When it comes to raising backyard chickens, there’s a big difference between what they should eat and what they will eat. Chickens are notorious scavengers and seem to enjoy nothing more than pecking their way through the dirt, eating just about anything that they come across.
Chickens will eat – or attempt to eat – just about anything that fits into its beak, ranging from fruit and vegetables to small insects and bugs. In the past, chickens on farms learned to get by on scraps from the other farm animals but this meager existence, while enough to sustain them, meant that the hens did not lay many eggs.
This brings us to our first item that chickens SHOULD eat. Commercially available hen pellets are small pellets specially formulated with minerals and proteins to replace the nutrients that are lost when hens lay eggs. These pellets can be brought in large volumes and should be made readily available to your chickens to eat as and when they need them.
When you look at your hens, you will see that they have a pouch where their throat is. This pouch should be full of food when the hen goes to sleep to allow for optimum production of eggs during the night.
Calcium is very important for chickens and, whilst there is some in commercial feeds, you should supplement it with ground up oyster shells. Your flock will also need grit to allow their gizzards to function and digest food properly.
Aside from these essential items, the rest is up to trial and error. A good idea is to chuck table scraps, vegetables and even garden weeds into the chicken’s enclosure. They will eat what they like and shred up what they don’t. If you are feeding your chickens enough pellet food, it is unlikely that they will ever overindulge on one item, but you should be careful about feeding them too many carbohydrates such as bread. If they eat too many carbs and not enough protein, they will become overweight.
As a rare treat for your birds, you can try sunflower seeds or meal worm, but make sure it is a rare treat and not an everyday occurrence. Overweight chickens do not produce good eggs. It is also worth mentioning that chickens love cracked corn as a snack. Although chickens love it and will thank you for it, it is best avoided. Cracked corn has no nutritional benefit and gives the chickens absolutely nothing aside from empty calories. If you must feed them some, do it in winter and only in extreme moderation.
Finally, many people will feel strongly about feeding chicken meat to their birds. Many people will state that it is wrong or causes health problems. There is no evidence to back this up, but the same can be said that there is also no evidence to suggest that chickens need meat to survive and prosper.