Chickens can eat earthworms, yes. In fact, earthworms make for a nutritionally dense snack. There is a small risk of parasite transfer, gapeworm in particular. But this shouldn't outweigh the benefits of allowing your chickens to eat earthworms and other bugs.
Foraging for bugs and insects comes naturally to chickens. It’s not something you can or should discourage.
Earthworms, in particular, provide a protein-rich snack for chooks. As do most 6-8 legged creatures.
There are actually thousands of different species of earthworms. I haven’t researched every single one, but as far as I can tell any earthworms found across the U.S. are fine for chickens.
In this article, I’m going to explain why earthworms are other bugs are so awesome for chickens, the potential risks to be aware of, and some other interesting bits of information:
Can Chickens Get Worms From Eating Earthworms?
This is always the negative I hear people throwing around about allowing backyard chickens to roam large distances and eat whatever they find.
There is a small risk of an infected earthworm, slug, snail, etc., passing some kind of parasite or worm to a chicken that eats it.
That's just one of the potential hazards that you can't really avoid. A lot of backyard chicken owners are aware of gapeworm, in particular, as this is one of the more publicized and deadly parasites chickens can pick up from eating bugs.
Gapeworm is a type of roundworm that attaches itself to the inside of a chicken's trachea. It slowly suffocates a chicken, and one of the main symptoms is seeing a chicken gasping for breath.
It's pretty distressing to see, and obviously, I would do everything I could to avoid gapeworm getting into my flock.
For this reason, I don't recommend buying or collecting large numbers of earthworms for your chickens to eat. At the same time, I wouldn't discourage them from finding and eating earthworms.
What Do Chickens Eat Naturally?
If you’re planning on letting your chickens free-range a little more and wondering what kind of things they'll eat, the answer is - just about anything!
Chickens are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and plants. In the wild, chickens spend their days foraging around and nibbling on all kinds of seeds, fruits, berries, grasses, and insects, and small critters.
Backyard chickens do have different dietary requirements from their wild ancestors, however.
As a general rule of thumb, backyard chickens should get 90% of their diet met with a good commercial feed. This will ensure they’re getting all of their complex dietary needs met.
This is particularly important for laying hens if you want them to maintain optimal Health and lay their best eggs.
The other 10% of their diet can come from ‘treats’ like your leftover foods, table scraps, stuff they forage for, and so on.
Related - Are chickens omnivores, herbivores, or carnivores?
Should You Let Your Chickens Forage for Bugs?
I'm a huge fan of letting chickens forage for bugs. The awesome nutritional value of bugs and insects far outweigh the small potential risks, in my opinion.
Anyway, let's be real here, foraging for bugs comes as naturally to chickens as breathing does to us.
You can't stop chickens foraging for bugs. All you can do is restrict the area they have available to roam in, but free-range chickens with space to roam are happier and healthier chickens.
On the subject of earthworms, I’ve heard them described as “wriggling superfood” before. Earthworms are very high in protein, which is great for laying chickens in particular, and also have high levels of iron, amino acids, and other vitamins and minerals.
The bottom line is; all bugs, insects, and just about any 6 or 8 legged creatures are great for chickens as is variation in their diet.
Backyard Bugs and Insects That Are Safe for Chickens
Most yards are crawling - literally - with all kinds of bugs, insects, and creepy crawlies that are great for chickens - far more than you are probably aware of.
Generally speaking, it’s fine for chickens to eat just about anything that moves.
If there are poisonous or toxic insects in your area, I’m sure you’ll be aware of them as you keep yourself and other pets safe.
To give you a better idea of what chickens gobble up, here is a list of some of the most common creatures they eat:
- Slugs and snails
- Grasshoppers and crickets
- Stink bugs
- Small reptiles like lizards
- .. the list is endless.
The best part – it’s a win-win. Your chickens get tasty, protein-rich snacks, and you get free pest control!
On a serious note, it’s actually good for chickens to get some variation in their diet. Ideally, a chicken's diet should comprise 90% of a good commercial feed, and the other 10% from treats like table scraps, leftovers, and of course bugs and insects.
Now you know, earthworms are fun for chickens to find and provide a pretty awesome nutritional snack.
If you’ve been witnessing your chickens gobbling them up, although it might look a little gross you can rest easy knowing it’s fine.
There are thousands of different species of earthworms. Red worms, red wigglers, and nightcrawlers are the most common and most likely the species you see in your yard if you want to do some further investigating.
Image credits - Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash