What Do Chickens Eat in The Wild?
With the popularity of chicken farming nowadays, most people will wonder what the birds will eat should they choose to keep them. Chickens are omnivores, so they eat almost everything they come across. Nonetheless, there are two types of chickens to keep in mind when venturing into poultry keeping; wild and domesticated chickens.
Wild chickens, sometimes called junglefowl, live on their own with no help from humans. They rely on their instincts and senses to stay alive.
Most biologists cite Red Junglefowl as the original wild chicken. They are excellent foragers and generally uninterested in making connections with humans. Wild chickens are natives of southeast Asia though they have slowly spread worldwide over the years.
You can find some in Louisiana, California, and Hawaii in the U.S. They prefer living in bamboo forests, forest borders, tall grass, and shrubs.
The article below will give you a glimpse into what wild chickens eat to provide you with a guide on what you can feed your domesticated bird.
The Diet of Wild Chickens
If you want to lower your feed expenses when keeping chickens, you can allow them to free-range. Though chickens can remain healthy on a natural diet from free-ranging, most modern hybrids need additional feed to remain productive. However, below are some components of the diets of wild chickens to point you in the right direction on what your birds need.
– Seeds and Grains
Wild chickens will usually use their feet and beaks to look for seeds and grains on forest floors. Some favorite seeds and grains for chickens include wheat berries, sunflower seeds, malted grains, corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, oats, flax seeds, rapeseed, canola seeds, safflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
However, wild birds are not picky. They will eat the seeds and grains available in their habitats. Most seeds have colored compounds that contribute to the rich colors of egg yolks, while some have a high omega fat content.
Below are tidbits on the nutritional value of a few seeds and grains that are beneficial for wild chickens:
- Buckwheat contains B vitamins, zinc, phosphorous, magnesium, and manganese. This dark pyramid-shaped gluten-free seed has 13% protein and 3% fat.
- Canary seed has 55% starch, 5% fat, and 20% protein, along with a good blend of vitamins and minerals.
- Rapeseed and canola seed belong to the family of cauliflower and broccoli. Their natural forms have about 40-50% oil.
- Flax seed has 42% oil, 18% protein, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It is also a good source of zeaxanthin and lutein that boost eyesight and give egg yolks a rich color.
- Coriander and cilantro seeds are abundant in late fall. They contain about 17% fat and 14% protein.
- Hemp seed contains high omega-6 and omega-3 levels, iron, manganese, zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin E.
– Insects And Small Animals
Chickens love small animals and insects. In fact, insects are the staple of wild chickens’ diets, so they will spend hours looking for them. Insects are highly beneficial for chickens because they increase egg production, improve egg quality and boost organ health owing to their high fat, mineral, and protein content.
Chickens need proteins to maintain their normal body functions and build muscle. The most popular insects for chickens are winged ants, grasshoppers, moths, flies, ticks, spiders, crickets, and termites.
The ground where wild chickens spend most of their days scratching is also teeming with juicy worms like earthworms that are high in protein. Some bugs like beetles, millipedes, mealworms, slugs, and caterpillars are found on small branches, so you might come across wild chickens pecking at plants to reach them.
While it sounds like the birds will eat all insects, they will turn their beaks up at stink bugs, Asian lady bugs, and box-elder bugs. These have a strong smell that turns off chickens. Chickens will also not eat bees.
– Fruits And Berries
Berries and fruits make fantastic snacks for wild chickens. The safest fruits for them include apples, bananas, cantaloupe, coconuts, citrus, cranberry, oranges, melon, mangoes, lemons, peaches, pineapples, kiwis, and pomegranates.
These treats are also healthy additions to the chickens’ feeds. For instance, apples have high amounts of minerals, vitamins, fibers, carbohydrates, and energy, whereas melons are perfect for the summer when they increase the water quantity in the birds’ diets.
Chickens will also love berries, including raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries. These are good sources of antioxidants, water, fiber, and vitamins. Fiber enhances the gut health of chickens and allows their digestive systems to completely break down proteins. Vitamins are crucial for cell functioning, protection from free radical damage, and ensuring egg production and fertility.
Wild chickens will also eat the rinds or peels of most fruits. These are exceptional sources of fiber, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium for the birds. Most of the seeds in the fruits are also safe for chickens.
Nonetheless, apple and plum seeds contain traces of cyanide, so they might harm the birds. In the wild, ensuring the birds do not eat the harmful seeds is challenging, but decades of adaptation to their environments sometimes makes wild chickens immune to some poisons.
– Greens And Vegetation
Like humans, chickens need greens and vegetation to guarantee a well-balanced diet. Thankfully, these are in abundance in the wild. Some of the most nutritious greens for chickens include broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower leaves, asparagus, collard greens, peas, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, cabbage, radish tops, swiss chard, and carrot tops.
Kales, for example, are good sources of vitamin K for blood clotting. This is particularly important with the predators and hazards chickens are exposed to in the wild. Kales also deliver manganese, potassium, calcium, copper, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.
How Wild Diets Differ from Commercial Diets
When raising chickens, you often rely on commercial feeds to meet nutritional needs. Though foraging is generally cheaper than commercial feeds, most poultry farmers in urban areas do not have enough space for their birds to forage.
For them, commercial feeds are the better options. Both wild and commercial feeds deliver the nutrients your chicken needs, but they differ significantly.
Most commercial chicken feed contains a complex combination of the following:
- Cereals like oats, wheat, and barley
- Protein sources like canola oil, sunflower oil, and soybean meal
This formula delivers a well-balanced diet of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins for your chickens. Commercial feed is often formulated for chickens of different ages and based on the uses of the chicken, which can be layers or broilers.
The feed is also divided into mash, crumble, and pellets according to its texture. With commercial feed, it is easy to guarantee that your chickens are getting all the nutrients they need for healthy growth, tasty meat, and high egg production.
Wild diets do not have specified amounts for delivering a set quantity of nutrients. As such, wild chickens might get an excess of one nutrient and suffer from a deficiency of another. Moreover, wild diets expose chickens to the risk of ingesting poisonous or harmful foods.
However, wild diets often grow without additives or pesticides that can harm chickens. Furthermore, most are uncontaminated by dirty water or chemicals from human activities. This makes them some of the healthiest options available for chickens.
The Benefits of a Natural Diet for Chickens
Though commercial feeds benefit your chickens, the following are some benefits of a natural diet.
- A varied and well-balanced diet: Chickens fed on a natural diet have higher nutritional benefits compared to those exclusively reared on commercial feeds. Moreover, a natural diet offers more dietary diversity for chickens.
- High-quality eggs. Feeding your chickens a natural diet leads to the production of higher quality eggs than sticking to commercial feeds only. Egg yolks of birds on natural diets are deep yellow or sometimes orange and packed with healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins. Most people also prefer the taste of eggs and meat of chickens raised on natural diets.
- Sun exposure. A laying hen needs about 14-16 hours of daylight for high egg production. Allowing your chickens to free-range for a natural diet exposes them to the sun for optimal egg production.
- Low feed expenses. When you incorporate natural foods into your chicken’s diet, this lowers your costs for commercial feeds. Besides the food the bird gets from foraging, you can give it the leftovers from your table.
- Keeping your chickens caged and feeding them exclusively on commercial feeds means your birds will not get much exercise. Natural diets allow your birds to walk around to get some exercise. You can also use the time the chickens are outside feeding to clean their coops.
The idea of wild chickens is almost inconceivable, yet wild chicken populations exist. When rearing chickens, it is prudent to mirror as much of their natural environments as possible to maximize their productivity by reducing stress. Mirroring their natural diets is one of the ways of replicating their lives in the wild.
From the article above, you now have a guide on the ideal seeds, vegetables, greens, grains, fruits, insects, and small animals to include in your flock’s natural diet. With the right foods, you will enjoy tasty meat and high egg production from your chickens. Moreover, the right natural foods will lower your care expenses and guarantee your birds get a varied and well-balanced diet.