Along with full chicken feed, nutritious chicken treats can be fed in moderation. Make sure that the 90/10 rule is observed by providing 90 per cent full feed to a limit of 10 per cent every day.
From time to time, we all want to spoil our chickens, but it might not be best for their wellbeing to give them loads of daily treats.
It is important that they have a proper diet, meaning a good quality feed, and some tasty yet safe treats after they have had a chance to eat that.
And what are the chickens’ healthiest treats?
The problem is that in Internet-land, there’s a lot of information out there, not all of it true.
There are some things that chickens simply can not consume – here you can find a list of them.
This is a list of five of the best chicken treats you can trust that are not destructive and will make your hens and their eggs stronger and healthier.
It is not a comprehensive list, by any way, but it is secure.
Note, though, that different chickens have different preferences, just like humans.
What some are going to love so much that they are willing to fight for, some are not going to give the time of day. And one day, what your chickens enjoy will turn their beaks up the next day.
It’s all a matter of trial and mistake, and figuring out what works best for your flock.
At what age should treats be offered to chicks?
This is a question I am asked often.
Chicks will be exposed to ‘treats’ in the form of bugs and greens as early as a couple of days old when raised by a broody hen in the wild or in a back yard.
I don’t personally give chicks treats in the brooder until they’re at least a week old, most frequently I wait until they’re two weeks old.
And even then, in limited amounts, I give only healthy treats.
Since sweets are not a healthy diet, and before they fill their tiny tummies with treats, chicks need to understand what their ‘proper’ food is.
It’s like taking kids to a sweet-shop and telling them they can stuff themselves full of anything they want to give them unlimited treats. It’s probably going to finish with a tummy-ache.
And that can mean major issues for tiny chicks.
For the first time, some of my Wyandotte chicks (and one Sablepoot!) tasted lettuce.
Important: grit is required for chick treats!
Know, though, it’s very important that they will need to be fed grit in a separate feeder as soon as you give your chicks something other than a starter feed – otherwise they will not be able to digest it.
A dish of sand is perfect for tiny chicks – they can take it when they need it.
Pears, apples and other vegetables.
For our backyard chickens, fruits are every bit as good as they are for us. As a healthy treat, they are an excellent alternative, full of vitamins and low in fat. Make an occasional fresh fruit salad for your hens and watch them bloom!
In your chicken run, planting a few fruit trees, or allowing your flock to free range in an orchard, works well as the hens can eat fallen fruit (the wormer the better) and fertilise the soil at the same time.
I have apple, pear, fig, peach and persimmon trees in my run, and in the late afternoon sun there’s nothing I like more than shaking a few ripe fruits from the trees for them.
In the fall, chickens forage for fruit.
My chickens love to forage under the apple trees for apples, chasing wormy windfalls!
Try dwarf varieties if you don’t have room for full-size trees, buy fruit when it’s in season (and therefore cheap) or see if you can make a bargain with friends or neighbours for any windfalls.
Any favourites with chicken?
This will be entirely based on your chickens. Mine have a peculiar liking for figs and persimmon, but unless they are soft or finely grated, they will not eat apples.
Any fruit problems?
Apples: Some people don’t want to give apples to chickens, but the flesh itself is perfect – arsenic is present in apple seeds, but to have any effect, they will need to eat them in large amounts. Daily, my chickens peck at windfalls and have never experienced any detrimental consequences.
Citrus fruits – you can see a lot of advice not to send these (oranges, lemons and grapefruit) to poultry, but for that advice, there is no scientific basis. It’s spread by word of mouth and web forums.
However, although the more convincing experimental study on this (see 1 and 2 below) revealed the presence in citrus fruits of a chemical compound called ‘limonene’ that is harmful to chickens, all the studies found that while the peel – fed in very large amounts – ‘had a major adverse impact on nutrient efficiency and digestibility,’ it did not kill the chicks.
Translated, this means that in citrus peel levels of different types of chemicals allow other nutrients such as calcium (which is essential for the growth of eggs) not to be consumed by poultry as well, which can thin egg shells.
They also render it unpalatable for livestock, and that is backed by my own experience. However, none of my chickens ever wanted to touch some form of citrus fruit.
Strawberries, sesame seeds and spinach leaves – a balanced summer chicken treat. But as a good treat, what else can chickens eat? Here, find out!
As a safe summer treat, I fairly always give my flock a treat of over-ripe strawberries, spinach leaves and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
Chickens enjoy berries so much that they’ll strip a bare bush and they know what’s safe to eat for a good reason. For poultry, berries are like a multi-vitamin pill – but even more delicious.
Filled with vitamins A, B and C, they are a healthy source of beta-carotene, too.
Plant some berry bushes in their run if you have space; they’ll enjoy the shade as well as the fruits. Elderberry is especially good at distribution.
I also like to add berries to the leaves with a few sesame seeds added for their protein – healthy enough to eat myself (can you tell my chickens are a little on the ‘spoiled’ side?!). And (guilty sigh) I do share often.
All sorts of berries, like the ‘berries’ of rose bushes, hawthorn and blackthorn bushes that are full of vitamin C, are good for your hens to feed.
Rosehips – healthy chickens’ winter berry treat, full of vitamin ‘C’. But what other treats for chickens are good, and when should they be fed? Here, find out.
Rosehips – a decent source of treats for winter. Keep an eye on the wild varieties in the hedgerows.
In autumn and winter, when other fruits have largely finished and are more costly to purchase, they are especially helpful and, as an added bonus, the plants provide wild birds with some much-needed nesting hedgerows.
Rosehips tend to be very rough, so they are best left before feeding to either dry out, or grind them up. As a bonus, chickens often love rose petals, so pruning means no flowers are lost in the summer. Just fine.
Some difficulties with berries?
Despite what you might read on the internet that hens are poisonous to berries – they’re not.
It is the chemicals that they prefer to be fed with that are poisonous to chickens.
By either growing your own or washing well any berries (or other foods) you purchase, avoid unpleasant chemicals.
And remember: if you’ve got chickens and you’ve got some sort of berry bush, just plan to harvest what your hens can’t!
Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
Known as the ‘cruciferous’ vegetables, because they’re so good, this category is also known as “super-veg”
However, I have to admit that these are not the kind of safe treatments that any of my chickens have ever really enjoyed in the same way they, for example, love strawberries (no different from kids, then!). But they’re filled with vitamins and phytochemicals that combat disease.
Among the three, cabbage has the most calcium that is beneficial for the egg-layers in your flock (6.3 percent as compared to 4.3 percent in broccoli and 2.4 percent in cauliflower), and slightly more vitamin C.
But to be frank, for you and your chickens, each of these has a good level of anti-carcinogens and is a good option of safe care!
Salad of broccoli for poultry.
For a nutritious summer chicken treat, blend the leftover broccoli florets with grated carrot, dandelion leaves and cucumber or zucchini slices.
As they seem to find the stalks too hard to manage, I like to spoil my hens by giving them only the florets, and I give them raw or grated, usually mixed with other healthy treats to make it more enjoyable.
Like I said – picky, picky.
Any concerns with those vegs?
No – feed them freely, and uncooked, ideally. Leftovers are good, but boiling makes it easy to leach out a lot of the vitamins into the broth.
Try hanging raw veg from a suet feeder (without the suet), particularly if your birds are confined to their chicken house during harsh winters, to make them more interesting to your flock.
It offers hours of fun – they’re going to have a go all day pecking them.
You can get ‘specialist’ chicken treatment feeders, but to be honest, I use a few (well washed) wild bird suet feeders like this one that works exactly the same way and are not as costly.
It’s so easy to grow carrots that I can do it – just spread a seed line and watch them sprout.
To give them their ideal growing medium, I do mine in an elevated bed and add some sand to compost. Raise as the tops start poking through the earth.
Picking organic carrots from the soil.
My carrots may have hairy and odd shapes, but they’re cheap and full of goodness!
Carrots are well known for their anti-carcinogenic properties for people off the scale in terms of vitamin A and with no fat at all, and can also help to turn the egg yolks of your flock a darker shade of orange.
On this list, add them to other fruits and vegetables, grate them, serve them as leftovers, add them to a high protein winter feed as some veggie goodness – carrots are very versatile and my chickens love them.
They love feathery tops too, so don’t waste them any more. I scrape the tops onto the compost heap that I hold in the chicken run and instantly my girls (and boys) are all over them.
A few flock favorites include:
- Vegetables: Lettuce, beets, broccoli, carrots, kale, swiss chard, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers
- Herbs: Lavender, mint, oregano, parsley, cilantro, thyme and basil
- Perennials: Daylilies, hostas, daisies, roses, coneflowers and ferns
Along with full chicken feed, nutritious chicken treats can be fed in moderation. Make sure that the 90/10 rule is observed by providing 90 percent full feed to a limit of 10 percent every day.
What not chickens to feed?
Ignore treats that can cause eggs to be off-flavoured. The two most common culprits that can influence the taste of eggs are garlic and onions.
Since they contain toxins that can make birds sick or even be fatal, a few other foods should be avoided.
As they contain a toxin called persin, avocado pits and skins are poisonous to chickens. The avocado flesh is okay for chickens.
Undercooked or dried beans can be dangerous because they contain hemagglutinin, a compound that can hinder the digestion of everything that birds consume.
Anthraquinones are found in rhubarb, which can have a laxative effect. A high concentration of oxalic acid, which can be lethal for chickens, can also produce rhubarb weakened by extreme cold.
In overly wet faeces, mouldy, rotting foods and very salty foods may result and may be toxic.
If you obey the 90/10 rule and are mindful of the foods that your birds have access to, feeding chickens a healthy and full diet is easy.
Start as the baseline with a full feed and then be careful not to over-treat your birds with goodies. Choose good, wholesome treats that complement the diet of a bird when you provide treats.
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Hello, I am Siddartha Reddy . A fulltime farmer and blogger who love to share all his farming experiences. Also, a strong supporter of sustainable farming practices. Thanks for visiting our site, let’s make this world a better place to live. Say No to Chemicals and plastics.