Feeding chickens is one of the most exciting parts of having a chicken farm. It always feels nice giving your chicken flock a treat, and it’s a lot of fun watching them enjoy the feed you’ve prepared for them.
But some beginner chicken farmers may be wondering, can chickens eat meat? Is it good for them, or should you avoid feeding this to them completely?
Today, we’ll be tackling this burning question so that you know whether or not meat is beneficial for your chickens’ growth and development. Ready to learn about your backyard chickens’ relationship with cooked and raw meat? Keep scrolling!
Chickens Aren’t Vegetarian—They Can Definitely Eat Meat!
If you’ve never had chickens before, you may think that they only eat grains. You’ve probably only ever seen chickens eat from their feed, which is made up of pellets of oats, wheat, corn, and more. While the chicken feed is a great source of calcium and nutrients, it’s not the only thing chickens eat.
Chickens are not vegetarians. They are actually omnivores, which means they eat both vegetables and meat.
What’s funny about chickens is that they will eat anything that touches their beak. That means you can feed them basically anything, from apples to tomatoes, and they’ll enjoy it. This also includes any kind of meat, from raw animal meat to scraps of cooked pork from your dinner table.
Free-range chickens are usually left to forage for whatever wild meat they want. This usually comes in the form of bugs, worms, and tiny animals, like baby frogs and mice. So long as the meats are fresh, they’re terrific for a chicken’s diet.
Meat is an Excellent Source of Protein for Chickens
Chickens depend on the protein-based antioxidant methionine to keep their bodies strong and healthy. Without high levels of methionine, chickens are vulnerable to a weak immune system, leading to sickness. Chickens who only eat grains are susceptible to low levels of methionine in their bodies.
Methionine also helps chickens build muscle, develop their lush feathers, and lay healthy eggs. Without it, chickens will have a hard time performing the most basic bodily functions.
Because methionine is protein-based, chickens need to have a good source of protein in their diet. And meat has a reputation for providing high levels of protein. So, eating meat is pertinent to any chicken’s diet.
Aside from the benefits of methionine, here are other benefits of protein in the lives of chickens:
- It helps them regrow their feathers during molting season
- It makes egg-laying healthier and easier on female chickens
- It allows them to recuperate and get stronger after a traumatic event, like a predator attack
Meaty Treats for Your Chickens
Chickens enjoy the meat of insects and small animals
Mother hens forage insects, worms, and the meat of small animals like frogs and mice to eat and feed their children. For small chicks, insects and bugs are more than enough and are very nutritious. Not only are they yummy, but they also fit in the chicks’ small beaks.
It’s difficult to capture frogs and toads on your own. You also run the risk of killing them. Dead frogs should never be served to chickens, as this can lead to illnesses. Instead, let your chickens hunt these small amphibians down on their own so they’re guaranteed to be fresh before consumption.
It’s especially important to feed your chickens extra meat during winter when it’s more difficult for them to forage and look for animals and insects on their own. Here’s a quick guide to giving your chickens extra protein in the wintertime:
Can chickens eat cooked meats?
Some chicken owners may be tempted to give their flock some leftovers from their own dinner. The good news is that this is completely fine, as long as the meat you give them isn’t overly seasoned with salt, pepper, and other powders. You should also be sure that the meat isn’t spoiled.
When it comes to feeding your chickens meat, cooked is better than uncooked. Raw meats increase the risk of sickness and food poisoning, especially if it’s not fresh. Cooking the meat and chopping it up into bite-sized pieces is best for feeding chickens to avoid choking.
Fish is one of the meats chickens enjoy the most. Fish is high in healthy protein without too much fat, so it’s perfect for chickens, big and small. If you toss them some leftover cooked fish, they’ll eat it and leave behind the bones.
Chickens can also technically eat beef and pork. However, they can be quite fatty, so you might want to opt for fish most of the time.
Do not feed your chicken flocks processed meats, like sausages, hotdogs, burger patties, luncheon meat, and more. These are riddled with unhealthy fats and preservatives that could harm your chickens. They also have lots of unnecessary salts and added sugars, making them a huge no-no.
Can chickens eat eggs and chicken meat?
Feeding your chickens some poultry products may have crossed your mind once or twice. And though logically, it may sound messed up to feed chickens, well, chicken, it’s actually safe and healthy for them to consume.
Chicken meat is high in protein, so it’s an excellent choice for your flock. Make sure the meat is cooked and unseasoned before giving it to them. If you must serve seasoned leftovers from your table, just be sure they aren’t fried or coated in breading.
Your chickens may also enjoy eggs, which are rich in selenium and protein. Again, cook the eggs before serving them. Never feed your chickens eggs with the shells intact. This can lead to cannibalism. If a hen gets used to this, she might end up eating her own laid eggs later on.
The Risks of Feeding Chickens Too Much Meat
Although meat is terrific to supplement a chicken flock’s diet, it must be in moderation. Too much protein can harm the kidneys and liver of your chickens. You must balance it out with some fruits, vegetables, and grains.
It’s especially risky to keep feeding your chickens meat with lots of fat, like pork. This can lead to obesity—a known cause of sudden chicken death syndrome in rapidly growing chickens.
It can be fun handing out little pieces of meat as treats to your chickens, but make sure meat comprises just 5% of their overall diet. The rest should be from their feed and plant-based foods. Give them meat about twice or thrice a week at most.
Other Tips for Feeding Your Chickens Well
1. Balance it out with fruits and vegetables
Although meat is fantastic for any chicken’s diet, you should also try to balance it out with fruits and vegetables. The chickens may enjoy eating meat more, but just like humans, healthy food groups should be a huge part of their regular diet to get as many nutrients as they need.
Some fruits and veggies have vitamins and minerals that meat—and even regular chicken feed—does not. Here are some of the healthy foods your chicken will enjoy:
- Fruits like cherries, watermelon, pears, apricots, and plums (just make sure to remove pits)
- Strawberries, blueberries, and other types of berries
- Green leaf vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, lettuce
- Non-leafy veggies like squash, rhubarb, green potatoes, and eggplant
- Grains like corn, oats, and sunflower seeds
2. Don’t allow them to eat dead animals
The dead carcasses of animals are usually riddled with toxins and unhealthy bacteria that can give your chickens viruses and other sicknesses. If the chickens are going to eat meat, make sure it’s fresh and has no signs of rotting.
Plus, having dead, decomposing animals like toads or mice lying around in your yard is extremely dangerous where predators are concerned. These dead bodies lure cats, dogs, raccoons, and other potential predators into the coop, which can be a safety hazard for your chickens.
3. Avoid giving them dog food
Commercially produced dog food is formulated for exactly that—a dog. They’re not made for chickens, so they’re not the right fit in terms of nutritional value.
So many dog food brands also formulate their products with so many unhealthy, unnecessary ingredients, like artificial flavoring, preservatives, and inorganic matter. It’s best that your chickens stay away from these products if you want them to be healthy and have a balanced, organic diet.
Chickens love meat. Aside from being a yummy treat that supplements their feed, meat is also very good for chickens because of its high protein content. Protein keeps chickens strong and healthy so that they can give you all the poultry you want!
Some of their favorite meats include insects and small animals, like frogs and the occasional mouse. However, you can also give them some cooked meats, from pork and beef to even chicken and eggs.
The meat will significantly impact the health and energy levels of your chickens. Allow them to forage and find the best meats in the wild, and you’ll surely be happy with the results.
Got any other questions about what chickens should eat? Drop a comment down below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we’re able!