Chickens are some of the most fun animals to keep and raise. Some chickens have stunning appearances, some are good at producing eggs and meat, and some are calm and like to play with humans.
When it comes to food, the chicken food range is quite large, but people often assume that chickens can only plant-based food since that’s what they only see. So is it the case? Are chickens herbivores?
Are chickens herbivores?
Chickens are not herbivores. They are omnivores since their bodies can eat and digest both plants and animals-based food. Their food range is vast and somewhat comparable to humans’.
As a result, chickens aren’t picky about what to eat. They will happily eat anything that you feed them. They will also like to wander around your backyard looking for worms and bugs.
What are herbivores and omnivores?
Herbivores are animals that mostly eat plants. Their bodies are designed with this eating habit in mind, they can eat and digest plants efficiently.
One of the traits to help with eating plants is most herbivores have big molars to chew leaves and plants.
To accommodate plants often having a hard cellulose outer layer, some herbivores’ digestive systems revolve around the process of crushing the plant-based food into smaller size, swallow it, and bring it back to chew for a second time.
The food that is brought back from the stomach to the north for a second time chewing is called “cud”. And those animals are called “ruminants”. Some examples include cows, buffalos, and more.
Furthermore, different herbivores can eat different parts of a plant. For example, some will eat the tree stems and barks, some eat leaves or fruit. There are also herbivores that only eat dead plant material, such as snow geese, ostriches, and some ducks.
Omnivores are animals that can eat and digest properly a large range of both plants and animal-based food. The word “omnivores” derives from 2 Latin words, “omni” and “vorare”, which means “all or everything” and “to devour” accordingly.
In the wild, omnivores will eat anything that is available to them in the surrounding. If it is mainly animals, they could try hunting down and eat the food, the same goes for plants. This makes them have a higher chance of getting food compared to carnivores or herbivores.
Chickens are omnivores, not herbivores
With the 2 definitions above, it is safe to say that chickens are omnivores since both plants and animal-based foods are the primary source of nutrients. They can benefit from plant nutrients as well as animals’ rich protein.
Further reading: Are chickens omnivores?
There are some commercial egg producers that claim their chickens’ diets are vegetarian as a selling point for their eggs. But chicken can, and should be given diets with a large range of plants and animals.
Besides, the commercial chicken feed consists of grains and seeds, or supplemented with fish meal or bone meal; some may use larvae to substitute meat source for protein, which makes it not vegetarian.
On their own, chickens will happily go around eating weeds, grasses, nuts, herbs, seeds, flowers, grains, veggies, berries, and fruits. They would also dig up the first to find some worms, as well as eating bugs and insects, spiders, larvae, and grubs.
The list goes on, chickens can eat some other small animals like rodents, snakes, birds, frogs, and lizards if they can catch the prey.
There are some carnivores that only eat fresh meat, some raptors like vultures, fish eagles, or condors only eat dead and decaying meat. With chickens, they can eat both.
Keep in mind when you want to feed your chickens that chickens are lactose-intolerant, which means they can’t digest properly some dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and more. But a small amount of them would be a great treat for your chickens.
Will chickens eat eggs?
Chickens have no problem eating eggs, whether they are scrambled, raw, or hard-boiled. Eggs are very healthy for chickens as well as humans, they are rich sources of protein.
If you are worried, they won’t be obsessed with eating eggs, it won’t make them cannibal either since they are born cannibals. Baby chicks interest the egg yolk from their own eggs before the shells crack.
Will chickens eat chickens?
Chickens have no problems eating chicken meat. So save some chicken leftover food for your chickens and they will eat them whole.
And just like most treats, you should only give your chickens small amounts only. Letting your chickens go around freely is one of the ways to make sure your chickens get the nutrients they need.
As mentioned, chickens can eat meat alive or dead. And cannibalism within a chicken flock is a thing that can lead to your chickens pecking each other to death.
There are many reasons for chickens’ cannibalistic behavior, such as overcrowding, hot temperature, poor nutrition, sudden changes in flock members or environments leading to stress, and more.
When cannibalism happens in your flock, you should quickly separate injured chickens, as well as those that often peck other chickens and monitor their conditions.
Furthermore, you should provide your chickens enough food, water, space, and comfort so that they can happily live together and not resort to violence.
So, are chickens herbivores? Chickens are not herbivores, they are omnivores since they eat a wide range of both plants and animal-based food compared to herbivores that can only consume plants.
When left with enough space, chickens will go around and look for food.
They can roam in the backyard and pick up grains, seeds, herbs, flowers, berries,…either fed by humans or being available in the wild.
Or they can dig up the dirt to find worms or mealworms or catch and eat small rodents: snakes, lizards, or some other reptiles; frogs; or even small birds.