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What Do Chickens Eat Naturally? 7 Benefits of Foraging Chickens

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When chickens are allowed to free-range around their yard, you will notice they spend the entire day foraging for food. They put a lot of focus and energy into their foraging, and it makes you wonder what is it that chickens eat naturally?

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Foods Chickens Forage

The foods a chicken consumes naturally as they graze and forage the land include a wide variety of local vegetation, grasses, herbs, seeds, berries, worms, insects, snails, and slugs. As you know, chickens are not finicky eaters.

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Image Credit: LightChaserPH, Shutterstock

7 Benefits of Foraging

1. Well-Balanced and Varied Diet

These natural, foraged foods offer great nutritional benefits and help give your chicken a well-balanced and varied diet compared to eating only commercial chicken foods. Diverse diets are among the healthiest. Chickens that can free-roam and forage for periods are typically much happier and healthier birds overall.

2. High-Quality Eggs

Consuming naturally sources food can even help hens lay more high-quality, rich eggs compared to a caged hen. The egg yolks from free-range hens are a much deeper yellow and sometimes even orange. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. A lot of people much prefer the taste of free-range eggs.

3. Sun Exposure

Foraging chickens will naturally be exposed to much more sunlight. Laying hens need about 14 to 16 hours of sunlight per day to successfully produce. Allowing them to free-range gets in their needed light exposure for the best egg production.

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Image Credit: PhotoSongserm-Shutterstock

4. Cleaner Coop

When your chickens are spending the day out in the yard foraging, it keeps them dirtying up their coop. This can help stave off excessive amounts of flies and help you out significantly when it comes time to clean the coop.

5. Lower Feed Costs

Although chickens can survive solely on food from natural sources, this can be difficult to maintain and ensure they are getting all the necessary nutrients for their overall health.

Most chickens’ keepers will allow free ranging to supplement the chicken’s normal diet of commercial poultry feed. It is encouraged to provide even commercially fed chickens a variety of foods such as leafy greens, cooked beans, corn, grains, berries, apples, and many other fruits and home-grown vegetables.

6. Healthier Meat

When chickens can free-range, they have a healthier and more natural diet and are exposed to healthy amounts of sunlight. These health benefits also carry over into their meat for those that use their chickens for this purpose.

7. Exercise

Free ranging is not only healthy for the chickens regarding the varied diet but also with the amount of healthy exercise they receive by being outside the coops and wandering. Daily exercise is good for all living beings and chickens are no exception.

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Image Credit: PHATTARAWATOUM, Shutterstock

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Disadvantages of Free-Ranging Chickens

While there are a lot of benefits to allowing chickens to free-range, there are some disadvantages as well.

Predators

Chickens are easy prey for a wide range of predators. Allowing them to free-range makes them more vulnerable to becoming prey for local predators or loose dogs.

Needing to Search for Eggs

When hens are out, they must lay their eggs somewhere. This can result in eggs being laid all over the yard and you will be responsible for going on the hunt.

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Image Credit: Couleur, Pixabay

Consumption of Garden Plants

Free-range chickens may wander into a part of the yard and garden where you would prefer, they are not. Chickens are not finicky and will go where they please and eat what they want. You may want to ensure access is restricted to any garden plants and vegetables that you wish to keep them out of.

Mess

Chickens are not the cleanest animals and can leave a mess wherever they go. Not only will they get into things, but they will also leave their manure all over the yard.

Risk of Eating Toxic Material

Pesticides and herbicides will be the biggest consumption risk for foraging chickens. They need to be kept far away from any plants that have been exposed to these chemicals as they are toxic and can cause serious health issues.

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Conclusion

Chickens aren’t fussy about what they eat but they have their preferences, too. Given a free-range lifestyle, chickens will primarily feed on a variety of plants and insects.

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Featured Image Credit: rfranca, Shutterstock

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