Chickens will eat just about anything, from snakes to cabbage -- even their own cooked eggs. Corn and rye can make tasty treats for your chickens, but don't rely solely on them. Make sure they have a variety and balance in their diet so that they will be healthy and happy. They will return the favor by producing plenty of eggs for you.
Chickens are Omnivores
Chickens will feed on greens, corn, rye, berries, bread, bugs, cereal, apples and even cow milk. When determining the best diet for your chickens, don't ask what they will eat, but rather what is best for them to eat. They may gobble up certain foods like corn or rye, but that does not mean they should eat as much as they like. Make sure they have a varied diet that will be interesting and balanced for them.
Corn - Pros and Cons
Corn is a tasty treat for chickens, like french fries or candy, but is low in nutritional value. Corn is low in protein, vitamins and minerals and so should mainly be used as a snack. Overfeeding these items will cause your chickens to fill up and miss out on other more important foods. One benefit to corn is that it is easy for chickens to digest, and for that reason it is often used as feed in commercial chicken farming. Also, in the winter corn can be more beneficial, as the calories and fat can help the chickens stave off the cold.
Rye - Pros and Cons
Rye has about the same low nutritional value as corn. It has 13 percent protein. It's cheaper than higher protein grains and can be mixed with them to make the feed last longer. Chickens enjoy rye as much as they do corn and gobble it up eagerly. Too much rye, however, can result in sticky droppings and can create moisture in the litter, which creates ammonia problems. Also, rye can inhibit a chicken's ability to digest certain nutrients. Don't feed rye to growing chicks but only to laying hens after they've reached peak egg production at about 40 weeks of age.
Commercial Pellet Feed
Commercial pellet feed for laying hens should be the main staple of your chickens' diet. It will provide the right balance of protein, minerals, vitamins and energy necessary for their optimal health and egg production. While it's OK to use rye and corn to supplement their feed, those should not make up the bulk of their diet.
Brian McCracken lives in Portland, Ore., where he writes on pets and animal wildlife as well as a wide array of other topics, ranging from real estate to personal development.