Do Chickens Eat During The Night?

Do Chickens Chow Down After Sundown?



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Let me tell you about the time I tried to sneak some midnight snacks from the henhouse.

I tiptoed out there under the moonlight, hoping to grab some fresh eggs for a late night omelet.

But those chickens caught me red-handed!

Turns out they don’t take kindly to fried egg jokes in the wee hours.

One feisty hen pecked me right in the behind as I hightailed it out of there!

I tell you what, after that experience this country boy learned the hard way that chickens don’t only eat during the day.

Do Chickens Eat During The Night?

Do Chickens Eat During The Night?

The short answer is yes, chickens do eat at night.

They tend to be most active during daylight hours, but they’ll also nibble on food and peck around after sundown too.

Chickens need to eat frequently to stay healthy, so they’ll take the opportunity to feed day or night.

I raise a small flock of Rhode Island Red hens in my backyard coop.

And let me tell you, those ladies keep odd hours when it comes to their eating schedule!

They’ll start clucking and scratching for their breakfast at the crack of dawn, right when Mr. Sun peeks over the horizon.

But then later in the evening, even after I’ve gone to bed, I’ll hear them stirring in the coop well past sunset.

Turns out they’re night owls too, sneaking beakfuls of feed when most creatures are snoozing.

Chickens Follow Their Natural Bio-Rhythms

Do Chickens Eat During The Night?

Chickens are diurnal creatures, meaning their bodies are wired to be awake and feeding mostly during the daytime.

This comes from their ancestry as jungle fowl in the forests of Southeast Asia.

Danger lurked more often at night, so being active in the day helped their survival.

However, today’s domesticated chickens will eat around the clock if given the chance.

They naturally wake up at first light to fill their crops at dawn.

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But they’ll also venture out for bonus snacks, water, or just something to peck at during the night.

See, over thousands of years of breeding, we’ve made chickens more docile and less wary of nighttime threats.

So even though their ancient jungle fowl cousins were rigidly diurnal, our modern ladies are more flexible.

Their internal bio-rhythms still make them perkiest during daytime hours.

But they’re totally happy to grab a midnight snack too if their bellies are rumbling!

Their Feeding Habits Change With The Seasons

Do Chickens Eat During The Night?

During long summer days, chickens are eager to forage from first light to dusk.

But when winter shortens their daylight hours, their bio-rhythms shift a bit.

Chickens will spend more time snoozing on those long dark nights.

But they’ll still meander to the feeder for a bedtime bite.

And once daylight savings ends, they adjusting their schedule again to maximize their feeding time during daylight.

I notice my hens eat a ton more in the summer compared to winter.

When we’re having 15 hours of sunshine in the summer, they’ve got more time to burn foraging, snacking and plumping up.

But during short winter days, their appetites shrink as they hunker down during the long, cold nights.

Still, they’ll always pop up for a midnight snack, even on the solstice when it’s dark nearly round the clock!

They Need Constant Access To Feed

Do Chickens Eat During The Night?

Since chickens like to eat frequently throughout the entire 24-hour day, it’s important they have nonstop access to feed.

Limiting their feed to just daytime hours could lead to poor nutrition and health issues.

Make sure your flock has feeders that are overflowing at all times.

That way, your chickens can snack to their heart’s content whenever the urge strikes, whether it’s noon or midnight.

I give my ladies an entire bale of hay along with a huge basin of scratch grains and mealworms.

This gives them an all-day, endless buffet of goodies to peck through at their leisure.

I refill it each morning, but there’s always enough to last them well into the night too.

This way, even the late-night snackers in the flock never go hungry!

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Some Breeds are Night Owls

Certain breeds like the Rhode Island Red are early birds that would rather roost at sundown.

But others like Barred Rocks, Australorps, and Orpingtons don’t mind burning the midnight oil.

Give these night owls ample overhead lighting if possible, so they can see to navigate the coop and find feed if awake after dark.

My RIRs turn in pretty early, content to sleep once it gets dark.

But my one Barred Rock, Miss Clucksworth, is a total night owl!

She’ll stay up pecking and scratching around the coop long after the others have gone to bed.

I installed a little LED light in the coop so she can see at night without disturbing the other chickens.

Now she’s got light to eat midnight snacks to her heart’s content!

Chickens are Natural Foragers

Chickens love to forage for food.

It’s in their ancestry as jungle fowl who scratched and pecked the forest floor for seeds, bugs and vegetation.

Today’s domestic chickens retain this instinct to constantly scavenge for snacks.

So even after filling up on feed, they’ll still pick through the dirt and grass looking for goodies.

Foraging keeps chickens active and entertained.

It also provides micronutrients they may miss in standard feed.

So I make sure to provide plenty of space for my flock to scratch and peck.

This could be a grass run, or even a bare dirt patch they can dig through.

Chickens will forage all day, but interestingly they love to scratch around just before bed too.

It’s like their version of an after-dinner mint!

Chickens Have Tiny Stomachs

Believe it or not, chickens have very small stomachs for their body size.

A laying hen’s stomach is around the size of an almond!

That’s less than one ounce total capacity.

So chickens can only eat a small amount of food at one time.

To meet their nutritional needs, they have to eat up to 12 times per day.

Chickens will snack frequently in small bursts day and night.

You’ll see them visiting the feeder constantly for tiny meals.

This frequent nibbling keeps their tiny stomachs filled since they empty quickly.

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It also optimizes digestion and nutrient absorption.

So don’t be surprised to see a chicken fill up, wander off, then come right back for more!

Provide Free Choice Calcium

Laying hens need lots of calcium to form healthy eggshells.

Up to 4 grams daily for maximum production!

But chickens don’t instinctively eat enough calcium from feed alone.

So leaving free choice calcium available prevents deficiency.

This could be oyster shell, limestone chips, or a bowl of crushed eggshells.

Your chickens will learn to nibble these sources to balance their calcium intake.

I leave calcium supplements available 24/7 in my coop.

My hens visit it often, even chowing down before bed.

This ensures they get plenty of calcium, even while snoozing!

Mystery Midnight Snacks

Sometimes I’ll come to the coop in the morning and find empty feeders.

But I filled them right before sundown, so what happened overnight?

Turns out those sneaky chickens gobbled down their grub under cover of darkness!

Chickens definitely don’t have a set bedtime.

So while most are tucked in for the night, there may be one or two night owls stirring about.

These nighttime nibblers will help themselves to snacks in the wee hours.

It’s fine as long as the feeders are replenished come morning.

Consider it the price of satisfying your chickens’ round-the-clock munchies!

Offer Midnight Light Snacks

Chickens’ digestive systems slow down at night like most animals.

Heavy meals late at night can cause digestive issues.

But chickens may still peck for a light midnight snack.

So provide some options that won’t burden their slumbering stomachs.

Try chopped lettuces, sprouts, or leafy greens after dark.

Popcorn kernels or chopped veggies are wholesome late-night picks too.

Just mix in small amounts with their regular feed at end-of-day.

This gives late-night munchers something gentle on their stomachs!

Your chickens will sleep better, and so will you.

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