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Can You Overfeed Chickens? Yep. Here’s Why!

When I first considered raising hens on my backyard hobby farm, one benefit rose quickly to the forefront – no more wasting food!

Two of my three kids are champion food wasters. Well, the chickens will eat it, soon became a normal part of the post-meal cleanup in our house. Over time, I learned that giving the leftovers to our hens wasn’t exactly guilt-free. 

So – can you overfeed chickens? Or not?

Let us analyze the answer in further detail!

Ready?

Can You Overfeed Chickens?

Yes, but maybe not in the way you think. Chickens will eat just about anything, but they will usually only eat what they have room for, which means they need the right foods. Treats like table scraps, seeds, scratch grains, or suet blocks should only make up ten percent of their diet.

If allowed unrestricted access to yummy treats, they will eat those first and may miss out on some vital nutrients. 

Huh, this sounds like my kids! 

We all love treats! But we flock shepherds should be more concerned about finding the best feed to balance the nutrients your chickens require.

There are also endless chicken-feeding nuances to consider! The answer to whether or not chickens overeat is not so simple. Let us talk more about overeating chickens and chicken nutrition.

Ready?

Finding the Right Feed for Your Chickens

feasting on oatmeal and homemade corn bread molly yates
Happy and hungry backyard chickens feasting on oatmeal and homemade cornbread. Photo by the author, Molly Yates.

Finding the right nutritional balance for your flock depends on the type of chickens you are raising. At each phase of development, your chickens need different nutrients. 

Let’s face it! The easiest thing to do is go to a local feed store and let the experts handle it. Describe your flock and what stage of development they are experiencing. And pay them to mix the feed for you. 

Even easier? Try a store-bought feed bag with the nutrients listed right on the back. Often these are labeled with the developmental stage they are meant to feed. 

If you are a dedicated homesteader and want to make your mix, by all means, have at it! But please follow some general chicken nutritional guidelines – we love the guidance from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

(Or, consult with a chicken nutritionist or a vet to consult a meal plan for your birds. Do not guess. Seek expert council. Your flock will thank you!)

We also want to share the following chicken feeding guidelines to help prevent excessive snacking or overfeeding!

hungry hens eating a delicious looking watermelon
Are you thinking of a healthy snack to reward your hard-working hens? Your chooks and roosters will love watermelon! During the summer heat, chicken ranchers love giving their coop frozen watermelon and other frozen veggies to help keep them cool. We want some too!

Feeding Chicks (0-6 weeks)

Chicks need food high in carbohydrates with an easily digestible protein source, like soybeans. Protein levels in chick feed should be higher at 20 to 22 percent

Feeding Pullets (6-20 weeks)

Pullets usually get a feed that gradually reduces protein levels as the bird ages. That way, your girls don’t grow too fast. Pullet feed should have protein levels around 16 percent. Pullet feed has less calcium than laying food! Feeding your small pullets too much calcium can cause bone formation issues.

Feeding Layers (20 weeks+)

Laying hens need increased protein, calcium, and Vitamin D. These increases help maintain good egg production and feather development. Protein levels should be 15 to 20 percent, and calcium should increase by about three to five percent from the pullet feed. 

Feeding Meat Birds 

Heavy meat birds and broilers need more protein than layers in all stages of growth. In general, grower feed given to meat birds usually has protein levels between 20 and 23 percent. Protein levels may decrease slightly if the birds mature beyond eight weeks.

mollys chickens eating oatmeal
Molly’s lovely backyard flock of birds eating oatmeal. Photo by the author, Molly Yates.

Feeding Mature Birds (Over 42 weeks)

As chickens age and stop laying eggs, we recommend switching to an all-flock feed with lower calcium and protein levels to avoid gout. Gout is an often deadly disease common in older hens.

How Often Should Chickens Get Fed?

Chickens should have access to food and water during daylight hours. Remember, there is a pecking order! And if you are only offering food at limited intervals, more aggressive chickens higher in the order may block lower chickens from getting the nutrients they need. If your chickens are free-range like ours, you can expect them to get some nutrients from bugs (including those pesky ticks), grasses, and plants they find while roaming. 

Read More – Can You Eat Male Chickens? Or Not? Are Roosters Edible?

Chicken Treats! Toxic or Not?

Chicken treats can still be fun once you realize you should limit them to ten percent of your chicken’s diet. Also – some treats are healthier than others for your flock.

I’m the queen of pulling up Google and typing can chickens eat – fill in the blank. My biggest surprise in the no category was avocado.

You know how the guacamole always gets brown on the top, and your logic tells you it would be acceptable to eat. But your eyes and brain just won’t let you? I want so badly to be able to tell you not to worry – the chickens will eat it. 

But avocados are toxic to chickens because they contain persin, which may lead to weakness, respiratory distress, death of cells around the heart, and edema.

We also recommend avoiding chocolate and caffeine – both are bad for your birds. Or worse!

Foods to avoid feeding to chickens:

  • Avocado
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggplants
  • Foods high in fat or salt
  • Fruit Pits or Seeds
  • Green Potatoes
  • Green Tomatoes
  • Mango Peels
  • Moldy or Rotten Food
  • Old Peanuts
  • Onions 
  • Processed Foods
  • Raw beans
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Spinach
  • Unshelled nuts
  • Grass clippings (chickens love grass, but giving them a pile of clippings can cause them to overindulge and create a crop blockage!)

Regarding healthy snacks for your chickens and roosters – you have endless options.

Here are some of our favorites.

(We think your birds will enjoy them too!)

Good treats to feed your flock in moderation include the following.

  • Fruits and vegetables (limit citrus fruits and be careful with strawberries)
  • Banana Peels
  • Oatmeal
  • Scratch grains like cracked corn
  • Fresh tomato, cut lettuce, kale, apple, toast bits, certain seeds
  • Fresh corn or frozen corn (thawed)
  • Butternut squash
  • Cabbage or lettuce heads hanging from a string (entertainment for the whole family!)

Before we forget – everyone asks us about mealworms!

Are they safe to eat?

Or no?

can you overfeed chickens
Can you overfeed your chickens? Share it on Pinterest!

Can Chickens Eat Mealworms? Or Not?!

Ever had one pesky hen who wouldn’t come into the run at night when you’re ready to make sure everyone is all tucked in and secure? I found the magic ticket to getting my girls to go wherever I wanted. Mealworms! 

Mealworms are like drugs (or, in my case, chocolate) to chickens. Mealworms are high in protein! And, again, a wonderful treat when used in moderation. Too many mealworms will quickly lead to obese and spoiled chickens! So don’t just dump the bag on the ground. 

There has been a bit of confusion surrounding feeding mealworms to chickens. In 2014, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) banned feeding mealworms to chickens in the United Kingdom.

The ban was because the invertebrate will eat anything as long as it is dead, including animals or manure. Defra was concerned about diseases spreading via transmitting animal protein or animal manure. 

However – it is legal to feed your chickens mealworms in the United States. And you’ll find them at most farm stores. The USDA requires that mealworms do not come in contact with soil or manure and have to be fed a sterilized food diet 15 days before shipping. So, lucky for US-based chicken and hen owners with girls who run rampant, they are not banned.

Read More – Do Chickens Need Lights in Their Coops to Lay Eggs?

Can You Overfeed Chickens FAQs

chicken flock eating mixed greens and healthy vegetables
We love feeding our chickens plenty of mixed greens, lettuce, and veggies! But – that’s no replacement for a nutritionally-balanced chicken feed. Too many snacks weaken their diet! Excessive table scraps prevent your flock from getting the nutrients they need.

We know there is so much confusion and ballyhoo regarding chicken feeding. So – we are compiling a list of the most vital chicken eating and nutrient questions.

We hope these chicken overfeeding FAQs help you raise healthy and happy chooks.

Conclusion

hungry backyard chickens eating lunch on rural farm
Feeding your chicken is expensive! Food makes up approximately 70 percent of the total cost of raising chickens. It can be tempting to supplement your chicken’s diet with cracked corn, table scraps, and forage to save cash. But – don’t forget that your chickens need balanced nutrition if you want them to flourish – and lay dependably.

Can you overfeed chickens? Technically, yes. But it is much trickier to overfeed them if you feed them a nourishing diet in the first place.

Raising chickens is a little like raising kids! Feed them a balanced diet, but don’t say no to every treat. Ensure your chickens are getting the correct nutrients from an appropriate feed. And then let them indulge – just a little bit.

Don’t let treats make up more than ten percent of their daily diet but by all means, let them help clean up your food waste. 

We thank you for reading our article about overfeeding chickens.

If you have questions or stories about chicken feeding – please share.

Thanks again – and have a great day!

Read More – Is Cracked Corn Good for Chicken Egg Production? Or Is Chicken Feed Better?

Author

  • Molly Yates is an ex-journalist turned backyard hobby farmer living in the center of Iowa. She is a mom to three humans and a dozen backyard chickens. Molly enjoys time in nature preferably with her bare toes in the dirt.