Chicks are adorable, and they are a lot of fun to have around. It is important to remember, however, that they have special dietary requirements.
If you want them to grow up healthy and strong, you need to be sure to feed them the right things.
In this article, we will discuss 15 great things to feed your chicks, as well as 10 things you should never feed them!
Chickens are Supreme Omnivores
One of the great things about chicks and chickens, in general, is that they are supreme omnivores. This means that they can eat just about anything.
As long as you provide them with a balanced diet, they will be able to get all the nutrients they need from a variety of sources.
In fact, if you pay attention to chickens kept in residential settings or out on the farm you’ll notice they are constantly out and moving about if they aren’t kept in their coops.
Scratching, pecking, searching, foraging. That’s because they are looking for something to eat pretty much everywhere!
Contrary to popular belief, chickens aren’t just bug and seed eaters although they eat plenty of both. Chickens will eat meat, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and even, given the opportunity, certain dairy products.
Watch a mother hen with her chicks, and the chicks will generally follow along and do what she does, eating what she tells them to eat.
In many ways, they are more inquisitive than adult chickens and are always keen to find out where their next meal will come from.
Suffice it to say that you might be surprised just how varied a diet your chicks can benefit from.
But they Still Have Special Food Needs
Even though chicks can eat a variety of things, they still have some special food needs. Most importantly, they need plenty of protein to grow big and strong; chicks exhibit an amazing growth rate, and they will need tons of protein for their body weight to fuel that growth.
You must ensure your chicks have adequate protein throughout their young life cycle if you want them to be healthy.
Beyond protein, your chicks will need plenty of carbohydrates as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals. This is why it is important to feed them a balanced diet that includes both animal and plant-based foods.
They might be willing to eat anything or nearly so, but if you let their diet get two out of whack for a few days you’ll notice their health noticeably declining.
Additionally, there are some things that chickens in general and chicks in particular absolutely should not eat, either because it is toxic to their biology or because it presents unique problems either for consumption or digestion.
This is something you must be especially aware of because many folks advise simply giving your chickens and chicks any leftover scraps from your kitchen or table. We will have a big list of those at the end of this article.
But keeping your chicks fed, happy and healthy is actually pretty easy, as you’ll see!
15 Great Foods to Feed Your Chicks
The following are 15 great things to feed your chicks:
One of the best healthy carbs for your chicks, and they seem to love them no matter how brown and yucky they look.
Full of essential vitamins and, for your chicks, much-needed copper, bananas are a treat your chicks will love getting from you.
This fruit is a great source of hydration, and it also contains antioxidants, which are beneficial to your chicks’ health.
It should be noted that watermelon, while helpful on hot summer days when dehydration is a risk, contains very little else in the way of nutrition and should be given as a treat when it is hot.
Note that the sturdy rind of a watermelon is inedible for chickens and chicks alike. Adult chickens will usually leave it alone, but take care that an over-enthusiastic chick does not try to nibble off a piece as it is indigestible.
Strawberries are a fruit that all chickens seem to love, and are something that they would encounter in abundance out in the wild.
These little fruits are packed with Vitamin C, which helps your chicks boost their immune system.
They are also particularly soft and easy for chicks to digest while they encourage pecking and processing of food at the same time.
Another fruit that all chickens love. Feeding your chicks apples is a great way to give them some fiber, as well as Vitamins A and C.
Note that chicks might struggle with the tougher skin of certain apple species, so don’t be afraid to peel it before giving them some to try.
Also, chickens should never, ever be allowed to eat apple seeds. They contain trace amounts of cyanide that, while pretty much harmless for humans, could prove fatal to your chickens or else make them very sick.
Once again, adult chickens are likely to avoid apple seeds, but chicks may not. Remove the seeds and core the apple before giving it to them.
Chickens constantly forage among leafy plants of all kinds when left to their own devices, and chard is no exception.
This leafy green is a great source of Vitamin A, Iron, and Calcium. You can hang up a stalk of chard for your baby chicks to nibble on and you’ll see them working at it over time for several days.
Another great source of Vitamin A, as well as Magnesium and Potassium. All things that growing chicks need.
Romaine lettuce is higher and moisture content than chard, and maybe easier for chicks to eat and digest, making it a great option for a leafy vegetable around meal time.
This is another great option for encouraging the feeding instincts of your chicks when they are being kept separate from the adults.
Kale is a so-called superfood for humans, and it is just as beneficial for your growing flock and its youngest members.
Packed full of vitamins, nutrients, and essential minerals, kale will be welcome on the menu of your chicks, just take some care to ensure they can handle this stuff, fibrous plant and be sure to remove anything that is too tough for them to eat.
Tomatoes are a sometimes contentious meal option for chickens and chicks alike although it really doesn’t need to be.
This is because tomatoes are technically in the nightshade family, and nightshade plants are particularly lethal if ingested by chickens.
That being said, the mature fruits of the garden variety tomato plant that humans eat are safe to give to chickens, although they should be given in moderation.
Never, ever give chickens tomato leaves or the tomato plant itself, however, as these will prove dangerous.
Stick with the tomatoes that you would buy for your own kitchen and your yard birds shouldn’t have any trouble!
Fine Grass Clippings
Contrary to popular belief chickens actually don’t eat much grass, but they will take a few nibbles of grass clippings from time to time.
The same goes for your chicks. A little bit might help with their digestion, but too much is problematic.
However, you can give your chicks some finely minced grass clippings to help them digest other food and to further encourage foraging behavior which is beneficial.
Trust me, they’ll be looking through the grass plenty in search of delicious seeds and bugs as they grow.
Oatmeal is an excellent food for adult chickens and young chicks alike.
Probably the best part about it, aside from its excellent cross-section of vitamins and minerals along with a little bit of protein, is that you can give it to your chickens and pretty much any form.
Quick oats, steel-cut oats, cooked or raw, your chickens will love it all.
Also don’t be afraid to give your chickens the same kind of oatmeal that you would eat, the kind with a little bit of fruit and milk in it, as long as it is real, with whole ingredients without any added sugar.
Crickets are a mainstay prey item for adult chickens, and your chicks will love them too so long as they can catch them.
Don’t be afraid to give your chick dead feeder crickets purchased from the pet store. They will get tons of valuable minerals and protein from the little hoppers, including essential and Trace nutrients that they wouldn’t normally get from fruits and veggies alone.
Red worms are another regular prey item for chickens, ones that they will usually partake of and enjoy as they Peck and forage through your lawn, particularly after a rain. Adult chickens love them, and your chicks will love them, although they might not be able to easily handle the largest specimens. So long as the size is not a limiting factor, you can introduce red worms to your chicks diet early in life.
Yet another bug that all chickens love, chicks included and particularly because mealworms are very easy to catch and eat.
An incredibly valuable source of protein for growing chicks, mealworms can be bought cheaply and in quantity from any pet store or right over the internet.
They will also find these and similar critters when foraging, but you can give your chicks a leg up and develop a taste for them by making them a part of the diet that you prepare for them.
Your chicks will love to get after common bird seed mix. Although most variety songbird mixes won’t have everything your chicks need, there is plenty in there that they will enjoy, and in a pinch, or if you have some leftover bird seed, you don’t need to hesitate before giving it to your chicks.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming is the overall lack of protein, something that so cold starter feed or specialist chick feed has in abundance.
Although it gives some people fits, there is a reason many folks who want to raise big healthy flocks of yard birds rely on starter feed at least for the first several weeks of their chicks’ lives.
Starter feed is well rounded, nutritionally complete, easy to handle, and always loved by chicks, and in particular is packed with protein that they desperately need during this momentous growth spurt.
Don’t get so hung up on giving your chicks a totally natural or natural adjacent free range diet that you neglect this reliable standby.
Don’t Let Your Chicks Eat These 10 Foods!
Chickens and their chicks can eat almost anything, but they cannot eat absolutely everything, and there are some things that they would prefer to eat that they definitely shouldn’t.
Make sure you don’t try to feed any of these things to your chickens, and if you notice any of them in the area make sure to police them up immediately so your birds don’t get sick or even die from consuming something they shouldn’t!
It seems that some uninitiated owners of chickens believe you can give your flock the equivalent of garbage coming out of your kitchen and they will eat it with no worries or consequences.
As we have already learned, this is just not true. You definitely don’t want to give your chickens any genuine garbage or moldy food scraps because, just like you, it will hurt their overall health and may make them terribly sick.
This might seem like a curious inclusion on this list, because we already learned that chickens love lettuce and other leafy vegetables of all kinds, but iceberg lettuce is generally a bad idea.
It is pretty much nutritionally bankrupt and is mostly water. Even the fiber content is highly lacking, and it might give your chicks bad diarrhea.
A nuisance for adult chickens most of the time, but considering the low body mass of your chicks, it could prove dangerous and will definitely dehydrate them.
Onions, the skin, and flesh, contains a compound that is highly toxic to chickens, thiosulfate.
This compound will destroy your chick’s red blood cells and lead to a gruesome, agonizing death.
A tiny bit won’t hurt them although it won’t make them feel good, but you should never, ever allow your chicks or chickens to eat onions and any quantity if you can avoid it.
Chocolate, much like onions, contains a toxic compound that will severely harm your chickens’ health.
Humans love the stuff, but many other animals cannot digest it at all or are gravely harmed by it.
Resist the urge to give your chickens any candy as a treat, and pay particular attention to children who might do so without knowing the danger it poses to the flock.
Avocados are yet another vegetable (or is it a fruit?) that chickens should not eat. The pit and skin in particular have high concentrations of a toxin that is harmful to chickens.
Luckily, chickens and chicks alike usually avoid it instinctively. There is some contention regarding the flesh of an avocado, however.
Whether it does or does not contain significant concentrations of the toxin, you are better off avoiding giving it to your flock entirely.
Unfortunately, eggplant, which seems like it would be a major hit with your chickens, is another veggie that they just should not eat.
The skin in particular poses problems for them but the flesh is similarly dangerous thanks to the presence of a similar toxic compound to the one found in onions.
Adult chickens in particular usually avoid eggplants, but chicks often do not in stark contrast. Keep it away from them.
Unknown to most folks, many kinds of beans and uncooked beans, in particular, contain a dose of several chemicals which are highly fatal to chickens.
Peanuts are not a tree nut at all but are in fact a legume, a bean. This means that your chickens should have nothing to do with them even though they often show up in various bags of bird seed.
These peanuts are usually intended for squirrels and other mammals, not birds, so make sure any seed mix that you give your chickens does not contain peanuts!
Although chickens can have starches in moderation, too much bread will easily give them indigestion and other gut problems.
This is much harder and much worse for young chicks compared to adults, so you can save any treat of bread, given sparingly, for later when they grow up. Don’t give them any of your bread crusts or leftover, stale bread.
Rhubarb is a favorite of adult chickens, and despite the high oxalic acid content, they would have to eat tons of the stuff for it to cause any problems with bones, eggshell formation, or kidney problems.
However, young chicks do not have the fortitude that adult chickens do and rhubarb and the aforementioned oxalic acid it contains can prove to be highly detrimental to Bone formation when they are young.
Always keep an eye on adult chickens with chicks in tow and make sure that they aren’t allowing them to partake of any rhubarb growing around your property!
Pickles are no longer just cucumbers, and are absolutely, positively overloaded with salt.
This salt will prove deleterious for young chicks, so don’t give them any pickles. Cucumbers are fine, pickles are not, simple as!
Keep Your Chicks Happy and Healthy
Chickens and the chicks they raise are robust birds that can eat just about anything that grows or crawls, but like every other animal, there are certain things that are required for good health and other things they should avoid for the same purpose.
Review the list of foods for your chicks so you make informed decisions for their diet and treats!
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.
1 thought on “Feeding Your Chicks: 15 Things They Can Eat, and 10 Things They Cannot”
I dump my grass clipping into their coop area once a week. Not only do they eat some of grass but any bugs in the grass. Bonus points…..they poop all over the grass then scratch it all up, mix it up and in no time I have some of the most beautiful compost/dirt for my garden.
My chickens have eyed my eggplants but walk on by. They have helped themselves to a few tomatoes that grow over the wire fencing