One of the benefits of having a backyard chicken is the natural pest control she provides. When your chicken scratches around and forages for food, she's eating a wide variety of bugs, including insects. A chicken can eat any insect she comes across, as well as spiders and worms.
The term "insect" has a very specific definition and it doesn't include bugs such as spiders and worms, which belong in their own classes. Insects are one part of the taxonomic category of animals known as Arthropoda. Other members of phylum Arthropoda include spiders, scorpions, crustaceans and centipedes. Arthropods have an exoskeleton, a segmented body, joined legs and bilateral symmetry, meaning both sides of the body are identical. Insects have three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen. They also have two antennae, compound eyes and six legs attached to the thorax. Whether it's an ant, butterfly, lightning bug or grasshopper, your chicken can -- and likely will, if given the opportunity -- eat it.
Insects for Your Chicken
If Henny Penny wants to eat a grasshopper, that's no problem for anyone except the grasshopper. In fact, The Poultry Site reports developing countries are increasingly using insects such as termites, stink bugs, flies and grasshoppers to supplement poultry feed. Relying on insects to help meet nutritional needs is cost-effective for farmers in emerging countries and there's some evidence that chitin, a component of the exoskeleton, may be beneficial to the chicken's immune system.
Bugs for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
In addition to insects, your chicken can enjoy animals from other classes of phylum Arthropoda. From the arachnid class, she may enjoy munching on spiders, mites and ticks. The chilopod class may provide her with centipedes, while the diplopod class is a source of millipedes. Though bugs are a very appropriate source of food for your chicken, she'll still need to have a regular source of food. My Pet Chicken recommends maintaining a full feeder of commercial chicken feed, as well as a consistent supply of clean water.
Your backyard hen may enjoy eating some of your weeds and plants. If there's something you consider off-limits, use fencing or chicken wire to keep her away from trouble spots. If you use fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides, keep her away from those potentially harmful areas. Some plants are toxic to chickens, so either keep them out of your yard or keep her away from them. Problem plants include buttercup, daffodil, milkweed, clover, alfalfa, tulips, wild onion and philodendron. If you feed your chicken table scraps, avoid bones, avocado pits and skins, citrus fruit and peels, raw potato skins, dried or undercooked beans, chocolate and large amounts of meat or any meat that has gone bad.
- Mother Earth News: Chickens for Pest Control
- Wilderness Survival: Feeding Chickens
- The Poultry Site: Insects as Animal Feeds
- My Pet Chicken: The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care: Chapter 7: Caring for Grown Chickens
- BackyardChickens.com: Chicken Treat Chart -- The Best Treats For Backyard Chickens
- BackyardChickens.com: Deciding to Free Range Your Flock
- The University of Arizona: Center for Insect Science Education Outreach: Arthropod Information