Feeding scraps to chickens - Dos and Don'ts

Should you feed chickens scraps? 

Most backyard chicken keepers that we know feed scraps to their chickens. But this doesn’t mean that scraps are good for chickens.

In fact, many chicken health problems are caused by poor diet. Feeding scraps to your chickens can cause deficiencies and ill-health.

Chicken keepers feed their birds scraps for many reasons: to save money on feed, because the chickens enjoy them or for the satisfaction of seeing food waste turned into healthy eggs.

But common kitchen scraps can be unhealthy for chooks. Feeding your chickens scraps can actually be very bad for them.

Why scraps are bad for chickens

Although chicken keepers don’t like to hear it, the simple answer is that scraps are bad for chickens.

You’ve probably seen how excited your chickens get when you give them scraps. There is a reason for this – scraps are like ice cream for chickens. Everyone gets excited about ice cream!

Like children, chickens will fill up on the ice cream and ignore more nutritious food, namely their feed, to their own detriment.

You can't apply the healthy food pyramid to your chickens. The food pyramid is for humans, not laying hens. So even though fruit and vegetable scraps seem healthy, they are still ice cream for chickens. 

Most modern chicken feeds are labelled as “complete” feeds for a reason. These feeds actually are complete: they provide a chicken with all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that it needs to thrive.

If your chickens are filling up on scraps, they won’t be eating their daily ration of feed. If they aren’t eating enough of their feed, their diet won’t be “complete” because the nutrient-balance in the feed has been diluted by the scraps. 

You may save money on chicken feed if your birds eat lots of scraps, but it is a false economy. In the long run you will lose out on unhealthy, unproductive birds and less nutritious eggs.

Good scraps and bad scraps

Of course, some scraps are better for chickens than others. 

In order to produce nutritious eggs, protein is essential. This is particularly the case with modern breeds that produce 300+ eggs per year! Without sufficient protein, your birds will lay less and lose condition Their eggs will be less nutritious too!

One of the biggest issues with scraps is that they are often low in protein. This is particularly true of what we commonly think of as “healthy” scraps, such as vegetables and fruit. 

Fruit and vegetable scraps are usually low in protein and high in fibre. The fibre fills chickens up, so they don't eat as much feed or as much protein as they should. Because protein is so important for laying hens, this can cause real problems.

But fruit and vegetable scraps are better than really unhealthy scraps, which can cause obesity as well as deficiencies. And if you feed them in moderation, ensure your chickens eat plenty of their feed and give your birds a little extra protein by using Dine a Chook Scraps Booster, they can be a healthy addition to a chicken's diet. 

Good scraps for chickens (in moderation)Bad scraps for chickens
- Most fruit and vegetable scraps (cooked or raw)
- Grains
- Cooked meat
- Cooked fish or seafood
- Seeds
- Cooked beans
- Eggs (ensure they are unrecognisable so your chooks don't learn to steal eggs from the nesting boxes)
- Foods high in fat, sugar or salt
- Processed foods
- Raw potato
- Avocado
- Food that is mouldy, rancid, rotten or spoiled
- Chocolate
- Coffee
- Dried beans
- Plants high in oxalates such as rhubarb leaves or uncooked warrigal greens (New Zealand spinach)

Feeding scraps to chickens - Dos and Don'ts

There are some simple rules you can follow if you are going to feed scraps to your chickens.

DOSDON'TS
- Stick to healthy scraps (see above)
- Feed scraps once per day, ideally in the early afternoon
- Only feed as many scraps as your birds will eat in 10-20 minutes
- Provide unlimited access to a complete feed
- Pick up uneaten scraps
- Use a dish
- Use Dine a Chook Scraps Booster to increase the protein content and nutrition of your scraps
- Feed your chickens bad scraps (see above)
- Feed lots of scraps or a very large amount of any particular type of scrap
- Feed scraps multiple times per day
- Throw scraps on the ground
- Leave uneaten scraps in the coop
- Situate your compost bin in the coop
- Feed your chickens scraps if you live somewhere that it is illegal (check your local laws)

Other ways to keep food waste out of landfill

No one likes wasting food, so it is very satisfying to feed scraps to chickens and see the waste turned into eggs. But there are other ways that you can use your scraps without compromising the health of your chickens:

  • Compost scraps and create compost for your garden
  • Put scraps into a worm farm. This will create fertilizer for your garden and you can even feed some of the worms to your chooks!
  • Use the scraps to breed black soldier fly larvae, another healthy, high protein treat that your chickens will love!
  • Bury the scraps in the garden for in-situ composting

Do you want to know more about what to feed your chickens?

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Our chicken keeping advice is based on over 10 years experience keeping chickens and working with backyard chicken keepers. If there is something you'd like to know, Contact Us!

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael - Dine a Chook Australia