How to Pick Treats for Chickens
While a chicken’s diet should be well balanced, an occasional treat can be good. Treats can help relieve boredom in confined chickens, including those that are being kept inside for the winter. They may reduce chickens’ pecking at each other or eating things they shouldn’t, like the paint off the walls.
If you do feed treats to your flock, try to keep them nutritious and not more than 1 to 2 percent of the diet. That’s a small amount, usually less than a cup per bird per week, and it should be divided up over several days.
Following are some good, safe treats for chickens. Remember that these are treats to be fed in small quantities. Clean up any treats the chickens don’t eat right away.
Dark, leafy greens: Avoid iceberg or head lettuce, which is basically just green-tinged water.
Other green, orange, and red vegetables: Leftover veggies from dinner are fine, even in casseroles and sauces. Don’t overdo cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and onions.
Weeds from the lawn and garden: Most weeds are quite nutritious — just make sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. A little cut grass is okay, but don’t overdo it with this snack. Every area has weeds that are poisonous, so you should consult a book or authority before feeding your birds unfamiliar weeds.
Never feed yew trimmings (a soft-needled evergreen common in landscapes) to any animal, and don’t include any mushrooms or fungi in your offerings. Dandelions, crabgrass, chickweed, and thistles are all safe.
Pumpkins and squash: The guts from a jack-o’-lantern are quite popular with chickens. Even the rind can be fed after Halloween if it isn’t moldy. Chickens also adore those monstrous zucchini no one else wants.
Fruits: Apples, pears, and other fruit raked up off the ground are excellent treats, especially if wormy. Wash the fruit first if it has been sprayed with pesticides. Most fruits can be fed to chickens, although citrus fruit probably won’t be eaten. Fruit can be soft or damaged but shouldn’t be moldy.
Meat and bone scraps: All meat and bones should be cooked first. Chickens adore picking the meat off bones, even chicken bones, but you need to remove the bones from the coop after a day or two. If large bones are cracked, chickens will eat the marrow inside.
Eggs and eggshells: Your cracked or old eggs can be cooked, chopped, and returned to your chickens. Eggshells should be crushed into small pieces. Cooking eggs and crushing shells keeps chickens from developing the habit of eating their own eggs in the nest.
Milk and other dairy: These products are fine in moderation. Chickens will drink liquid milk, and sour milk is fine to give them. Cheese and yogurt also are fine.
Spaghetti, other pasta, and rice: All of these items should be cooked first. Leftovers that aren’t moldy are fine, even with sauces.
Cooked potatoes and potato peels: Don’t feed raw potatoes or peels to chickens. The sprouts and green areas of skin can be poisonous. Remove very green peels and sprouts and put the peels in a microwave for about 5 minutes; then cool and they’re safe for feeding.
Stale bread, cookies, cake, cereal, and so forth: Chickens adore these things, and they’re good to feed unless they’re moldy. Don’t feed too much and too often. It may be a good idea to scrape off sugary frostings before feeding. Don’t feed a lot of very salty treats, such as chips, cheese puffs, and so on.
Miscellaneous: Cooked nuts are fine, as are raw crushed acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts, or pecans. Wild bird seed and sunflower seed are fine, and it’s okay to leave the hulls on. A little dry pet food or a few pet treats occasionally are okay, but don’t feed too often or too much. Rabbit pellets can be an occasional treat as well.
Chickens don’t care much for sweet foods, and foods that consist primarily of sugar and fat should be avoided. No treats should be moldy either. Moldy food can cause a wide range of problems in animals. Too much of some foods, such as cabbage, onions, garlic, flaxseed, and fish, may cause your chickens’ eggs — and even the meat — to have an off taste if these foods are fed for long periods of time.