Are chickens omnivores, carnivores, or herbivores? All animals fall into one of these 3 groups, but when it comes to chickens many people are confused about what they are exactly. Many people believe that chickens can only eat chicken feed and grains, but if that was the case how did they manage to survive in the wild for so long? After all, in the wild, they do not have access to specialized chicken feed.
In today’s post, I’m going to give a conclusive answer to this question. To do this, I will first explain the differences between herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. After that, I will discuss what chickens eat. Once we’ve done those two things we can easily determine in which category chickens fall.
If you’re in need of a quick answer, here it is: Chickens are omnivores. They can eat plant-based foods and meat. In the wild, they eat a mixture of insects and plant-based foods that grow in their surroundings. In captivity, many owners feed their flock a diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains. However, since chickens are usually kept outside they come across plenty of bugs and worms which they will gladly eat.
The differences between omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores
The first thing I want to do is take a quick look at the differences between omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores. If you’re already familiar with the differences feel free to skip this section.
Herbivores only eat plant-based food. They are unable to digest meat. Examples of herbivores are cows and horses. They never eat meat.
Omnivores can eat both meat and plant-based foods. Examples of omnivores are humans (yes, you :)), pigs, and rats.
Carnivores can only eat meat. However, it’s not quite that simple. While all carnivores have a diet that consists mostly of meat there are two different types of carnivores: obligate (true) carnivores and regular carnivores.
Obligate carnivores can only eat meat and are unable to extract any nutrition from plant-based foods. Examples of obligate carnivores are cats and ferrets. These animals have a very short digestive tract which makes it impossible for them to eat fruits and vegetables.
On the other hand, you also have regular carnivores. Regular carnivores have a diet that consists primarily of meat but they can also eat small amounts of plant-based foods. The difference between omnivores and regular carnivores is that for omnivores plants make up a decent part of their diet while for carnivores it’s only a very small part. An example of a regular carnivore is the wolf – their diet consists almost entirely of meat, but in a pinch, they can also eat and digest small amounts of plant-based foods such as berries.
Are chickens herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores?
Now that we’ve taken a look at what exactly a herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore eats we just have to take a look at what our beloved chickens eat to determine in which category they fall.
In the wild, chickens eat a mixture of plants and insects. They eat a lot of insects like termites, ants, and grasshoppers. On top of that, they eat a lot of the plants that grow around them.
So, since chickens eat both plants and meat (insects are considered meat) they’re omnivores!
Should chickens eat meat?
Many chicken owners do not feed their flock meat. But should you do this? After all, they are omnivores so they’re able to eat both meat and plants.
The opinions about this are divided – some owners feed their chickens meat regularly, others do not feed them meat at all, and yet others feed it to them on occasion. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with giving your chicken some meat occasionally. After all, they’re perfectly adapted to being able to digest it and it’s a good source of protein for them.
The question becomes a little bit more morbid when you talk about feeding chicken to your chicken. If you throw pieces of cooked chicken to your flock they will definitely eat it, even if the chicken you’re feeding them was part of the same flock. It’s up to you whether you’re okay with cannibalism because chickens seem to have no problem with it and actually engage in it regularly in nature if the food situation becomes dire enough.
You also have to keep in mind that chickens will eat a decent amount of worms and bugs that they come across. So, even if you do not feed your chicken any meat or insects they will find and eat them themselves.
Can chickens survive on a vegetarian diet?
So, we’ve established that chickens are omnivores. However, so are we as humans and we can live a perfectly healthy life on a vegetarian diet. You might wonder if the same is possible for chickens. There is a recent trend among poultry farmers where they advertise their chicken as being “vegetarian-fed” and consumers seem to love it. The fact that vegetarian-fed chickens are sold means that they can survive on a vegetarian diet.
However, the sad reality is that if a chicken is advertised as being fed a vegetarian diet it’s never been outside in its life. A chicken that’s kept outside will inevitably come across a worm or another insect and eat it. The only way you can have a chicken that eats a vegetarian diet is by preventing them from ever seeing a bug and that can only be done by keeping them inside.
Chickens are natural omnivores and while they can survive on a vegetarian diet this can only be done by keeping them inside for their entire life. If you’re raising chickens as a hobby or as a pet this is definitely not recommended.