Chickens are omnivores and eagerly consume most types of food that are on offer, including cheese. Since processed dairy snacks like cheese aren’t usually on any bird’s menu, it is natural to be cautious about feeding them to your chickens. While cheese has some health benefits, not all types of cheese are the same, and some varieties are more suitable for chickens than others.
Chickens can eat cheese in moderation. Treats should never make up more than 10% of a chicken’s diet, and cheese should never be offered more than twice a week. Avoid highly processed cheese varieties. Liquid whey is a healthier alternative for chickens than cheese.
If you are wondering whether you can share a slice of cheesy pizza with your chickens, read on. Your chickens may go ga-ga over the cheesy goodness, but knowing how much and how often you can indulge your feathered friends with cheesy treats is essential.
Can Chickens Eat Cheese?
Although cheese should never become part of your chicken’s staple diet, it can be a good source of calcium and protein. The best way to offer cheese to your hens is in grated form, so it is easier to digest and can be spread around equally.
Soft cheeses like goat’s cheese, cream cheese, or cottage cheese can be mixed with chicken food. This should only be done occasionally and should never become a regular occurrence.
However, before you decide to share cheese with your chickens, it is essential to understand how much is safe and which varieties are best. Anyone who has spent time in front of a cheese deli will know that not all cheese is the same, and some kinds are more beneficial for our feathered friends than others.
Chickens can eat cheese, but it is not an essential food, and it should only ever be offered sparingly. Obesity or gastrointestinal problems caused by excessive dairy can have a devastating effect on hens’ health, so cheesy snacks should be limited to small amounts offered no more than twice a week.
Young chicks should never be offered cheese. All dairy products should remain off the menu for juvenile chickens as it could cause imbalances in their developing crops and guts.
Cheese should only ever be offered to chickens as an optional treat. It must never take the place of their staple, balanced chicken feed. Some birds love it, while others will turn up their beaks at the offering and opt for healthier options like apples or bananas.
All cheese or dairy products not consumed must be removed from the coop at the end of each day. Dairy products can quickly become rancid if they are left standing out, and they may even attract unwelcome critters like rodents or bugs.
What Is Actually In Cheese?
Most of us know that cheese is made from milk, but what else is contained in this food which is a staple in most homes? According to the US Dairy, all cheeses consist of four ingredients: milk, salt, beneficial bacteria, and an enzyme called rennet.
Of course, there are many different cheese varieties, each with its own unique taste and nutritional profile. However, since all cheeses are made with different amounts of the same four basic ingredients, it is safe to say that they all consist primarily of protein and fat.
The amount of protein and fat varies between varieties and depends on what type of milk is used. To understand why cheese is not the healthiest snack for chickens, consider that every 1 oz of cheddar cheese contains at least 9 grams of fat.
Cheese does also contain an array of valuable nutrients and minerals. Vitamin D, A, B12, K2, and calcium are highly beneficial elements. Cheese also contains important minerals such as zinc, selenium, and phosphorus.
Types Of Cheese That Chickens Can Eat
No variety of cheese is safe enough to feed as a regular part of a chicken’s staple diet. However, as an occasional treat, some varieties are more suitable than others.
Goats cheese is by far the healthiest variety of cheese that you can offer to your chickens. It is lower in fat than cow’s milk varieties but still packed with beneficial nutrients.
While no varieties of cheese are specifically recommended to feed chickens, some types offer more nutrients than others. Some cheese options that can be offered to your chickens in moderation include:
- Goats cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- Gouda cheese
- Cream cheese
- Cottage cheese (offer it mixed into their regular feed)
Is Moldy Cheese Safe For Chickens?
Although some sources indicate that feeding your chickens moldy cheese or even blue cheese is safe is perfectly fine, it is better to avoid it if possible. It is true that most molds affecting cheese are beneficial Penicillium species, but it is not unheard of to occasionally encounter unintentional mycotoxins.
As a rule, you should never feed your chickens moldy food of any sort. Mycotoxicosis in poultry is a serious and potentially deadly condition caused by feeding moldy food. Since the untrained human eye can’t distinguish one type of mold from another, it is better to play it safe and avoid giving your chickens moldy cheese.
Types Of Cheeses Not To Feed Chickens
While small amounts of most cheese varieties won’t harm your chickens, a few types are not recommended. However delicious it may be, highly processed cheeses don’t have much dietary value and offer very little dietary goodness for either humans or chickens.
Typically, processed cheeses contain more undesirable ingredients than you may be comfortable feeding to your chickens. For example, American cheese is technically not considered real cheese by FDA and is exceptionally high in calories, sodium, and fat.
Adding your leftover nacho cheese sauce to the kitchen scraps bucket occasionally won’t kill your chickens. However, if you want to feed your chickens cheese for the health benefits, there are a few varieties and products you should avoid:
- American cheese
- Kraft singles
- Cheese puffs
- Cheese spread
- Cheese sticks
- Highly processed cheese products like queso dip
Simply put, the more processed the cheese is, the fewer health benefits it has for chickens. They are also more likely to be laced with additives, colorants, and salt.
Is Dairy Safe For Chickens?
Just because chickens can eat something doesn’t mean that they should. While small amounts of dairy won’t kill chickens, their digestive systems are not equipped to effectively digest large amounts of high-fat products intended to nourish infant mammals.
One of the most immediate effects of chickens eating too much dairy is diarrhea. Most chicken keepers will agree that this can be an extremely unpleasant poultry condition, especially for the person cleaning the chicken coop.
In small amounts, dairy products that do not contain sugar or other harmful substances can have some health benefits. Products like cheese are rich in calcium and protein. Unsweetened yogurt can be a source of healthy probiotics.
Since so many potentially serious conditions can result from feeding too much dairy to chickens, it is better to stick with safer alternatives. Crushed eggshells are a completely safe source of calcium for laying hens, and healthy protein boosts can come in the form of protein-rich snacks like mealworms or spinach.
Can Chickens Eat Whey?
Whey is the liquid by-product of the cheesemaking process. The curds are scooped out to form the solid cheese, and the remaining nutrient-rich solution is whey.
Anyone who makes homemade cheese may find themselves with plenty of leftover whey. Although it can be useful as a flavorful stock or to replace water when making bread, it can also be used as a supplement to give your chickens some added protein, vitamins, enzymes, and minerals.
Whey can be offered to chickens in a bowl, but it is unlikely to receive an enthusiastic welcome. If you want your chickens to benefit from the protein and minerals in the liquid, soak a small amount of your chicken’s feed in the solution shortly before serving.
Like cheese, whey should only be offered occasionally. However, it is less likely to adversely affect the birds’ health since, with the curds removed, the whey is a far less potent formulation than the cheese itself.
Can Chickens Eat Cheese Rinds?
Chickens can eat cheese rinds if they are the result of the natural process of cheese making. A rind made from cheese ingredients may need to be grated before offering it to the flock, but it is okay as an occasional snack.
Cheese rinds made of plastic, wax, or cloth should never be offered to chickens. The thick red coating on many kinds of cheese is not edible and should be removed before offering the cheese inside to poultry.
Is Cheese Harmful To Chickens?
Feeding cheese to chickens is about maintaining a delicate balance between choosing the correct variety and only providing it in moderation. Small amounts of cheese won’t harm your birds, but too much can lead to an array of health issues.
The problem with feeding cheese to chickens is that in addition to all the beneficial elements like calcium and protein, it remains a high-fat dairy product. No species of birds evolved to be able to digest dairy effectively, so excessive amounts of cheese can quickly lead to conditions like diarrhea in chickens.
Cheese is a high-fat product; if chickens eat too much of it, it can result in weight gain. Obese hens struggle more to produce healthy eggs. They are more prone to issues like prolapsed vent and decreased fertility.
Other common poultry conditions that result from obesity include:
- Fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome
- Heat stroke
- Decrease in laying.
- Increased mortality
Cheese in itself is not harmful to chickens, but giving them too much can result in some serious conditions. A small amount can be an occasional treat for your flock, but too much of this good thing is not recommended.
Are Chickens Lactose Intolerant?
Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other types of dairy products. Since cows produce milk to feed their young, many other species, do not have the necessary enzyme in their digestive tracts to digest it.
Although chickens may develop diarrhea from cheese and milk if these are consumed in excessive amounts, it has been scientifically proven that they can digest dairy products in small amounts. Chickens fed lactose-rich dairy products in moderation fully utilized the nutrients in the food. However, when given a choice, the hens in the study only voluntarily ate a small amount of lactose-rich food each day.
Lactose intolerance is a common condition in other species, including humans and cats. Consuming dairy products results in symptoms like bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Although chickens are not lactose intolerant, they shouldn’t get too much dairy as it can quickly lead to conditions including diarrhea and obesity.
Can Chickens Eat Cottage Cheese?
Cottage cheese is one of the best varieties to feed chickens since it is lower in fat than most other cheeses. However, like all dairy products, it should be fed in moderation as it still contains more fats than chickens would typically consume.
Always ensure the cottage cheese you feed your chickens isn’t moldy or rotten. The best way to offer cottage cheese to chickens is by mixing it with their regular food. Since it has a soft consistency, it is easy for them to peck and enjoy.
Can Cheese Provide Calcium For Hens To Lay Eggs?
Hens need a steady supply of calcium to produce eggs with strong eggshells. Most poultry owners provide supplements of crushed oyster shells or eggshells to give their hens the diet they need to produce healthy eggs.
Dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt are high in calcium. It is, therefore, natural to assume that providing some cheesy goodness to your laying flock is a good idea.
Cheese can be a source of calcium for hens, but feeding them too much dairy can lead to issues like diarrhea and conditions resulting from obesity. The calcium and protein in cheese are beneficial to chickens, but the high-fat content, along with ingredients like salt in cheese, makes it a less ideal source of calcium than crushed eggshells.
Can Chickens Eat Cheese Puffs?
If you want to share a few of the cheese puffs you are eating with the curious chickens that are circling you, it is okay to let them have a few to investigate. However, it is not a good idea to buy them their own bag of cheese puffs or balls as they are highly processed and not very nutritious.
Cheese puffs only have trace amounts of actual cheese. Most are made from puffed corn that is mixed with cheese-flavored powders. Almost all brands are loaded with fat, sodium, and sugar, which aren’t good for your chickens.
So yes, your chickens can get a few cheese puffs if they are interested in what you are eating and you want to share a few. However, they should not eat too many and definitely should not be given cheese puffs regularly.
Can Chickens Eat Mac And Cheese?
So long as chickens don’t eat mac and cheese too often, they will enjoy an occasional helping of this comfort food from the scraps bucket. The only proviso is that it is offered in moderation, as too much of the cheesy sauce could result in the entire flock developing diarrhea.
The sauce in mac and cheese is often from highly processed varieties of cheese and may even be mixed with additional salt and flavorings. This makes it less than ideal as a healthy chicken food, but if it is only offered in moderation as an occasional treat, the chickens will undoubtedly love it.
Mac and cheese should never become a regular meal in the coop, but occasionally adding leftovers to the scraps bucket is okay. Only feed fresh mac and cheese and discard any old food that has been forgotten in the fridge as it may have gone off.
Does Cheese Cause Chicken Diarrhea?
Small amounts of cheese offered occasionally will not affect your chicken’s digestive system. You may notice some unfortunate aftereffects only when they receive too much dairy.
Several factors can cause diarrhea in poultry, including parasites, infections, or even stress. One of the most common causes for this uncomfortable condition is sudden changes in diet or chickens consuming a lot of food that is greasy, fried, sugary, or dairy products.
Although chickens are not lactose intolerant and can benefit from small amounts of cheese, too much can result in diarrhea. Other side effects of eating dairy products like cheese too often are increased weight and potentially deadly conditions like fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome.
Chickens can eat cheese, but only in moderation. While it contains a good amount of protein and some beneficial vitamins and minerals, the high-fat content can be problematic. Cheese can be offered as an occasional dairy treat, but it should only be on the menu in small amounts and never more than twice a week.