Should you feed chickens scraps?
Most backyard chicken keepers that we know feed scraps to their chickens. But this doesn’t mean that scraps are good for chickens.
In fact, many chicken health problems are caused by poor diet. Feeding scraps to your chickens can cause deficiencies and ill-health.
Chicken keepers feed their birds scraps for many reasons: to save money on feed, because the chickens enjoy them or for the satisfaction of seeing food waste turned into healthy eggs.
But common kitchen scraps can be unhealthy for chooks. Feeding your chickens scraps can actually be very bad for them.
Why scraps are bad for chickens
Although chicken keepers don’t like to hear it, the simple answer is that scraps are bad for chickens.
You’ve probably seen how excited your chickens get when you give them scraps. There is a reason for this – scraps are like ice cream for chickens. Everyone gets excited about ice cream!
Like children, chickens will fill up on the ice cream and ignore more nutritious food, namely their feed, to their own detriment.
You can't apply the healthy food pyramid to your chickens. The food pyramid is for humans, not laying hens. So even though fruit and vegetable scraps seem healthy, they are still not as healthy as plain, boring chicken feed.
Most modern chicken feeds are labelled as “complete” feeds for a reason. These feeds actually are complete: they provide a chicken with all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that it needs to thrive.
If your chickens are filling up on scraps, they won’t be eating their daily ration of feed. If they aren’t eating enough of their feed, their diet won’t be “complete” because the nutrient-balance in the feed has been diluted by the scraps.
You may save money on chicken feed if your birds eat lots of scraps, but it is a false economy. In the long run you will lose out on unhealthy, unproductive birds and less nutritious eggs.
Good scraps and bad scraps
Of course, some scraps are better for chickens than others.
In order to produce nutritious eggs, protein is essential. This is particularly the case with modern breeds that produce 300+ eggs per year! Without sufficient protein, your birds will lay less and lose condition. Their eggs will be less nutritious too!
One of the biggest issues with scraps is that they are often low in protein. This is particularly true of what we commonly think of as “healthy” scraps, such as vegetables and fruit.
Fruit and vegetable scraps are usually low in protein and high in fibre. The fibre fills chickens up, so they don't eat as much feed or as much protein as they should. Because protein is so important for laying hens, this can cause real problems.
But fruit and vegetable scraps are better than really unhealthy scraps, which can cause obesity as well as deficiencies. And if you feed them in moderation, ensure your chickens eat plenty of their feed and give your birds a little extra protein for example Dried Mealworms, then a few scraps can be a healthy addition to a chicken's diet.
Good scraps for chickens
Healthier scraps for chickens include:
- Most fruit and vegetable scraps (cooked or raw)
- Grains and seeds
- Cooked meat, fish and seafood
- Cooked beans and pulses
- Eggs (ensure they are unrecognisable so your chooks don't learn to steal eggs from the nesting boxes)
But even healthy scraps should never make up more than 10 % of your chickens' diet.
Bad scraps for chickens
- Foods high in fat, sugar or salt
- Processed foods
- Raw potato
- Food that is mouldy, rancid, rotten or spoiled
- Dried beans and pulses
- Plants high in oxalates such as rhubarb leaves or uncooked warrigal greens (New Zealand spinach)
Feeding scraps to chickens - Dos and Don'ts
If you are going to feed scraps to your chickens, follow these simple rules to help your birds stay healthy and productive.
- Do stick to healthy scraps (see above)
- Do provide unlimited access to a complete feed as a pellet or crumb
- Do ensure that scraps and treats together should never be more than 10 % of the diet
- Do only feed as many scraps as your birds will eat in 10-20 minutes
- Do feed scraps once per day, ideally in the early afternoon when chickens have already eaten plenty of feed but well before they will fill up again before roosting
- Do pick up uneaten scraps
- Do use a dish
- Do increase the protein content and nutrition of your scraps with a supplement like Dried Insects
- Don't feed your chickens bad scraps (see above)
- Don't feed your chickens too many scraps
- Don't feed your chickens large amounts of one kind of scrap, particularly on multiple days
- Don't feed scraps more than once per day
- Don't throw scraps on the ground
- Don't leave uneaten scraps in the coop
- Don't put your compost bin in the chicken coop
- Don't feed your chickens scraps if it is illegal where you live (check your local laws)
How to keep food waste out of landfill (without feeding it to your chickens)
No one likes wasting food, so it is very satisfying to feed scraps to chickens and see the waste turned into eggs. But there are other ways that you can use your scraps without compromising the health of your chickens:
- Compost scraps and use the compost on your garden
- Put scraps into a worm farm. This will create fertilizer for your garden and you can even feed some of the worms to your chooks for a much healthier treat!
- Use the scraps to breed black soldier fly larvae, another healthy, high protein treat that your chickens will love!
- Bury the scraps in the garden for in-situ composting
Our chicken keeping advice is based on over 10 years experience keeping chickens and working with backyard chicken keepers. If there is something you'd like to know, Contact Us!
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook