What can Chickens Eat? Scraps and Leftovers That Chickens Love (And Some They Don’t)
Backyard chicken keeping has tons of benefits, and one is an easy, guilt-free way to dispose of your kitchen scraps. Chickens are omnivores, meaning that given the opportunity and enough hunger, they’ll eat virtually anything – and turn it right into nutrient-rich compost for your lawn or garden! If you’ve ever wondered “what can chickens eat” or “what do chickens eat” the answer is pretty much everything!
Here at Little Onion Farm, we’re happy to give our birds pretty much anything in our kitchen that’s expired, soon to expire, leftover, overcooked, stale, etc. However, if you’re new to chicken keeping, you might be unfamiliar with what foods chickens like or what foods chickens shouldn’t eat.
Not all chickens will eat every food. Plus, they might not recognize certain items as edible at first, especially if they’re not used to receiving treats from you.
Once they recognize you as the treat giver, they’ll soon understand that your approach means snacks – and they’ll eventually connect that to any unknown items you give them. Once just one of your chickens figures out that a new treat is edible, the rest will quickly follow.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What leftovers can chickens eat?” or “What human foods can chickens eat?” this post is for you. In the sections below, we’ll go over the things we feed to our chickens, their favorite foods, human foods you shouldn’t feed to chickens, and other things that we don’t feed for non-health reasons.
What Foods Do Chickens Love to Eat?
In our experience, chickens go crazy for anything involving fruits, vegetables, or grains. Fruits and vegetables with lots of visible seeds seem to get their attention right away – they instinctively recognize them as the good stuff. Make sure to smash or cut anything with a thick or hard rind, like melons and squash, to give them easier access to the edible inside.
Our chickens instantly recognize most types of bread and go crazy for them. They also love rice and spaghetti noodles, but sometimes other pasta shapes leave them a little confused. Our chickens will eat leafy greens like lettuce and celery if there’s nothing else available, but they’re not the biggest fans.
Have you ever wondered what to feed chickens from your garden? Chickens will happily eat any fruits and vegetables that aren’t fit for human consumption, including rotten, infested, undersized, or blemished goods. Here’s some specific advice on some the most common fruits, grains, vegetables, and similar foods.
- Can chickens eat cucumbers? Yes! We recommend cutting them lengthwise so that your chickens can see the soft, seedy interior.
- Can chickens eat zucchini? Yes! Our chickens love zucchini, and they won’t mind helping you get rid of a few if you end up with too many during harvest season! Cut them lengthwise like a cucumber so they can access the inside easily for best results.
- Can chickens eat green beans? Yes – but we recommend cooking them first. Raw green beans are also mostly safe, but they may find them difficult to eat, and too many can upset their stomachs.
- Can chickens eat pumpkins? Yes! Chickens are a healthy and delicious snack for your chickens. Everything from the shell to the seeds is edible. Don’t forget to try the pumpkin carving challenge with your flock during the Halloween holiday, too!
- Can chickens eat peas? Yes! Peas are a delicious snack for your birds, and they can eat them raw or cooked.
- Can chickens eat squash? Yes! Some squash can have hard shells, so you may need to break them open first, but just like with pumpkins, your chickens can enjoy everything on the inside.
- Can chickens eat broccoli? Yes – but they don’t like it much. You may have better luck if you boil or steam it first, making it easier for your chickens to eat. Our chickens will eat broccoli tops, but usually leave the stems behind.
- Can chickens eat cauliflower? Yes – but like with broccoli, they may only pick at them. If you boil or steam them first to make them soft, your chickens may like them better.
- Can chickens eat kale? Yes! Kale is a superfood for chickens and humans alike, and if you can get your chickens to eat it, kale will provide your flock with a nice nutrition boost.
- Can chickens eat cabbage? Yes! Some – but not all – chickens love green, leafy veggies like cabbage. They’ll love it even more if you feed them a garden reject that’s full of bugs.
- Can chickens eat brussels sprouts? Yes! Again, you may want to boil or steam them to make them easier for your chickens to eat. Plus, your chickens can eat the sprouts and the stems.
- Can chickens eat potatoes? Yes! However, just like humans, they should never eat green potatoes. They can eat potato chips, fries, mashed potatoes, hash browns, and all cooked forms of potatoes. However, they should only eat the tubers, not any other part of the plant.
- Can chickens eat sweet potatoes? Yes! Chickens can actually eat every part of the sweet potato, from the stems, to the leaves, to the tubers themselves. They make a fantastic and healthy snack!
- Can chickens eat carrots? Yes – but they’re difficult for them to eat. You may have better luck if you steam or boil them first. They may enjoythe carrot greens, too!
- Can chickens eat radishes? Yes! Radishes are wonderfully hydrating for chickens, so they make a fantastic summertime snack. Your chickens can eat the whole radish, too, including the tops.
- Can chickens eat beets? Yes! Beets are loaded with fiber and all sorts of nutrients, so they make a great snack for your flock. Your chickens can eat every part of the beet plant, including the stems and leaves.
- Can chickens eat celery? Yes – but in our experience, they don’t like it much. You may have better luck if you boil or steam your celery first, making it easier for them to eat.
- Can chickens eat tomatoes? Yes! However, they shouldn’t eat unripe, green tomatoes, just like people. They also shouldn’t eat any other part of the plant.
- Can chickens eat bell peppers? Yes! Chickens love bell peppers, especially if you make sure to show them the yummy seeds inside. However, they can’t eat any other part of the plant – just the peppers themselves are safe.
- Can chickens eat asparagus? Yes – however, like broccoli and carrots, you may want to boil or steam it first. They may not know what to do with hard, uncooked asparagus.
- Can chickens eat eggplant? Yes – but as with other nightshades, they can only eat the fruits. All other parts of the plant are poisonous.
- Can chickens eat corn? Yes! Corn is a regular part of most chickens’ diets, and they’ll enjoy it both cooked and fresh. However, it shouldn’t be the only thing they eat, as it doesn’t have enough nutritional variety.
- Can chickens eat spinach? Yes – if you can get them to eat it! Spinach is full of nutrients and minerals, so it makes a great snack for your hungry flock.
- Can chickens eat lettuce? Yes! Our chickens here at Little Onion Farm aren’t the biggest fans of leafy greens, but they’re still a refreshing, hydrating addition to your birds’ diet.
- Can chickens eat strawberries? Yes! Chickens love whole strawberries, and ours will eat strawberry tops, too.
- Can chickens eat blueberries? Yes! Our chickens love blueberries, and they make a healthy, antioxidant-rich snack – but be aware that they may stain white chickens’ feathers!
- Can chickens eat blackberries? Yes! Blackberries are totally safe for chickens to eat, and they make a healthy, if messy, snack.
- Can chickens eat cranberries? Yes! Chickens can eat all cranberries, whether fresh, dried, or jellied. Fresh cranberries have high fiber and low sugar compared to most fruits. Avoid feeding them too much jellied cranberries, as they can be very sugary.
- Can chickens eat raspberries? Yes! Raspberries are nutritious and delicious, and our chickens here at the farm really go crazy for them. We like to feed any soft or smashed berries to our birds after we’ve eaten the good ones.
- Can chickens eat grapes? Yes! Grapes are an awesome healthy snack for chickens, but don’t feed grapes to your other pets – they’re highly poisonous to dogs and cats.
- Can chickens eat watermelon? Yes! Watermelon is a refreshing and delicious treat for chickens, especially in the summertime, since it’s so hydrating.
- Can chickens eat cantaloupe? Yes! Like with other hard-shelled foods, you should break it open first to give your chickens easier access to the inside.
- Can chickens eat kiwi? Yes! Kiwis are full of nutrients and minerals for your chickens. Our flock loves to eat the peels when we’re done eating the yummy fruit inside.
- Can chickens eat cherries? Yes – as long as you pit them first. Cherry pits are toxic, and your chickens should never get the opportunity to eat them.
- Can chickens eat peaches? Yes! Chickens love soft fruits like peaches, but make sure to remove the pit before offering them – the pits contain toxic compounds.
- Can chickens eat mango? Yes! We feed our chickens whole magos – they’ll eat right around the large pit and leave the peel behind.
- Can chickens eat plums? Yes – just remove the pit fist, as you would with other stone fruits.
- Can chickens eat pineapple? Yes! We give our chickens the peels and cores from our pineapples, and they’ll pick away any remaining fruit. They don’t do much with the leafy tops, though.
- Can chickens eat apples? Yes! In small quantities, whole apples are totally fine for chickens to eat. However, apple seeds can be toxic in large quantities, so consider removing the seeds first if you have a small flock.
- Can chickens eat bananas? Yes! Bananas are an especially popular chicken snack at Little Onion Farm since they’re so easy to bite into. You can even give them your banana peels and they’ll pick them clean!
- Can chickens eat pears? Yes! Chickens can safely consume the entire pear, including the seeds. However, pears are full of sugar, so don’t feed them too many at once!
- Can chickens eat papaya? Yes! Papaya (Carica papaya) is great for chickens, and they can eat the entire fruit, from flesh to seeds. Some studies have even shown that papayas can exhibit antibacterial properties in chickens. However, don’t feed them too much – papayas are quite sweet and sugary!
- Can chickens eat pomegranates? Yes! Pomegranates are totally safe for chickens to eat, and they can eat the entire fruit, including the white pith.
- Can chickens eat rice? Yes – but avoid feeding them uncooked rice. Rice itself isn’t very nutritionally dense, so it should be an infrequent snack rather than something they eat regularly.
- Can chickens eat bread? Yes! Chickens love bread, and while it doesn’t have the best nutrition for them, it makes a great occasional treat.
- Can chickens eat pasta? Yes – as long as it’s cooked. Chickens especially love spaghetti, which looks like yummy, delicious worms!
- Can chickens eat oatmeal? Yes! As long as your oatmeal isn’t sweetened with any unsafe compounds (like xylitol or birch sugar), your chickens will love some oatmeal as a snack.
- Can chickens eat oats? Yes! However, make sure to feed oats to your birds in moderation, as too much can cause digestive upsets.
Keep in mind that not all of the categories in this post may be 100% correct in an academic sense… You’ve probably heard that a tomato is a fruit, for an example, or that a strawberry is an accessory fruit, not a berry. The sections above and hereforth are just to increase readability and make it easier to find what you’re looking for. We apologize for any confusion!
What Foods Are Bad for Chickens?
Chickens are pretty hardy creatures. Very few foods can kill a chicken outright, but there are some out there you should be aware of. Fortunately, chickens are very instinctive, so even if you accidentally feed them something bad, they’ll often avoid it anyway as long as they aren’t too hungry.
The main thing to keep in mind here is that free range chickens often have access to harmful and unhealthy foods that caged chickens do not. However, as long as they have enough of their preferred foods to eat, they’ll usually avoid them anyways. That being said, if you free range your chickens, take note of any wild fruits, vegetables, berries, or other plants that might be harmful to them. It might be a good idea to fence these areas off or eradicate any wild harmful species.
Here’s some more specific advice about chicken-unfriendly foods that you might come across.
- Can chickens eat onions? No. Just like with dogs and cats, onions can be extremely toxic to chickens. A few onion slices once in a while shouldn’t do any damage, but you should never intentionally feed onions to your chickens.*
- Can chickens eat mushrooms? Maybe. Human-safe mushrooms are generally considered safe for chickens to eat, but our chickens won’t eat mushrooms regardless. Your chickens shouldn’t eat any wild mushrooms that you wouldn’t eat yourself.
- Can chickens eat beans? NO. Raw and dried beans are extremely toxic to chickens, even in very small amounts. Green beans are usually safe for chickens to eat, but kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and other legumes are not safe unless properly cooked. At Little Onion Farm, we avoid feeding our chickens beans altogether just to be safe.
- Can chickens eat garlic? Maybe. We don’t feed them garlic here at Little Onion Farm, as it contains the same poisonous compounds as onions.*
*An extended note about onions, garlic, and other alliums: Onions and garlic are unsafe for many household pets, as they contain sulfides (disulphides and thiosulfinates) that damage red blood cells. All plants in the allium family, including leeks, garlic, onions, and chives, contain these toxins in varying amounts.
Some flock owners choose to supplement their chickens’ feed with garlic as a parasite preventative and general health aid. At Little Onion Farm, we believe it isn’t worth it due to the potential health risks involved. Whether you use it or not is up to your own discretion. If you’re thinking of supplementing your flock with garlic, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian first.
- Can chickens eat oranges? Maybe. The safety of citrus fruits for chickens is a hotly-debated topic in the backyard chicken community. At our farm, we give our chickens oranges on occasion, but we keep it to a minimum. If you have a citrus tree of some kind on your property, it may be a good idea to fence it off if you notice your birds eating a lot of the fruit.
- Can chickens eat lemons? Maybe. Lemons sit in the same questionable area as oranges, but chickens don’t seem to like them as much because of the sourness. Lemons are most likely fine for chickens to eat in moderation.
- Can chickens eat avocado? NO. A little bit of avocado flesh is usually OK in very small amounts (for example, a little guacamole with a leftover burrito would probably be fine). However, never give your chickens an entire avocado to eat. Similarly, if you have an avocado tree that your chickens can access, you should fence it off or net it so they can’t get to the fruit. The stone and skin are the most poisonous parts of the avocado, so take special care to never let your chickens eat them.
- Can chickens eat chocolate? No. In small amounts, chocolate shouldn’t bother your chickens, but just like with other household pets, large amounts can be toxic.
- Can chickens eat moldy food? Maybe. Moldy food can be a bad idea, but we tend to bend this rule here at the Farm. As long as it’s just a few small mold spots, it should be fine for your birds, but we urge you to use your own best judgment.
Some fruit seeds are considered unsafe for chickens. As long as your chickens don’t eat them too often, these seeds should not cause an issue. That being said, you can never be too cautious! Avoid giving your chickens the following:
- Cherry pits
- Apricot pits
- Apple seeds
- Peach pits
Avoid excessive amounts of sugary fruit. Chickens love fruit and will appreciate all of the vitamins and minerals they provide, but too much sugar is just as bad for chickens as it is for humans.
When in doubt, consult this page for an exhaustive list of potential and confirmed chicken foods/plants to be aware of.
Food spoilage is an enormous problem both worldwide and nationally. I know that I, personally, tend to buy way more than I need when I grocery shop, and since I’m a huge fan of fresh fruit and veggies, a frustrating portion of that tends to go bad. While my chickens always appreciate anything that I don’t get around to eating in time, I think that Food Huggers provides an ingenious, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly alternative with their reusable silicone and fabric storage solutions.
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Can Chickens Eat Meat?
The main food we avoid feeding our chickens by choice – not because of health reasons – is meat. Can chickens eat meat? Absolutely – even though we don’t tend to think of them as meat eaters, chickens are omnivores, and they will happily eat insects, reptiles, amphibians, and even small mammals like mice when given the opportunity. Essentially, anything they can safely swallow or break into small enough pieces, they will eat.
We generally avoid giving the chickens large quantities of meat or very tough cuts, and we never feed them raw meat. Not because they can’t have it, but because raw meat can attract unwanted predators that might want it for themselves!
Raw meat can attract other unwanted pests, too, such as ants, wasps, rats, flies (which eventually lead to maggots, ew), and more. We do feed our chickens small amounts of leftover cooked meat if we’re confident that they will be able to finish it quickly – small cuts, like ground meat and lunchmeat, are generally best. Our chickens will also happily pick at shrimp tails, fish, and other seafoods.
This may seem a little like cannibalism, but we urge you to consider feeding your chickens eggs! Chickens love eggs, to the point that egg eating can become a behavioral problem in some flocks because they enjoy them so much. It’s important to do this the right way so that your chickens don’t learn to associate the eggs they lay with food. The best way to do this is with egg loafs or scrambled eggs.
If you have a lot of eggs that are about to go bad or that you don’t want to eat yourself, cook them into an egg loaf. To do this, just grease a loaf pan (the type you’d use to make bread or meatloaf), fill it with your eggs, then place it into a large pot with an inch or two of water – not enough to overflow the loaf pan, but enough to boil. Then, cover the entire pot with a lid and simmer until the eggs in the loaf pan fully cook. Once it’s completely cool, you can easily scoop out the loaf and feed it directly to your chickens. They’ll love it!
If you only have a few bad eggs to get rid of, a quick batch of scrambled eggs is even easier than making an egg loaf. We like to make our chickens scrambled eggs when we have a few cracked or poo-covered eggs that we’d rather not eat.
Egg shells make an amazing supplement for laying hens, too, as they help reclaim some of the calcium and minerals that hens lose when laying. Make sure to save them whenever you can!
The best way we’ve found to process egg shells is to dry them out (either in your oven or in a sunny spot), then buzz them in a blender or food processor. You can crush them by hand, too, if you prefer – just make sure there aren’t any sharp edges left that might make it hard for your chickens to eat them.
With that done, you can add the egg shell powder to your chickens’ food for an extra boost of minerals. You can use this powder as garden fertilizer for vitamin-hungry plants, too.
Weird and Surprising Foods that Chickens Love
If you own chickens, you’ve probably experimented with feeding them fruits and vegetables already. We love discovering new things that the chickens like to eat and keeping track of what improves their health. Our birds are very easy keepers, but we haven’t gotten there without lots of trial and error! You might have to offer some of these foods multiple times before your chickens will eat them, but we highly encourage you to give it a shot anyways.
- Can chickens eat popcorn? Absolutely! However, don’t feed them salty or buttery popcorn too often. Plain popcorn is fine, and they love it!
- Can chickens eat raisins? Absolutely! While raisins aren’t safe for dogs and cats, just like grapes, they’re perfectly safe for chickens.
- Can chickens eat pickles? Yes, in moderation. Pickles contain lots of salt and vinegar, which aren’t good for your chickens in large amounts.
- Can chickens eat crackers and chips? Absolutely! Potato chips, corn chips, saltine crackers, wheat crackers, and many more crunchy snacks are safe for chickens. However, make sure to feed them in moderation, as these crunchables tend to be salty.
Nuts and Seeds
- Can chickens eat almonds? Yes – in moderation.
- Can chickens eat peanuts? Yes – however, they should be fed in moderation.
- Can chickens eat walnuts? Yes – just be careful to remove all hulls and hull fragments first.
- Can chickens eat sunflower seeds? Absolutely! Sunflower seeds are a fantastic source of oils and fats for your birds. You may even see sunflower seeds in some chicken foods and scratch mixes.
Meats and Cheeses
- Can chickens eat cheese? Absolutely! Our chickiens love cheese, and it makes a healthy, fatty, nutrient-rich snack. Especially shredded cheese – they love it because it looks like worms or grubs!
- Can chickens eat shrimp? Absolutely! We even give our chickens spent shrimp tails, and they’ll pick any remaining meat out of the shell.
- Can chickens eat chicken? Oddly enough, yes! It may seem a little strange, but you as long as the chicken is fully cooked, it can make a nutritious snack for your birds. Don’t give them any bones, though, as they can cause choking or perforations if your chickens swallow them.
- Can chickens eat lunchmeat? Absolutely! Lunchmeat is easy for chickens to tear into, so it’s a great source of protein for them. However, make sure to feed any sweetened or salty lunchmeats in moderation.
- Can chickens eat fish or shellfish? Absolutely! However, we recommend removing any hard shells and bones first.
- Can chickens eat canned meat? Absolutely! However, feed salty canned meats like Spam in moderation.
- Can chickens eat potato skins? Yes – as long as they aren’t green or sprouted.
- Can chickens eat corn husks? Absolutely – however, our chickens have never shown interest in eating them. In our opinion, corn husks make a much better nesting material than treat.
- Can chickens eat corn cobs? Absolutely! They won’t eat the whole cob, as the core is too hard for them to eat, but they’ll peck away any bits of corn that you missed.
- Can chickens eat premixed salads? Absolutely! As long as you remove any ingredients that your chickens shouldn’t eat, like onions or avocadoes, premixed salads can make a great treat. ]
- Can chickens eat peanut butter? Absolutely! Peanut butter is high in proteins and fats, making it a great nutrient booster for your birds. It may be messy though! We also recommend avoiding any peanut butter sweetened with xylitol (or birch sugar), which is known to be toxic to other pets.
- Can chickens eat cottage cheese? Absolutely! It’s a great source of protein, fat, and calcium for your birds.
- Can chickens eat apple sauce? Absolutely! As long as it isn’t sweetened with xylitol (or birch sugar), apple sauce makes a great snack for your flock.
- Can chickens eat yogurt? Absolutely! Yogurt is a great source of probiotics for humans and chickens, but they may get a bit messy while eating it!
- Can chickens eat dog food? Absolutely! Dog food makes a delicious and nutritious treat for chickens in moderation. If it’s dry kibble, you may need to rehydrate it in water first for your chickens to eat it.
- Can chickens eat cat food? Absolutely! Like dog food, cat food is full of nutrients and fats that make a great treat, especially in winter when they need the extra nutrition. If it’s dry kibble, we recommend rehydrating it in water first.
We have successfully fed all of the above items to our own chickens. Please note that, while we try to do thorough research, we have not exhaustively searched each and every food item in this guide for potential side effects or safety concerns. Please, always trust your gut, and if it’s telling you not to feed them something, don’t do it! We encourage you to do extensive online research, as we’ve done, before feeding your birds anything you’re unsure about.
We hope this article answered your questions about the foods chickens should and shouldn’t eat! Chickens are walking compost machines, and if you give them your kitchen scraps, they will reward you tenfold in appreciation, health, and best of all, fantastic garden fertilizer.
If you have any questions about a specific food that we didn’t cover and you’d like our opinion on whether it’s safe, feel free to send us an email and we’ll add it to this guide.
We heartily encourage anyone with chickens to feed them scraps whenever possible, both to better mimic a wild diet and to support their overall health. Plus, you’re keeping stinky food scraps out of your trash and out of landfills at the same time. It’s a win for everyone!
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