Are Chickens Vegetarians?


Are Chickens Vegetarians?

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 cooked soybeans, with minerals and vitamins added as supplements. Animal protein is more expensive than vegetable protein, so feed companies use soybeans or field peas in chicken feed. Some feed formulas do contain fishmeal for protein, but you can expect a higher price tag on these. You might also want to check into the source of 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 tidbits 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 choicest 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, but they can also 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. 🙂

Do you feed your flock a vegetarian diet? Do they get meat scraps or hunt for bugs in the pasture?

25 Comments on “Are Chickens Vegetarians?

  1. Thanks for the tip on the carcass! After my turkey bones and skin come out of the soup pot, they’ll be going to my brown leghorn to pick over. If any of you are looking at giving your chicken a treat, mine LOVES blueberries. And much prefers grape tomatoes to the larger ones.

  2. WoW! I did NOT know that. I wonder if it applies to Ducks too? I intend to give my chickens some bones to pick clean now, having read this. You mention scraps – surely they would eat meat cooked alone and without salt, right, or is it raw? Or did you mean they literally eat scraps of meat, can you clarify?

    1. Hi MindspaceIntuition,
      The ducks don’t seem as interested in the meat scraps…they do eat all the tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and other veggie and fruit scraps they can get. Chickens will eat meat raw or cooked. Be sure that the raw meat isn’t from an animal that was diseased or acting sick. They have picked the bones of cooked poultry clean as well as eating many of the raw leftovers from freshly processed poultry.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Hi, I know this all sounds a bit gross but our chickens will get the carcass from any animal that we butcher. They love it and lay nice big eggs. We just have to remember to remove the bones when they are finished. We use very little layers pellets but they do get wheat. We find 1/2 bucket of each a day is enough for about 30 chickens and 20 ducks. Ours are definitely not vegetarian either. Blessings

  4. I recently saw someone advertising free range eggs from their vegetarian chickens. It made me chuckle. We all know that unless those chickens are free ranging inside that they aren’t vegetarians. 🙂 I love the idea of giving the chickens left over carcasses! Thanks!

  5. My friends are horrified that I give my hens chicken bones to strip of the meat and the skin. They say I am making my hens into cannibals. I assure them that chickens will kill and eat each other. My hens get to free range between 3 and 12 hours each day. They are busy all day scratching around for bugs. My chickens have never had commercial food at all.

    When I go to church dinners or out to dinner, I bring home food for the hens. I only have three hens right now, so it is easy to get enough scraps for two or three days at a time. They love meat and anything green. Bread is the last thing they want to eat.

    I don’t buy store eggs, but if I did, I would not buy eggs from hens fed a vegetarian diet.

    1. Hi Practical Parsimony,
      I find it kind of funny to hear what people say about chickens…especially when they don’t have any 😉 I think it’s very smart and bringing home scraps is a great idea! I’ve looked into picking up scraps from restaurants, but there is a health dept rule against it. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Very interesting! I wonder, would chickens like kelp? When we go to the ocean, we like to bag up some kelp, bring it home and place it in fresh water. Within a couple of weeks it will have completely broken down to a wonderful kelp emulsion fertilizer. Kelp is such healthy stuff, now I’m wondering if we should bring an extra bag for the chickens? Also, this would give me an excuse to vacation there more often – “honey, we have to go – for the chickens”! I think I will skip the road kill, however, because I sometimes have a weak stomach! 😉

    1. I know that Lisa from Fresh Eggs daily – talks about giving her chickens dried sea weed in their feed and how healthy it is for them. CJ

      1. I purchased a supplement for livestock called Thorvin that has dried kelp in it. I’m not sure if they like it or if they just eat the stuff because it’s mixed in with their food, but it is certainly worth a try, Vicki!

  7. I’ve always considered chickens to be hogs with feathers, both will eat anything. 🙂
    Have never considered road kill, after all here in Tennessee it is legal and acceptable for people to eat road kill. (Trust me THAT idea was shocking when we moved here’s).

  8. Mine get road-kill whenever it’s available. Boned out a couple squirrels for them a couple days ago. Hens encourage their chicks to eat it. Have never had chickens eat their eggs when they get plenty protein. I’m not sure how humane it is, being road kill, but the chickens don’t seem to mind and it saves a lot in feed. I always bone it first because there are a lot of very sharp pieces of bone and I’m not sure how good the chicks can swallow and process those sharp little slivers.

  9. I remember coming across the remains of a snake that got caught in the wire trying to get out of the chicken coup one time.
    The most, interesting? disgusting? was when after losing a calf to a hard birth it got left outside the barn door a little too long. Calving is a busy time of year some jobs get neglected. The chickens found the poor thing and had a feast. Definitely not vegetarians.

  10. Wow. I am rethinking this whole do not feed chickens chickens, do not feed pigs pigs…etc. Someone just told me birds are different and it’s ok for them to one of their own kind. But the mammals should not eat their own kind.

    1. Hi CampHikeFish,
      If either is eating the raw flesh of an animal with a disease, they can be infected. I wouldn’t feed flesh from sick animals back to my flock. You also need to be careful with diseases like mad cow disease…cooking the flesh from an infected animal doesn’t kill the pathogen.

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