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Can Chickens Eat Chicken? Is It Illegal or Unethical?

As a chicken owner, you have probably watched your chickens try a variety of foods. You probably toss them kitchen scraps regularly, knowing that the flock will pick through what they want. But have you ever considered giving chicken to your chickens? For many, this is a bit of a conundrum. Is it illegal to give chicken meat to chickens? Is it even ethical to have them eat their own kind? Today, you are going to find out. Let’s explore whether chickens can chicken, why they would do it, along with the legal and ethical aspects involved.

red chickens with feathers in their beaks

Do Chickens Eat Chicken?

Many people are unaware that their quirky little balls of feathers are, in fact, cannibalistic. Chickens and other birds have no qualms about eating meat from other birds, even if they are birds of a feather. Whether it’s ethical to feed chickens chicken meat or not, the reality is that they will readily consume it without hesitation.

For the chicken keeper, seeing chickens pecking at the carcass of their fallen brethren can be shocking and repulsive, but this is natural. Some chickens become cannibals due to the pecking order, stress, illness, or simply because they have a taste for blood. For example, if one chicken has an injury that results in bleeding, the others may peck at it, potentially exacerbating the injury and even leading to the death of the wounded bird. While this scenario doesn’t occur daily, it’s wise to have some purple anti-peck/healing spray on hand, which can deter other birds from attacking a bleeding member of the flock.

Do Chickens Need to Eat Meat?

No, chickens do not need to eat meat. They like the taste of it, but meat is not an essential part of their diet.

You may think about giving your chickens meat to help supplement their protein intake. That said, if you are providing your flock with a high-quality complete chicken feed, they should receive all the necessary nutrients, including protein. For any additional protein, you can allow your chickens to free-range so that they can naturally supplement their diet with insects, worms, and snails, which they forage for while grazing.

Will Chickens Eat Chicks?

Yes, sometimes chickens do eat their own chicks. This behavior typically stems from stress due to a lack of food or water. When a chicken is raised in an environment where resources are scarce, it may resort to cannibalism as a survival mechanism.

To prevent such distressing situations, it’s essential for farmers and chicken keepers to ensure their chickens have an adequate supply of food and water and maintain a stress-free environment. Limiting excessive handling of chickens, even if they are kept as pets, can also minimize stress and the risk of cannibalism.

In the video below, you can see how willingly the chickens eat a fried relative:

Do Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs and Eggshells?

It’s not uncommon for chickens to consume their own eggs and eggshells. Eggshells are a valuable source of calcium, essential for chicken health. Chickens usually eat the eggshells after laying eggs, but they may peck at them while the eggs are still in the nest. If your chickens frequently consume eggshells, it could indicate a calcium deficiency in their diet. In such cases, consider providing a calcium supplement or feeding them calcium-rich foods like leafy greens.

Is It Illegal to Feed Chickens Chicken?

Now that you know that, yes, chickens will eat chicken, let’s find out whether such a treat is illegal. The answer depends on your location and the specific laws governing livestock feeding practices in your area. Generally, feeding chickens chicken or any meat not intended for their consumption is typically discouraged due to several important reasons.

Rules and Regulations

In the US and throughout the world, it is often prohibited to feed chickens chicken or any other kind of meat that they normally wouldn’t have. Such laws are in place to prevent the spread of diseases that can affect both the chickens and the humans who consume their eggs.

While it might seem perplexing considering that you can purchase chicken-flavored cat food and turkey-flavored baby food, there’s a crucial distinction. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict regulations against giving poultry any meat or processed food not explicitly formulated for their consumption. Such products can harbor harmful bacteria that can sicken chickens and potentially affect humans who consume their eggs.

These laws have arisen from past epidemics of illness caused by cross-contamination through animal feed. The infamous ‘mad cow disease’ epidemic, for instance, emerged when cattle were fed infected meat products, which subsequently entered the human food chain.

What About Kitchen Scraps With Chicken In It?

2 red and 1 white young pullets are walking around the yard

While feeding chickens kitchen scraps might seem like a thrifty and sustainable practice, it’s crucial to do so with care and awareness of the regulations. In some countries, like the UK, for example, it is illegal to provide chickens with kitchen scraps, particularly if those scraps have come into contact with raw meat during preparation. This legislation aims to safeguard both chickens and humans from the risk of foodborne illnesses.

In the US, these rules are a little less clear. However, it is better to be safe than sorry and to avoid kitchen scraps that may have come into contact with uncooked meat.

If you choose to offer kitchen scraps to your chickens, adhere to these guidelines to ensure safety and compliance:

  • Only provide cooked food that is safe for human consumption.
  • Avoid feeding them anything that has come into contact with raw meat, as this can transmit harmful bacteria.
  • Refrain from feeding them dairy products, as these can upset their sensitive digestive systems.
  • Limit the quantity of kitchen scraps, as they do not constitute a balanced diet for chickens.
  • Chop the food into small, manageable pieces for easy consumption.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw chicken meat to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Clean and disinfect any surfaces or utensils that have come into contact with raw chicken meat.

Can I Feed Chicken to My Chickens?

Even with laws in place, you can feed your chickens cooked chicken in small amounts. Ideally, you want to avoid raw meat, due to the risk of contamination and foodborne illnesses.

However, while giving chicken to your flock may not seem off-putting to you, it’s not necessary. Here’s why:

Nutritional Requirements

Sure, you can give your chickens some cooked meat for the vitamins and minerals. Your chickens will get some nutrition out of it, but they don’t need what chicken contains. As mentioned earlier, if your chickens are getting fed the appropriate food and supplements, they won’t need chicken.

Behavioral Changes

Giving meat to your chickens could potentially cause problems within the flock. Here’s an example: If you gave your dog a raw chicken leg to eat then let them into the chicken run, what do you think would happen? The dog would probably think it was all right to try eating them, especially if one was wounded. The same could happen to your chickens if you give them chicken meat. They might start pecking at one another for a morsel, particularly once they realize they are made of the same thing that tastes delicious.

How Much Chicken Should I Feed My Chickens?

Now that you know that chicken is healthy and safe for your chickens to eat, how much of it can you safely feed them? The fact is, you should always limit the number of treats that you feed your chickens each day to make sure they are still eating plenty of their regular feed.

In order to function properly and fend off potential disease, chickens need to eat a balanced diet. If you feed your chickens too many tasty treats from your fridge, they may not eat their normal scratch meal, meaning they will lose out on their normal nutrients.

Chicken meat contains a lot of protein and you do not want to feed your chickens only chicken meat as their main meal for the day.

Be sure to limit all treats to about 10% to 15% of their daily food portion.

Can I Feed Chicken With a Bone in It to My Chickens?

chicken feet on white plate

Yes! Chickens cannot eat bones, but they will eat all the chicken meat off the bone. If you decide to feed a whole chicken to your chickens, make sure it has been de-feathered and cooked fully to avoid foodborne illness.

Since chickens are unable to break apart the bone with their beaks, you do not have to worry about a chicken accidentally choking on a chicken bone. They will instead target the meats, fats, and connective tissues surrounding the bones, leaving a pick skeleton for you to clean up.

Final Thoughts on Giving Chicken to Chickens to Eat

Can chickens eat chicken? They can and will if it’s available. Is it illegal to feed chickens chicken? The answer, as we’ve explored, hinges on your location and local regulations. In many parts of the world, yes, it is both illegal and frowned upon. Generally, it’s advisable to avoid feeding chickens chicken or any other type of meat due to the associated risks of bacterial contamination and disease transmission.

If you seek alternative protein sources for your flock, there are safer, more ethical options, such as worms, insects, or even cooked beans. While chickens may eat a variety of foods without issue, it’s your responsibility as a conscientious chicken keeper to provide them with a balanced and safe diet.