What do chickens eat naturally?
What is the natural food of wild chickens?
Chickens are omnivores which means their diet includes plants, insects, seeds and even small animals like mice and frogs. Chickens would also likely peck at a carcass as well if they had the chance.
Below: Here is one of my white Leghorns looking for food in the natural free range way.
I hadn't had chickens long when I saw them hunting down and eating a mouse. The lucky hen swallowed it whole after bashing it about a bit. It was then I realised that what we think of as tame pets are still wild animals at heart and the desire for them to eat their natural diet is deeply ingrained in their psyche.
The real key to feeding an all natural diet to chickens is variety. Wild chickens would consume a great many things that vary as the seasons change. Sprouting seeds in spring, fresh greens and insects in summer, fruit and grains in the Fall or Autumn and fallen nuts in the winter.
Luckily these foodstuffs are to be found in the average backyard, greens like grass, wild seeds, and animal foods, such as earthworms and insects, all fresher and more nutritious than anything you can buy at the feed store.
What is the natural diet of chickens?
The natural diet for chickens consists at whatever they can stuff in their beaks. In reality this would include seeds, greens, windfall fruit and nuts and a wide variety of insects and even small mammals.
You can see there is actually quite a difference between a wild chickens diet and what we feed them when we keep them as livestock.
The first thing you would probably notice is the lack of variety the modern chickens diet, wild birds would have consumed many different foodstuffs depending on the time of year and the availability where has the average backyard flock is fed mostly pellets and grains.
This is why most keepers prefer to keep their chickens free range to enable them to find more of the natural foods they enjoy so much.
Do free range chickens eat a natural diet?
The original chicken is the Red Jungle Fowl found all over the jungles of South East Asia.
To some extent backyard chickens that are allowed to free range it's a more natural diet than confined chickens do. They do not however eat the same diet that their ancestors did or that truly free-range chickens would do.
Should you feed chickens a natural diet?
Yes, you can feed chickens a completely natural diet but with modern hybrids it may not be enough as they are such productive birds they may need additional food.
Between late spring and early autumn I get through around 50% less feed as my chickens free range over about 4 acres so they find a considerable quantity of their own food during these months.
Below: My chickens get to eat as much natural food as they can find all year round.
The average backyard chicken keeper can feed his chickens as much natural food as they can eat without worrying said it would affect the eggs for the health of the birds. Indeed hunting for natural food scratching in the ground is an important part of keeping chickens healthy.
Most chicken keepers that I know supply their poultry with a continuous flow of pellets and allow them to find as much food as they can whilst they are free range.
If you were to try and produce more natural food for your chickens than the land they are on is capable of supporting it probably isn't worth your while spending the time and money on that particular project.
Insects in particular expensive to buy so it is probably more worth your while to stick to having a few log piles in your chicken run.
Do naturally fed chickens produce more or better eggs?
No naturally fed chickens do not produce more eggs than ordinary chickens, if anything it may well be a few less per year. They do, however, produce nicer eggs with more highly coloured yolks and better shells.
Below: Free range naturally kept hens are happier. Here is a mother hen rearing her chicks in the best way.
Free range birds are happier as well being allowed to indulge in more natural chicken behaviours like scratching in ground and grazing pasture.
How do you include natural food in a chicken's diet?
You can increase the natural feeds your chickens get to eat by:
- Planting grains like wheat in the chicken run and allowing it to grow.
- Planting fruit trees and leaving the fruit drop naturally over time.
- Keeping wild spaces where insects are likely to thrive.
- Having a compost heap to raise worms.
- Foraging for wild fruits locally and feeding these to your chickens.
- Sprout a selection of different grains occasionally.
- Pile up some logs and sticks and allow them to rot naturally.
- Create a large shaded depression in the run and fill it with leaf litter and wood chip.
Cooked food and kitchen scraps from the humans table does not constitute natural chicken food, it is likely too salty apart from anything else.
Bugs and Insects:
Natural protein is necessary for egg production. In the wild the Red Jungle Fowls diet probably consisted of around 50% insects. You can add insects to your chickens diet by sticking a few rotting logs and bark in a pile or cultivate a compost heap for worms.
You should avoid buying mealworm to feed to chickens. It can be illegal in some places and you don't know what the worms were fed.
Seeds and grains:
This is not just about bulking the diet up with cheap wheat or barley, that is a recipe for problems.
Below: My egg flock eating an all seed scratch feed mix I blend myself.
There are dozens of seeds on the feed market that are really good for chickens. Sunflower or safflower seed is a good example and don't forget most seed can be sprouted which makes them more nutritious and easier to digest.
The real key is variety. Make sure you buy a selection different seeds and grains from your Animal Feeds merchant and mix them together. Doing this should help keep your chickens interested in their food and provide them with the mix they need.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Most fruits and vegetables a fine for chickens. Some should only be fed in small quantities like banana which contains quite a lot of potassium and Lettuce some types of which can upset the digestive system.
Potatoes should always be cooked.
I find members of the Brassica family are some of the best green foods for chickens. Cauliflowers, cabbages and beet leaves all make excellent feed-stuffs for chickens.
Treats for Natural Diets:
Here is a list of some all natural things you can give your chickens:
- Home raised earthworms, mealworms or wood louse.
- Cooked green peas.
- Sprouted grains like lentils or peas.
- Shelled or husked sunflower or safflower seeds.
- Some berries like a few blueberries.
What do chickens eat in the wild?
Feral or escaped chickens that have formed breeding groups do not eat exactly the same things as their ancestors would, they will adapt themselves to their surrounding and could even end up stealing food put out for garden birds.
If you’ve ever wondered what your chickens would eat if they became feral, the answer is almost anything.
Do free range chickens eat grass?
Free-range chickens will eat quite a lot of grass amongst other types of greenery. Anyone who's ever tried to have a backyard garden and chickens will know just how much damage they can do green plants given half a chance.
Mine seemed to really enjoy dandelion leaves and peas although they will demolish everything from herbs to leaves on some trees given half a chance.
They seem to prefer fresh young growth and I've watched my many times wandering up and down the field nipping the tips off the grass as it grows.
How to provide greens for chickens in winter.
Can chickens survive on greens and grass alone?
No, I doubt chickens would be able to survive on grass and greenery alone the backyard setting. They need a considerable quantity of protein in the diet which you don't always get from green grass.
Trying to keep chickens without supplemental feed is likely to lead to a drop-in egg production or unhealthy, malnourished birds.
Greenery is essential a chicken's diet, it colours the yolks and grass contains considerable quantities of calcium. Some fibre is also essential in the diet.