Can Chickens Eat Goat Feed?


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Many poultry farmers are looking for cheaper alternatives to chicken feeds which are very expensive. If you are a homesteader who raises multiple animals like chickens and goats, you might have thought of giving the feed of one animal to the other animal. Is it safe for chickens to eat goat feed? What are the differences between chicken and goat feeds? Read this enlightening article to satisfy your curiosity.

Chickens can safely eat goat feed but it should not be their main source of food. In order to stay healthy, chickens require a diet nutritionally balanced for their species.

Let’s take a closer look at what chickens and goats eat.

What Do Chickens and Goats Eat?

To decide whether it is safe for one animal to eat the feed of another animal, we have to know what both animals eat naturally. Chickens are omnivores (i.e. they can eat plants and animals). Examples of what chickens feed on are:

  • Insects
  • Earthworms
  • Chicken feeds
  • Grains like corn, barley, and wheat

Goats are herbivores (i.e. they eat plants). Some feeds for goats are:

  • Hay
  • Grass
  • Goat pellets
  • Grains like corn, barley, and wheat

How Do Both Animals Digest Their Food

Goats

Goats and the herd

Goats are not just herbivores, they are also ruminants. Ruminants are animals that possess an organ (called a rumen) in which bacteria ferment what the animals eat, and give nutrients to the animals.

How do goats being ruminants affect what they eat? As ruminants, goats can digest dietary fibers. You and I cannot digest dietary fibers, neither do chickens.

Goats also do not need to consume excess proteins because some of the bacteria in their rumen digests along with their food and give them proteins.

You can say that the bacteria are bonus proteins because they add to the proteins consumed by the goats.

The proteins consumed by goats are used for:

  • Reproduction
  • Milk production
  • Repair of tissues
  • Meat production
  • Production of hair

Chickens

Chicken eating in the farm

Chickens are not ruminants, so they do not have bonus proteins like goats. As omnivores, chickens need nutrients from both plants and animals.

The reasons chickens are raised globally revolve around what chickens use proteins for. Proteins in chickens are used for:

  • Reproduction
  • Egg production
  • Repair of tissues
  • Production of meat
  • Production of feathers

According to the type and age of birds, here are the protein requirements of chickens:

TYPE OF CHICKENAGE OF BIRDPROTEIN REQUIREMENT
Layer0-6 weeks23%
Layer6-14 weeks18%
Layer14-22 weeks16%
LayerWeek 22 and beyond18%
Broiler0-3 weeks23%
Broiler3-6 weeks20%
BroilerWeek 6 and beyond18%

(Broiler source) (Layer source)

Goats Eating Chicken Feed

With the explanations above, it is clear that goats cannot eat processed chicken feed. Processed chicken feeds are made of ingredients from plant and animal sources. Examples of animal sources of proteins for chicken feeds are:

  • Fish meal
  • Crab meal
  • Feather meal
  • Blood meal
  • Poultry by-product meal
  • Unconventional meals like earthworms, insects, etc.

The ingredients above are what make poultry feed expensive. Herbivorous animals cannot digest animal proteins. The microbes in the rumen of goats cannot ferment flesh. If you have ever wondered if your goats can eat processed chicken feeds, the answer is NO!

Goats can eat other ingredients from plant sources like hay and grains that are used to make chicken feeds.

Can Chickens Eat Goat Feed?

Chickens eat a lot of things. While foraging, they eat seeds, weeds, insects, spiders, earthworms, etc.

As omnivorous birds, chickens can eat both plants and animals. The feed of goats are made of ingredients from a plant source, therefore, chickens can eat goat feeds.

The appropriate question to ask now is: “Why don’t poultry farmers use goat feeds which are cheap to feed raise their chickens?” That is an excellent question, and you are about to find out why.

To answer the question above, let us discuss some goat feeds.

Hay

goat eating dry grass

Hay is dry grass or legume that is used as fodder for animals such as cows, goats, sheep, etc. Some plants that are used to make hay and their protein/fiber content are:

  • Alfalfa: 16-20% protein, 41-53% fiber
  • Bermuda: 9-16% protein, 45-85% fiber
  • Timothy: 8% protein, 35% fiber 
  • Oat: 9% protein, 60% fiber
  • Clover: 6.9-12.5 protein, 57-66% fiber

Alfalfa hay has the highest protein content, but it is not sufficient to raise young chicks and meat-producing chickens (broilers). Goats can digest cellulose (i.e. the fiber content), but chickens cannot.

Hay should not be the main supplement given to chickens but it is safe, and even healthy, for them to browse on.

Grains

grains

Grains are small, hard, and dry seeds of various plants harvested for both human and animal consumption. Examples of grains that are used to feed goats and their protein/fiber contents are:

  • Oats: 11-17% protein, 11% fiber
  • Corn: 10-15% protein, 9-15% fiber
  • Barley: 12% protein, 17% fiber
  • Rye: 15% protein, 24% fiber
  • Wheat: 13% protein, 12-15% fiber

Feeding grains to chickens is okay because the number of indigestible nutrients in grains is low when compared to hays. Grains make a better supplement to feed chickens than hay.

Goat Pellets

Goat pellets are processed with hay, grains, other ingredients like vegetable oil, limestone/oyster shell, salt, etc.

Goat pellets are similar to chicken pellets. Goat pellets have calcium sources like feeding limestone and oyster shells used by chickens to produce eggs.

The difference between goats and chicken pellets is that chicken pellets are made of proteins from animal and plant sources while proteins in goat pellets are from plant sources.

Chickens can eat goat pellets, but supplements (i.e. animal proteins) must be given.

Goat Treats

Fruits, vegetables, and other goat treats can be given to chickens. Chickens get vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables like cabbage, squash, spinach, and watermelons.

Goat Feed as Regular Chicken Feed

Do you remember what chickens use the digested proteins in their body for? Processes like meat production, egg production, and reproduction require proteins.

The breeds of chickens you can find today were bred to digest and convert nutrients into flesh, egg, etc. very quickly. If you read the writings on the bags of poultry feed, you will see “fast conversion rate”.

The breeds of chickens around the world today grow very fast, so they always need as many proteins as they can get.

Goat feeds do not just lack sufficient proteins for birds, they contain a high amount of cellulose (i.e. dietary fiber). Cellulose, as a dietary fiber, cannot be digested by chickens but can be digested in the rumen of goats to become glucose.

The high amount of indigestible cellulose and low amount of required proteins in goat feeds make chickens that feed just on goat feeds grow slower, more susceptible to diseases, and lay fewer eggs than chickens that eat poultry feeds.

chicken eating grains

Goat feed should not be the regular feed given to your chickens. The following are instances that may permit you to feed your chickens with goat feed.

  • Giving goat feed as supplements to chickens (i.e. between meals)
  • When you are ready to add needed nutrients as supplements to your chickens
  • If you goats are wasting their feed, chickens can help to finish the feed
  • If your chickens can find a lot of earthworms, insects, and other animals while foraging

Final Thoughts

The table below lists feeds for goats and chickens, and tells how healthy they are for goats and chickens:

FOODHEALTHY FOR GOATSHEALTHY FOR CHICKENSCOMMENT
CornYESYESSupplement to chicken feed
AlfalfaYESIn moderationFeed chickens when you have to
Oat hayYESIn moderationFeed chickens when you have to
Rye grainYESYESSupplement to chicken feed
Fish mealNOYESSource of animal protein
Crab mealNOYESSource of animal protein
Oat grainsYESYESSupplement to chicken feed
Clover hayYESIn moderationFeed chickens when you have to
Goat TreatsYESYESSource of vitamins and minerals
Barley grainYESYESSupplement to chicken feed
EarthwormsNOYESSource of animal protein
Goat PelletsYESYESSupplement to chicken feed
Wheat grainYESYESSupplement to chicken feed
Timothy hayYESIn moderationFeed chickens when you have to
Chicken feedNOYESMajor feed for chickens
Bermuda hayYESIn moderationFeed chickens when you have to
Poultry by-product mealNOYESSource of animal protein

Goat feed is safe to feed to chickens but do not feed your chickens with only goat feeds. Chickens are omnivores, so they have to eat animals and plants.

Goats have bacteria in their rumen that provide bonus proteins but chickens do not. Goat feeds can be supplements to chicken feeds. Never raise goats with chicken feeds.

Now that you know what you can give to your chickens, what treats will you give them today?

Sources:

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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