Rachel Hurd Anger
Chickens have a symbiotic relationship with our kitchens. They provide for each other, through us, of course. But, where do we draw the line on feeding scraps? Emma asks, “Is feeding cooked chicken leftovers (bones, etc.) to chickens bad for them?”
Some foods are absolutely not appropriate for chickens. Green potato skins and raw onions are two examples of dangerous foods. Breads and cereals aren’t healthy treats either. Too many grains—including chicken scratch—cause weight gain. Obesity in an 8-pound chicken cues health problems quickly.
Many chicken keepers are also gardeners. We create a system that helps to feed itself—more symbiotic living. If you have a compost bin, you probably know what’s supposed to go in it. We compost green waste (coffee grounds, grass clippings, food scraps and chicken poop) and brown waste (leaves, straw, small branches, newspaper, cardboard, and, of course, dirty chicken bedding) at a ratio of about one green to two brown, but 1:1 works, too. However, oils, bones and meat are not compostable because they attract pests—the bigger kinds we don’t want to invite over. They’re also too difficult to break down, so they will rot and stink. A healthy compost bin has almost no odor.
You Can Feed Chicken To Your Flock
If you have leftover chicken on the bones that you don’t want to eat, follow this rule: If you can eat it, your chickens can eat it. Feeding a leftover chicken to your chickens isn’t like feeding it to your dog. The chickens cannot physically eat the bones, so the bones aren’t a danger to them. What your chickens will do is peck off all the bits of meat, fat, skin and soft tissues you’ve left behind. In other words, the chickens will pick the bones clean. Serve the chicken where you can pick up the remains when they’re finished. Only give them what they’ll eat in the span of about 20 minutes, and then pick up the carcass and throw it away.
When You Shouldn’t Feed Chicken To Your Flock
If the chicken is a week old in the fridge and you wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) touch it, it goes in the garbage not to the flock. Bacteria growing on old food are not good for us, and they’re not good for our chickens, either.
Never feed raw or undercooked chicken to your flock if the chicken came from somewhere other than your own backyard. You’re otherwise at risk of infecting your flock with salmonella. If you process your own meat chickens under the sun in your own yard, your chickens will love whatever falls to the ground. While it will disgust you, it’s perfectly OK for them to eat their raw friends.
Omnivores Love Chicken!
Some people don’t like feeding chicken to their flocks out of concern that it could cause cannibalism. Cannibalism is a learned behavior that can be instigated by a number of different factors, including overcrowding, abrupt changes to their environment, poor nutrition, inadequate nest boxes and the sight of blood. Under normal, healthy conditions, your backyard flock will not try to eat flock mates if they get a taste of your leftovers.
Chickens are omnivores and voracious eaters, but they don’t actually know your leftovers are chicken. To them, it’s just meat. Remember that chickens are extremely social. Their social structure is paramount to how they function as a unit, and they do mourn when one of their own is suddenly gone.
I choose not to feed chicken carcasses to my own hens, because I use them to make chicken stock. My personal suggestion is to keep the leftover chicken and bones. Breathe new life into that carcass and make some soup!