Knowing what food to give to your chickens is the essential part of keeping your birds healthy. That’s the first thing you need to research if you plan on having chickens. Heck, even if you already have them, there’s no such thing as too much knowledge.
So with that said, the one question that any chicken owner asks themselves and others is this: Can chickens eat bird seed?
It’s the most obvious food choice for the new and veteran owners alike! They’re birds, after all. But is it good for them? Are there any risks? Chickens already have a well-documented list of foods that they should eat.
But bird seed mixes have an advantage – convenience. You can go to pretty much any pet store and get yourself a bag of bird seeds. Well, don’t worry, we did some research to figure out if that convenience has a price. And we think that you’ll like what we found out!
So let’s get this show on the road:
Can Chickens Eat Bird Seeds?
Let’s get the answer out of the way at the get-go: YES, chickens can eat bird seeds and pretty much any sort of mix of them. But there are some complications, as with any food.
See, like any other animal, chickens need a healthy combination of proteins, fats, vitamins, etc. The nutritive values of foods are what matters most. That means you can pretty much figure out if any food is good or bad for your chickens if you read the labels carefully enough.
Chickens can actually figure out those nutritional values just as well as the label, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. We’ll also cover what you need in food for it to be qualified as “good.” Birdseed mixes can sometimes fall in this category, but they should generally be treated as, well, treats!
Now I know what you’re thinking, chickens are birds, right? So what’s the problem?
Well, not all birds are the same. This means that every species needs different foods to stay healthy. Sure, a mix that’s intended for small birds is still food that chickens can eat, but it’s not food that’ll keep them full and healthy! It’s not just about the calories!
The main problem with bird seeds is that they have a high percentage of fats and not too many vitamins for your chickens. This is why your chickens can technically eat them, but even they know that it’s not valuable in the long run.
Some mixes are of higher quality than others, sure, but you can’t rely on that. The fact of the matter is that they’re just not enough to be qualified as a healthy meal for your chickens! So let’s take a look at using them as treats:
Having some bird seeds to sprinkle around the yard is a great idea. Bird seeds can be perfect for a treat and for chickens to have fun finding randomly on the ground.
As you know, having a fun way of reaching the traits is pretty vital to our birds. They need mental stimulation to stay healthy. We don’t think that you need to give them a math test every day, but looking for treats or having them hung up on a rope is very good for them.
This brings us to our next point: chickens are smart! They need that mental stimulation for the same reason you and I need mental stimulation. Because they have a capacity for it, and just standing around and having your food served directly is not fulfilling that capacity.
Chickens Know What’s Good For Them
If you have chickens, you probably figured out that they’ll eat pretty much anything. Or at least it seems that they would. But it’s actually not that simple.
Sure, chickens will munch on freshly mowed grass at first glance if they happen to find it. Let them loose in your yard, and they will find enough treats to be eaten for days on end. But they know pretty darn well what kind of foods they’ll eat. You really can trust their judgment.
See, chickens won’t really eat anything they find. The freshly mowed grass example exists because there are nutritional values in the grass. So chickens will eat anything that has a nutritional value that they might benefit from!
If you keep them locked up and give them birdseed all the time, they have to eat it. They’re smart enough to know what to eat, so you can imagine that they know what will happen if they stop eating altogether. In that sense, they will eat anything. Survival is a priority.
But that’s not only a bad plan; it’s a terrible way to live. Your chickens need freedom, and they need food choices. We know that however smart they are, you probably still know what food to give them – but treats can be made interesting for them.
So if you want to keep your chickens healthy – you have to keep them happy! There still are some foods that work better as a treat, though.
Treats like bananas, grapes, tomatoes, celery, grass, apples, crickets, and mealworms have great nutritional values with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Sure, like we already mentioned, birdseed mixes are convenient. It’s ready to be consumed as a treat, and you can just sprinkle it around the yard.
Rice, for instance, has to be cooked. It’s a healthy treat, no doubt about it, but it takes time and if you’re in a pinch – something like a birdseed mix does the job better!
We’re mentioning all these foods for a reason. While all of them need to be given to your chickens in moderation, they’re a healthier option than birdseed. Bananas contain many vitamins and minerals like niacin, iron, and magnesium.
Broccoli is, for instance, is the polar opposite of bird seeds. It’s low in fat and packed full of vitamins. It should be cooked, which makes the seeds more convenient once more.
Nutrition And Health
So what does all that nutrition talk mean? What happens to your chicken if it consumes a food that is high in fat? What can happen if they don’t consume enough vitamins? Let’s take a look, shall we:
It would be best to look at basic nutritional charts, but unfortunately, those are pretty hard to find on a bird mix bag. They have information on them, but not everybody can figure out what they mean. Let’s see what we can do about that.
The top three most sold bird seed mixes in the U.S.A. have nyjer seeds as the main ingredient. Nyjer, also known as Guizotia abyssinica, is the seed of an oilseed crop that originated in Ethiopia.
There’s a reason for its popularity. Nyjer seeds are full of essential amino acids. 1 gram of Nyjer seeds contain:
There’s nothing wrong with these seeds; let’s get that out of the way. As long as you pick a good brand, the seeds that are used will probably be very healthy. But they will also be packed full of fats like all seeds are.
Chickens are quite bigger than your average birdseed consumer. So by the time you birds eat enough of the mix, those amino acids are going to be outweighed by the fat percentage.
We’re saying this – it’s not the seeds that present the problem; you’re just giving them to the wrong bird! We could go over other ingredients, but the case is pretty much always the same. They have a good percentage of amino acids and some minerals, but no vitamins and too much fat.
All in all, as far as the nutritional values go, there are plenty of foods that are a better treat for your chickens than birdseed mixes. If you have some lying around, you can give it to them. Heck, if you decide to buy it specifically to use it as a treat, they’ll love it.
Just know that there are better options!
So there you have it! Bird seeds can be a good treat. They are already packed and ready to be consumed by your chickens! The ease of use is something that these mixes have over other food.
But we still feel that if you have other options, go for those instead. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give your chickens some bird seeds. If you ever tried it, you should know that they love the stuff!
As long as you make sure that your chickens are healthy and happy, it won’t matter if you’re giving them this treat or any other healthy alternative!
Read Also: Can Chickens Eat Bird Food?