Friday, May 3, 2013

Just Add Meat - Chickens are NOT Vegetarians

WARNING: Reading chicken feed ingredient lists may prove misleading. 

Naked Neck Hen with a Snake. Photo Courtesy: Kassaundra Tamplen
No – I’m not saying that feed manufacturers are lying about what they are putting in your chicken’s feed. What I am getting at is that upon reading label after label from manufacturer after manufacturer of chicken feed, one might easily be led to think chickens are supposed to be vegetarians.

One label reads, “Made from natural plant-based ingredients FREE of all animal proteins and fats.” Another says, “Ruminant meat and bone meal free.” 

Have you ever wondered why this is? 
(Naked Neck Hen with a Snake 
Photo Series Courtesy: 
Kassaundra Tamplen)
There are still feral chickens in many parts of the world. Are these chickens eating processed and bagged food out of a feeder? No. Yet it is likely that feral chickens consume a far more “natural” diet than many domestic flocks. A feral chicken’s diet consists of insects, larvae, spiders, worms, grasses, grains, snakes, lizards, mice, moles, fruits, berries, nuts... and these chickens will dine on almost any carcass they find. Chickens are omnivores and are opportunistic in their feeding habits.  

In fact, if you don’t have enough coop space, you may possess the unfortunate first-hand knowledge that they will even eat other chickens.  

So why do the majority of commercial chicken feeds lack animal matter and proteins? After all, dog and cat food have meat in them, right?

The rather stomach-turning truth is that large poultry farms that raise meat birds sell their chicken excrement to cattle farmers… as cattle feed.

What?          Yes – you read that right. It is common for both dairy and beef cattle to be fed on diets at least partially comprised of chicken fecal matter. Yummy, no?

So what does that little tidbit of nastiness have to do with keeping animal matter out of chicken feed? Well – if cattle consume the animal matter of other cows, it can trigger bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow disease.

I’m sorry, but if I were being fed chicken poop, I’d be mad too! Anymoo -

If chickens consume meat products, their feces are still fine for cows to consume. But... chickens are notoriously messy eaters, often scratching the feed out of the feeder and spilling it all over the floor… and therein lies the problem. If cows eat the uneaten chicken feed containing beef or beef by-products that was spilled on the floor and mixed with the poop, they could possibly end up with Mad Cow disease.

Did you follow all that?

So let’s back up a little. 

Because of the risks associated with Mad Cow disease, the US Food and Drug Administration has placed regulations on chicken feed banning the use of certain meat proteins.

From the FDA:
On August 4, 1997, 21 CFR 589.2000 became effective. This regulation is designed to prevent the establishment and amplification of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), sometimes referred to as "Mad Cow Disease," through animal feed. The regulation prohibits the use of certain proteins derived from mammalian tissue in feeding ruminant animals.

As a result, almost all chicken feeds available commercially will be free of meat proteins in order to adhere to FDA regulations… and who can blame them?

(I’m sorry – what was that angry clucking sound from your yard?)

Can/should you feed your chickens meat?
Please answer the following question honestly and to the best of your ability:
  • Are you selling your chickens' poop to cattle or dairy farmers as a feedstuff?
If you answered “no” to that question, then chances are there is not a reason in the world your flock should not have meat in their diet. In fact many long-time chicken keepers have found their chickens to be healthier if given meat on a regular basis – especially liver and organ meat. Any meat will do, though, provided it has not gone bad.

 Chicken Eating a Frog - Courtesy: Tom

Yes – chickens naturally eat meat when left to their own devices. And if nature intends for a critter to eat certain foods, chances are those critters will be better off and happier if they do.

So – Be natural!

More Sources/Information:


From The Farm Blog Hop


  1. Great article Leigh. I love Kaussandra's Naked Necks AND her photography! I do feed my chickens meat. They've helped themselves to lizards, mice and even a squirrel that had the misfortune of falling in the donkey's water. (The donkey pulled it out and the chickens had a feast.) I'm wondering now though if my organically fed beef is being fed some chicken poo? I think I better find some grass fed beef!

  2. I wondered about that silliness. Now, I know.

    What gets me are cat foods touting that they have vegetables (Cats are carnivores) or dog foods with vitamin C (dogs make their own vitamin C).

  3. Great article. Very interesting. I skip the cat food with veggies. I have offered our cat spinach, carrots, etc. 'free choice' and he turns his nose up at them. Our chickens however are true omnivores. Thanks. Sharing!

  4. Wow, what an enlightening piece. Thank you for explaining!

  5. just catching up, can they think of more ways to make us sick? they must be just making things up as they go along. here, we are waiting for the arrival of the cicada's i heard they taste good but I'll just let the girls eat them and I'll eat their eggs! They tasted the same after the mouse hunt!
    thanks for sharing!

  6. Ok they might be meat eaters ,but feeding your chickens turkey is just messed up. Chickens will eat bugs,mice,moles and frogs,but NOT table meats and is not in their normal diets and feeding them turkey meat is just wrong.Also chickens do not eat goats,sheep or cows and you should never find animal byproducts in a good feed. So for those of you feeding feed with added by products are probably feeding other nasty things to your flocks like: hormones or steroids. An education is important ,but so IS THE RIGHT FACTS OF THE MATTER. The RIGHT info can do better for the people than a bunch of misguided junk that was thought up from someone who does NOT have a clue. If you want to include some of their natural insects(meats) them buy them hen treats or breed your own meal worms or black solder fly larvae, but for heaven sakes feed the RIGHT meats not your tables turkey.

    1. I ask why not? What is so wrong about it? Personally I feel that MOST animal feed is junk. Who wants to eat soy beans and corn all the time with processed vitamins. But that's just me. I make my own feed AND I feed leftover meat (but not the dark part of the turkey-they dont like that part....not sure why actually) which my girls do well on. To each their own I always say. Oh and btw, have you seen hens eat chicks? Pretty gruesome.

    2. Well, Anonymous... we can see that you have an opinion! And an interesting one it is! Though I'm not sure that you actually *read* this article.

      Let me reiterate - Chickens will eat ANY CARCASS THEY FIND - that includes those of cows, goats, sheep... in fact just the other day a group of my birds jumped the fence and made their way under a barn door to get to the deer carcass in there - my husband shot it, I butchered it and the chickens cleaned up the bones and ate the brain. If you can hold on for just a minute, I'll run out to the chicken yard and inform them that they actually don't eat large animals because you said so.

      OK - I'm back (thanks for waiting). My chickens want to know why it is "wrong" to feed them turkey? Although I never mentioned turkey specifically in the above article, you seem fairly focused on that. I have news for you... if one of my chickens were attacked by a predator and died in the chicken yard, my other chickens would eat as much of it as they could before I learned of the chicken's passing. Yes - chickens will quite happily eat a bird they roosted with the night before. They would be over the moon with joy if a turkey were thoughtful enough to expire in their presence.

      You state, "So for those of you feeding feed with added by products are probably feeding other nasty things to your flocks like: hormones or steroids." So true! And thank goodness commercial chicken feed in the US can't get FDA approval if it contains any ruminant animal matter... because then they wouldn't have to add: Wheat middlings, corn distillers dried grains with solubles, corn (GMO), soybean meal (which has naturally occurring estrogen - a HORMONE), L-Lysine, DL-Methionine, calcium carbonate, Sodium Bentonite, salt, ferrous carbonate, ferrous sulfate, copper sulfate, Manganous oxide, manganese sulfate, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, Cobalt Carbonate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite, vitamin a supplement, vitamin d3 supplement, vitamin e supplement, menadione dimethylpyrimidinol bisulfite, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin supplement, niacin supplement, choline chloride, calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, biotin, vitamin b12 supplement, propionic acid...

      (Oh yes - that is a real ingredient list from a very popular brand of chicken feed - I added some little thoughts in parenthesis. Sounds delish, no?) Chicken feed manufacturers have to ADD the vitamins and minerals found in meat because they're not allowed to use... meat.

      I'm terribly sorry if the reality of my chickens' lifestyle has been damaging to your sensibilities. If they seem like immoral, cannibalistic gluttons, well... it's because they are. Too bad I didn't get your sweet message earlier - I could have sent the wonderful Pastor that came by this morning out to the chicken yard to speak to them sternly.

      And as far as your statement that "The RIGHT info can do better for the people than a bunch of misguided junk that was thought up from someone who does NOT have a clue," I TOTALLY agree! Well stated, my sweet, misguided Anonymous. And HERE'S a little something to thank you for such kind words.

    3. I fully agree with THE REALITY OF CHICKENS.
      By the way just love THE LITTLE SOMETHING u sent him so bloody well done
      THANK YOU.

    4. Thanks for the useful article and I LOVE the little something!

  7. Thank you so much for this article. I have only been keeping chickens for two years so i am aware of how much i have to learn. all the books i read before i got my chooks said don't give them meat....then my hens surprised me. let me explain;
    Last spring my husband had the boys round to watch the rugby one Sunday morning, so i made cooked breakfast for them and laid it out on the coffee table in the back room. it was a lovely sunny morning and they all sat round enjoying the match on tv, French doors open with a warm breeze gently wafting in, tucking into sausage bacon eggs and mugs of coffee.
    My ladies were happily pecking around the garden until they caught the scent of scrummy brunch - then cheeky Audrey popped in grabbed a sausage off the table and went running out into the garden again where all the girls squabbled for a share!
    I read your article yesterday on making tasty treats, so i had a go at making a high protein snack with liver, meat fat herbs and meusli etc. i put it in a yogurt pot and froze it overnight. i gave it to the girls this morning and they were very happy with it!
    Thank you again for your continued words of wisdom

    kind regards


  8. My girls eat anything that doesn't eat them first. I've watched them grab spiders as big as their heads, frogs---my rooster ate a 10" snake head first without killing it! Sluuuuuuuuuuurp!!! Just like a piece of pasta!

    I also feed them back at least one of their own eggs per day, with shell. Sometimes cooked, sometimes raw. I collect the eggs each morning, so I haven't had any trouble with them going after the eggs prior to me getting them---but they love, love, love raw egg.

    In actuality, they don't really care for the "crumbles" that i get from the feed store---my girls are free range and have eaten pretty much anything/everything that they can get their beaks on! They also like fish! I have grilled up a couple pieces for myself and then the girls will scrawscrawscraw until I share.

    This idea that birds are vegetarian? Really? Just because they are domesticated? They are BIRDS. Just like crows, vultures, or any other bird. They are PREDATORS in their own right---has anybody informed eagles and hawks that they can't fish or eat roadkill? Just sayin'. A bird is a bird is a bird. My girls are fat, happy and lay beautiful strong eggs. They run and play and are just all around healthy.

  9. nice blog !! i was looking for blogs related of animal feed supplement . then i found this blog, this is really nice and interested to read.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Very nice blog and useful too, i also provide animal feed supplement

  12. Love this article and all of the responses. A very polite comeback from Mr Anonymous too. Very informative and exactly what I initially thought. A bird is a bird is a bird. Let's just eat whatever gets in our way! ☺

  13. Love this article, will be sharing with my family so they understand why I feed my chickens meat!!! Thask you!

  14. OMG! That little gift was TOO FUNNY!!! Can't wait to use it myself! Thanks for sharing everything!

  15. Is raw pork ok? I was trimming fat and threw it in the chicken scraps but then began obsessing, I'm sure in the wild they would chow down! This was what I was researching when I found your site ;)

    1. Raw pork *should* be fine. You may not want to eat their eggs raw for a while and keep an eye out for any signs of illness, but generally chickens don't get food poisoning the way we do, and by the time they lay eggs they have filtered out the nasties that pigs carry.

  16. There is no such thing as a vegetarian chicken. Thanks for this post and links. Always wondered what the true reason for the poultry industry pushing that idea was.
    Now I know... And it unfortunately makes sense....
    Gotta love Big Ag. }:(
    Cheers to you and to natural and sustainable agriculture.

  17. Thank you so much for the useful info and for clearing up the "meat"issue for me lol

  18. Chickens are omnivores. They're dinosaurs! like the origin of all birds. Few birds eat only grain. Some birds that could be considered largely vegan are: geese, parrots, doves, quail, sparrows, waxwings and finches.But they periodically eat insects. Good article!
    In Delaware, turkey vultures dominate the skies. They are the garbage collectors of road kill. Rarely are dead animals pick up by the state roads people. The bodies are gone in a few days. Nature balances out things I suppose.


Let us know what you think. We LOVE getting feedback!

Your comment may not show up right away. Due to spam I have had to turn Comment Moderation on to prevent the garbage from piling up. Sorry for the inconvenience!