Healthy (and Creative) Treats for Chickens

When we had only 8 chickens, it was relatively cheap and easy to just add extra lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, corn or other treats to my weekly grocery shopping list for the chickens.

But now with 33 little mouths, I find myself trying to be more creative and also feed them mainly kitchen scraps, leftovers and things from the yard and garden.

Of course your chickens will love their treats ! But just like people they will fill up on junk food instead of eating their healthy feed, so treats SHOULD be considered 'junk food' for the most part and limited for the most part to those that are more healthy.

It's best to stick with fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and eggs.

As a rule of thumb, treats should only make up about 10% of their total feed intake. The exception being leafy greens - they can have unlimited amounts of fresh leafy greens such as grass, weeds, lettuce, spinach, dandelion greens, kale, chard, etc. (just limit the iceberg lettuce - it has no nutritional value to speak of).

We don't spray our garden, so the bugs and worms tend to put quite a dent in our produce, but the chickens don't mind buggy or wormy vegetables one bit.

I even planted them their own separate garden this year, with spinach, kale, lettuce, watermelon and strawberries.

Wilted, overripe, expired or stale is fine - moldy or rotted is NOT.

(Scroll to the very bottom for an alphabetical list of healthy treats)

The hanging pinata has been a big hit from the beginning. Once they get used to the swinging basket, they enjoy eating anything green and leafy out of it.

Even a basket of cut grass is a huge source of enjoyment for them (just make sure any grass or weeds you feed them are not treated with any insecticide, fertilizer or herbicide).

 Dandelion greens, cut grass, parsley from the garden and wild berries is a very nutritious, free treat that they enjoy during the summer.  Drizzle a little apple cider vinegar/olive oil 'dressing' over it for an added boost of nutrition.

On hot summer days, a nice treat is a bowl of ice water with some grass and bugs (I fish out all the bugs that drown in our horse trough - the chickens love them ).

I also freeze water in ice cube trays with blueberries and chopped fresh mint from the garden with a string  frozen in the center.  Once frozen solid, these make fun hanging popsicles for the chickens and help cool them down in the summer.

Mint Ice Pops are another flock favorite.

 I save all my veggie cooking water for the chickens. It makes a nutritious way for them to get more fluids. 

 A nice winter treat is rye or wheat grass planted in a few plastic trays that are rotated out and replanted as they eat and scratch through each one.

Another fun treat is cored apples filled with peanut butter, either hung from the side of the run or cut in half and handed out for them to peck at.

A great tip from a fellow chicken lover is to fill the clear plastic berry boxes with scratch, sunflower seeds or cracked corn and let your chickens kick them around working to get the treats out.  

 For a Christmas treat I made the chickens edible garlands.  Not something I would do often as it's very labor-intensive, but stringing plain popcorn, grape halves, fresh cranberries, raising and walnut pieces on twine and hanging them in the run makes for a festive treat for the chickens that they truly appreciate.

The following year I made a variation on the Edible Garlands which worked a lot better.

I also made them a Seed and Nut Wreath which is a great boredom buster and a huge hit with our chickens!

Almost anything healthy that you eat is fine to feed your chickens - fruits, vegetables, grains, even meat and seafood, but there are a few NO-NOS [Read here for a list of foods to avoid]

Experiment to see what your hens like. Rule of thumb, if its good for you, its good for them. Chickens are true omnivores and will eat almost anything.

 Go heavier on the fruits, veggies, grains and lean meats, but remember that even healthy treats should only be fed in the afternoon once the chickens have had their fill of their regular feed.

Here is a list of Healthy Treats -

Apples/Applesauce (no seeds)
Bananas (peel them and discard the pesticide-laden skins unless the bananas are organic)
Beans, never feed dried beans raw, they have to be cooked
Beef, ground - cooked or raw
Beets/beet greens
Bread (whole wheat or oatmeal is more nutritious than white)
Bugs (only those that have died a natural death or stepped on, none that have been killed with bug spray!)
Broccoli, raw or cooked
Carrot, shredded, plus the leaves 
Cheerios or other whole grain, non-sugar cereal 
Cheese (in moderation) 
Corn/Corn on the cob (fresh, frozen or canned)
Cottage cheese (in moderation)
Dandelions, flowers and leaves
Eggs, scrambled or hard boiled
Eggplant (fully ripe only, and preferably cooked)
Fish (skin or flesh, cooked)
Grains - millet and others 
Grape Halves
Green Beans
Lettuce (preferably romaine or any type other than iceburg) 
Lobster, cooked
Marigolds, pansies, nasturtium, violets (flowers and leaves)
Meat scraps, including steak, cooked pork, lamb, chicken or turkey 
Nuts (unsalted)
Oatmeal (raw or cooked)
Pasta, cooked (in moderation, no butter or salt)
Peas, fresh raw or cooked 
Pomegranates (cut in half)
Popcorn (air popped, unsalted, unbuttered) 
Pumpkins, raw or cooked (seeds especially are good)
Radishes - vegetable and greens
Rice, cooked (brown is more nutritious than white)
Shrimp and shrimp shells, cooked
Seeds - millet, safflower, sunflower
Squash, flesh, skin and seeds, raw or cooked
Sunflower seeds w/or without shells
Sweet potatoes and peels
Tomatoes, fully ripe, no green ones 
Yogurt (in moderation)