Keeping backyard chickens is a great way to reduce your grocery bill and to have a lot of fun in the process.
While there isn’t much you need to know in order to maintain a healthy flock, you may feel overwhelmed by all the choices of food there are for your birds.
While commercial feeds provide most of the nutrients your flock needs, you may wonder whether it is beneficial to feed your chickens treats from time to time.
When fed in moderation, treats are a great source of additional nutrients – and entertainment! – for your flock.
In this guide, we explore 15 nutritious and easy chicken treats that you flock will love, as well as a few types of foods that you should avoid.
What Kinds of Foods Should I Feed My Chickens?
Like all other animals, chickens need several crucial ingredients to stay happy and healthy – and producing lots of eggs!
Without the right combination of the following macronutrients, your chickens will fall behind and may begin to suffer from some severe health problems.
- Protein: Chickens use proteins to grow and they also require it to sustain their energy levels.
- Fats: Fat helps chickens absorb vitamins and minerals and also perform other crucial cell functions.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates serve as a primary source of energy.
In addition to these macronutrients, chickens also need ample quantities of the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Pantothenic Acid
- Folic Acid
They also need these minerals:
These nutrients can usually be found in most store-bought chicken feeds, but if you choose to make your own, remember to have ample quantities of all of them.
You should feed your chickens about 1.5 lbs of feed per bird per week.
They have a tendency to eat more in the winter and less in the summer, and of course, if they are allowed to free-range, they will eat even less.
Feed your birds free choice, allowing them access to food at all times.
As a general rule, chickens won’t overstuff themselves – unlike other types of livestock, they aren’t known for overeating.
Providing free choice feed allows the chickens to eat whenever they would like, while at the same time reducing the likelihood of bullying behavior.
Don’t forget, your chickens also need plenty of water, fresh air, and room to roam!
15 Best Chicken Treats
There is no shortage of nutritious and easy treats for chickens, but remember that quantity is often more important than quality when it comes to feeding you flock.
Too many treats can cause your birds to stop laying eggs, or to the production of oversized eggs – which sounds great in theory, but can actually lead to life-threatening problems like egg binding and egg yolk peritonitis.
You should look for healthy food sources that your chickens will finish in no more than twenty or thirty minutes of snacking.
You can feed leftovers as well as storebought treats, but remember that any good treat will have significant quantities of the nutrients chickens need to stay healthy.
1. Fresh Fruit
Fruit is a great way to provide your chickens with a tasty source of vitamins and minerals. Because most fruits are also high in water, they can also keep your chickens hydrated during the summer heat.
You can feed fruit by itself or as a mixed fruit salad. You can freeze it and feed it out as chicken popsicles, or you can make fruit and yogurt parfaits with yogurt or cottage cheese.
Here are the best options for fruits to feed your chickens:
- Bananas (they won’t usually eat the peels)
- Seedless grapes
Watermelon, in particular, is a great summer snack for your chickens.
It is high in vitamins and minerals and also contains tons of water to keep your chickens hydrated when the mercury rises.
A good rule of thumb is to slice up your watermelon into fine chunks and then pop it in the freezer. You can feed the chickens the frozen pieces to help keep them cool.
Remember that many fruits contain pits. If this is the case, you should try to remove the pit before feeding the fruits to your chickens.
The chickens won’t usually touch the pit, but if they do, know that pits contain trace amounts of cyanide and can be dangerous.
2. Fresh Vegetables
Just about any kind of vegetable make great treats for chickens. As with fruit, they can be fed fresh, frozen, or cooked.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Beets or beet greens
- Broccoli or cauliflower
- Brussels sprouts
- Carrots or carrot tops
- Parsnips (avoid feeding the tops)
- Spinach (in moderation, as too much can interfere with calcium uptake)
- Sweet potatoes
- Tomatoes (the fruit only)
You can also feed your chickens beans. However, if you are feeding chickens beans, remember to never feed them dry.
Dried beans contain a toxin that can be fatal to most living things and should always be fully cooked.
Garlic is also a great choice as a chicken treat. Not only will the chickens enjoy eating it, but it also acts as a powerful natural anti-parasitic agent.
Just be aware that your coop might have an interesting aroma for a while!
3. Cooked Eggs and Eggshells
As strange as it may sound, eggs are a great source of nutrients for your flock.
You can feed them frozen or fresh eggs, but make sure they are cooked first. If your birds get a taste for raw eggs, they may start eating their own eggs.
You can prepare a large batch of scrambled eggs for your birds. They are a great source of protein when your chickens are molting.
In addition, you can also feed your birds ground-up eggshells. As with the inside of eggs, you will want to make sure the food is unrecognizable from its original state – feeding your chickens whole eggshells can be confusing to them and will cause them to begin eating their own eggs.
However, when ground up and fed as a fine powder, your chickens won’t know what they’re eating and will gobble the shells right up.
Eggshells can help your chickens lay new eggs that have solid, tough eggshells that are nutrient-dense and resistant to breaking.
Chickens are notorious for their love of mealworms.
You can easily feed your chickens other kinds of worms, like earthworms or red worms, but mealworms are generally easy to find if you are purchasing them from a store. All it takes is a one-pound bag to keep your hens happy.
You can purchase them from a local tackle or pet supply store, or you can farm your own mealworms to save a bit of money.
Either way, mealworms are a good treat for your backyard flock because they are high in protein and also give your chickens a source of entertainment.
It can be quite enjoyable to watch your chicken run back and forth in the pen as they play “chicken football” with the worms!
As with mealworms, crickets are an excellent choice of food for your flock. They are high in protein and can be grown at home or purchased at the store.
They’re a great snack for chickens, particularly when they are served fresh!
Oatmeal is an excellent treat for chickens.
You can feed them warm oatmeal and add ingredients like maple syrup or bananas for an added treat.
You can make hanging treats using regular rolled oats, or you can just cook up a batch of oatmeal to feed directly to the birds.
Alfalfa is an excellent chicken feed that is a good choice for chickens who don’t have access to fresh pasture.
It is high in protein and also provides lots of dietary fiber, which your chickens need to maintain good digestive health. It will also provide entertainment for your birds if you need to keep them locked in the coop.
You can buy a bale of alfalfa at your local feed supply store or even grow your own at home. You can also feed chickens alfalfa sprouts, which they will enjoy eating tremendously.
Pumpkin is a great treat for chickens as it has plenty of health benefits. Plus, your chickens will love the taste.
Pumpkins contain nutrient-dense seeds that can help deworm your flock. The seeds are high in a compound known as cucurbitacin, which has been clinically used to help remove tapeworms.
If you grow a lot of pumpkins or find that you have a lot of them hanging around as a result of your fall decorating, feeding them to your chickens is a great way to get rid of them fast. Your chickens are sure to love them!
Your chickens might have a hard time cracking open a full pumpkin, so the easiest and most effective way to feed these tasty treats is by tossing them in the pen and breaking them open with a hammer.
Your chickens will eat just about every part of the pumpkin and their eggs will be nutrient-dense as a result!
9. Homemade Suet Cakes
You can purchase premade suet cakes from the store, but it’s actually quite easy (and rather inexpensive) to make them at home on your own.
In fact, all you need is some chicken scratch or sunflower seeds and a source of fat. Lard is a great suet cake addition that binds together the seeds like nobody’s business.
Plus, lard does not need to be refrigerated, so you don’t need to worry about your cakes spoiling.
Suet cakes are a great treat for the cold winter months, when your chickens will have a hard time finding accessible sources of nutrients.
The fat in the cakes helps keep your chickens warm, and it is also an excellent source of protein.
10. Cottage Cheese
You have to be careful about feeding your chickens too much dairy, as they lack an enzyme that helps them to digest it quickly and efficiently.
However, a bit of dairy here and there is a great way to increase their uptake of calcium, which helps with egg production and improves bone health.
Cottage cheese is a popular choice for chickens because it is high in protein while also being low in fat.
The consistency is such that it is easy for your chickens to digest and you can easily mix in other ingredients, like fruit or vegetables, to keep your flock healthy and happy.
If you don’t have any cottage cheese, yogurt is another good choice as a treat.
It is high in probiotics so i can help clear out your chickens’ guts and keep their digestive tracts healthy. Greek yogurt is best, as it is high in protein, but really, any kind of yogurt will do the trick.
Cooked pasta is an inexpensive yet filling treat for your birds.
Don’t overdo it – you can easily overfeed your chickens with too much starch. Just as with humans, it can make them bloated and lethargic.
All you need to satisfy your flock is about two cups of pasta for every six birds. You can feed them dry pasta, but they prefer to consume it cooked.
12. Chicken Scratch
Chickens have a natural inclination to scratch at the ground. They will use their toes to scrape the ground in search of greens, insects, or seeds.
Feeding you chickens scratch grain is a great way to encourage this behavior, and can help your chickens feel compelled to till your garden for you!
Scratch grain, which is usually made out of rolled, cracked, or whole grains like barley, corn, oats, or wheat is a good treat for chickens.
It is found at just about every pet supply store and is easy to feed at any time of the year.
However, you want to be careful about feeding your chickens too much scratch grain (or using it as a substitute for regular feed) as it is high in carbohydrates and low in many other important nutrients.
It is a good occasional treat, however, that you should consider feeding to your flock every few weeks or so.
13. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a good choice as a treat for chickens, as long as you feed them in moderation.
Feeding too many sunflower seeds can cause impacted crops and over fattening of your birds, but fed out every now and then, sunflower seeds offer a good source of fat that can help your birds thrive when they are molting.
They are also high in methionine, which is an important amino acid for chickens. They even have ample quantities of vitamin E!
Feeding your chickens herbs is a great way to improve their health while at the same time providing them with a tasty snack!
You can spread herbs out on the floor of the coop or run and allow your chickens to peck, or you can hang them for an entertaining treat.
Here are some to consider, along with the health benefits they may provide:
- Basil: Basil is a natural antibacterial agent and can improve the health of the mucous membranes of your chickens.
- Garlic: Garlic stimulates laying and is also an antifungal and antiparasitic agent. It can also improve circulation.
- Lavender: Lavender is a great insecticide and improves the smell of your coop. It can also help improve blood circulation in your chickens.
- Marjoram: Marjoram encourages laying and is anti-inflammatory. It can also detoxify your coop.
- Mint: Mint can help repel insects and rodents from the coop. It also improves digestion and respiratory health, and can lower the blood temperature of your chickens during the hot months.
- Oregano: Oregano can help prevent coccidiosis and salmonella as well as other diseases such as avian flu, E. coli, infectious bronchitis, and blackhead. It also helps as a general immune system booster.
- Parsley: Parsley is high in vitamins, like vitamin K. It helps improve the development of blood vessels and encourages ample laying.
- Sage: Sage is a powerful antioxidant and can help combat salmonella.
Other popular herbs to feed chickens, either by themselves or with other foods, include:
- Bay leaves
- Lemon balm
- Bee balm
15. Garden Scraps
Chickens can even eat the scraps out of your garden! The next time you weed or clean your garden of waste at the end of the season, consider feeding the scraps to your chickens.
Simply collect them in a barrel and dump them in the chicken yard. You don’t have to worry about your backyard flock overeating any of these foods; they are generally safe even when consumed in large quantities.
Here are some weeds that your chickens will enjoy:
- Squash plants
- Catchweed bedstraw
- Evening primrose
- Fat Hen
- Mousear chickweed
- Yellow wood sorrel
- Purple Deadnettle
- Shiny cudweed
- Wild geranium
- Wild strawberry
You can also feed them flowers, either whole or in pieces, such as:
- Roses (ideally without the thorns)
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Echinacea (coneflower)
Chickens can eat most weeds or wild-growing plants.
However, you should avoid toxic buttercup, which can cause serious health problems in chickens as well as other kinds of animals.
What Kinds of Treats Should I Avoid Feeding My Chickens?
Chickens can – and will! – eat just about anything, but that doesn’t mean that you should feed them everything. In general, the following items are off-limits as treats, or should be fed extremely sparingly:
- Refined sugar: Just as it is bad for us, it is not great for the health of your chickens, either. Sugars like those found in candy, cookies, or pastries can cause obesity in chickens as well as problems with blood pressure and cardiovascular functioning.
- Lots of salt: Chickens can’t digest high amounts of salt. Avoid feeding salty foods like potato chips. It can be so damaging as to cause fatal electrolyte imbalance or heart failure, so really, steer clear of salty foods.
- Processed foods: Anything that contains tons of preservatives or salt and sugar should be avoided. These are generally also low in nutritional content, so there’s not a lot of benefit to feeding these foods. Avoid foods like processed meats, pizza, or other pantry-ready goods.
- Moldy food: Some types of molds are fine for chickens to eat, but others can be highly toxic. The differences between the molds are hard to detect, so as a general rule of thumb, don’t feed any kind of moldy food to your flock.
- Chocolate and caffeine: Some chicken keepers say it’s fine to feed these foods to chickens in small quantities, others say it’s a definite no-no. Either way, there’s not a lot of benefit to feeding caffeine-rich foods to chickens, so you might as well avoid it.
- Alcohol: Do we really need to tell you why?
- Anything with pesticides: Produce is a great source of vitamins and minerals for chickens as well as all other creatures. However, anything that has not been washed or grown organically should not be fed to chickens.
There are also some foods that have dangerous properties that may be fed out sparingly, but in large quantities can cause illness or even fatalities.
In general, it’s best to steer clear of:
- Apple cores and seeds
- Dry rice and beans
- Grapes with seeds
- Tomato plants (the fruits are fine)
- Tea bags
- Green potatoes
How Often Should I Give My Chickens Treats?
Chickens can get about 90 percent of all of their nutritional needs from their feed.
Remember that different feeds are mixed for different stages and purposes – such as broilers or egg-layers – so you will need to read the label carefully.
Chickens that are allowed to free range can get the rest of their nutritional needs from the environment.
However, those that do not free range may require additional treats in order to supplement for the rest of their needs.
You should avoid giving hens more than ten percent of their daily nutritional requirements in treats.
You can give them a treat in the evening, right before roosting, because then they will have already consumed most of their nutritional needs and won’t be likely to skimp on other important foods throughout the day.
The one exception is during the winter. When the weather is cold, you can give your birds more treats.
Not only will they burn more calories when the weather is cold, but they will also have fewer opportunities to get their nutrients from the environment.
Providing more frequent treats will also entertain them during the times when they are most likely to become bored.
If you’re looking for a fantastic new way to entertain your flock – and to improve their overall health – you should consider feeding them one of these fifteen nutrient-dense foods today.