Do Chickens Eat Meat?
By nature, chickens are omnivores. This means they will consume vegetable matter, insects, and animal flesh. With all of the different chicken feeds made with vegetarian formulas and the labels on chicken at the store listing ‘fed a vegetarian diet,’ you might begin to think that chickens are naturally vegetarians.
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Can You Feed Chickens a Vegetarian Diet?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving your chickens vegetarian feed. As long as their diet contains the proper balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, your chickens will do just fine without animal products. However, if your chickens are allowed pasture or free range, they are bound to find insects, mice, and other sources of protein to consume.
Why Feed Chickens a Vegetarian Diet?
If you are vegetarian, you will most likely choose to feed your chickens vegetarian feed also. Others may choose a plant based diet for their flock to avoid questionable animal byproducts or inhumanely raised and processed animal flesh.
Most chicken feed is comprised of grains and beans, with minerals and vitamins added as supplements. Animal protein is more expensive than vegetable protein, so feed companies use soy beans or field peas in chicken feed. Some feed formulas do contain fish meal for protein, but you can expect a higher price tag on these. You might also want to check into the source for the fish meal, as some fishing practices are harming the fish populations.
Supplementing With Meat Scraps
Our family orders locally raised beef and pork by the side or whole and I always ask for as many of the organ meats, the head, and any other tid bits that most people throw away. I have to pay a wrapping fee, but all of the parts that we don’t eat are cooked, cut up, and fed to our dogs and poultry. In addition, all of the scraps and bones are fed to the chickens. They pick the bones clean and beg for more!
I also butcher my old laying hens and any extra roosters. When I process poultry, all of the leftovers go to the flock and they consume most of it, unless I’m doing a large batch all in one day. On those days I notice that they eat a lot less chicken feed than normal. The leftovers from our chicken, duck, and turkey dinners also go to the chickens. It helps reduce the amount of garbage we produce and decreases our feed bill.
What Would a Chicken Choose?
When I toss a bucket of different kitchen scraps to my flock, I notice that meat scraps are considered the choisest treats. Next are the tomatoes, apple cores, and other fruit and vegetable scraps. So I think it is safe to say that chickens would choose to eat meat and fat first. These provide more calories and protein, something chickens crave.
Hunting Down Their Protein
In the past, I had a Buff Orpington hen that actively hunted mice. It was not uncommon for her to be seen running around with a freshly caught mouse in her beak with the rest of the hens in hot pursuit. I’ve also uncovered numerous mouse nests in the coop with babies that were quickly devoured by my chickens. A friend of mine asked me to chicken sit for him while he was on vacation. I arrived in the morning to find one of his meat birds dead after an owl ‘visit.’ The rest of the meat birds were greedily consuming what was left of the carcass. Not only are chickens meat eaters, they can be cannibals too. This may sound terrible if you think of your chickens as mild mannered pets, but they are driven by animal instincts and it isn’t always a pretty sight.
In my experience, chickens are definitely not vegetarian by their own choice. Like it or not, they will search out their own animal protein whenever they are given the opportunity. The only way to ensure they are eating a completely vegetarian diet is to keep them in a coop with no access to pasture. I think most people would agree that a few bugs are no big deal. 🙂