Can you feed chickens human food or leftover table scraps? Keep reading for a guide to foods chickens can eat, what foods they can’t eat, and a free printable checklist!
Giving your chickens table scraps and leftovers is a great way to avoid food waste and add some variety to your chicken’s diet. When there are fewer bugs or dead grass during the winter months in Texas, this is even more helpful!
While table scraps alone won’t be enough to give your chickens a well-balanced diet, there are plenty of different things they can eat besides your traditional bag of chicken feed.
I put together a list of our favorite things to feed our chickens that are both great ideas for putting together your own chicken feed at home and a great way to save money.
Can Chickens Eat Food Scraps?
Chickens are often described as mini garbage disposals because they will eat almost anything!
Perhaps you’ve been wondering if instead of throwing away scraps of veggies used in cooking or leftovers from dinner, can you give them to the chickens instead?
Interestingly, it is illegal to feed chickens table scraps in the United Kingdom. The reason behind this is the fear of contamination from a household kitchen and potential for disease.
In most countries, however, it is perfectly legal to feed your chickens scraps or leftovers. In fact, it is a great way to reduce waste and save a little money on feed! It can also help supplement free range chickens in the winter, when grass and insects are more scarce.
The important thing is to make sure that you’re feeding foods that are safe for chickens, clean, and not junk food.
Can Scraps Replace Commercial Feed?
Scraps are not intended to replace chicken specific food, but rather to supplement their feed or to serve as a treat.
Like any animal, Chickens need a variety of nutrients in their diet to meet health and dietary needs. This includes a combination of protein, fats, minerals, vitamins, and carbs.
Chicken feed is designed for different stages of a chicken’s life and is already mixed into the appropriate quantities of each vital nutrient.
We make sure that our flock has layer feed free choice at all time (except bedtime). Once a day we give them a helping of veggie scraps or mealworms as a treat. (It also keeps them busy while I collect eggs!)
What Food Scraps Can I Feed My Chickens?
Chickens can eat many different types of leftovers, table scraps, and other food items, but they can’t eat everything. There are a few items to avoid, as they can cause digestive issues or are even toxic to chickens.
Fruits and vegetables can pretty much be given free choice, so long as you stay away from the few that are on the not-safe list (later in this post). You’ll notice that chickens don’t tend to over indulge on veggies and that they definitely have their favorites.
One such favorite is corn, and this is one of the few veggies that should be given in moderation, as there is not a lot of nutritional value. Chicken love corn, so they will fill up on it if given the chance, and may not get enough nutrition from their feed. That being said, I do treat them once in a while because they just love corn so much!
What Vegetables Can Chickens Eat?
- Broccoli (both the florets and leaves)
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- Tomatoes (only ripe red tomatoes)
- Cauliflower (both the florets and leaves)
- Calabaza squash
Fruits that Chickens Can Eat
- Apples (minus the seeds)
Chicken Safe Herbs
Meat & Grains Chickens Can Have
- Bread: While you should not feed your chickens a ton of it, a little bread here and there can be a treat
- Meat: For extra protein, you can serve meat that is cooked and cut in small pieces, again, in moderation
- Grains: Rice and wheat are two grains that are ok for chickens to enjoy on occasion
- Mealworms & Crickets: Chickens love these crunchy little dried bugs! They’re a good source of protein too!
Aside from mealworms (which we feed every other day at least), I generally don’t feed my chickens much from the meat & grains category. Bread is empty carbs so not very helpful in the nutrition department and any extra meat I give to my dogs.
What Foods Can Chickens NOT Eat?
As I mentioned earlier, not all foods are safe for chickens. This list includes some of the foods you want to stay away from.
Some of these foods are toxic to chickens (potatoes, avocados) and some just aren’t very healthy (greasy foods). Either way, it’s not worth the risk to feed anything on this list!
Avocado skins and pits are toxic to chickens. While the flesh should be safe, it’s not something I’m comfortable risking.
Dry or Undercooked Beans
People shouldn’t eat dry beans, as they make you sick. The culprit is a chemical called hemagglutinin, which causes red blood cells to clump together. It is present in undercooked beans but can be neutralized by soaking and cooking.With chickens, dry beans can actually be deadly. Fully cooked beans are ok.
Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous to birds. If you grow rhubarb in the garden, make sure that your chickens can’t get into it. While stems should be ok for chickens to eat, I don’t feed these anyway, just in case.
The nightshade family includes white potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. These foods contain solanine, which is toxic to chickens. Avoid these altogether.
There are mixed opinions on red tomatoes. Green tomatoes are not safe, but some people do feed red ripe tomatoes to their flock. If so, this should be done in careful moderation.
This is another category of foods that there are mixed opinions about when it comes to chickens. Lemons, limes, and oranges are probably fine, but chickens don’t really like them anyway and often avoid these fruits.
Coffee grounds contain caffeine and methylxanthine, which are both harmful to chickens. Actually, they really shouldn’t be fed to any of your pets or animals.
Like coffee grounds, chocolate contains caffeine. It also contains theobromine, another toxic substance for chickens. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it has. Avoid this food completely.
Apple seeds contain cyanide, which is poisonous to humans and chickens alike. While a person would need to eat a LOT of seeds to feel their effect, the potentially fatal dose is much lower for chickens. My girls love apples, but I always remove the core first.
More Foods You Should Not Give to Chickens
- Rotten or moldy food
- Foods that are high in salt
- Processed foods (leftover pizza, french fries, etc.)
- Strong tasting foods such as onions and garlic — these won’t necessarily harm your chicken, but may affect your hen’s ability to lay eggs or change the flavor of the eggs themselves
- Greasy food
Instead of feeding your chickens these particular scrap food items, add them to your compost pile instead. When in doubt, I always choose the compost pile to be on the safe side!
What Foods Help Chickens Lay More Eggs?
If you’re raising hens for eggs, you may be wondering if there are any foods that will help them increase egg production.
Instead of trying to find a “magic” food that will make chickens lay more eggs (there isn’t really one), focus on providing them complete nutrition. You also want to ensure that they are getting enough to eat.
Layer crumbles are a good base to start with, as they are formulated to have a balance of the nutrients your hens need. Then you can add veggies for vitamins and a bit of extra protein (mealworms for example) to round things out.
Water is also crucial — dehydrated chickens may halt egg production altogether. Keep clean water available to your flock at all times.
No matter what you feed your chickens, they’re not going to lay more than one egg per day. Certain breeds have higher egg production than others. Click here to learn which chickens lay the most eggs.
Free Printable Feeding Guide
We created this printable “cheat sheet” that you can print out and keep on hand. It shows some of the common food items that are ok for chickens to eat.
Learn More About Chicken Care
- When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
- How Often Do Chickens Lay Eggs
- Is Free Ranging Better for Chickens?
- How Cold is Too Cold for Chickens to be Outside?