Chicken Eats

Our chickens have the run of the yard during the day and have taught me a whole lot about what chickens—or at least, my chickens—will eat.

by Audrey Pavia

Photo by Audrey Pavia

Mr. Molly after digging through the bark for bugs.

Chickens that live in coops are pretty much limited to whatever their owners give them to eat. But free-roaming chickens get to chow down on whatever suits their fancy. Our chickens have the run of the yard during the day and have taught me a whole lot about what chickens — or at least, my chickens — will eat. For example, they will eat:

  • small worms, but not earthworms (too big and squiggly)
  • grass on the back lawn
  • eggs that break by accident
  • the fly predator cocoons I put down in the horse stalls for biological fly control (Can’t do that anymore!)
  • undigested flax seed pooped out by the horses
  • bugs that hide under the decorative tree bark in the planters (This drives Randy crazy because they throw the bark all over the place, and he has to sweep it up.)

And then there is the stuff that we feed the chickens on purpose. They have become consummate beggars, especially Mr. Mabel, the dominant roo. Whenever one of us goes outside, he barges over, demanding one of his regular treats:

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  • chicken scratch
  • blueberries cut in half
  • apples, pears and nectarines
  • watermelon
  • cat food
  • mealworms
  • tomatoes

As much as we love to share whatever we have in the house, there are a few things we won’t give them because I’ve heard these are bad for chickens:

  • citrus fruits — too acidic
  • avocado — because of something called persin, which can be toxic.
  • onions — not good for dogs, so probably not good for chickens
  • garlic — unless we want our eggs to smell like an Italian restaurant
  • mustard greenskale and cabbage — can cause diarrhea
  • uncooked meat — can carry parasites
  • bread — can cause crop issues

Although our birds love treats, they seem to get their greatest enjoyment from digging around and finding their own stuff to eat. It gives them something to do and probably makes them feel very special when they locate a particularly juicy bug. Plus, these antics keep pests in the garden to a minimum. Can’t beat that!

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