Can chickens eat timothy hay? Well yes, they can, but it’s best if they don’t. Timothy hay can cause crop impaction (more on this later), as can other long-stemmed hay. My chickens love having yummy alfalfa to munch on, especially during winter. High in protein and full of green leaves, a bale of alfalfa can keep your chickens fed and entertained.
Alfalfa is one of the best ways to boost your chicken’s protein intake in the lean months without exposing it to the danger of overconsumption. It also helps deliver nutrients in a form that’s easy on their metabolism.
Unfortunately, local alfalfa supplies dried up this winter, leaving us (and our chickens) scratching around for potential alternatives.
That leads us to ask – can chickens eat Timothy hay? If so – will they eat it? Or – do they prefer eating on a fresh bowl of maggots?
Keep reading to find out!
- Can Chickens Eat Timothy Hay?
- Can Chickens Eat Timothy Hay FAQs
Can Chickens Eat Timothy Hay?
There’s very little nourishment available in Timothy hay, and chickens will generally not eat it unless they find the odd seed or two lurking amongst the stalks and blades. Unlike alfalfa, Timothy hay is very low in protein, making it unsuitable for chickens. The long stems can also cause crop impaction.
Crop impaction is nasty. It causes a blockage in the crop and food cannot pass through the esophagus. If your chickens like to eat hay (or long, tough grass for that matter), make sure you have plenty of grit available for your girls at all times. Grit can help grind down the hay so it doesn’t block.
Some chickens may not experience any problems eating hay. However, for others, it’s detrimental. So, we don’t recommend feeding Timothy hay as chicken feed.
What Kind of Hay Can Chickens Eat?
As good as it is? Even alfalfa can negatively impact your flock’s health. While chickens can digest the seeds and leaves, they may struggle with the tough stems.
These long stalks form a ball in the chicken crop, causing a blockage known as crop impaction. Gently massaging the crop can clear the obstruction if you catch it early. If it extends into the proventriculus, it can be fatal.
Chickens on a diet of Timothy grass are at even greater risk of developing crop impaction as it may be even more difficult to digest than alfalfa. Furthermore, they get little benefit from it in terms of protein and essential nutrients.
What Can Chickens Eat Instead of Timothy Hay?
You can replace Timothy hay with any greens from your garden – including vegetables or weeds. I supplement my chicken flock’s diet with blackjack (Bidens pilosa), clover, and comfrey, which are high in protein and low in fiber. My chickens also adore arrowroot (Canna edulis) and banana leaf.
Growing chicken forage is a fantastic way to provide greens year-round (except for maybe in full winter). I grow my forage seeds in mesh tunnels so the chickens can’t eat the seeds, nor scratch all the seedlings to pieces.
Most of our leftover vegetables go to our pigs, but the chickens would equally benefit from it. Damaged vegetables from your garden, leftover vegetable peels, kale, and spinach all make for a well-balanced diet for your chickens. They also thrive on fruit, such as apples, bananas, guavas, grapes, and melons.
In nearly every situation, even free-range chickens need extra protein. If they eat a lot of fruit or greens, they dilute the protein content in their diets. Tossing your chickens a handful of dried grubs or mealworms helps maintain their health and optimize egg production.
For these reasons – we recommend against feeding your chicken too much hay or grass. They need a properly balanced meal – with plenty of protein and vitamins.
When plenty of fresh grubs, insects, and vegetables are not available, we recommend feeding your flock a nutritionally-balanced chicken feed.
Can I Feed My Chickens Timothy or Alfalfa Pellets?
While it’s perfectly safe to feed alfalfa pellets to chickens, I’ve never found mine particularly interested.
They happily scratch and peck at a bale of alfalfa but show no interest in the pellets whatsoever. Feeding a timothy-grass pellet to your chicken will do no more good than Timothy grass.
That’s not true of all chickens, though, and numerous backyard chicken owners swear by the value of alfalfa pellets, especially during winter.
Can Chickens Eat Timothy Hay FAQs
We know chickens love to forage, free-range, and snack on the wildest things!
A few of our best homesteading friends always ask about Timothy Hay.
Can chickens eat Timothy Hay? Or not?
We answer some of the most common questions about Timothy Hay and chickens below.
What Type of Hay is Best for Chickens?
The only type of hay suitable for chickens is alfalfa. Alfalfa, strictly speaking, isn’t hay at all. Alfalfa grows similar to grasses but is, in fact, a legume. High in protein, alfalfa contains calcium and nitrogen and is highly digestible for chickens.
Your chickens may munch and snack on various hay or grass when foraging. But – they won’t eat that much of it unless they’re starving. We find that chickens love protein-rich food rather than hay.
Can I Use Timothy Hay as Chicken Coop Litter?
Timothy hay isn’t our first choice in a chicken coop for a litter area, and we prefer using pine shavings, straw, or rice hulls. We find that pine shavings work excellently. We also find that a lot of barnyard hay isn’t very absorbent. (But, we also read from a trustworthy source that hay and straw are safe for poultry bedding, so it should be safe to use if nothing else.)
Dry newspapers can also work as chicken litter. (From the University of Maine’s coop extension blog.) We also read that hay bale twine can cause potential chicken crop impaction. Chicken crop impaction is another reason to avoid using hay as chicken litter!
(We are also paranoid about moisture problems in chicken coops. If you ever use farmyard hay, make sure it gets 100% dry before use!)
Is Timothy Hay Okay as Chicken Bedding?
It is not our first choice. We advise against using hay for bedding in your chicken coop. Some grass hay is too green for bedding and provides an ideal habitat for mold and other microorganisms to thrive. In addition to dry pine shavings, we think large spruce shavings make excellent chicken bedding as it’s non-toxic, absorbent, and (mostly) free of tiny particles that baby chickens might try to eat!
What Should You Not Feed Chickens?
Never feed your chickens moldy food or anything high in fat or salt. Some feeds that are potentially toxic to chickens include the following:
3. Raw potato
4. Uncooked beans
If you want to learn more about feeding your chickens, check out the other articles in our ‘Can Chickens Eat’ series.
Can chickens eat Timothy Hay? They might – but they probably won’t like it that much!
There is no situation in which hay is beneficial for chickens. As a feed, it lacks sufficient protein, and as a form of bedding, it’s too prone to mold. The only hay-like substance we’ve found that chickens thrive on is alfalfa. It’s our favorite legume for coops and henhouses!
If that’s not available, giving your chickens a range of fresh fruits and vegetables, alongside a daily protein boost of grubs or mealworms, is the best way to keep them healthy and productive.
Also – we always advise that you seek a trusted family vet to suggest the best way to nourish your flock. All flocks are different – and different hens come in various sizes. (They have varying nutritional requirements – especially in the winter, when laying, molting, et cetera.)
Also – let us know about your experience
Do your chickens ever eat Timothy Hay? Or – would they prefer foraging for live insects?
We’d love to hear about your experience!
And – thanks again for reading.
Have a beautiful day!