Clucking hens and an early morning cock-a-doodle-doo from the rooster aren’t the only wake-up calls you get from raising chickens. Taking care of live animals also means understanding which foods are safe for them to consume and which are toxic. While it is safe for chickens to eat cheese, some types are better for them than others.
Chickens are omnivores and opportunists. Their diet mainly consists of chicken feed that provides them with the essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals necessary for them to grow and have energy. Aside from their traditional chicken feed, they thoroughly enjoy any snacks they can get their beaks on. They appreciate snacking primarily on grains, seeds, fruits, and veggies, so it may seem a little strange to give them cheese as a treat. Although it’s a little unconventional, cheese is safe for chickens when given to them in moderation. Keep reading this informative chicken article to find out how much dairy they can handle and which cheeses are safer than others.
Does Cheese Benefit Chickens?
Dairy isn’t safe for all animals, but it does have tons of vitamins and minerals that serve some animals and pets better than others. Bone health is vital for chickens and living a life without severe welfare issues. Cheese contains proteins, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, D, and K. These vitamins aid in bone development in both humans and chickens. They are also known to prevent osteoporosis which is a common condition in caged hens. Not enough of these vitamins and minerals leave the bones fragile and porous and makes fractures more likely.
Finding the perfect balance of weight between too heavy and too light is essential for the life of a healthy chicken. Cheese is the perfect supplement for birds with issues gaining weight healthily, especially if raised for meat. Cheese is rich in fat and calories, so it makes an energy-dense treat that is easy to serve. Be careful not to dish out too much. Serving up some cheese with low-energy foods like fruits and veggies is a smart way to keep their diet in balance.
Calcium is among the most abundant minerals found in a chicken’s body and is crucial for regulating transmission between nerves, vascular and muscular functions, and hormone levels. The high levels of calcium in cheese and dairy products keep these systems running smoothly and keep eggshells firm and strong.
If all these benefits weren’t enough, cheese also plays a role in promoting a healthy immune system because it is fortified with probiotic bacteria. When chickens eat cheese, it helps slow immunosenescence, the aging of the immune system. The bacteria in the chicken’s gut help break down foods and keep the digestive system working properly.
How Much Cheese to Feed a Chicken
Feeding chickens properly is a huge responsibility that takes a lot of knowledge. Just because it is safe for chickens to eat cheese doesn’t mean they should gorge themselves on it. Like all chicken treats, cheese is safe in moderation and should only be given to them a maximum of once or twice every week. Too much cheese may make your flock obese, which welcomes an array of other health problems like lower fertility, fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome, and oversized eggs.
Safe Cheeses for Chickens
It doesn’t take an avian veterinarian to realize that not all cheeses are the same, and some may be better for your birds than others. Most experts suggest feeding your chickens goat cheese as opposed to traditional cheese from cow’s milk. Goat cheese typically has more nutrients without the extra fat that regular dairy does. The taste is a little different, but we promise your flock won’t mind.
A large block of cheese isn’t going to be the most accessible option for your chickens to peck at. If you do decide to offer them a treat, make sure the cheese is shredded. It is easier to distribute between all the chickens evenly and is less work for them to break apart and digest. Shredded cheddar and mozzarella are excellent options for birds because they are soft and lower in acidity.
For a lower fat option, consider giving your birds some cottage cheese. This cheese is excellent for mixing into their regular feed to keep the nutrients and fatty treats in balance.
Try to stay away from cheeses that are heavily processed or have a lot of intense flavors from other herbs and seasonings. A great example of this is American cheese that is highly processed with little nutrition and is hard on the chicken’s digestive tract.
Other Safe Dairy Products for Chickens
If cheese is safe for chickens, does that mean all other dairy products are safe for them too? Not necessarily. Dairy products should be used sparingly in a chicken’s diet because they contain sugars from lactose. A chicken’s anatomy doesn’t come equipped with breaking down the lactose, and too much of it could lead to diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal issues.
Milk and yogurt are two other standard dairy products that people try to give their chickens. Lactose-free milk is available for purchase if you want to provide them with some. If you can’t find any skimmed low-fat milk, goat’s milk is usually safe for them. Try to give them raw milk instead of pasteurized milk if you decide to treat them with it.
The main benefit of giving your chickens yogurt is the rich source of healthy bacteria. As long as the yogurt is plain and not sweetened with sugars, it is safe to surprise them with some once per week.
If you’re concerned with the amount of calcium your chickens are consuming, crushed oyster shells are a much healthier alternative than dairy products. Remember that cheese must only be given to your birds in moderation because they are not a conventional food source for them.
Cheese probably isn’t the first food that comes to mind when you think of feeding chickens. Although these animals eat a wide array of foods, most human foods should remain treats and not be incorporated as a regular part of their diet. Your brood appreciates a variety of snacks, but their health should always come first, and their regular feed should be their primary source of energy and nutrients. At the end of the day, most chickens know what is right for them. If they gobble it up, then so be it. But if they leave it, assume that they’re not interested and find something else they might enjoy snacking on more.
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.