Are chickens carnivores or omnivores? Yes, it is true, you can give chickens bits of ham. However, it really should only be fed as a treat as most ham is very salted and, while humans can handle quite a bit of it, chickens will suffer serious health issues with too much salt intake in a short period.
Understanding How and What Chickens Eat
Chickens are very much scavengers. With an ancestry that goes back to dinosaurs, believe it or not, chickens tend to be one of nature’s garbage cleaners, picking and pecking at anything edible, whether its seeds or a bit of protein in the mix.
Obviously, today’s modern chicken thrives just fine on a diet of chicken feed mix bought at farm feed stores that provides a factory-mixed recipe of carbohydrates, minerals, fat, and protein all in one. But that doesn’t mean your clucking birds can’t enjoy a very occasional feast or two with some leftover bits of ham meat once in a while.
Chickens generally have a voracious appetite, pecking and eating at anything identified as food. They will continue to keep gobbling up whatever is provided until they are literally ready to take a nap or get shoo’d off.
However, that doesn’t mean these birds can chew down and devour a block of ham sat in front of them to the bone. Instead, if bits of meat are going to be provided as a protein treat, it needs to be cut up into little bits of small size chunks that they can reasonably swallow and digest without choking.
So, some prep work is involved if the meat isn’t already torn up and in bits, such as scraps from a carving or similar.
The better diet for the birds, however, depends on what they are doing and at what age they currently are. Little chicks, for example, need more protein and fat than carbohydrates to help them grow bigger and faster with more stock.
Laying hens need a bit less fat but lots of protein and some calcium to make sure their eggs are produced with strong shells. Roosters don’t need much protein or fat at all, or they will just end up putting on pounds. Instead, the male adult chicken needs vegetables and some carbohydrates for energy.
Obviously, ham doesn’t fit the order for most of these, but it’s probably a good idea for a treat for laying hens heavy in egg production.
It Might Be Good, But That Doesn’t Mean Eaten
Another interesting aspect of chickens is that while many tend to be two-legged trash compactors, some birds are extremely picky and fussy about what they will eat. Don’t be surprise if you have at least one or two of these in your group.
A few chickens literally just get stuck on one type of food and won’t deviate from it, no matter what the treat might be from crickets to ham bits. For example, regular ham might work just fine, but bits from a honeyed ham get rejected automatically.
Well, then it turns out your chicken really doesn’t like sweets. Usually, it’s not a big deal because even though one is picky, the others will just gobble everything up anyways. However, once in a while, they all get in sync, and then it can be a bit frustrating trying to get chicken connoisseurs to just eat their darn food daily.
Also, keep in mind chickens don’t necessarily keep their place very clean. And smelly bits of meat are going to attract a lot of other critters as well.
First off, if you have roaches in the general region of your area, lots of bits of meat left out are like a big magnet for these critters to show up and create more problems, eventually getting into your house. So that’s a risk to keep in mind.
Most folks are on farms, though, which don’t have nearly as much exposure as those closer to urban areas. However, rats are very common, and they are omnivores as well, easily attracted to scraps and trash that smell strong.
Too much on a regular basis, and you may very well find your hen area and henhouse being invaded at night by rodents. That too can be almost as bad as having a roach problem.
One of the big issues with meat tends to be how fast it goes bad at normal temperatures. Most meats, whether ham, beef, or fish, will go bad and become toxic for anyone or anything to eat within about three hours.
That time frame shrinks even smaller when the temperature are hotter. Chickens are able to deal with a bit more risk than humans, but they are just as susceptible to Salmonella bacterial poisoning as people. And a breakout could easily kill your entire chicken group very quickly as their feces spreads the problem to other birds in the same coop.
As a result, even if you do feed your birds meat scraps for occasional treats, don’t let it sit there and clean up the next day. A chicken owner needs to be prepared to clean up what’s not eaten within about two hours’ time or less. Or you’re going to pay a heavy price lost chickens.
Meat Scraps Hide a Lot of Fat
Chickens, for the most part, don’t need a lot of fat in their diet. And, meat scraps tend to be the very part of the meat people don’t want to eat, the fat. Think about all the trimmings on ham.
Most of the cut off parts and trims are literally chunks and strips of solidified fat that would directly into a chicken if fed in small bits. This would equate to more fat in one ham serving than a chicken would ever get in a year from regular chicken feed mixture. Obviously, that’s not a good situation for a chicken’s diet or overall health.
So, which part of the ham is better if fed to the birds? Most ham that people receive technically comes from the leg area of a pig. So that generally means a hock of ham is going to surround the leg bone with the muscle or meat, and that will be insulated with a layer of fat on the outside edge.
Focus on the meat part directly. The best ham healthwise for a chicken is the un-smoked meat portion that has not to be reprocessed in artificial shapes (i.e. don’t even think about giving your chickens SPAM).
The worst kind of ham to give your birds would be heavily preserved ham, typically cured in brine or fried. The curing packs a ton of salt into the meat as a natural preservative, and frying basically soaks the meat in grease. A good example is bacon.
Other problems hams and ham products include prosciutto, any ham sausages, ham hocks, glazed or sugared ham, pork rinds (basically fried skin), and city ham parts.
Alternatives to Ham Treats
There are other choices for how to treat your birds and get protein into them quickly. Again, two of the big problems with ham treats involve how much salt can be included and how much fat is typically consumed as well.
Alternatively, chickens can easily eat far leaner meats and be just fine. Fish scraps tend to be very good for chickens and will substitute just fine. Good examples of very lean fish include cod, tuna, and pollack.
Even seafood like shrimp will do well. In terms of land-based meats, turkey and chicken are also lean if you can get around the concept of chickens eating other chickens. The birds don’t really care, but the owner’s conscience might be an issue.
There are also plenty of treats in terms of fruit and vegetables that work as a treat or feed as well. Fruits with lots of water content like apples and melons are extremely beneficial to chickens and great for keeping roosters lean.
All types of grains will provide plenty of feed and energy, as well as peas. And, if your chicken area naturally has a lot of grass, let them roam and move around. Chickens will spend all day plucking bugs from your lawn as well as eating the grass itself and keeping it trimmed. Earthworms are a big threat, and chickens go bananas for them when it rains, or water in the area saturates the soil.
Corn is also a big winner and readily available at a low cost. In fact, dried corn or ground up tends to be just fine for all types of animal feed, not just chickens alone. It packs in both sugar and carbohydrates, which will put on pounds on your birds very quickly.
But corn avoids the direct fat problem that happens with other treats and high consumption. And for a chicken owner’s wallet, corn is one-tenth the cost of other feeds as well as buying meat just to keep your chickens happy.
Save that splurge for Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday meals instead of your own table.
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