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Healthy Treats for Backyard Chickens

Chickens treats should include a wide variety of healthy foods, but be limited to 10% of their diet. Here's a handy list of nutritious treats for backyard chickens.

I get lots of questions about what chickens can eat and that they can't. It surprises lots of people to learn that chickens are omnivores and actually thrive on a diet made up of a wide variety of foods. 

Of course, their main diet should be a balanced layer feed, but everybody likes treats and chickens are no different.

When we had only six chickens back in 2009, it was relatively inexpensive 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 almost three dozen little mouths to feed, I find myself trying to be more creative and also feed them mainly kitchen scraps, leftovers and things from the yard and garden.

My Mom used to keep a bowl on the kitchen counter when we cooked to toss in all the ends, and scraps and trimmings for our chickens. My Grandmother did the same. And I do the same. 

Nearly every food scrap goes to the chickens. And they love them! 

(scroll down for a handy alphabetized list of healthy treats for chickens)

What Kind of Treats Should Chickens Eat?

So what can backyard chickens eat? 

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

It's best to stick with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and eggs. Dairy should be limited and salty, sweet and fried foods should be avoided.  Wilted, overripe or stale is okay. Moldy or rotted is not. 

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

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

Go heavier on the veggies, whole 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.

How Many Treats Should Chickens Eat?

There are those who claim that chickens should only be fed their commercial feed. But I believe that not only will your chickens be happier and healthier, the eggs they lay will taste better if they are fed a wide variety of healthy foods in moderation.

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.

Chickens eat about 1/2 cup of feed per day, so treats should be limited to 1-2 Tablespoons per chicken per day.

(Scroll down for an alphabetical list of healthy treats)

Some Ideas for Creative (and Inexpensive) Treats for Backyard Chickens

  • Chicken "Salad" | Dandelion greens, cut grass, parsley from the garden and wild berries is a very nutritious, free treat that my chickens enjoy during the summer.  I like to drizzle a little apple cider vinegar and olive oil "salad dressing" over it for an added boost of nutrition.
  • Protein Drink | On hot summer days, a nice treat for chickens is a bowl of ice water with some cut grass or herbs and bugs (I fish out all the bugs that drown in our horse trough - the chickens love them - or you can add some dried mealworms or grubs ).
  • Veggie Boost | Save your veggie cooking water for the chickens. It makes a nutritious way for them to get more fluids along with the nutrients from the vegetables. 
  •  Wheat Grass | 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.
  • Soccer | Fill clear plastic berry boxes with scratch, sunflower seeds or cracked corn and let your chickens kick them around working to get the treats out.  
My chickens get different treats every day, depending on what I'm cooking for our family, or what I pick from the garden. They get a wide variety of colorful, healthy scraps that add lots of nutrients to their diet without messing up the balanced feed that they eat as their main nutrition.

There's very little from our kitchen that I don't save for our chickens.  Here's a handy list of some of the foods that they enjoy. 

Healthy Treats for Backyard Chickens

Apples/Applesauce (no seeds)
Bananas (peel them and discard the pesticide-laden skins unless the bananas are organic)
Barley (raw or cooked)
Beans, never feed dried beans raw, they have to be cooked
Beef, ground - cooked or raw
Beets/beet greens
Bread (whole wheat or oat 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
Brussels Sprouts
Carrot, shredded, plus the leaves 
Cheerios or other whole grain, non-sugar cereal 
Cheese (in moderation) 
Cherry tomatoes - fully ripe and cut in half
Chicken - cooked
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, raw or cooked)
Flax seeds
Grains - millet and others 
Grapes- cut in half
Green Beans
Jalapeno Peppers
Lettuce (preferably romaine or any type other than iceberg) 
Lobster, cooked and shells

Marigolds, pansies, nasturtium, violets (flowers and leaves)
Meat scraps, including steak, cooked pork, lamb, chicken or turkey 
Nuts (unsalted) such as almonds, peanuts, walnuts
Oats (raw or cooked)
Olives - cut in half
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)
Safflower seeds
Shrimp and shrimp shells, cooked
Squash, flesh, skin and seeds, raw or cooked
Sunflower seeds w/or without shells
Sweet potatoes and peels
Tomatoes, fully ripe, no green ones 
Turkey (cooked or Thanksgiving carcass)
Yogurt (in moderation) 

*In the interest of full disclosure, I do feed my chickens eggshells. I recommend air drying and crushing them with your fingers before feeding them to your chickens to avoid "unauthorized" egg eating, but honestly, sometimes I get lazy and toss my chickens the eggshell halves with their other treats and I've never had any issues with them seeking out eggs in the nesting boxes to eat.

I don't generally worry about cutting everything I feed to my chicken into "bite sized" pieces. Chickens are pretty good at banging their food on the ground to break it up into smaller pieces, or they'll just nibble a little bit off of a larger chunk of food. 

I do tend to cut things like olives, cherry tomatoes or grapes in half so they don't swallow those whole and potentially choke. 

So now that you know the wide variety of foods that chickens can (and will) eat, you'll find you have far less kitchen and garden waste. All of these treats are fine for ducks too, but they tend to have some favorite treats.

And here's a short list of foods that shouldn't be fed to chickens. Asparagus, avocados, citrus and onions are a few of the things I don't give to my chickens, but most everything else is fair game.

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