Chickens are unfussy omnivores that will peck up just about anything they find, but as most chicken keepers know, while many foods are highly beneficial for chickens, there are some that are best avoided – so what about corn?
Corn is an inexpensive food that is commonly given to many types of livestock, and it can also be given to chickens – so in this post, we look at how to prepare it for chickens and how much to give them as we answer the question, can chickens eat corn?
Can Chickens Eat Corn? The short answer
Before we get into the details of chickens eating corn, let’s start with the short answer.
Can chickens eat corn? Yes, they can.
While corn shouldn’t make up the bulk of a chicken’s diet, they can be fed corn as a treat – corn is a good source of energy for chickens, and most of them love eating it, so if you want to feed corn to your birds, go ahead!
Now we’ve given a simple answer to the question, let’s delve more deeply into the various aspects of feeding corn to chickens.
Is corn good for chickens?
So chickens can eat corn, but it is good for them?
Corn is one of the world’s major food staples and is eaten in great quantities by both humans and livestock.
In terms of nutrition, corn’s value is mostly as a carbohydrate, so it’s a good source of energy for your chickens. It also contains some protein and can provide a small amount of dietary fiber.
Corn is known to contain vitamin B, but unless the corn is nixtamalized (soaked in an alkali solution), the vitamin B is not available to the body when eaten. This means most corn fed to chickens won’t provide them with the benefits of vitamin B.
However, it does contain small amounts of some minerals, including magnesium and phosphorous.
Furthermore, corn also contains lutein, which can help improve the yellow color of chickens’ eggs.
In general, though, corn is not considered a particularly nutritious food, so it should only be given to chickens as a small part of a more varied and balanced diet.
Is corn a “hot” food?
There is a belief – or perhaps a myth – among chicken keepers that corn is a “hot” food and so shouldn’t be given to chickens in summer because it will make them overheat. But is there any truth to this?
Corn is a source of carbs and is fairly high in calories, so it gives chickens energy to burn. Furthermore, corn helps fuel chickens’ metabolism and raises their body temperature during digestion.
However, feeding chickens corn in hot weather won’t make them overheat – any more than it would make a human overheat – so you can feed chickens corn at any time of year without any problems.
What kind of corn can chickens eat?
Is there any particular type of corn that chickens should be given?
No. Chickens can – and happily will – consume corn in any form they find it in, including raw, cooked, on the cob, whole, cracked, canned, dried, fresh or anything else.
Chickens will even eat corn husks, although these are even less nutritious than the kernels, so chickens shouldn’t be fed too much of them or they will end up missing out on vital nutrients from other foods.
There are two main exceptions to the types of corn that can be fed to chickens, and the first is salted corn.
This means if you want to feed your chickens canned corn, you should check the label to make sure it doesn’t include high levels of sodium. You can also feed chickens leftover corn from your plate – but avoid doing this if you added salt during cooking or eating.
The second exception is feeding chickens moldy corn. If the corn is moldy, it may make your chickens sick – and since they will probably still eat moldy corn, you should make sure it hasn’t gone bad before feeding it to them.
Is whole corn or cracked corn best?
Some people believe that feeding chickens cracked corn is better than feeding them whole corn, so what’s the rationale behind this?
Whole corn is essentially corn kernels that haven’t been processed in any way – they have simply been removed from the cob as they are with the hull (or hard outer shell) intact and are eaten like that.
However, because the kernels retain their shell, they are also harder to digest – and one way to get around this is to dry the kernels and then crush them.
In this state, the corn is known as “cracked” corn, and it is often fed to birds in this form because it’s easier for them to digest. On the downside, though, cracked corn also loses some of its nutritional value.
So which is better for chickens? Is it better to feed them cracked corn to make it easier for them to digest it?
Actually, although chickens don’t have teeth to chew the corn, they don’t have trouble digesting it because they have a gizzard, which in many ways works in the same way as teeth.
A gizzard is a special organ that contains stones that a bird eats – and the stones in the gizzard are used to crush and grind food that passes through it, much the same as when we chew food in our mouths.
This means chickens are quite capable of dealing with whole corn, so both whole and cracked corn are fine for them to eat – but whole corn will give them more nutritional benefits than cracked corn.
How much corn can chickens eat?
Is there any limit to how much corn chickens should eat? Yes, and we’ve already touched on this above.
Chickens have very specific nutritional requirements, and commercial chicken feed is formulated to meet these requirements – so 90% of their diet should consist of this feed, with only 10% being made up of treats such as corn or anything else.
This means when feeding chickens corn, the key word is moderation. Corn can be given to chickens as a treat, but if you give them too much corn, they will fill up on corn and ignore their regular feed.
This may lead to decreased egg production, and in extreme cases, it may even lead to malnourishment – so while chickens will appreciate corn being added to their diet, in no case should it make up the bulk of what they eat.
Can chicks eat corn?
Growing chicks have different nutritional requirements from adult chickens, but they can also be given small quantities of corn from about three weeks old.
By the time chicks reach eight weeks, they can be fed the same diet as adult chickens – including corn as a treat.
How to feed corn to chickens
One of the best things about feeding corn to chickens is that it’s a very diverse food that can provide chickens with calories and energy while also keeping them occupied.
As we mentioned above, corn can be fed to chickens in any form – as long as it’s not salted or moldy – so there’s no particular way you need to prepare it.
However, dried corn can be spread around their run as a scratch grain to encourage foraging behavior and keep them busy.
Alternatively, you can string up whole corn cobs at different locations around their run, which will give them something to investigate and peck at, reducing boredom at the same time as providing them with a tasty snack.
Just remember that if you give them fresh corn, you should clear it up after feeding time to prevent it from going bad.
Any leftover food should always be collected up anyway to avoid it attracting rodents and other pests.
Pro tip – give chickens frozen corn in summer
We mentioned above that the idea that corn is a “hot” food that shouldn’t be fed to chickens in summer is a myth.
However, more than this, if you freeze the corn, you can then feed it to your chickens during hot weather as a way to help them stay cool.
They will love pecking at the cold corn kernels – much the same as we enjoy eating ice creams during the hot summer months!
A healthy snack for chickens to be given in moderation
As we’ve seen, chickens will happily devour any corn you give them in any form, and they seem to enjoy it a lot – so if you want to supplement your chickens’ diet with a little corn, you can do so without any concerns, even in summer.
However, as with any treat, the most important thing to remember is moderation. Corn, along with any other treats, should not make up more than 10% of what chickens eat – with the bulk of their diet coming from specially formulated commercial chicken feed.