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What do Backyard Chickens Eat?

This is one of Google’s burning questions on the topic Backyard Chickens, and for good reason. When you are doing your research on backyard chickens, whether you are contemplating getting them or just trying to refine your knowledge for your current flock, there is some conflicting information out there. With a good portion of the information you do find, having major key holes in it and not painting the full picture.

I remember starting my flock and watching hours of YouTube videos trying to find quality information. If you’re like me, how many times have you heard, “just do it, it’s easy, you’ll figure it out”. Uhm no, I want quality details and information, I would never recommend going into owning any type of animal with the “I’ll just fake it till I make it approach”.

Feeding baby chicks is slightly different, so for today let's talk about the nitty gritty of grown backyard chickens.

Let's answer...

What do Backyard Chickens Eat?

This is a good question! A lot of what you find on the internet will tell you chickens can eat anything and everything, and that they are the garbage disposal of the homestead.

Well, yes and no.

Chickens can eat a wide variety of food ranging from their chicken crumbles & pellets to tuna fish and watermelon.


Chicken crumbles are a type of chicken food that is exactly what it sounds like, crumbles. Companies take everything that is necessary for a chicken's diet, put it all together and create a crumbly feed for chickens to enjoy.

Your goal for backyard chickens is to find a feed that offers a minimum of 17% protein, as well as a calcium supplement to support strong egg production.

Chickens seem to LOVE crumbles, but there is a down side. Since the food is broken up into teeny tiny crumbles, and some larger crumbles, chickens can become picky and only eat the pieces they like/tastes best to them, or are simply the perfect size. This can lead to nutritional gaps. Not every chicken or flock will have this issue, but if you start to notice one of your chickens with a flopped over comb or softer than usual eggs–-it’s possible she is becoming a picky eater and is becoming nutrient deficient.

This leads us to our next food choice…


When I first introduced these to my flock they stared at me, stared at the pellets, back at me and basically said with their eyes, “what the f*ck is this”. But being chickens, after about five minutes they couldn’t hold out and dove right in.

I’ve noticed the pellets are slightly cheaper in cost, and offer the peace of mind that your chickens aren’t missing out when it comes to their diet.

*Note: For the highest quality feed and longevity in your chickens, opt for an organic, soy free, dye free and corn free feed! They will thank you for it, and your eggs will be worth $6.99 a dozen.

You won't be missing store bought eggs anytime soon!

Table Scraps & More:

Chickens can eat a wide variety of things that can be found in your pantry and in your fridge. But I do have some hard lines I draw as to what I give them from the kitchen.

Anything with yeast is a big no: bread, cupcakes, cookies, hotdog buns, hamburger buns, pizza crusts, pretzels, you get the idea.

While technically chickens could eat these items and be fine, we also have to remember chickens can be subject to yeast infections (an overgrowth of candida). This can affect their entire digestive tract, including their crop and how they break down food. It’s just not worth it!

A few more things that are a big NO when it comes to table scraps; chocolate, candy, uncooked beans or rice, any type of citrus, raw potatoes, avocado, dairy just to name a few. This goes to show they ARE NOT the garbage disposal of the homestead, and they should be fed mindfully and with care.

Treats they’ll love: Watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, cilantro, cooked eggs (people all over have a moral argument over this, but it is totally safe and nutrient rich), tuna fish, salmon, corn, raw oatmeal, zucchini, spicy peppers.

So, because chickens can have blueberries, does that mean we should give them a big bowl of blueberries every day? No, definitely not. Chickens need a balanced diet and table food should be given as treats and in moderation. Similar to how people can overdo it on sugary sweets and leafy greens, so can your chickens.

An overabundance of certain leafy greens can actually slow calcium absorption and affect egg laying, too much watermelon can cause diarrhea and dehydration, and red cabbage will turn your chickens poop purple (that one is just funny).

Keyword- Treats.

I cannot stress this enough: Everything in moderation, your chicken is not your garbage disposal.

Backyard Goodies:

Backyard chickens, whether you have a 4,000sqft plot, or 40 acres in the forest will make the most out of your backyard.

It’s a personal preference on whether or not you’ll let them free range full time, part time or only supervised with someone watching over them, but either way the backyard is a sanctuary for your chickens.

The spiders, the ticks, the fleas and slugs–oh, will your chickens be in their glory. My backyard was always a bit on the wild side, with clover and dandelions and wild strawberries even back when I lived on a plot less than a quarter of an acre. This meant lots of bugs, some I was a fan of, and some not so much. I wasn’t about to spray this unruly beautiful oasis of nature just because there were a few bugs I didn’t like. Instead, I used nature to fight nature. AKA, let my chickens out to kick some spider and tick booty.

The more time you allow your chickens to range in the backyard the less feed they will eat, since now some or most of their diet will be foraged.

Within a few weeks there was a noticeable decrease in my pest problems, and the chickens were getting some extra protein, weeding & fertilizing my backyard at no extra cost.

The Extras:

Grit: is finely ground up stone, pebbles, rocks, etc. that chickens will seek out and eat. The grit will rest inside of their crop and help break down food. Similar to how our teeth grind up our food before it reaches our stomach, food will pass into the crop, grind up from muscle contractions and grit doing their job, and then pass to the stomach. This is what allows them to swallow whole bugs or pieces of fruit. If your backyard does not have a natural supply of grit, it’s super cheap at any animal supply store. Buying in bulk is the cheapest!

Calcium: Your chickens feed will have calcium, but just like people, every chicken is different! This means some may need more calcium than others. By supplying supplemental calcium, you are ensuring they will lay strong healthy eggs. If you find your eggs are becoming way too hard, or have calcium deposits you can dial back the calcium. Supplying calcium could be as simple as throwing a few handfuls into the coop on the floor (they love to forage after all), putting it in a dispenser, or mixing it with their food. I’ve done all three methods and prefer to offer a separate calcium dispenser so I can monitor how much I am going through and how quickly.

Apple Cider Vinegar: A few teaspoons in their water will do wonders for your flock. They love the taste and the benefits are endless! Apple cider vinegar will help inhibit algae growth in the hotter months and is said to help kill bacteria in the gut. I personally use apple cider vinegar for my own gut health and wellness, so naturally it feels right sharing this with my animals. I have gone to my wonderful avian vet who gave me the OK on this practice. It’s not something I do year long, but definitely a few weeks out of the year. If you ever want to encourage your chickens to drink water on those hot days, trust me, they'll LOVE it!

Oatmeal: I know I mentioned this as a safe food for chickens to eat but there is a little more to it. I personally used oatmeal as a training treat, and here’s how. I would let the chickens out to free range and when it was time to go back in the coop (or I saw a hawk overhead, eekk) I’d shake the oatmeal container and the flock would come running! I’d sprinkle in the oatmeal, the flock was safe and sound, and I didn’t spend thirty minutes wrangling chickens. Win! Oatmeal should be dispersed in moderation as it can cause chickens to put on weight/fat rather quickly. My flock was starting to look a little chunky until I realized I had to dial it back with the oatmeal. As a treat or training tool totally safe!

You’ll see on certain pages people recommend using hot oatmeal to feed your chickens in the winter to aid in keeping them warm. I do want to note that this can be dangerous in the winter months, as the hot oatmeal can stick to their waddles, freeze and cause frostbite. There are better ways to keep your chickens warm–more on that later!

Scratch & Peck: This is a product I am a huge fan of come molting season, and winter! This high calorie food mixture provides them with the extra calories to keep warm and to supplement their diet while they are regrowing feathers. Chickens absolutely love this treat, I personally only feed this in the winter to help put on a little extra weight to aid in keeping warm during the colder months.

Bugs: At just about any feed store you’ll find dried mealworms to feed your chickens, and trust me they do enjoy them! To give your chickens an even bigger boost of nutrients, protein and fat feed them live bugs! You can raise your own, forage for them outside, or get them at select pet stores as special treats for your feathery friends, they’ll love you extra for it!

How to feed my chickens?

Since chickens are notorious for roosting anywhere and everywhere, you're going to want to place your feeder somewhere that will be difficult to roost on top of, and somewhere they won't be able to poop in. Avoid placing a big open bowl of feed on the ground, because I'll tell you plain and simple it's going to be covered in dirt and poop faster than you can imagine. Go to your local tractor supply and find a three-gallon feeder. These are designed to self disperse as food gets eaten, and make it pretty difficult to roost on top of them. We have a feeder that is suspended by a hook and chain, and one that is raised off ground level resting on a cinder block. If you are handy and have the time, you can build some pretty cool feeders with some PVC pipe or wood (designs to come!).

Keep your feed in a cool, dry place away from any potential food bandits like squirrels, chipmunks, mice, etc.

To offer options, I have two feeders outside of the coop and one inside of the coop. I find that with more feeding sights the need for bullying or utilizing the pecking order is less and less. I like to think the lower hens on the totem pole are thankful for this.

Remember, our backyard flocks are a huge part of the homestead, providing us lucky homesteaders with a sustaining food source. My official advice: pour as much love & attention into your flock and they will give every bit back.

Planet Homestead

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