Many people mistakenly believe that chickens only eat chicken feed such as corn and grain, but you may be surprised to learn that they eat a variety of both plants and meat organisms. Chickens actually enjoy eating a lot of different foods and typically are not picky eaters.
Animals fall into one of three categories based on the type of food they eat. They are either carnivores, omnivores or herbivores.
Are chickens carnivores, omnivores or herbivores? As a part of the fowl family, chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of foods from various sources. This makes them more likely to survive in various regions.
Knowing what chickens eat and why is a key component to raising them. Understanding the difference between the omnivores, carnivores and herbivores is vital when raising any animal and knowing what predators to protect them from. Different species of birds fall into different categories and you should only feed your chickens foods their bodies are designed to handle.
Key Differences Between the Nutritional Categories of Animals
There are 3 main nutritional categories of animals based on the types of foods that they regularly eat. Each animal has a digestive system that adapted to process either plant-based organisms, animal-based organisms or both.
Animals of a category can only properly digest the foods that their bodies can handle.
Carnivores are animals that eat mostly meat from other animals to survive. Their bodies are designed to live off meat and they do not process plants easily.
This means they do not derive enough nutrients to survive off plants alone. They will eat some plant-based foods to supplement their meat diet, but they need a larger percentage of meat to survive.
Most carnivores have adapted over time to be able to hunt efficiently for their food. They often have sharp teeth and claws that help them capture and tear their food apart.
Carnivores in the bird world include eagles, hawks and vultures. These are the birds that will see your chickens as prey and will have no problem eating them, especially the younger ones. (source)
Herbivores are animals that eat mostly food derived from plants. Their bodies are designed to process and effectively digest plant organisms. They often have big molars that help with chewing leaves and plant materials.
Herbivores are often ruminant animals that chew, swallow and then regurgitate their food just to chew again. Some animals in this category eat any plant matter, including stems and bark, while others only eat leaves or just the fruit of a plant.
Others only consume dead plant material. Birds in this category include ostriches, the snow goose, and some ducks. These animals are not predators and will not try to get your chickens. (source)
Omnivores are unique in that they can eat both plants and meat. If domesticated, they will eat almost anything that you feed them, which means you should always be aware of any dangerous or toxic foods that will hurt them.
If left in the wild, omnivores will eat whatever is available depending on the season. If plants are plentiful, they will plant-based food. If foods that come from animal origins are present, they will eat that as well.
They will eat whatever they need to eat in order to survive. Their digestive system can effectively process both types of organisms and they can derive energy from either one. Birds that fall into this category include chickens, turkeys, quails, crows and more.
Frequently Asked Questions About A Chickens Diet
When it comes to chickens and the foods that they eat, there are definitely some interesting items on the dinner table. Let’s take a look at some of the things we may see chickens eat.
Does eating worms and insects classify a chicken as a carnivore? Chickens do eat worms and insects, but that does not mean that they are classified as a carnivore.
Since a chicken’s diet can vary based on their surroundings and the weather, they are never strictly meat eaters or plant eaters, they are always a little of both. This means they are considered an omnivore all the time, no matter what they eat.
Their bodies are designed to handle processing both plant and animal matter effectively. This makes their ability to survive in various weather conditions and environments. As an omnivore, they are able to eat basically whatever is available to them.
Mice and Other Animals
Will a chicken eat another animal? Since a chicken is an omnivore and eats both animal matter as well as plant organisms, they will eat another animal in the right circumstances. They will eat insects, worms, mice, birds, and other animals that they encounter.
Chickens are not overly strong or large animals, so typically the animals they eat are relatively small. Mice are often prey for chickens, especially if they are stealing eggs or food from chickens.
Will chickens eat other chickens? Chickens do not typically kill and eat other chickens. Yes, roosters that fight each other over the hens in a flock can potentially kill one another, but they are not doing that with the intention of eating them.
Hens may attack other hens to protect their young, but again, the intent is not for food. If a chicken in a coop dies and if the chickens are starving, it is possible for them to eat that deceased chicken.
This is why is it vital to remove any departed chickens from a coop immediately and also make sure your chickens have continuous access to food.
Space is also a concern. Chickens need room to get away from each other. As a flock establishes a “pecking order”, submissive animals need to have adequate space to get away from a dominant chicken. If not, they may be injured or killed from incessant pecking.
Will chickens eat their eggs? Chickens do not regularly eat the eggs that they lay or the eggs of other hens. The only time they may eat them is if the eggs are broken accidentally.
Once the egg is accidentally cracked open, a nearby chicken will eat it. Chickens may also eat eggs if they have low calcium levels.
Occasionally, you may get a chicken that has gotten a taste for eggs and will break them intentionally. If you have added a calcium supplement and the egg breaking continues, the best plan is to remove the chicken from the coop where the eggs are present.
If it is a laying hen, you can separate the hen and then try to gather her eggs quickly after she lays them, before she can eat any of them. Over time, her desire to eat the egg may go away.
Common Chicken Foods
What are some common foods chickens might eat? Chickens typically eat a large variety of food. They, of course, will eat cracked corn, oyster shells, eggshells and chicken scratch feeds. They also like to eat grass, plants, leaves, insects, clover, worms, fruit, vegetables, cooked meat, and berries.
Best Foods For Chickens
Commercial feed that is created specifically for chickens is honestly the best food to feed your chicken. These feeds are specifically designed to provide chickens with the energy and nutrition that they need so their bodies function properly.
Commercial chicken feeds also helps laying hens produce eggs. A lack of nutrition can cause laying hens to not produce eggs regularly or at all. Commercial feed products usually have different feeds for different stages of a chicken’s life.
Foods to Avoid Feeding Chickens
What are some foods that chickens should never eat? Even though chickens can eat almost anything, there are some foods that are toxic to them. You should never feed your chickens raw beans, moldy foods, chocolate, avocados, leaves from tomato plants, or processed human foods.
While processed foods won’t kill your chicken, you don’t want them to eat them. Processed foods are not good for us, so you probably shouldn’t feed them to your chickens, even if they are omnivores.
Chickens are special little creatures that will eat almost anything and thankfully they are omnivores, so their bodies can handle the food variations with ease. Being an omnivore is part of what makes chickens the perfect backyard animal. They are easy to take care of and easy to keep fed. They are not picky eaters and they will eat almost anything.