Chickens have become incredibly popular over the past few years. While they’ve been kept by those living in the country with plenty of space, chickens have also started making inroads among urban homesteaders. Raising chickens is a meaningful way to engage directly with nature for those living in the middle of the city. And raising your own chickens provides several benefits, including a steady stream of fresh, cruelty-free eggs!

One of the most important things in chicken husbandry is ensuring your birds get the right food to keep them happy and healthy. So what about table scraps and other treats? What exactly do chickens need to eat? And is it ok for them to eat walnuts? Chickens do best when fed a balanced commercial or homemade diet supplemented with fruit and vegetable scraps, and it’s okay for chickens to enjoy a walnut or two.

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What Do Chickens Eat?

Chickens need a balanced diet that meets specific caloric and other nutritional needs. Commercial pellets make it easy to ensure your chickens get all the nutrients they need to thrive and the correct number of calories. But it’s also possible to make your own feed if you’re willing to do a bit of research to ensure your homemade blend provides all the vitamins and minerals your birds need.

But chickens also enjoy fresh fruit and vegetable scraps in addition to their normal feed. Chickens can eat just about any table scrap, including beef and pork leftovers, bread crusts, pasta, eggshells, and salad greens. Just stay away from dishes with a ton of salt and fat.

One of the reasons chickens are so valuable is their ability to thrive and grow on the products humans throw away. They’re incredibly adaptable omnivores which makes them incredibly easy to feed. You can even provide your chickens with chopped-up boiled eggs and kitchen scraps for a few days if you run out of regular chicken feed.

chicken eating seeds
Image Credit: schubbel, Shutterstock

Can I Just Feed My Chicken Table Scraps?

Not really. Most chickens will be fine with just table scraps for a day or two, but these birds have precise nutritional needs. For instance, birds being raised as meat sources need a totally different diet than egg-laying chickens. Birds raised as meat are usually fed food high in calories and protein to encourage weight gain.

Egg-laying hens require less protein and fewer calories than birds raised for consumption. Chickens need certain nutrients to lay healthy eggs, including calcium and phosphorus. Feeding egg-laying hens nothing but random table scraps won’t provide the nutrients these birds require to remain healthy.

Feeding your flock a high-quality commercial product is the easiest way to ensure your birds get the right nutritional support. These formulations most often come in the form of pellets and are easy to use, measure and store.

If you’re concerned about what your chickens consume, with a blender and a bit of kitchen magic, it’s possible to make feed that provides all the nutrients your birds require! Check the rules where you live before deciding to make your chicken feed. The United Kingdom, for instance, has relatively strict regulations regarding feeding human scraps to livestock, including chickens.

Are There Foods Chickens Can’t Eat?

Yes. While chickens will eat just about anything, certain foods can be toxic to these birds, including avocados, chocolate, coffee, green potato peels, citrus fruit peels, processed foods, and salt. Raw green potato peels contain glycoalkaloids, which is are chemicals that are poisonous to chickens when consumed in sufficient quantities.

While walnuts are fine for your chickens to eat, the nuts need to be raw and entirely salt-free. Other products chickens need to avoid include apple seeds, onions, rhubarb, tomato plants, and apricot pits. Make sure to avoid feeding your chickens any table scraps containing tons of fat or bits of spoiled food. Anything with mold should never be given to your flock. And beware of feeding your chickens processed meat pumped full of preservatives! Items like cheese and other dairy products are okay, as are bits of cooked fish.

Can Chickens Eat Nuts?

Chickens can eat most types of nuts. Raw acorns and bitter almonds are major exceptions— bitter almonds contain hydrogen cyanide which can be fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities. Remove the nuts from the shell before giving the treat to your flock. Breaking large nuts such as sweet almonds and walnuts into smaller pieces makes it easier for birds to eat. Try to limit these sorts of tasty extras to no more than 10% of your flock’s diet.

chicken eating from mug
Image Credit: Natalya Sergeeva, Shutterstock

Can Chickens Eat Nut Shells?

Yes. If it’s a nut that’s non-toxic to chickens, they can also consume the shells. Keep in mind that it may be difficult for chickens to break into and extract nuts from tough intact shells. So while there’s nothing wrong with giving your flock unshelled peanuts or walnuts to eat, you’ll probably want to shell any treats you provide to your birds.

Can Chickens Eat Fruit and Raw Vegetables?

Yes. Bananas, berries, and apples are popular favorites that provide many healthy nutrients. But stay away from citrus fruits! Bok Choy, silver beet, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli are all healthy fresh treats that chickens can enjoy raw and in leftovers. Chickens can also eat limited amounts of cooked or uncooked rice, bread, and pasta. Opt for whole-grain rice and bread to provide your flock with the most nutrients possible.


Final Thoughts

Chickens make extraordinary additions to the family. Chickens are amazingly smart, and raising them is a great way to have regular access to fresh, antibiotic-free, cruelty-free eggs. Commercial pellets are formulated to provide all the nutrients chickens need to thrive, but some people prefer to feed their chickens homemade formulations based on fresh, whole foods.

To keep your chickens happy, ensure they have a balanced core diet and give them regular access to plenty of treats like fresh vegetable scraps, apples, and walnuts. Make sure to provide your chickens with unsalted nuts removed from the shell and crumbled into bite-sized pieces if you decide to give a fun walnut treat.