Table Scraps and Leftovers for ChickensFun fact: chickens like to eat…a lot! Being omnivores, they will happily gobble down most anything you provide them with. This can be very convenient for us when it comes to disposing of our leftover table scraps and other unwanted food. Additionally, feeding table scraps can help cut back on regular chicken feed expenses. Your flock will be quite excited to act as your own personal garbage disposal whenever you need them to. Because of our chickens, we not only have a way of ridding ourselves of unwanted food without wasting it, but we also can take joy in the knowledge that many of these foods additionally add to the health of our flock and the eggs or meat they produce. But, before you go tossing them any and every spare food item from your kitchen, there are several specifics you need to be aware of as well a list of table scraps that should never be offered to a flock of chickens.
Table scraps are a form of treats for chickens and should therefore be treated as such. Don’t overdo treats and give out too much at once. It’s usually recommended that table scraps and any other treat should only take up 10% of a chicken’s diet. While this doesn’t have to apply to the dot on every single occasion, it is still a very important guideline to keep in mind. If you have an overload of leftovers, divide them and give them out over a time period of several days and not all at once. Plus, this way you won’t have to worry about the food being wasted as easily. Remember that the feed supplement you provide your flock, whether that be a layer ration, game-bird finisher, broiler ration or something else, should be the primary source of nutrition for your flock. Treats should just be extra.
The age of your birds is another factor that should be taken into account when giving treats to your flock. It’s usually best to not give lots of treats and table morsels to baby chicks. Wait until they’re at least 2 months to start introducing treats. However, a little scrambled or hard-boiled egg or something simple like oatmeal can be fed early on, just in small portions.
The time of day that you provide treats also plays a role into offering table scraps. If you toss out goodies in an outside pen or run, beware of predators who might catch a whiff and want to come find a treat for themselves. Late afternoon or evening therefore might not be an ideal time to offer treats, at least outside. The beginning of the day may also not be too wise since this is a hen’s optimal time of day to lay eggs, which you don’t want to distract from. Overall though, the exact time of day that you toss out treats doesn’t matter too much so long as you are aware of the predators in your area, security of your chicken coop, and flock’s sleeping, eating, and laying habits.
Now that you know more of the specifics on table scraps, leftovers, and treats in general, let’s discuss some of the benefits that comes from providing your flock with these various foods. It goes without saying that your birds will be very happy and entertained with their daily dose of table treats. Additionally, many of the food that we consume are quite healthy for our birds as well. Take eggs, veggies, and leafy salad greens for example. Just as these foods are good for our health, they will boost our flock’s immunity too.
Not only can table scraps be healthy for your birds, but giving them to your flock is also very beneficial to you. When it comes to composting, you don’t have to worry about the hassles of using a compost pile because your flock will do it for you, or you can simply let them loose to dig in your compost pile for an hour or so each day. Plus, the fertilizer that you have been working for and worrying about for months will now be ready for use within a matter of hours thanks to your chicken’s droppings. Additionally, less food will be wasted overall and your chicken feed costs will be reduced with the addition of table scraps into their diet.
Another benefit people don’t often think about is the simple fact that your chickens will be entertained with a daily treat visit. Let’s be honest, happy chickens are healthy chickens and healthy chickens make for a wonderful flock producing lots of tasty eggs. Chickens are also funny to watch when it comes to gobbling up treats. They’ll squabble over spaghetti, race to finish leftover rice, fight over fruit, and beg for bread, all of which will keep you and you family very entertained.
List of Table Scraps
Now that we’ve covered the basics of when, where, how, and why table scraps should be provided, we can finally get to the most important part of the article: what types of food to actually feed our flock! Below is an extensive list of all different kinds of table scraps that you can experiment giving to your birds. Keep in mind though that while chickens love to eat, they also can be quite picky. Therefore, your birds are bound to not like every food item listed below. Nevertheless, it is safe to feed chickens the following:
• Beans [cooked]
• Brussel Sprouts
• Cat food
• Cooked meat [yes, even chicken]
• Dog food
• Eggs [only feed cooked eggs as raw eggs might encourage your birds to eat their own eggs after they are laid]
• Eggplant [not the leaves]
• Garlic [be careful with how much garlic you give as this can affect the taste of a hen’s eggs]
• Potato [no green spots and must be cooked!]
• Sunflower seeds
• Sweet potato
• Tomatoes [not the leaves]
• Turnips [cooked]
• Yam [cooked]
Do not feed your chickens the following:
• Citrus [a little won’t hurt your birds but in general it’s best to avoid]
• Certain herbs [most herbs are fine and healthy to feed your birds. However avoid the following: Azalea, Philodendron, Rhododendron, Sweet Pea, Black Nightshade, Foxglove, Oleander, Castor Bean, Vetch, Henbane, Irises, lantana, St. John's Wort, Trumpets Vine, Morning Glory, Datura, Clematis and Honeysuckle.]
• Leaves from tomato or nightshade plants
• Raw beans
• Raw egg
• Raw meat
• Raw potato
• Spoiled, rotten, or moldy foods
Not only can you be creative with the kinds of treats you provide your flock with, but you can also be inventive in how you offer the treats. You can hang a head of lettuce from a string for your chickens to peck at, you can give them a whole pumpkin or watermelon and have them peck it open, buy a treat ball and put corn, oatmeal, or another grain inside, make them a salad, hang corn on the cob in the run, toss them the guts from your Halloween pumpkins, etc. Always make sure to scatter the treats in various areas so all the chickens can partake in the fun.
Seasonal Table Scraps
Believe it or not, there are some leftover scraps that are more beneficial to feed based solely on the time of year. When it’s hot in the summer, fruits, and otherwise colder foods, are best to offer. When chickens are molting in the fall and in need of more protein in their diet, give them things such as meat scraps, quinoa, scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, and dry dog food as these are all high in protein content. When the winter hits, it obviously would be wise to offer warmer, cooked treats. Corn, oatmeal, grains, and other small foods are great to scatter in the henhouse for the chickens to dig around and find. This will help prevent boredom. Additionally, certain food like dry corn will help keep a chicken warm as it sits in their crop overnight.
In conclusion, chickens can eat a wide variety of food from our table. It is convenient as we know not only is the food not going to waste but it also is bettering the health and happiness of our chickens. While spoiling our flock is fun and watching them eagerly devour the treats we offer is entertaining and exciting, remember to not overdo it. The fact that chickens so happily and easily consume our leftovers only adds to the fact that they are such sufficient and beneficial animals to raise. Chickens are literal garbage disposals and composters who will joyfully take care of any unneeded food you have lying around the kitchen, especially after holidays such as Thanksgiving.
If there is a type of food not included in these lists, be sure to research or ask about it here on BYC first before offering it to your birds. Below are several helpful articles and forums further regarding some of the things discussed in this article. Thanks for reading. Hope you and your flock have a wonderful holiday season,
Further on table scraps
Info on feeding chickens in general
Seasonal Changes/ Molting