Chickens can eat sweet feed in moderation without any issues. However, sweet feed doesn’t provide the right blend of nutritional content as chicken feed does, even if it’s high in protein. A little won’t do any harm, but it’s not a chicken feed substitute.
What Is Sweet Feed?
Sweet feed is a food mix that is primarily fed two horses, sheep, goats, and other cattle. Much like chicken feed for chickens, sweet feed is an easy and cost-effective way to deliver good nutrition to cattle.
The nutritional composition of sweet feed varies from brand to brand. Generally speaking, however, it comprises grains, various minerals and vitamins, supplemental protein, and it typically has a high molasses content.
Can Chickens Eat Sweet Feed?
Chickens can eat sweet feed, it's not an issue that it's toxic or dangerous in any way. The issue is that it doesn't provide a good balance of nutrition chickens need to maintain optimal health.
If you've fed your chicken some sweet feed in the past, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
In fact, I know some people who mix a little sweet feed in with their chicken feed just to make the pennies go a little bit further.
What you cannot do is give your chickens sweet feed as a replacement for a good quality commercial chicken feed.
If you do, your chickens will almost certainly have a nutrient deficiency of some kind over time.
This can lead to a whole host of different health issues, as well as irregular egg-laying or laying eggs that are deformed or have soft shells due to a lack of calcium.
A lot of people simply think that chickens need a feed high in protein, this is not true.
I've seen sweet feed that has a 16% protein content, as laying hens need, but there are numerous other minerals that absolutely have to be in there for chickens to stay healthy.
Treats and Other Foods to Supplement Your Chicken's Diet With
If you want to supplement your chicken’s diet with something other than chicken feed, the good news is you're not short of options.
Here are just some of the foods that are perfectly safe for chickens, deliver some awesome nutrition, and usually aren't hard to come by:
Vegetables – Most vegetables are fine chickens and it's a great way to cut down on wastage and recycle scraps. Things like sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, jicama, etc provide a nice range of nutrition.
Fruits – Most fruits are also fine as they are typically nutrient-dense and packed with loads of vitamins and minerals. Try giving them some berries, melons, apples, dragon fruit, etc.
Grains – I love feeding my chickens grains as it gives them something to scratch and forage around for. You can feed your flock wheat, quinoa, corn, oatmeal, etc.
Foods That Are Known to Be Toxic or Harmful to Chickens
Not everything is edible to chickens, and it's our job to make sure that they don't get their beaks into anything that could potentially cause them some health concerns.
This isn't an exhaustive list, but here are some of the worst offending foods as confirmed by the RSPCA:
- Avocado skins and pits - there is a fungicidal toxin present in these parts of an avocado.
- Green potatoes and some nightshade foods - nightshade plants use a toxin called solanine to defend against being eaten, this can cause chickens some health issues.
- Tea and coffee - be careful recycling used grounds and tea bags in your garden, they’re potentially harmful to chickens.
- Candy and other sugary treats, this includes soda - this is one of the more obvious ones. Chickens find it difficult to digest sugars, keep the treats to yourself.
- Foods high in fat or salt, greasy fast foods, etc - chickens require good-quality nutrition to lay eggs at their best and maintain optimal health. Fatty or ‘junk’ foods do not provide good nutrition.
- Chocolate and foods with cocoa or chocolate in - chocolate is not a treat for chickens, it contains some potentially harmful compounds.
- Any moldy or spoiled foods - mold spores can be very toxic. Plus, it’s just not nice to give your beloved chicks moldy food, is it?
General Rules for Feeding Chickens
It's really not that hard to feed chickens. First of all, you should make sure they always have a constant supply of chicken feed available.
Chickens will go back and forth and eat how much they want, in between scratching around for bugs and insects, picking any plants and grass they have available, and so on.
The general rule of thumb for feeding chickens is called the “90/10 rule”.
This basically means that 90% of their diet should come from a quality commercial feed, and the other 10% can be from treats, scraps, leftovers, etc.
This will ensure that your chickens are definitely getting all of the good nutrition they need to stay healthy and support laying healthy eggs while allowing you to have some fun and add some variation to their diet.
Related - Here’s how often I feed my chickens each day.
If you’ve been thinking about feeding your chickens some sweet feed because it’s a lot less expensive than chicken feed, you’re not the first person to consider this.
Unfortunately, you can’t feed your flock sweet feed instead of chicken feed. You can mix some in with their feed, but in order to provide the right balance of nutrition for your chickens, you need to feed them an appropriate chicken feed.
Image credits - Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash