Chickens are Omnivores, not Vegetarians

November 21, 2017


From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
om·ni·vore/ˈämnəˌvôr/
noun
  An animal or person that eats both plants and animals as their main food.
The word omnivore comes from the Latin words omni, meaning "everything or all" and vorare which means "to devour."  Although some commercial egg producers proclaim that their eggs are from "vegetarian fed" hens, chickens are actually omnivores. This means that they can (and should!) eat a diet that contains both plants as well as animal proteins. And chickens are hardly alone in their dining preferences in the animal kingdom. Other omnivores include humans, of course, but also bears, pigs, dogs, fox, skunks, possums, mice, chipmunks and unbelievably...ants.
Commercial chicken feeds blend a balanced mix of grains and seeds, often supplemented with bone meal or fish meal.  Certainly not a vegetarian diet, although some organic feeds use insect larvae as the protein source instead of a meat source - but still, not vegetarian.
Chickens left to their own devices will just as happily nibble on grasses, weeds, herbs, flowers, grains, seeds, nuts, veggies, berries and fruit as they will gobble up all the bugs and insects, larvae, spiders, worms, grubs, and even small rodents, birds, snakes, lizards and frogs they can catch. It's important to note that chickens will eat both "live" and dead meat. While some carnivores only eat fresh meat that they kill, and some like vultures, hyenas, and other scavengers mainly eat carrion. 
You'll notice that no mention is made of dairy products. That's because chickens are lactose-intolerant and don't digest milk sugars well, so although they will enjoy the occasional yogurt, dish of milk or some cheese, too much can cause gastric distress, so best to avoid serving dairy. However, chickens absolutely love eggs! 
Scrambled, hard-boiled, or even raw, they'll slurp up as many eggs as you feed them  - and be healthier for it. Eggs are one of the best protein sources available for both humans and chickens.  (And before you raise your hand to ask, no feeding your chickens eggs won't turn them into egg eaters, nor does it make them cannibals.) So serve up those eggs, shells and all!
There should no worries about turning your flock into cannibals either, because technically chickens are born cannibals, since the baby chick ingests the yolk of the egg it's hatching from just before cracking the shell open. And yes, chickens can even eat chicken. While we don't really eat chicken at our house anymore, I do give our chickens the Thanksgiving turkey carcass and you should see them pick that clean!
So next time you're preparing dinner or thinking about leaving your leftovers on your plate when you dine out, save those scraps for your chickens. Of course, treats should be limited to about 10% of your flock's diet, so remember, everything in moderation.

Allowing your flock to safely free range is a wonderful way to ensure that they are eating a wide variety of all the plants and animal (insect mostly) matter they need to be happy and healthy and lay you delicious fresh eggs!

Resources:
Healthy Chicken Treat Guide
http://articles.extension.org/pages/73541/what-does-a-chicken-eat
https://biologydictionary.net/omnivore/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/29/consumers-love-chickens-that-are-vegetarian-fed-never-mind-what-the-birds-want-to-eat
http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/94/feeding-chickens-for-best-health-and-performance/

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