If you are trying to feed your chickens and you don’t have access to proper feed, or you’d rather not buy commercial chicken food, you might be wondering whether you can feed your chickens birdseed, or if this is potentially dangerous to them.
Although chickens are birds, you do need different kinds of feed for different kinds of birds, so it’s important to check whether any of the standard seed mixes are suitable before you give them to your chickens.
So, can chickens eat birdseed, or is it important to only feed them food that has been specifically mixed for them to provide all the nutrients that they need?
Don’t ever give your chickens something without checking first, because although chickens are somewhat discerning about what they eat, it’s easy for them to peck up something harmful because it resembles their standard food and they cannot tell the difference.
Even if your chickens are allowed to free range and therefore can pick up birdseed themselves now and again, you need to know whether actively feeding it to them is safe.
Most chickens will eat almost anything that they find, so you should be aware of the areas that your chickens roam in, and what they may have access to. Being vigilant could prevent your bird from eating something harmful.
Can Chickens Eat Birdseed?
Chickens can eat birdseed, but it’s important to be aware that this is not safe to use as your chickens’ main food, especially if your chickens are egg layers, because they will need specific nutrients in order to stay healthy.
Egg laying takes a lot of energy from the birds on an almost daily basis, so you need to ensure that your birds are getting high quality food that will give them a balance of the relevant nutrients. Birdseed won’t provide enough vitamins to keep your chickens strong and healthy.
Additionally, wild birdseed is high in fat, which may not be great for your chickens, and it may also undergo less rigorous safety testing than commercial chicken food. It is not likely to be too harmful in small quantities, but you should feed it with caution, and not too frequently.
Many chickens will eat birdseed if they find it in your garden, or if they get into a sack of it in a shed. There is a lot of similarity between most bird foods and the foods that chickens need, so chickens will happily eat it if they come across it.
However, they probably won’t make it their only food, as they will be aware that they aren’t getting all the nutrients that they need, or the grit required for building strong eggshells.
What Seeds Are Toxic To Chickens?
Overall, seeds are a natural part of a chicken’s diet, and most seeds are completely safe for chickens to eat, although some are healthier than others.
Of course, some seeds are not safe, and a list of toxic seeds usually includes things like potato seeds, foxglove seeds, poppy seeds, sweet pea seeds, morning glory seeds, and the seeds of legumes or beans.
These should not be fed to your chickens in any circumstances, and nor should apple seeds, which contain cyanide and could be dangerous.
Most of these seeds are not likely to be found in a bag of mixed birdseed, but it’s worth being aware of them, especially if you grow any of these plants in your garden and they might drop the seeds at some time. If you are going to give your chickens pieces of apple, remove the seeds first.
Overall, seeds tend to be safe for chickens to eat, but it is always a good idea to check before you feed your chickens any particular kind of seed.
In general, it’s best not to give your chickens large amounts of any one seed, even if you know it to be safe, because chickens thrive on having a varied diet, and not eating too much of any single food.
Should You Feed Your Chickens Birdseed?
It is best not to actively feed your chickens birdseed, although you don’t really need to worry about the flock picking it up off the ground, and it’s fine for your chickens to have a little birdseed to supplement their main diet.
Birdseed is too fatty and low in nutrients to be fed to your flock on a regular basis, but it’s fine as a foraging food, or when used as a treat.
If, for some reason, you are unable to get chicken food for a day or two because of a supply issue, birdseed will be better for your birds than no food at all, but it should only be used in an emergency.
Don’t buy birdseed for your chickens instead of their regular feed, even if it’s cheaper than proper chicken food.
Using it as a treat or to supplement their food is fine, and you don’t need to worry about foraging chickens snacking on it – even on a regular basis – but it should not be part of the everyday diet.
While your flock may not directly suffer from eating birdseed, their overall health is likely to be decreased, and this can result in them being more vulnerable to diseases.
Providing high quality foods and a well balanced diet can massively improve the health of your flock, and will make your chickens more resilient and capable of fighting off diseases.
If you’re wondering “can chickens eat birdseed safely?” the answer is that they can, as long as they are not eating large amounts of birdseed, or getting it too frequently. There’s nothing in birdseed that should be dangerous or toxic to your chickens, so it’s fine to let them scrap around and find this, or to add a little to your chickens’ feeder every now and then, but it should not be given to them every day. Chickens that eat too much birdseed may become overweight and deficient in certain nutrients, which makes them more vulnerable to illnesses.