What Do Chickens Eat?

These young bird brains willl eat just about anything.

If you've ever wondered, "What do chickens eat?" then wonder no more, because here is the answer.

It doesn't take much study around my chicken yard to figure out that chickens aren't that picky about what they eat. For the most part, chickens are omnivorous, and they're also blood thirsty. They love blood. Yuk!

One thing they don't eat is onions.

There are a few other off limits items, but otherwise just about everything is fair game for a chicken - even dirt and pebbles.

Let's take a look.

Chickens Eat Things That Grow

Naturally grown food is just fine for your flock of chickens. My preference is to feed my flock that which I grow. What could be easier and more economical?

Grass is a good basic food for chickens, just make sure they have plenty of it to scratch and tear up.

Grass is a favorite of chickens. If you have a patch of grass that you want removed, just fence in a bunch of chickens, and you'll have bare dirt in a couple of days - stems, leaves, roots and all. It's also excellent food for them.

Green leaves are soon devoured if you surround them with chickens. Weeds, flowers, vegetables, bushes and low hanging tree branches are all fair game for chickens. If it's green, they'll at least try it.

What do chickens eat at our place? Well, we love to give them scrap produce, and they like it very well.

Vegetables can satisfy a chicken's interest in food. They like summer and winter squash just fine, and will generally try to eat any vegetable that can be pulverized or torn apart easily. Photo left shows a few of our girls enjoying vegetable discards from a local organic food store.

Kitchen scrap are fed to our chickens and they love them. For root crops, we generally cook them so they're soft enough for the birds to eat.

Kitchen scraps are also a favorite for my chickens. They'll strip the meat off of a carcass or bone, clean up whatever you left on your plate, and eagerly devour vegetable peelings and cuttings from the kitchen. They are two-legged garbage disposals and compost makers. Photo right shows chickens eating scrap potatoes, cooked.

Grain is a favorite among chickens, but not their only source of food.

Seeds are the main diet of chickens largely because that's what we have decided to feed them. If you asked someone what do chickens eat, they'll likely say "grain" as their first response. It's true, chickens will naturally find seeds (grain) on the surface of the soil and just under the surface when they scratch things up, but they eat much more than just grain.

Chickens Eat Things That Run and Crawl

When we think about what do chickens eat, we usually consider stationary foods like what we might feed them out of a bag, but their natural animal instincts can have them chasing down their dinner as well.

Chicken do eat mice.

Mice can be eaten by chickens. If it scurries across the ground, chances are good that a chicken will be right behind it looking to turn it into a meal.

Worms are a favorite of chickens. It's one of the reasons they scratch at the ground, and it's the main reason they enjoy a nice patch of freshly tilled earth.

Bugs are spotted by the watchful eye of the chicken and sampled for taste. If the bug isn't a large hard shelled beetle, it probably won't last long with a chicken.

Chickens Eat Odd Stuff Too

When considering what do chickens eat, we're likely to think about food items...things we'd consider to be food. Well, that's not always the case with chickens.

Chickens are bloodthirsty critters. It sounds odd, but they are.

Blood seems to be an odd thing for chickens to eat, but they do. They love blood. If you butcher an animal with chickens nearby, they will come over to drink the blood and eat the ground that the blood has soaked into.

Even if it's the blood from one of their buddies, they don't care - they're there to feast on it.

Chickens are blood thirsty and can be cruel to one another. They will peck another chicken and basically eat it alive. You want to know what do chicken eat? I'm here to tell you that sometimes it's their own kind and even one of their kin. If the wounded bird is still alive and bleeding, they will continue to peck at it and eat it's flesh and blood.

Grit and soil are also part of a chicken's diet. It doesn't seem natural, but chickens eat small stones and pebbles so they can grind up seeds/grain in their gizzard. When you butcher a chicken and cut open it's gizzard, you are bound to find small stones and pebbles in there.

What do chickens eat? Clearly they like vegetation, as they've stripped the soil inside their yard, yet outside is lush green.

Notice the denuded soil in the photo above. Outside the chicken yard there is plenty of vegetation, but inside it's been stripped and scratched down to nothing at all. There should be no question about what do chickens eat, this photo makes one of their favorite meals very clear.

Generally Not This Stuff

As far as I can tell, there are only a handful of things that chickens don't or won't eat. Here they are:

  • nettles
  • thistles
  • onions
  • wood
  • dead animals
  • metal
  • plastic

That's a pretty short list, but that's been my experience as I have raised many a chicken to provide meat and eggs here at Best of Both Worlds. As you can see, when you think about what do chickens eat, it's easier to list what they don't eat.

Done with What Do Chickens Eat, back to Backyard Chickens

Chickens eat a wide range of things, many of which we might assume are inedible. That's why it's important to keep broken glass, string and other potentially harmful items away from chickens.

Here are additional resources that might be of interest to you as you explore the idea of feeding chickens.