Chickens can eat almost anything. One of the main reasons for keeping chickens is that they are great foragers and will keep your garden free of insects, grubs and most pests. They love worms more than any other food! But there are still some foods that are harmful to chicken health and are to be avoided at all costs.
Knowing what to feed chickens and what not to feed chickens is very important. Buying proper chicken feed at your local pet store is probably the best way of ensuring your hens get the ideal mix of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fat that they need. You can also buy them a treat called scratch which is a mix of corn and cereals including oats and rye, but this is short on some of the nutrients that they need. They do like it, though!
And remember that hens need grit in their crop to help them break up and digest their food. This can be sand or fine gravel, and there is usually enough of this type of grit in most yards. Many poultry farmers put suitable grit in the chicken feed anyway. The good thing about hens is that they will only eat what they need.
Now what about the baddies? These are the things that you shouldn't feed chickens or allow them to access under any circumstances:
Poisons and Toxic Materials - slug pellets, rat poison and strong pesticides are obvious things to keep out of the way of your hens. If you are using any of these things in your yard you will need to fence off the area from the chickens but, even so, be aware that these birds can be very clever at getting through obstacles if they see what looks like interesting food on the other side!
Poisonous Plants - free range hens will tend to avoid poisonous plants because of the bitter taste that occurs naturally in them, but you need to aware of the dangers all the same. Some trees and bushes are bad such as yew, oleander and privet. Clematis and rhododendron are also on the black list. Watch out for vetch and buttercup, ragwort and rapeseed, daffodils and Morning Glory. And unfortunately some fungi are poisonous too. If in any doubt ask your local pet food store or vets - they will tend to know the dangerous vegetation in your area.
Stagnant Water - some kinds of algae can be fatal for chickens, so make sure that any water in their vicinity is kept clean especially in hot weather.
Ammonia - in large concentrations ammonia can cause respiratory problems in hens. This is why you need to keep their bedding clean and dry, and ensure that their coop is properly ventilated. If you can smell ammonia you need to take action immediately.
Carbon Monoxide - if you are using gas heaters in the chicken coop make sure that you check and service them regularly.
Other Substances - I have read in various places that you should avoid avocado, chocolate, citrus fruit and raw potatoes in chicken feed but I can find no justification in any authoritative sources for this. If any reader can supply chapter and verse please let me know.
Also, although not harmful to your hens, it is a good idea to avoid feeding them garlic or onions because these will flavor the eggs. Not a great taste for breakfast bacon and eggs!
For more information about keeping chickens or the best design for a chicken coop please check these links. There is a whole range of useful advice and DIY projects to keep you and your hens happy!
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