chicken pecking at food on ground

What Do Chickens Eat in a Day?



Learn about the type of foods that factory-farmed chickens are fed and how it varies from their diet in the wild.

Many of us enjoy trying new foods, incorporating new cuisines into our diet, and an overall varied source of what gives us nourishment. For chickens, this is a different story, and the choices are limited. Modern factory farming’s prioritization of quick and cost-effective solutions for animal feed compromises the well-being and development of chickens and removes this element from their lives.

Factory farming impacts

Chickens are natural scavengers and will commonly scratch the ground to find insects or plant matter to eat. They enjoy exploring their habitat and have unique nesting patterns. They have a varied diet and, similarly to humans, require different food sources to meet their dietary needs. Unfortunately, in factory farming, this is not available. In this setting, many are only fed a grain-based diet and do not have the opportunity to roam around and access different foods, such as bugs in the ground and different plants and berries. To provide the chickens with all the necessary nutrients, many supplements are required to be added to the grain diet, leading to various health issues if not done properly.

In the wild, chickens are naturally lean and smaller and live active lives running around with ample space and resources. In the factory farming setting, chickens are either used for egg or meat production and subject to inhumane living conditions, including battery cages and no access to outdoor spaces. The emphasis of their diet is to promote quicker growth and more lean muscle or to produce eggs more rapidly with less cost to the producer. What chickens eat in a day on a factory farm consists of specific feed mixes and regular doses of antibiotics.

Chickens are bred to accommodate these traits, which are desirable in the production setting, but this can have grave impacts on their health and well-being. For broiler chickens, forceful weight gain in a short amount of time causes painful and debilitating health conditions due to their restrictive living conditions. Egg-laying hens follow a similar model and focus on the rapid production of eggs, causing chickens to produce much more than what is natural. In both circumstances, the practices used in factory farming of chickens prevent them from engaging in their natural behaviors and cause a host of negative impacts to both their physical and psychological health.

Environmental Concern

The commercial diet for chickens is comprised of different grains, often concentrated on higher protein content for rapid growth. An average broiler chicken diet is composed of 42.8% corn and 26.4% soybeans for protein, and about 14% bakery meal. Egg-laying hens get more corn in their diet, about 53%, and about 30% comes from soybeans and bakery meal. Not only is this diet pattern not healthy or well-balanced, free-range or wild chickens would not require this demand of crop resources and can get their fiber and protein sources from their scavenging.

Commercial feed production has a significant negative impact on our environment and exhausts land and resources that are necessary to keep up with demand for chickens in factory farms. The demand for production, transportation, and consumption of commercial feed puts a significant strain on the volume of foods that could be used to feed humans. This system is detrimental to the livelihood of chickens and significantly damaging to the environment in terms of its outputs and inefficient allocation of resources.

Finding a better food source

A more humane system would provide chickens with the means necessary to live and eat a diet more aligned with their habits. They will thrive by being allowed to have a more natural space to be raised and be the natural scavengers that they are. Free range and better housing and living systems for chickens more properly support the behavioral needs of chickens, better farming practices, and a focus on removing the broiler chicken and battery hen model of production. These practices will contribute to a variety in their diet and lead to better physical and psychological health. Research has shown the negative impacts of the commercial chicken production model, and many countries have banned imports of US poultry altogether. The next time you look at what you eat in a day, think about how we can promote better practices for our chicken friends.

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