Chickens can and will eat yogurt but it can upset the protein balance of their feed and is not good for them in large amounts. Chickens lack the enzymes that enable them to digest dairy products. Fermented whole grains is a better way to deliver probiotics to chickens.
The subject of feeding yogurt and fermented milk products to chickens seems to have divided keepers greatly and I have seen many heated arguments over this thorny issue in social media pages across the net.
Everything from "No yogurt - Birds are lactose intolerant!", to those who feed it everyday and defend their position just as strongly. So can chickens eat yogurt and is it OK for them?
I have always believed that as chickens lack the enzyme necessary to digest yogurt it was pointless to feed it to them as most of the nutrients it contains are essentially being wasted. As such I never feed them yogurt or fermented milk products and won't be starting after I did the research for this article.
Do chickens like yogurt?
Yes they do, I have yet to find one that one that won't eat as much of it as they can while they have the chance.
Below: A video of my flock eating some yogurt.
This is the first time they have ever seen it, and they went mad for the stuff.
Can you feed yogurt to chickens?
Yogurt and all fermented milk products do appear on the register of licensed animal feeds so it is legal to give them to livestock. Just because you can give chickens something and it is legal to feed it to them doesn't mean it's any good for them.
Since chickens lack the enzymes necessary to digest lactose, it will pass through the bird's digestive tract unchanged and either ferment or because it is a sugar it may draw fluids into the intestinal tract, resulting in diarrhoea.
Milk and milk products are generally about 3.5% protein. Casein and whey protein are the major proteins of milk. Casein constitutes approximately 80% of the total protein in bovine milk, and whey protein accounts for about 20%.
Chicken unfortunately can not digest these proteins properly and they go on to ferment in the large intestine and impact gut health. Commercially produced chicken feeds often have added proteases to assist with the digestion of added proteins that the chicken would not normally be able to consume.
Is yogurt good for chickens?
The argument for giving chickens yogurt is that it contains:
- Good bacteria and probiotic.
On the surface of it yogurt seems to be good thing for chickens to have, it has high levels of fat and protein and is calcium rich but there are several problems with yogurt, and the first is that chickens lack the enzymes to be able to digest milk and milk products successfully.
The reality is the protein level is actually very low, around 3.5%. Far below the necessary level of 16% or so that chickens need to produce eggs properly.
Calcium content is the other reason cited for how good milk products are but they only contain 125mg per 100ml of calcium. Grass has 150mg per 100grams and it is just as bio-available for chickens. Another interesting point that is omitted from this discussion is that without magnesium to help with its absorption, much of the calcium from dairy is lost by elimination from the body.
It has been said that you should give yogurt after a course of antibiotics is complete as antibiotics kill not only the bad bacteria, but also the beneficial gut bacteria. Once the course of antibiotics is finished, the idea is to jump start beneficial gut bacteria by feeding yogurt with live cultures. The problem here is that the gut micro biome of chickens is different to that of humans and the logic is flawed.
The gut microbiome in chickens is very different from humans and adding bacteria that are good for us is not necessarily good for chickens. Naturally raised chicks obtain the beneficial microflora by consuming some of its mother’s faecal material and this method works for all chickens, they get their gut flora back by indulging in their natural behaviours.
If you want to provide probiotic for your chickens you should give one specially formulated for birds like fermented feed.
Too much soft food can cause crop and digestive issues.
No. Yogurt is not good for chickens and while a little won't hurt it is best avoided.
Does yogurt make chickens lay more or better eggs?
No. Too much yogurt can adversely effect production and even a little will not improve egg laying at all.
You could bet that if something improved egg performance in laying hens then the commercial egg industry would jump at the opportunity. They haven't because it doesn't help.
This is a thing I see on Facebook a lot and it does the round every now and again as a viral post when someone claims it improved egg and production.
Your best chance at maximum eggs from your hens is to have happy, healthy birds fed with the proper diet and not foods like yogurt meant for humans.
How much and how often should I give my chickens yogurt?
Small amounts of milk and products containing lactose are probably not harmful to most birds. Small amounts no more than once a week should be fine.
My chickens get some occasionally when I have some go out of date in my fridge. Discard if bad or mouldy or foul smelling, you should never give your chickens anything that is rotten or spoiled.
Laying hens will eat yogurt but I would not bother unless you have left over. Certainly it is not worth buying specially.
Is yogurt a good treat for chickens?
Not really, it tends to be expensive and if you are buying it especially believing it to be good for them you are wasting time and money. If you are giving them them plain, unsweetened yogurt that you have left over then that is fine.
There is another thing to consider when giving chickens yogurt. If you watch this video you will see how much of a mess they make eating it. I got covered in splats and I was 3 foot away from them.
Below: It gets everywhere while they eat it.
There are spots all over the birds and they have it all over their faces and feathers.
What about Kefir and other fermented milk products?
Clabber is when you let raw milk sit out for a time and it becomes very much like cottage cheese. Raw milk can contain some quite nasty infections like brucellosis. Just don't do it. Kefir is a fermented milk product that is very similar to yogurt and should be treated in the same way when it comes to chickens.
Some milk products do not contain lactose, like cottage cheese and other types of cheese. It is thought to be relatively safe to give yogurt and cheese, although products that contain lactose are probably safe. I remain unconvinced and will not be giving my chickens yogurt regularly.
The cultures in the fermented milk and yogurt turn some of the lactose into lactic acid so cultured dairy products are lower in lactose because of this and can be tolerated better.
Can chickens eat strawberry vanilla or flavoured yogurt?
The kind of yogurt can chickens have should be restricted to plain. The flavoured stuff is often loaded with additives and sugar.
Processed and flavoured yogurt contains sugar and other additives which are not good for chickens.
Soy or soya based yogurt has even less protein and calcium and much more salt and sugar than the natural product and must never be given to chickens.
I would say that small amounts of plain yogurt left overs is fine occasionally, except for the sugar content of the flavoured types.
Buying or making it for your flock is a waste or resources.
The reality is it is not particularly good for them and may be causing digestive issues.