: Be sure to avoid feeding moldy bread. Other bread-like products, including leftover pasta, are fine in moderation as well.
- Cooked meats: Cut the meat into small pieces before feeding. Meat can provide a good source of protein on occasion.
- Fruits: Most fruits are fine to feed your chickens. Apples, berries, tomatoes, and cucumbers are a few great choices. Watermelons are also a perfect hydrating snack for chickens during hot weather.
- Grains: Rice, wheat, oatmeal, and other grains are fine for your chickens to eat.
- Greens: Chickens love greens, and adding them as a supplement to their diet can be a great option if your birds are unable to forage frequently. Lettuce, kale, chard, carrot greens, and spinach are all sure to be a hit with your flock!
- Squash: Chickens typically enjoy all types of winter and summer squash, including pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and zucchini. It is easiest if you split squashes in half before offering them to your birds.
- Starches: Cooked, raw, or dried corn and peas are all safe options. Your chickens might also enjoy cooked potato or sweet potato scraps.
- Vegetables: Most cooked or raw vegetables are okay to feed to your chickens. Some flock favorites are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
The following foods are unsafe for chickens, and should not be offered to your flock:
- Alcohol: Chickens should never ingest alcohol, as it is a known toxin.
- Avocado skins and pits: These contain persin, a fungicidal toxin, that can be fatal to chickens.
- Caffeine: Beverages that are high in caffeine, including soda and coffee/coffee grounds, should not be fed to chickens. Caffeine can cause an increased heart rate and lead to health complications in your flock.
- Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine, which may be toxic to birds, as well as other animals.
- Nightshade leaves: Do not feed your chickens leaves or greens from any plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Though nightshade leaves are toxic, the fruits and vegetables from these plants are perfectly fine for chickens to consume.
- Processed foods: Highly processed foods often contain chemicals and oils that are not natural for chickens to consume.
- Salt: Trace amounts of salt found in most kitchen scraps are okay, but overall, you should avoid feeding your chickens anything with a high salt content.
- Spoiled foods: Food grows bacteria and mold as it spoils, which can cause illness when consumed.
- Raw meat: Feeding chickens uncooked meat can expose them to bacteria.
- Raw potato peels: Potato peels, especially when green due to sunlight exposure, contain solanine, which is toxic. Please note that sweet potatoes belong to a different plant family, and do not contain solanine. Their skins are safe to feed to your chickens.
Foods that you should limit in your chickens’ diet are fish, garlic, and onions. When given in large quantities, these foods can sometimes make your eggs taste off.
If you want to offer your chickens a healthy treat beyond kitchen scraps, here are a few ideas:
- Hanging kitchen scraps or suet blocks from a suet cage or string is an excellent boredom buster.
- Scattering their food on an area of the ground that is free from waste, such as in your yard or garden, allows your chickens the opportunity to scratch and peck for their food, providing both mental stimulation and physical activity. Please note: you should never feed your chickens on the ground in their coop or run where their waste is present, as this increases the chances of parasitic infections and other types of illness.
- Scratch, dried larvae or mealworms, fodder, sprouted grains, and weeds pulled from the garden are all delicious and biologically appropriate treats for your chickens.
For more information on chicken health and best feeding practices, check out our Chicken Help Book Bundle.