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Keeping a Chicken’s Diet Interesting by Offering Treats

Part of the Keeping Chickens For Dummies Cheat Sheet (UK Edition)

Chickens’ diets need to be well balanced, but an occasional treat can be good for the birds. Treats can help relieve boredom in confined chickens, including those that are being kept inside because of bad weather. Treats may deter chickens from pecking at each other or eating things they shouldn’t, such as the paint off the walls.

Feed treats in small quantities and clean up any the chickens don’t eat straight away. The following treats are good and safe for chickens:

  • Dark, leafy greens. Hanging a cabbage up above head height for chickens to jump and peck at is an old tried and tested trick, providing food, amusement and exercise all at the same time.

  • Fruits. Apples, pears and other fruit raked up off the ground provide excellent treats, especially if wormy, unless they’ve been sprayed with pesticides. Most fruits can be fed to chickens, although they probably refuse to eat citrus fruit. Fruit can be soft or damaged but not mouldy.

  • Home-grown grains. Growing your own dedicated chicken feed is perfectly possible. Just scatter your chickens’ whole grain in a patch of the garden and harvest it by stringing up bundles; the birds do the rest. Sweetcorn, maize and sunflower heads can contribute to chickens’ diets too. Just remember the golden rule: don’t take them into the kitchen.

  • Modern feeds and oyster shell. Before the advent of chick crumb, people would commonly hard boil an egg and mash it up as chick food. Eggshells baked and crushed were returned to laying birds to supplement their calcium needs. These practices are considered old fashioned now. Feeding eggshells to layers, no matter how well disguised, can encourage egg eating, a nasty habit that’s difficult to break and miserable to experience. Modern feeds and oyster shell are a better solution. Put the eggshells on the compost heap.

  • Other green, orange and red vegetables. As long as they come straight from the garden, allotment or greengrocers, and not via the kitchen, these treats are fine to feed to your chickens.

  • Potatoes and potato peelings. Don’t feed raw potatoes or peelings to chickens. The sprouts and green areas of skin can be poisonous.

  • Pumpkins and squashes. The ‘guts’ from a hollowed out pumpkin are quite popular with chickens. You can even feed the rind after Halloween if it isn’t mouldy. Chickens also adore those monstrous marrows and gone-to-seed cucumbers that no one else wants.

  • Weeds from the lawn and garden. Most weeds are quite nutritious. Just make sure that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Every area has weeds that are poisonous, and so consult a book or authority before feeding your birds unfamiliar weeds. Never feed yew (a soft-needled evergreen common in churchyards) trimmings to any animal, and don’t include any mushrooms or fungi in your offerings. Dandelions, goosegrass chickweed and thistles are all safe. A little cut grass is okay, but don’t overdo it.

  • Miscellaneous. Cooked nuts are fine, as are raw crushed acorns and walnuts. Wild bird seed and sunflower seed are okay, and leaving the hulls on is fine. 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.

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