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What’s Cluckin’: How to Feed Your Flock a Nutritious Diet

Well Friends, my chicken family just keeps on growing, I can’t quit taking on more chicks.  And as my chicks grow and are introduced to the free-range lifestyle, I thought I would share some of the plants my chickens like to munch on, along with what they cannot have.  I like to plant the gals their own special garden.  A happy hen produces plenty of eggs and colorful egg production is my goal.  I am by no means an expert, these are just some tips and tricks I’ve found to work over the years. 

Chickens are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. They are natural foragers and will eat a variety of things, including insects, worms, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.  Kitchen scraps are a great way to offer a variety of foods that can be beneficial to your flock, as well as offer easy post-supper cleanup.  

What does a balanced diet look like for a chicken?

A balanced diet for chickens should include a variety of foods from different food groups, including:

  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy for chickens and should make up about 50-60% of their diet. Good sources of carbohydrates include corn, barley, wheat, and oats.
  • Protein: Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, and should make up about 15-20% of a chicken’s diet. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
  • Fat: Fat provides energy and helps chickens absorb vitamins and minerals. It should make up about 10-15% of a chicken’s diet. Good sources of fat include vegetable oil, animal fat, and seeds.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins and minerals are essential for good health and should be provided in a chicken’s diet through various foods. Good sources of vitamins and minerals include green leafy vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Some of the best plants for chickens to eat include:

  • Grasses        
  • Clover
  • Dandelions
  • Chickweed
  • Turnip greens
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Berries

What NOT to feed chickens

One thing chickens can’t eat are members of the deadly nightshade family.  Members of the nightshade family are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A,  vitamin C, and vitamin K, as well as potassium and fiber, however, contain solanine, a toxic compound that in high doses can be deadly to poultry.  However, the levels of solanine in edible nightshade vegetables are usually very low and not harmful to humans.

It is important to avoid feeding chickens these toxic plants:

  • Avocado
  • Rhubarb
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Tea
  • Coffee

Chickens should also not eat moldy or spoiled food, as this can make them sick. Because I have free-range chickens and a couple of pot-licker porch dogs, I am watchful of what table scraps are tossed their way.  While an added benefit is a reduction in food waste, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid feeding.  

How do I feed my free-range chickens? 

The girls are offered plenty of fresh feed throughout the day.  In the chicken coop, I like to feed their grain.  I do use commercial chicken feed specifically for laying from my local MFA.  In the 10 years, I have kept chickens, I have never had issues with this commercial feed.  Additionally, I like to offer plenty of healthy snacks throughout the day.  Leafy greens are a favorite along with any vegetable with a seed such as cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes.   I do like to allow my chickens access to natural foraging of the entire plant all day long.  I have planted a small chicken garden with a nutritious treats such as oregano, sage, and lavender.  

I am a big fan of perennial plants and to my liking, the gals are not.  While I don’t have anything that would be considered a toxic substance or poisonous, it is just not a food source they are interested in.  Great news for my flower gardens!  While they will pick the grubs and ticks, and totally destroy my mulch, they just lack interest in perennial flower beds and all parts of the plant.  

Did you know one of the best ways to naturally boost a chicken’s immune system is by feeding them raw eggs?  While not a habit you want to create as they will begin pecking and eating laid eggs if you notice a droopy or ill chicken, a raw egg has been shown to help.  A raw egg gives them energy and is an excellent source of vital minerals and a great source of protein for an ill hen.  

If your yard is full of poisonous plants or is just not suitable for free-range chickens, an easy way to offer a diverse diet and healthy treat is to place garden plants in your chicken run.  occasionally I have to confine mine to the run and they love pecking through tomato plants, clover, and lettuce.  I like to line the outside of my run with various plants to add some variety for the flock.  A chicken’s diet must be diverse, full of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals.  The diversity helps keep happy hens and again happy hens lay lots of quality eggs.  

Enjoy a gallery of my colorful flock

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