While chickens are usually found stirring up the dirt in search of worms and bugs, their diet consists of fruit, grains, and vegetables, too. But what about other types of foods? Have you ever wondered: Can chickens eat bread? Is it something you should be feeding your chickens?
To put it shortly: yes, but only if you provide them a moderate amount of it!
In general, bread is safe for your chickens to eat. So, nothing is stopping you from feeding them this tasty treat. It doesn’t even matter if it’s fresh or stale – as long as you draw the line between “stale” and “moldy,” that is.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. You’ll find some basic knowledge regarding bread in chickens’ diets – and some concerns you should be aware of – below. Without further ado, let’s take a look.
What Can Chickens Eat?
The list of what chickens can eat is longer than what they can’t. Below you’ll find some common foods that owners give their flock.
- Vegetables – Unless the veggie in question is part of the nightshade family, it is safe for your bird, either cooked or raw. Some safe vegetables include spinach, squash, cabbage, kale, broccoli.
- Fruits – They’re safe, vitamin-rich foods your chickens will love. Examples are apples, berries, and melons.
- Grains – Wheat, oats, and rice are great for your flock.
- Herbs – They’re great supplements to a chicken’s diet. Different herbs provide different health benefits for your chickens.
- Cooked meats – Meat can only be provided as long as it’s chopped into small pieces and well cooked.
Rest assured, these are safe – and, in some cases, even beneficial – for chickens. As for bread, it should be looked at as a treat when it comes to a chicken’s diet.
Feeding Your Chickens Table Scraps
Chickens, often called two-legged pigs, are amazing animals. Their digestive system is built to accommodate most types of foods. In addition, chickens are omnivores, meaning they can eat a variety of foods.
Sharing leftovers with your flock has become a common practice. But table scraps alone don’t form a balanced diet for your chicken. In that sense, leftovers should be used as a supplemental treat, not the main course.
Wait until your chicks are 3-4 months old until you introduce them to table scraps. Baby chicks need a lot of protein in their diet, and leftovers aren’t the richest in this nutrient.
Can Chickens Eat Bread?
Bread is a common food that most people feed their chickens without giving it a second thought. Most chickens love bread, and they aren’t picky when it comes to the variety of bread. If you have whole grain bread, the kind with seeds in it, your chickens will love you!
The good news is that bread isn’t necessarily poisonous for your chickens. The problem is, it doesn’t offer much when it comes to nutritional values. While a great treat, it shouldn’t be fed as a sole source of food.
I will weigh out some positives and negatives of bread in a chicken’s diet in the next part. Let’s take a look:
Why Can Chickens Eat Bread?
As stated above, chickens love it, but more importantly, they have a digestive system that can handle this type of food.
When chickens eat, they tear pieces of bread or any other food before they swallow it. The food is then collected in the crop, a pouch-like organ that acts as a food reservoir before moving to other parts of the digestive system.
After the crop, food travels to the stomach, where it’s mixed with digestive juices. Some of the food finds its way into the gizzard for further digestion.
That should give you an idea of the chicken’s digestive system – and why they don’t have a problem eating bread and other table scraps.
And then, there’s the apparent reason: Your chickens need the energy to stay active throughout the day. And even though bread isn’t exceptionally nutritious, it’s still able to provide some much-needed energy to your flock.
Why Shouldn’t Chickens Eat Bread?
There are some side effects of bread consumption in chickens to keep in mind, though. I’ll list some of them below.
Bread can be particularly dangerous as it can get stuck in the chicken’s throat. The risk of choking is there with most types of bread, too. Dry bread expands when it’s in the mouth, meaning it can get stuck if the chicken tries to eat a large piece.
Moreover, bread can also block the crop, the first part of a chicken’s digestive system. If you insist on giving your birds bread, make sure you wet the slice first. By doing this, you can keep the choking hazard to a minimum.
As I stated, chicks require a high amount of protein for proper growth. Bread lacks this nutrient, so I wouldn’t bet on your chickens getting much value from it nutrition-wise.
Usually, one slice of bread consists of two to three grams of protein, which isn’t nearly as much as chickens need for their development.
Apart from protein, bread is also low in calcium, a nutrient responsible for egg quality in chickens. Good quality and strong eggshells come from a calcium-rich diet, which bread lacks. Long-term provision as the only source of food may make eggs brittle.
Even more so, feeding your laying hens with bread only will cause them to feel full longer, which could reduce their layer mash consumption.
Yeast and sugar found in bread can ferment in the crop. That could elevate the PH levels of the crop’s content and cause changes in the microbiome, the bacteria that grow in the gizzard and crop.
These changes can trigger a chronic case of the sour crop, a condition known to be challenging to treat.
Any moldy food will contain mycotoxins – and bread is no exception. These toxins can cause a condition known as mycosis. Even though this condition is treatable, you wouldn’t want to make your flock ill in the first place, would you?
Furthermore, mycotoxins are known to cause liver tissue degeneration. This condition will affect a chicken’s ability to utilize proteins, resulting in low egg production.
And to add to it, exposing chicken to molds can also lead to breathing difficulties.
Including Bread In Your Chicken’s Diet
Since you technically can feed bread to your chickens, you can think of ways to mix things up when offering it as a treat for your flock. Here are some chicken-friendly suggestions on how to do it:
Warm bread mash is super-easy to make. You just have to add bread into your regular feed and mix it with hot water. Give them this treat on cold mornings, and your chickens will love you!
DIY Chicken Bread
If you love channeling your inner baker, you should consider making your chickens their loaf. When preparing chicken bread, make sure you add seeds, grains, crushed eggshells, and veggies.
I can pretty much guarantee that your flock will enjoy this homemade treat.
Can You Feed Your Baby Chicks Bread?
Baby chicks can eat bread the same way adult chickens do but make sure you keep it to a minimum.
With baby chicks growing as fast as they do, a certain amount of protein is a must in their diets. And that brings us to bread, which isn’t particularly rich in protein.
Three grams of protein per slice, which is how much you’ll find in basic white bread, is nowhere near enough to sustain growth and keep baby chicks healthy.
A tiny piece of bread now and then won’t have any immediate adverse effects. But due to the low nutritional value of bread, it’s best to feed it to adult chickens rather than baby chicks.
So, regarding the whole can chickens eat bread or not dilemma, I can assure you they can.
Bread isn’t toxic for chickens if fed in moderation, and they will most likely enjoy eating it, so there’s no harm there. Both fresh and stale bread without mold should be perfectly safe for adult chickens.
Feeding too much bread comes with its risks, though. Choking hazard is one of them, but it can be avoided by wetting the bread before giving it to your chickens. And conditions like mycosis can be prevented by making sure you aren’t giving moldy bread to your birds.
Remember, there are ways you can safely feed bread to your flock. Bread mash and DIY bread are delicious treats for your birds. Make sure you add veggies for extra vitamins and minerals, too. Your birds will thank you.
Now that you know more about chickens’ digestive systems, you can give the crop a little help by not making bread the primary nutrition source. For any other concerns, visiting your local vet is always advised.