What Not to Feed Your Chickens so They Stay Healthy
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Feeding your chickens a varied diet supplies them with plenty of nutrients for optimal health, can alleviate boredom and help with seasonal issues like heat and cold. But knowing what not to feed your chickens is as important as knowing what to feed them.
Let’s start with first things first. Chickens require clean water daily. And the best feed for chickens includes daily rations of a well-balanced feed formula from a reputable feed company. When you’re picking a chicken feed formula, you need to choose a formula based on the end-goal for the birds you’re raising. For instance, laying hens require more calcium in their diet to help them form strong eggshells. Roosters don’t really need the extra calcium, so they do well on an all-flock diet. Meat birds require a high protein diet and then a “finisher” feed as they get closer to their ideal slaughter size and weight.
Today’s commercial feeds provide lots of choices including organic and formulations for how your chickens are raised, like free range vs. confined. Each company has slightly different names for its products, so it’s important to check the back of the bag for the product specifics. Most have helpful charts and graphics so you can make a well-informed choice to suit your needs.
Beyond commercial feed, many people choose to feed their birds table scraps. This is a great way to recycle your unused food and turn it into backyard eggs and meat. It can cut down on your feed bill. Plus, it’s fun for the birds and for the owners as they interact with their birds when they’re getting a treat and enjoy watching their excited antics.
Once people go beyond commercial feed, they often have questions and wonder about what not to feed your chickens.
It’s important to make sure that treats stay just that…treats. The rule of thumb is 90 percent of a chicken’s diet should consist of quality, well-balanced commercial feed. The remaining 10 percent can be filled with treats.
After you’ve got the quantity right, then the rule of thumb to remember is that if it’s good for you, it’s good for them. If the treat you’re considering passes those two tests, then it’s generally alright to give it to your birds. Although there are some exceptions to know when it comes to what not to feed your chickens.
What Not to Feed Your Chickens: General Guidelines
Some of the exceptions for what not to feed your chickens are obvious.
While alcohol and caffeine are coping substances for many people, chickens don’t need an extra boost of caffeine to get going in the morning and don’t need a toddy to relax before bed. So, save the caffeine and alcohol for human consumption only. This also goes for spent coffee grounds. Many people use them in their gardens for plant health. Remember, if your chickens have access to those same gardens, then they have access to caffeine.
Chocolate is another food to avoid feeding your chickens. Although, who would? Chocolate in my house doesn’t last long enough to make it to the chickens. Sometimes, it doesn’t even last long enough to make it to every human in the house either. But, if you’ve got extra around, don’t feed it to your birds. It contains Theobromine which is the compound that’s toxic to dogs and cats and thought to be toxic to chickens too.
Chickens are great recyclers of stale baked goods, overripe fruits, and veggies that are past their prime, but moldy foods top the list of what not to feed your chickens. You wouldn’t knowingly eat moldy foods and your chickens shouldn’t either.
It’s also important to think about the quality of the treats you’re giving your chickens. Make sure you’re not giving them foods that are sprayed with chemicals to prevent pests and diseases. Wash your produce before it goes to the chickens or make sure to buy organic only for your birds. Plus, don’t overdo it with salty, sweet or fried foods. They’re not good for us and they’re not good for your birds.
What Not to Feed Your Chickens: Specifics
Beyond the general guidelines for what not to feed your chickens, there are some specific foods to avoid. In the chicken-keeping world; though, you will find people that feed these foods to their birds and their birds experience no problems. There are sometimes hot debates surrounding these foods. If your chickens free range, even part-time, you’ll find they get pretty good at “testing” what’s in their environment and are adept at avoiding potentially toxic foods. Chickens that are kept indoors exclusively and not able to forage on their own don’t have that advantage and are more apt to eat whatever is put in their environment.
Avocado – Whether the flesh, peel or pit, avocados contain a chemical called persin. It is known to be toxic to birds.
Citrus – Some people say chickens are sensitive to citrus, others say they’re not. It is also said to interfere with calcium absorption. On a personal note, my chickens won’t touch citrus if it’s offered. They’re normally pretty good judges!
Dried Beans – Beans that have been dried contain hemaglutin which is toxic to chickens. Cooked or sprouted beans are fine.
Onions – Although yummy to humans, Onions contain thiosulphate which can be toxic to chickens in large amounts. If some are included in leftover dishes, that’s ok as long as they are not the main ingredient.
Potato Skins – White or green potato skins contain solanine which can be poisonous to your chickens. You can cook your potatoes and give them to your chickens. Note: Sweet potatoes are perfectly fine to give to your chickens.
Rhubarb – The leaves are toxic to humans and animals alike.
Fun Facts About What Not to Feed your Chickens
Lots of questions surround feeding milk to chickens. The short answer to whether milk is on the list of what not to feed your chickens is no. Chickens are not lactose intolerant, but too much milk can cause diarrhea. You can feed small amounts of milk or its forms such as cottage cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, and whey. Just don’t overdo it.
Garlic also stirs up lots of questions. Does it make chicken eggs taste bad? Interestingly, many people say they prefer the taste of eggs from chickens that are fed garlic. They are said to have a more mild taste.
Luckily, the list of what not to feed your chickens isn’t long and the foods are pretty easy to avoid. The list of what to feed chickens is much longer. So, next time you’ve got some leftovers, head out to the chicken coop, both you and your birds will benefit.
Are you careful about what not to feed your chickens? Some say they are and others say they aren’t. We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.