Let's get this straight: chickens are not vegetarians. They're omnivores. They'll eat more or less anything that comes their way, including meat.
If you've ever watched a flock pull up and devour an earthworm or other bugs, or chase a mouse or a frog across the run, you'll absolutely know this to be true.
They are ruthless!
Of course, they will eat vegetables and garden plants too. But given the choice, meat will win every time.
The real question is...
Is meat good for chickens?
Meat and protein.
Meat is a high protein food(1). Healthy chickens do need some protein, and around specific events will need still more: moulting, for example, when protein is required to grow new feathers. Or after a stressful event such as a predator attack.
And laying hens, particularly those whose eggs will be used to hatch chicks, need protein to remain healthy.
Meat tends also to be high in fat, and, just like for humans, eating too much fat is not something chickens should do. It can lead to obesity, which is known to be a potential factor in Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome.
Chickens rely on a protein based amino acid called "methionine". Methionine is an important antioxidant which helps strengthen the immune system.
Without it, chickens are likely to become ill and to develop behavioural issues, in particular pecking each other as they try to find protein.
Chickens who are able to eat protein have a natural source of methionine. Those who only eat grain need an unnatural, synthetic form added to their diet.
So a source of protein is critical for your chickens' health and wellbeing.
Your chickens' main source of nutrition should be a well balanced feed, suited to their age and laying status.
Offering treats to chickens is something we all want to do. But it should be done in moderation and should not make up more than 5% of their feed.
So if you're going to offer additional meat as part of any treat, do it in the afternoon, after the flock has had the chance to eat their feed.
And no more than two, maximum three times per week.
Otherwise, let your flock forage for their meat!
Insects are fine – mother hens will source them for chicks from a couple of weeks old – but animal meat is much too high in protein for a young chick.
Feed your chicks a well balanced, high quality chick feed and if you want to feed treats, take a look at my article about how to source natural "gourmet" treats for baby chicks.
The bugs, rodents and worms that chickens will eat while free ranging are in effect raw meat. So yes, chickens can eat raw meat.
Obviously, make sure the meat is fresh and showing no signs of rotting, and remove it from the run if it's not been eaten by roosting time.
But luncheon meat, sausages, beefburgers, or any other kind of processed meats are a no-no.
They contain too much fat and carbohydrate and too many added sugars, salts and preservatives.
Just don't do it. Try making some healthy sprouted seeds instead.
The short answer is yes, in the sense that it won't kill them.
But dog food is a processed product balanced for dogs, not for chickens. And the inexpensive varieties tend to be grain based with "animal derivatives" and "inorganic matter", plus artificial colouring, flavourings and preservatives.
It also tends to be high in fat and often has added sugars.
So be careful. Remember that in the UK, the 1994 outbreak of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as "mad cow disease") and Foot and Mouth disease in 2001 were caused by feeding processed animal protein to cows.
For that reason, the EU has tight regulations about feeding processed animal protein of any kind. For more information, see here.
If you must feed dog food to chickens, use it sparingly. Better still, donate it to your local dog shelter.
Rather than feed animal meat to chickens, why not follow more closely what happens if they are left to follow natural instincts: feed them a high nutritional quality meat product in the form of insects.
So as well as offering your flock a higher quality of food, you're contributing to the conservation of the planet.
Black soldier fly larvae are particularly nutritious, and contain more calcium than mealworms – a bonus for laying hens.
(This is an "affiliate link", which means that if you click and buy something, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you)
And although in Europe even processed insect protein has been banned as a feed for farm animals (including poultry), the European Commission together with the UK's DEFRA is considering relaxing those rules imminently, "providing safeguards to public and animal health are ensured".
The same concerns related to feeding animal protein to chickens in the EU relate to dried mealworms.
Putting it simply, mealworms tend to be imported, and are not subject to strict regulation.
So they may have been fed poor quality animal protein which could then pass disease into both the animal and human systems.
Fresh insects are fine. It's the dried varieties which cause the issues.
Click here or on the button for more detailed information, and a way to start your own mealworm farm!
A lot of "facts" you'll find on the internet are often people's individual views, based on inaccurate information repeated from poor quality sources.
The information I provide in this article and others is based not just on my own experience, but on evidenced facts from scientific, peer-reviewed research and books from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Damerow.
Some of the trusted sources I have used in this article are these.
1. Johns Hopkins Medicine: The Protein Content of Common Foods. Pub. Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery, 2019.
2. Rajaguru, R. W., et al: The Effects of Feeding High Protein Diets to Chickens. Pub. Journal of Poultry Science, 1966.
3. Almquist, H. J. and Asmundson, V. S.: High Protein Mashes for Broilers. Pub. Journal of Poultry Science, 1944.
4. Fouad, A. M., and El-Senousey, H. K.: Nutritional Factors Affecting Abdominal Fat Deposition in Poultry: A Revew. Pub. Journal of Animal Science, 2014.
5. Store, Laura, et al: Housefly larvae contribute to sustainable layer nutrition. Pub. Poultry World, 2020.
6. Tuferelli, V. et al: Feeding Forage in Poultry: A Promising Alternative for the Future of Production Systems. Pub. MDPI Journal of Agriculture. 2018.