Feeding kitchen scraps to our backyard chickens seems like a great way to make the best use of our waste. Our egg-laying birds can potentially turn yesterday’s leftovers into the next morning’s breakfast egg. However, this practice is not allowed in the United Kingdom! Read on to learn more about why this is the case.

Why is feeding leftovers to chickens banned in the United Kingdom?

Meat and meat products have the potential to introduce serious diseases into our livestock populations. The 2001 Foot and Mouth disease epidemic, for example, was likely caused by the feeding of contaminated meat products to commercial pigs. This outbreak led to the forced slaughter of millions of cows and sheep in the UK. Because of the potential for widespread damage to animal welfare and the economy, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has introduced a blanket ban on any kitchen waste being fed to livestock.

You can read up on the statement issued by the APHA here.

Interestingly, there was a time when feeding table scraps to chickens was encouraged by the British government. National food rations were in place during World War II, so growing vegetables and raising chickens was a great way to supplement a family’s weekly allowance. This was before we understood the devastation that could be caused by feeding contaminated animal by-products. In 2001, a ban was put into place on feeding any animal proteins to all farmed livestock.

What if I have a single pet chicken who doesn’t lay eggs? Can I feed her my leftovers?

Unfortunately, all kept chickens in the UK – even pets – are considered to be livestock and cannot be fed any food items that have passed through a home’s kitchen. This blanket rule was created because of the very high risk of spread of disease through feeds with contaminated animal products. Even small, isolated incidents have the potential to become widespread and hurt local farming industries.

What if I have a vegan household where no animal-based products are used?

The only exception to the rule on leftovers is for households that are completely vegan. This means that no items containing any animal products (including eggs and milk) will be allowed to enter the home. In this case, leftovers from the kitchen can be fed to backyard chickens. The rules on what is allowed inside a “vegan household” are incredibly strict, however. Even a pet food that contains animal proteins would not be permitted!

If I can’t feed my chickens leftovers from my kitchen, what should I feed them?

Your chickens should be eating primarily a complete and balanced diet with a few treats allowed on the side. A commercial pellet will contain all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and keep them laying eggs. You can give fruits and vegetables that are freshly-picked from a garden, and have never entered the home. Make sure to choose chicken-friendly treats such as lettuce, broccoli, and pumpkin! Some foods to avoid include onions and apples with the pips.

Birds that are allowed to roam will also be able to pick at grass and weeds as well as eat wild insects. This is a great way to keep them busy while also getting a great nutritional supplement to their main diet.

Don’t forget that your chickens should also always have easy access to a clean water source!

Take-home Message

Kitchen scrap use is best to be limited to the compost heap! There is a risk of introducing disease into our livestock population when feeding animal products to any farm animals. Thankfully, there are still many ways we can treat our chickens, including allowing grazing access to the lawn and providing a buffet of garden produce.

Further reading: