Wondering What NOT to Feed Chickens? Here you go!

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Feeding chickens food scraps makes a lot of economic sense but they can’t eat everything. Make sure to learn what not to feed chickens to keep them healthy and happy! 

2 girls feeding chickens

Wondering What CAN’T Chickens Eat? Here you go!

I think it’s strange every time I go into the grocery store and see an egg carton that proudly proclaims the chickens were fed a vegetarian diet. If you have free-range chickens, you probably know that backyard chickens love to eat just about everything. Here’s the scoop on how to incorporate food scraps as well as what not to feed chickens.

A while back, I shared a post with some of our favorite chicken treats, but it’s safe to feed them so much more than what’s included on that list.

There really is reason to toss leftover food or food scraps into the garbage if you have laying hens. Not only can you reduce landfill waste by feeding your chickens food scraps, but you can also save money on feed costs too! Food scraps also provide vitamins and minerals your chickens will thank you for!

feeding chickens

What can chickens eat?

Chickens are not vegetarians. They eat meat, both alive and dead, and tons of other food too. I have witnessed my chickens kill and eat mice! They also eat a lot of bugs which is one of the reasons they are fabulous in your garden (after your plants are big enough to handle being pecked).

We feed our chickens grubs, tomato hornworms, mealworms, all sorts of nasty bugs that I wish didn’t even live! And I also send out meat scraps in my compost bucket. I think the dogs beat the chickens to the meat, but I don’t know that for sure.

That said, there is a general consensus on what not to feed backyard chickens. Here are a few things most people agree can be poisonous to chickens.

Here’s a list of food items that are really not good for your chickens:

  • Chocolate (why would you ever give away your chocolate anyway? It’s not for chickens or dogs.)

  • Green potatoes and green potato peels (contain a toxin called solanine which is bad for birds). Cooked potatoes are fine, but raw potatoes probably should not be fed to chickens.

  • Green tomatoes, tomato plants, and eggplant plants (nightshade family plants, their leaves, and unripe fruit can be toxic to chickens)

  • Salty snacks (chickens can’t digest large amounts of salt)

  • Raw eggs (eating raw eggs can encourage chickens to break and eat their own eggs)

  • Coffee grounds / tea bags (caffeine and tannins are bad for birds)

  • Uncooked rice and dried beans (cooked beans and cooked rice are just fine, but uncooked rice and dried beans are not good for your chickens)

  • Moldy food (some mold is toxic to chickens)
flock of chickens eating

Items I feed my chickens but some people say you shouldn’t feed chickens:

Here are a few things that are controversial. Some people say these items are not good for chickens, but I do sometimes include most of the items on this list in my compost bucket.

  •      Citrus peels (Although some people do say citrus is okay)
  •      Avocado pit and peel (contain a toxin called Persin that is bad for birds.)
  •      Meat, raw or cooked (this is debatable, but I do put small amounts of meat scraps in my compost bucket)
  •      Apple cores and seeds (cyanide is bad for birds)

Here’s what I’ve found. The things the chickens shouldn’t eat, they don’t eat. We eat lot of citrus in the winter when it’s in season, and I almost always put citrus peels in the compost. The chickens ignore it. They also ignore the avocado, which we eat a lot of too. I also include apple cores in my compost.

My chickens ignore banana peels and pineapple rinds – both things they could eat if they wanted. You may want to follow the no-list a little closer than I do, but as far as I know, I’ve never lost a chicken because of feeding them compost.

How to Incorporate Scraps into you Chicken’s Diet  – Multi-Bucket Compost System

I have found it is helpful to have a two-bucket compost system for feeding my chickens food scraps. One bucket gets all the food scraps the chickens like and actually eat, and the other bucket gets coffee grounds and other items that they really shouldn’t have or don’t like.

I toss the Yes Bucket in the chicken yard (not the chicken coop because I try to keep food out of there) and the chickens promptly eat the scraps. We put the the No Bucket on a different compost pile, but my chickens (and dogs and cats) almost always scratch through it anyway. I’m usually sad because very little is actually left at the end of the day for me to turn into actual compost.

Feeding food scraps to our chickens makes good sense to me, but it is necessary to know what you shouldn’t feed them. Do you feed your chickens food scraps? What are your thoughts on the topic?

mama hen feeding chicks (1)

Did you like this post on what not to feed your chickens? You might like these too:

Common Questions About Molting Chickens

What to Feed Chickens in Winter to Keep Them Warm

Favorite Treats for Chickens

Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter without Electricity

Keep Chickens Cool in Summer without Electricity

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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