up-close photo of red chicken

Can Chickens Eat Fish? The Complete Guide

Are you looking to add protein, calcium, and other nutrients to your flock’s feed? This article has everything you need to know about feeding fish to your chickens. 

In this article, you’ll learn the benefits and risks of feeding fish to your chickens, the best and worst species to feed, and how to safely prepare fish for chickens.

Many chicken owners are surprised at the wide variety of plants and animals that chickens can and do love to eat. In addition to the expected natural food sources, like bugs, grasses, and vegetables, this also includes kitchen scraps and other, less obvious sources of nutrients. But what about fish? In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about safely feeding fish to your chickens.

Can Chickens Eat Fish?

Absolutely! Chickens love fish, and as an occasional treat, it’s an excellent addition and supplement to their diet. Read on to learn the many benefits of feeding your chickens fish, as well as the best and safest ways to do it.

What Are the Benefits of Feeding Fish to Chickens? 

There are many benefits of feeding fish to chickens, and people with an interest in nutrition will recognize them as many of the same benefits that humans reap when they eat fish and other seafood.

 The primary benefit and most important nutrient chickens get from eating fish is protein. Since the modern chicken diet is centered around grain-based feeds, it can be easy for chicken owners to forget that chickens in the wild were omnivores, and still are. They supplement their diets with insects, bugs, and other sources of protein, especially if they free range and can forage. If they don’t, fish becomes an even better treat and source of necessary protein. Feed should still be the staple of their diet, but chickens, like humans, thrive on variety, and occasional fish snacks are a great way to introduce that.

Fish are also an excellent source of many other nutrients, including Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. The proportions of these nutrients will vary depending on what kind of fish you choose, but adding them to your flock’s diet will help them produce stronger eggs and even strengthen their immune systems.

See also  Nutritional Needs of Mixed Flocks with Baby Birds

What Kinds of Fish Can Chickens Eat?

Good Fish to Feed to Chickens

Fish to Avoid

  Bass

  Catfish

  Cod

  Cooked fish

  Dried fish

  Haddock

  Halibut

  Pollock

  Raw fish

  Sardines

  Sunfish

  Tilapia

  Trout

  Whole fish

 

  Anchovy

  Bluefish

  Canned fish

  Eel

  Flounder

  Herring

  King Mackerel

  Salmon

  Seasoned fish

  Shark

  Snapper

  Spoiled fish

  Swordfish

  Tuna

  Yellowtail

 

How Should I Prepare Fish for My Chickens? 

Chickens can eat fish that has been prepared using almost any method you can think of, which makes it not only a healthy treat, but a relatively easy one, as well. Chickens can happily and safely eat fish whether it is raw or cooked, whole or chopped, fresh or dried.

Given this, it may be tempting to give your flock any leftovers you have from Fish Fridays or last weekend’s clambake. However, many seasonings that humans enjoy can be potentially toxic or  unhealthy for your feathered friends. Alliums (onions, garlic, scallions, and similar) break down into two compounds, called thiosulfates and disulfides, that can cause diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and anemia. (Many chicken owners still swear by garlic as a health supplement for their birds, though, as it contains these compounds in very low quantities.) Foods with lots of butter and dairy can also be dangerous to your birds in the long term. In general, it’s best to avoid giving seasoned foods to your flock.

Another concern when feeding fish to chickens is the bones. Luckily, chickens are excellent digesters, and even fish bones generally won’t slow them down. If you give your girls a whole fish, in short order, there will be nothing left of it, as the birds will have broken, swallowed, and digested the bones with no ill effects. In general, then, you can toss your chickens bony fish as is, and not have to worry. However, particularly large or sharp bones can still be a choking hazard, so if you find any while preparing the fish, it’s a good idea to remove them. You should also always keep an eye on the flock as they eat fish bones, so you can step in if one of them starts choking or pulls out a particularly dangerous-looking bone.

See also  The Complete Guide To Building A Chicken Coop

The last thing to be aware of when choosing fish to feed to your birds is how processed the fish is. Canned fish or other highly processed fish products may have preservatives or other chemicals you don’t want to give to your birds, so these products are best avoided in favor of fresher, more identifiable fish products.

Are There Any Risks to Feeding Fish to My Chickens?

Unfortunately, there are some risks associated with giving fish to your chickens, but luckily these can mostly be avoided by choosing your fish carefully and feeding it in moderation. In fact, the most common problems with feeding fish to chickens arise from overfeeding, or overfeeding certain types of fish according to everythingfishkeeping.com.

Chickens are naturally omnivores, and they thrive on a diet with a lot of variety in it, including different sources of protein. However, having too much protein can result in an unbalanced diet and negative health consequences for your birds. These can include obesity and even kidney problems. Feeding too much fish to your birds can also have a negative impact on the eggs your hens lay. Overfeeding fish can result in fishy tasting eggs. To avoid this, use fish as a treat, not a staple, and don’t feed it more than once a week. You should also avoid particularly protein-rich species, like yellowtail, snapper, and anchovies.

Another risk of feeding too much fish to your chickens is that some fish have an especially high fat content, which can have a negative long-term effect on your chickens’ health. Like humans, chickens who have too much fat in their diets can become obese or develop heart problems. Avoid feeding species that are particularly high in fat, like salmon, king mackerel, and eel.

See also  How To Feed Your Baby Chicks

The final risk to consider when feeding fish to your flock is one that you’re likely familiar with, as it’s also a risk of seafood consumption for humans: mercury. Without getting too technical about it, human industrial activity has greatly increased the levels of mercury in the atmosphere, much of which then falls into the ocean as rain or snow. In this form, and in the atmosphere, the mercury is actually harmless, but bacteria in the ocean convert it to methylmercury, the highly toxic form we’re told to avoid in fish. This dangerous methylmercury is most concentrated in fish at the top of the food chain, like sharks, swordfish, and tuna. While consumption of these fish in small amounts is fine for most people, avoid them entirely when feeding your chickens. Because of differences in the ways chickens digest their food, as well as their smaller size, they are much less well equipped than we are to process this mercury, and even small amounts can be harmful to their health.

To offer a short answer to the question at the top of this article: yes, your chickens absolutely can eat fish! You’ll need to take some precautions in which kinds of fish you offer and how you prepare it, and also be sure not to offer fish too often – no more than once a week. Within these boundaries, though, fish is a great addition to their diet that your birds are sure to love.

Chris Lesley | Founder of Chickens & More

Chris Lesley | Founder of Chickens & More

Chris has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years. She has a flock of 11 chickens and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens.