Chicken Treats Guide. Don’t Love Your Pets to Death.

If you’re reading this, chances are you have chickens that you consider pets and everyone enjoys spoiling their pets with treats, right? We get a kick out of seeing them run to greet us at the sight of the treat container or the sound of the back door opening. It makes us feel good to see them happy and we are entertained by their antics when they compete for coveted snacks. But the wrong treats and treats in excess can be harmful to their health, stunt growth, shorten their lifespan and interfere with egg production.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have chickens that you consider pets and everyone enjoys spoiling their pets with treats, right? We get a kick out of seeing them run to greet us at the sight of the treat container or the sound of the back door opening. It makes us feel good to see them happy and we are entertained by their antics when they compete for coveted snacks. But the wrong treats and treats in excess can be harmful to their health, stunt growth, shorten their lifespan and interfere with egg production. So, we should be aware of  what can they eat, what should they not eat and how much is too much.

A good rule of thumb is: if you shouldn’t eat it, your pet chickens shouldn’t either (mealworms, insects and dirt notwithstanding).A good rule of thumb is: if you shouldn’t eat it, your pet chickens shouldn’t either (mealworms, insects and dirt notwithstanding). Common sense should be the guide in treat selection. The types of foods we require to maximize our own health are the foods we should consider when spoiling our chickens: high protein, whole grains, low salt, low sugar, fruits and vegetables. Milk products are an exception to this general rule as too much can cause digestive upset and diarrhea. Probiotics are a much better choice for chickens for gut health.

Every new chicken-keeper wants to know how soon fluffy babies can eat treats. The answer is: any time BUT, if they are fed anything besides starter feed, they will need grit (tiny bits of sand/dirt) to aid in digestion. Starter feed is digested by saliva but other foods require grit for grinding in the gizzard (they’re a little short on teeth).HOW YOUNG?
Every new chicken-keeper wants to know how soon fluffy babies can eat treats. Given their tiny size and amount of feed intake, small amounts of treats can interfere with a chick’s nutritional balance. A chick’s growth, development and ability to defend against illness can be negatively affected by too many treats- even healthy choices. I am pretty conservative with baby chicks and snacks. It is fun to spoil them, but I feel that the potential harm outweighs any feel-good benefit.

If chicks are fed anything besides starter feed, they will need grit (tiny bits of sand/dirt) to aid in digestion.  Starter feed is digested by saliva but other foods require grit for grinding in the gizzard (they’re a little short on teeth).

While not a treat, it bears mentioning that oyster shell should never be given to chicks or non-laying chickens as it can interfere with bone development and cause organ damage.

When chickens eat treats, they’re not eating feed, which is their primary source of nutrition even for free-range birds. Commercially prepared feed is very carefully prepared by poultry nutritionists who carefully monitor the composition of ingredients to ensure that a chicken’s daily vitamin, mineral and protein requirements are met. Supplemental foods (treats/snacks) replace a portion of those essential dietary elements to some degree.

EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
When chickens eat treats, they’re not eating feed, which is their primary source of nutrition even for free-range birds. Commercially prepared feed is very carefully prepared by poultry nutritionists who carefully monitor the composition of ingredients to ensure that a chicken’s daily vitamin, mineral and protein requirements are met. Supplemental foods (treats/snacks) replace a portion of those essential dietary elements to some degree. Excessive treats, even healthy ones, can cause any of the following: obesity, reduced egg production, malformed eggs, habitual laying of multiple-yolked eggs, vent prolapse, a protein deficiency, feather-picking, fatty liver syndrome, increased risk of heat stroke and heart problems. Treats should be limited to no more than 5% of a chicken’s diet, which amounts to approximately 2 tablespoons of treats in any given day. Treats/scraps/snacks should not be fed to chickens daily due to the obesity-related health concerns which have reached epidemic proportions in backyard chickens. Poultry veterinarian Dr. Annika McKillop recommends cleaning up any treats they have not consumed within 15 minutes.

Treats should be limited to no more than 5% of a chicken's daily diet.

HEALTHY TREATS for CHICKENS

Proteins: beef, chicken, (I know, it seems wrong), eggs, (cooked only so as not to encourage egg-eating) fish, insects (crickets are delicious!) pork, worms (earthworms, mealworms), sunflower seeds (shells on)

Fruits: apples, peeled bananas, berries, coconut flesh, grapes, melon, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries, raisins

Vegetables: asparagus, beans (fully cooked if previously dried), beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, greens, (kale, spinach, mustard) peas, peppers, pumpkin and raw pumpkin seeds, squash

Whole Grains: bread, cereal, pasta, sprouts.

Sprouting grains is an easy way to provide chickens with fresh, nutritious greens any time of year with very little effort.
Sprouting grains is an easy way to provide chickens with fresh, nutritious greens any time of year with very little effort.  Learn how HERE!

Looking for healthy, homemade treat recipes? Look no further! This Flock Block Substitute is a healthy treat, containing lots of nutrition-packed ingredients that chickens need to make nutritious eggs, strong eggshells and beautiful feathers!Looking for healthy, homemade treat recipes? Look no further! This Flock Block Substitute is a healthy treat, containing lots of nutrition-packed ingredients that chickens need to make nutritious eggs, strong eggshells and beautiful feathers!

Other healthy, nutritious treats that I make for my chickens include my Peeps’ Pumpkin Pie, Chickens’ Soup, Molt Muffins and Alfalfa Cake Protein Treats. Click on the links for the recipes!
Alfalfa Cake Protein TreatsOCCASIONAL TREATS

  • avocado flesh (but not skin or pits)
  • tomatoes (can cause gastric upset in large quantities)
  • potatoes (but not green parts)
  • rice (a neutral treat- there are more nutritious choices available)
  • yogurt (probiotics are a much better choice than yogurt for gut health)

Yes, chickens CAN eat avocados!Scratch is affectionately referred to as ‘chicken crack’ for a reason; chickens love it, can’t get enough of it and it’s not healthy for them. Scratch typically consists of cracked corn and a mixture of grains, which tends to lack an appreciable amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Scratch should be thought of as chicken candy and only given in small amounts occasionally. *Scratch should not be mixed into the flock’s feed.*ABOUT SCRATCH
Scratch is affectionately referred to as ‘chicken crack’ for a reason; chickens love it, can’t get enough of it and it’s not healthy for them. Scratch typically consists of cracked corn and a mixture of grains, which tends to lack an appreciable amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Scratch should be thought of as chicken candy and only given in small amounts occasionally. *Scratch should not be mixed into the flock’s feed.*

NEVER!

  • moldy foods
  • uncooked, dried beans (contain phytohaemagglutinin, which is highly toxic to humans and animals)
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • alcohol
  • tobacco (even discarded cigarette butts can contain enough nicotine to be deadly to birds)
Cooked eggs are an outstanding source of protein for chickens, which is particularly helpful during a molt.
Cooked eggs are an outstanding source of protein for chickens, which is helpful during a molt.

MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT CHICKEN TREATS

FACT: “Many foods and food additives that are safe for human consumption can be extremely toxic to pets.”
MYTH: Chickens should not eat avocados.
FACT: Chickens can eat the flesh of avocado in moderation. However, avocado pits and skin contain persin, which can be toxic in significant quantities.
Chickens should not eat GREEN potato skins. The green color indicates the presence of solanine, a toxin that affects the nervous system when consumed in large quantities.MYTH: Chickens should not eat raw potatoes or potato skins.
FACT: Chickens should not eat GREEN potato skins. The green color indicates the presence of solanine, a toxin that affects the nervous system when consumed in large quantities. However, the average, healthy human would have to eat 4.5 pounds at one sitting to experience any neurological effects. Similarly, a chicken would need to consume large quantities of green potato skins to experience any effects. The leaves and stems of the potato plant levels of solanine that could be toxic to chickens in large amounts.

Chickens should not eat GREEN potato skins. The green color indicates the presence of solanine, a toxin that affects the nervous system when consumed in large quantities.MYTH: Chickens should never eat onions.
FACT: Chickens can eat onions, chives and garlic in small quantities, occasionally. Sufficient quantities of onion and garlic can be harmful to chickens, causing hemolytic anemia, aka: Heinz anemia. “The alkaloid N-propyl disulphide is present in cultivated and wild onions, chives and garlic, and affects the enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in red blood cells,” which can cause Heinz anemia.
“Allicin, which gives garlic its odor, is also a strong oxidant. In rare cases, this chemical can be dangerous and can cause Heinz body hemolytic anemia, as well.”

The treat trail. They will follow me anywhere for treats!
The treat trail. They will follow me anywhere for treats!

Other healthy treat ideas include:

Homemade Flock Block Substitute
Homemade Flock Block Substitute. Recipe HERE.
Frozen Fruit Smoothies & Pullet Punch
Frozen Fruit Smoothies & Pullet Punch, recipes HERE.
Scrambled Eggpops
Scrambled EggPops. Instructions HERE.
Peeps’ Pumpkin Pie, recipe HERE.
Molt Muffins, recipe HERE.
Cucumber tetherball, DIY instructions HERE.
Sprouted Grains, aka: fodder. DIY instructions HERE.
Chickens’ Soup, recipe HERE.
This protein-packed Alfalfa Soufflé Garland is a delicious way to offer molting chickens several protein sources in one treat while keeping them entertained and active!


Sources and further reading:

Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick®

Order your copy of my bestselling book,

The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens!

Available now on Amazon!

Comments

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Mindy Stark
Guest

I see that coffee is bad for them…what about coffee grounds that have been placed in a composting area?

Ann S
Guest
Hello,I was out in my chicken run today, which is very large for my eight birds. It is loaded with plants and a deep compost of pine needles, oak leaves and straw. It's been raining a lot and I went out to do some raking to turn things over for them. I came upon TONS of little gray worms, like baby earthworms, next to the one side of their coop (outside). It is a location that sits between the coop and a big bush they love to get under and eat berries/flower buds off of, so it's a little protected.… Read more »
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