You’ve heard of chickens eating bugs, but do chickens eat meat? This is a controversial topic in the world of chicken keeping, but it really is pretty straightforward once you get comfortable with the concept!
Chickens are omnivores, through and through. When I see “vegetarian fed” proudly displayed on egg cartons at the grocery store it makes me sad. Watch chickens in a natural setting and you’ll see them frantically going after any insect, frog, mouse, you name it!
So, should you intentionally feed your chickens meat? Yes and no. There are some nuances to it. By the end of this article, you’ll be confident in the appropriate types of meat, preparation, amounts, and more! Plus, we’ll go over the important things to avoid. Let’s dive in!
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links to products (including Amazon). I’ll earn a small commission if you make a purchase through my link, at no additional cost to you! Regardless, I only link to products that I personally use on our homestead or believe in.
A Chicken’s Natural Diet
In our modern world today, it’s pretty common for chickens to only eat formulated chicken feed for their entire lives. It might leave you wondering, where did chickens get their protein from before commercial poultry feed was readily available?
They were given meat scraps and allowed to forage! Chickens are scavengers and if given free choice to roam in a diverse environment, they’ll go for a variety of things!
- Tender greens
- Worms and slugs
- Frogs and lizards
- Small birds
- Dead carcasses
- Larvae and undigested grains in manure
You may be surprised to hear that greens aren’t their favorite. My chickens can be found in our woods 95% of the time because that’s where the protein is. Bugs are scratched up. Rodents are found in logs and under leaves. Frogs are burrowed under the soft earth. Carcasses are left by other predators.
Chickens aren’t vegetarians!
This couldn’t be more true! When I see egg cartons proudly displaying “vegetarian-fed hens” it makes me sad to see that we’re so disconnected from what chickens really are. Chickens LOVE meat, in all forms – not just bugs, either!
I’ve seen my hens devour frogs whole, play “keep away” with mice, and pick at rabbit carcasses. Their latest treats have been picking at leftover deer ribs from hunting season.
Not only does this provide important protein for the chickens (more on this later), but they play an important role in our “no waste” lifestyle and they keep the pest level down on our homestead. Chickens are awesome if they’re allowed to do what they do best 🙂
The nutritional needs of chickens
Chickens have diverse nutritional needs, just like humans! Therefore, they must consume a diverse diet that is adequate in calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Protein is important for proper growth, development, and good egg production.
We still provide high-quality chicken feed for our laying flock, but allow them to forage daily for variety, a nutrient boost, and just plain ‘ol fun! Getting an extra burst of natural protein (bugs, frogs, mice, meat, etc.) is helpful during times like the fall molt, winter, or the spring rush of egg production.
Risks of protein-deficiency in chickens
- Feather abnormalities
- Overeating (resulting in obesity)
- Stunted growth
- Feather picking
- Decline in egg production
- Reduced hatchability of eggs
Do Chickens Eat Meat?
We’ve established that chickens do eat meat in their natural environment, but what about intentionally feeding meat to chickens? Should you do it? What’s the best way to do it? Let’s find out!
Should chickens eat meat?
Here’s the million-dollar question. Chickens can eat meat, but should they? You’ll hear different answers from different folks, but I think the answer is absolutely yes
Meat provides an excellent source of protein in the winter when bugs are scarce. What do you think previous generations fed their flock for protein in the winter? It definitely wasn’t soy!
Chickens are also great at their job as the “clean up crew” – taking any leftovers to produce a no-waste homestead while giving you eggs in return. Chickens are amazing!
Does eating meat increase the risk of cannibalism?
This question is up for debate. Some people claim it does, but I disagree. I’ve been giving my chickens meat scraps for years and have had zero issues with cannibalism. I’ve heard these positive outcomes from many others as well.
In order to reduce the risk, I’d recommend several things:
- Ensure that your flock is getting adequate protein from a well-balanced feed
- Provide extra protein supplementation during times of higher need
- Ensure that your flock has access to grit for proper nutrient utilization
- Provide enough space for your flock so that they aren’t stressed
- Don’t feed a whole, feathered (dead) chicken to your flock
- Instead, provide bones for them to pick at or pieces of meat
*Keep in mind, that chickens naturally will eliminate flock members if they are ill or weak. They may also have fatal fights over pecking order. If death occurs in your flock, it’s likely due to social issues or stress, rather than due to them having some steak the week before.
How to Feed Chickens Meat Safely
Now that it’s clear that chickens can and will eat meat, you probably still have a few questions about it such as what kind of meat is best? Should it be cooked first? How much can they eat? Let’s break it down!
Types of meat
So, you’re all excited to toss some meat out to your chickens, but what kind is best? Any type of meat is fine (beef, pork, chicken, fish, venison, etc.) as long as it is fairly fresh and not rotten in any way.
Can chickens eat chicken?
Yes and no. Some people avoid chicken because they worry that it can lead to cannibalism or potentially spread disease. I’ve heard positive and negative results from both sides, so it’s up to you!
Personally, we eat every single morsel from the meat chickens and extra layer roosters that we raise ourselves – and treasure every bite! So, there’s never anything leftover to even consider giving the chickens, so I can’t speak from experience on this one.
Carcasses and bones
You’ve probably noticed that chickens LOVE to scratch, f,orage and peck at things, and meat is no different! Their favorite way to eat meat is by picking their choice morsels straight from a carcass or bones.
We like to deer hunt off of our property, so I often toss some rib bones out for my chickens to pick clean. If you live in an area low risk-risk of Chronic Wasting Disease, I would consider sharing the whole spine with them as well!
Meats to AVOID with chickens
The types of meats that should be AVOIDED with chickens are processed meats (hot dogs, sausages, bacon, etc.), meats that are breaded and fried, fast food, or anything heavily salted and/or seasoned.
Raw or cooked?
Either is fine, but I prefer raw. It’s less work for me and when you think about it… if chickens came across a dead rodent or carcass in the wild, would they cook it first? Of course not! They would willingly eat it raw. As long as it’s fresh, it’s completely safe.
How much can they eat?
Since meat can rapidly rot while sitting out, it’s important to only provide the amount that your flock will consume in 1 sitting.
This is also important because if you leave meat out for an extended period of time, predators will likely be drawn in. With that, I also recommend feeding meat scraps near the perimeter of the chicken’s area, not inside the run or immediately near the coop.
Can baby chicks eat meat?
No, I personally wouldn’t feed baby chicks meat. They need very small pieces, so it’s best to stick with a well-rounded chick starter and any small morsels that they naturally find foraging (mosquitos, greens, seeds, etc.).
*If you’re looking for a great chick starter consider Scratch & Peck Feeds and use my code homesteadingrd15 for 15% off!
Don’t Want to Feed Your Chickens Meat?
No problem! If the idea of feeding a deer carcass or leftover steak causes you to wrinkle your nose, there are other natural protein sources that you can provide to your flock!
Black soldier fly larvae
You can read about my Top 5 Protein Sources for Chickens for a complete list, but my favorite (non-meat) option is black soldierlarvaelarve.
They have a high protein and calcium content, supporting strong feather development and eggshells. Eaton sustainably sources their larvae from the USA. I shy away from mealworms because nearly 100% of them are sourced from China.
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks Sustainably sourced from the USA! Wahoo! These provide 40% protein and contain 50x more calcium than mealworms! 1 pound of grubs harvested = 10 pounds of food waste saved from landfills and recycled.
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
Sustainably sourced from the USA! Wahoo! These provide 40% protein and contain 50x more calcium than mealworms! 1 pound of grubs harvested = 10 pounds of food waste saved from landfills and recycled.
What Should You Not Feed Chickens?
While chickens enjoy a wide variety of foods from berries and greens to mice and frogs, a few foods should never be provided to them.
- Raw potato peels
- Avocado pit and peel
- Dry/uncooked beans
- Anything moldy or rotten
- Fried foods
- Salty foods
- Caffeine or alcHigh-fath fat foods
- High sugar foods
- Artificial sugars
Another thing to consider avoiding are strong-flavored foods. They aren’t harmful, but the flavors can be passed through the eggs and result in a pungent breakfast for you.
Other Chicken Articles You’ll Love:
- 5 Protein Sources for Chickens (Especially While Molting!)
- Can Chickens Eat Apples? What About the Seeds?
- Can Chickens Eat Bananas? What About the Peel?
- Can Chickens Eat Grapes? Are They Safe?
- Can Chickens Eat Blackberries? Are They Safe?
- Do Chickens Eat Ticks? (…Do Ticks Eat Chickens?)
Are you a first-time chicken keeper? Definitely check out my ultimate resource: How to Care for Chickens: A Beginners Guide.
*Information in this article was referenced from personal experience and/or from my favorite chicken book Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens unless otherwise noted.
Achieve Your Best Harvest Yet!
Grab your own FREE copy of my Garden Growing Guide. It’s fully customizable to your growing zone and can be printed or used digitally. Happy Gardening!