Chickens love treats and will do absolutely anything for a tasty morsel! It’s hard to refuse the odd tidbit to our feathered friends whether that consists of leftovers, some fresh vegetables, or a few cubes of cheese.
While giving your chickens treats is not a bad thing, there are certain types of foods, including fruits and vegetables, that could do more harm than good.
If you want to learn about highly nutritious snacks and which foods to avoid when feeding your chickens, we provide a complete breakdown of the best treats for chickens so you can always keep your birds in good health.
Basic Nutrition for Chickens
Every chicken needs protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates to grow muscle, lay eggs, and prevent a multitude of health problems…
When chickens consume a diet that is high in table scraps and low in nutrition, it predisposes them to obesity, weak bones, malnutrition, and ongoing crop problems.
To provide your backyard chickens with the nutrition that they need, they require a complete feed offering vitamins and minerals for every life stage.
Before we discuss the best treats for chickens, it’s important to know exactly what to give your flock to prevent illness and raise healthy, resilient birds.
Let’s explore the essential elements that should be part of a balanced poultry feed below:
Essential Nutrients for Chickens
Protein – To support healthy feather and muscle development, all chickens need protein.
Calcium – For healthy bones and egg formation, calcium must be a part of the daily poultry diet. If chickens aren’t getting enough calcium from their diet, you can add oyster shells as a free choice or add a tablespoon of plain yogurt to their food once or twice a week.
Fact: Egg shells consist of 90% calcium and therefore calcium is an important part of a laying hen’s diet.
Carbohydrates – Maize and grains in poultry feed provide energy.
Healthy fats – Chickens need fats such as linoleic acid to absorb fat soluble vitamins E, D, A, and K.
Chickens should receive the majority of their nutrients from their daily feed, so the next time you go to the feed store, pay careful attention to the listed ingredients on the bag. This way, you can ensure that it contains the nutrients that all backyard chickens depend on.
If your chickens are allowed to free range, they will get some of their nutrition from their environment but always monitor the condition of their feathers and eggs (for laying hens).
Bedraggled feathers and soft shelled eggs are signs that chickens aren’t getting enough nutrition.
Why Give Chicken Treats?
Giving healthy chicken treats is a simple way to variate their diet and keeps chickens interested in their food.
It can also be used to supplement their feed provided you give them snacks that are low in saturated fats, sugars, and calories.
What Treats To Give
Use healthy snacks such as sunflower seed or meal worms. Some of the best treats for chickens are also affordable and easy to give your chickens on a weekly basis. Kitchen scraps such as pasta, bread, and vegetables are irresistible to backyard chickens and a great way to reduce food waste in your home.
Don’t give them too many treats though! Chickens learn very quickly and if they know that there’s something tastier than their regular feed, they’ll start wasting their food in the hopes of getting a treat instead.
What are the Best Chicken Treats?
Healthy treats for birds should be enriched with protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals that support feather growth, build strong immune systems, and help hens produce beautiful eggs with tough shells.
Some of the best chicken treats are cottage cheese for protein and calcium, broccoli for vitamins and fiber, and even pasta as a source of carbs.
If you are going to feed pasta, just under 2 cups or 250g will be enough for 6-7 chickens, and only offer it to your flock once a week to avoid rapid weight gain.
Scrambled eggs are another excellent chicken treat that can be fed all year round.
It is easy for them to consume and digest but more importantly, it is packed with protein supporting their immune systems, egg production, and their feather formation.
Grains, leafy vegetables, and certain types of fruits are enjoyed by chickens; but not all treats are suitable for poultry.
Foods such as chocolate and soybean aren’t good or they are not healthy snacks for birds because they lack nutritional value and can make them very sick.
Let’s take a closer look at the types of treats that chickens can and can’t eat. Remember that any type of treat should always be fed in moderation to avoid birds relying on their treat time more than their daily feed.
What Treats Can Chickens Eat?
You want to keep chickens happy by giving them the occasional treat but with so many foods to choose from, how do you know which of these are safe and healthy?
Foods such as tomatoes are wonderful sources of vitamin C, but you cannot feed chickens green tomatoes because they contain a toxin known as solanine, which is harmful to them.
To take the confusion out of good and bad treats for chickens, we look at the best chicken treats and the pros and cons of feeding certain foods in the following section.
Cottage cheese is a healthy treat filled with vitamins and minerals but it is also high in fats so don’t add it to their chicken feed too often.
A once a week treat is more than enough for backyard chickens. You can also use cottage cheese to supplement a hen’s diet for superior egg production.
Cat food can be fed rarely or when a chicken is sick as an extra source of protein.The same goes for dog food.
Remember that kibbles will swell inside the crop so be careful if you decide to feed chickens dry pet food.
Potatoes including sweet potatoes are healthy chicken treats but what about the skin? You can give them potato peels but not green skin as this will contain solanine which is toxic to chickens.
Pasta and Noodles
These carbohydrates are irresistible to chickens but only feed cooked pasta and don’t let them eat too much or you could risk obesity and crop problems in the flock.
Mealworms provide a tasty treat that chickens love.
There is not one chicken that will deny a mealworm snack and it provides the added benefit of high protein.
It is best fed in moderation during their molt or in recovery from illness in raw or dried form.
Oats and Oatmeal
Oats can be served cooked or raw but in small quantities, because oats swell inside the crop. In the fall and winter, you can introduce warm oatmeal combined with seeds or scratch grains but again, it must be in small amounts, less than a tablespoon, and only once a week.
Oatmeal is made from oats and is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc; however, oatmeal is also a controversial food for chickens to eat.
While oatmeal is a mineral enriched food for chickens, the risk of intestinal complications means that it should be fed with caution. If you want to spoil your chickens, only feed around a cup of oatmeal in winter every 3 to 4 weeks.
Oatmeal contains beta-glucan which cannot be digested by chickens.
You can serve oatmeal as a treat but if fed in excess it can affect their intestinal health and cause digestive issues.
Both cracked corn and whole corn make for a tasty chicken treat but it isn’t high in nutrients and should never make up the majority of their daily diet. Because corn is low in protein you can add cottage cheese or oatmeal to improve the protein content.
Ginger, or chickens ginger, is a simple way to keep birds in good health. It is an antioxidant, stimulates appetite in sick chickens, and alleviates stress when other hens are bullying one chicken in the coop.
Chickens can eat fresh ginger grated into their feed or as a ginger tea. In winter, poultry keepers like to use ginger in the chicken feed as it stimulates blood flow and encourages feather growth during the molting season.
Only provide ginger to chickens once a month as too much can lead to swelling in poultry which is fatal.
Whether boiled or scrambled eggs, it makes an excellent choice of protein and a tasty treat that chickens cannot resist.
Broccoli can be served raw or cooked and is one of the best treats for chickens.
The florets are easy to place in a suet cage so chickens can peck and eat their favorite treat throughout the day.
Cheese should be offered in very small pieces to prevent crop impaction and only once every second or third week.
A chicken isn’t meant to consume dairy and too much cheese can lead to issues such as sour crop.
Offer a whole apple, sliced, or grated to give chickens an extra source of vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber for energy and health.
It is a great treat that many birds love to eat.
Green leafed vegetables including lettuce, cabbage, celery, and kale are high in vitamin A, C, K, calcium, and iron which supports healthy growth.
Feed greens during their molt to support the growth of new feather follicles.
Chickens love fruits, and you can improve the immunity of poultry with the antioxidants found in strawberries, blueberries, grapes, mango, and watermelon.
Cut fruits into small pieces to prevent an impacted crop.
A good treat to serve chickens on hot days is fruit or vegetables in ice blocks. Freeze small pieces of watermelon and grapes in a block of ice for chickens to pick at on a hot day. It will keep them cool and stimulated.
Sweet corn is a great treat because chickens cannot resist it and it contains phytochemicals that support healthy eyesight in birds.
Mix sweetcorn into their feed once a week as a treat.
Sunflower seeds are great treats for shiny and healthy feathers owing to their oil content. You can sprinkle sunflower seeds in the chicken coop or on the ground for them to pick at.
What Can’t Chickens Eat?
Chocolate should never be fed to chickens as the elements caffeine and Theobromine are found in chocolate and are toxic to chickens.
Soybean is a filler ingredient that contains little nutrition for poultry and can lead to crop problems when too much is consumed.
Backyard chickens will eat the flesh and the pumpkin seeds and because it is high in fiber and vitamins, it is one of the best healthy chicken treats around.
Pumpkin seeds are also considered a natural dewormer so you have peace of mind that your birds are worm-free while enjoying their favorite treat.
The pits and skin of avocados contain persin which is toxic to chickens; however, they can eat the flesh but in small amounts owing to its buttery consistency that can smudge across the beak.
Chickens can only eat the purple skin or the flesh of eggplants or Aubergines.
The eggplant is part of the nightshade family, which means that the green parts of this vegetable such as the leaves, calyx, and the stem contain Solanine which is poisonous to all animals.
Kitchen scraps are a huge favorite of chickens but junk foods should be avoided. Foods that are high in sugar, salt, and artificial flavors such as crisps, white bread, and french fries will lead to obesity.
Citrus should only be fed to chickens in small amounts because it is high in sugar and contains citric acid that can be harsh on their crops and digestive systems.
Chickens love to eat plants especially when they are free range but not all greens and blooms in the garden are safe for them to eat.
Plants such as foxglove, azaleas, tulips, morning glory, amaryllis, and trumpet vine are poisonous to chickens so if you have any of these growing in your backyard where your chickens roam, it is best to remove them.
If you’re unsure about a particular plant species growing in the yard, it is best to check if it’s safe for chickens by looking online or asking an expert at your local garden center to identify the plant for you.
When Can I Give My Chickens Treats?
Backyard chickens can be given treats through the course of the day to bust boredom or when they spend most of their time inside the chicken coop.
It should only be offered two to three times a week and in small amounts or your flock will refuse to eat their regular feed and will expect their treats instead.
Treats can also be used as a tool to train chickens to come when called by positively reinforcing them each time they listen to you.
Can Treats Affect Egg Laying?
It is perfectly fine to feed laying hens treats, in moderation of course, but certain types of foods can affect egg laying.
An overweight hen can struggle to lay eggs or she may produce eggs that are larger than average increasing the risk of becoming egg bound.
Egg bound hens suffer from Peritonitis which occurs when the egg yolk binds to the oviduct resulting in a life-threatening condition.
Onions and asparagus can change the taste of the egg while too much spinach can lead to soft egg shells or malformation of the shell.
Spinach leaves contain oxalic acid which inhibits calcium absorption. If hens eat too much spinach, they won’t get enough calcium to produce strong shells.
This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be fed spinach, it just means feeding in moderation.
Should I Feed a Flock Block?
A flock block is a supplemental treat for both laying hens and flocks consisting of grains with added vitamins and minerals.
It is not a replacement feed and should only be given as a treat for enrichment inside the chicken coop.
Flock blocks contain added sugar which is the reason chickens find it so irresistible.
If you want to entertain your chickens inside the coop or provide a grain-based supplement in winter, then a flock block is a great snack.
Can I Give Chickens Meat?
Chickens can eat meat scraps which offer a good source of protein and fat but it should always be cooked and trimmed before serving it to your flock.
Provide leftover meat in small pieces to prevent it from causing a crop impaction.
An impacted crop is a blockage inside the crop preventing food and contents such as rocks or straw from moving out of the crop and into the stomach for digestion.
Effect of Crop Impaction
When crop impaction is left too long, it causes weight loss, sour crop, and can be life-threatening.
Whether or not you feed your chickens meat is a personal choice, but I prefer to give them 15-20g of cooked chicken liver only during their molt or while recovering from illness.
Chicken liver is an excellent source of iron, protein, and fat to help with feather growth and muscle mass.
Healthy and Unhealthy Treats for Chickens – A Complete List
To help you make the best choices when it comes to snacks for chickens, we’ve compiled a complete chicken treat chart so you can easily distinguish healthy treats from unhealthy treats.
Can I Feed the Following Treats for Chickens?
- Spaghetti squash – Yes, it can be cooked or served raw offering vitamins and fiber.
- Citrus Fruits – Only in small amounts, best served as a slice for chickens to peck at.
- Tomatoes – Yes but only red, not green tomatoes because the green skin contains the toxin Solanine.
- Swiss chard – Yes, it offers folate and vitamin E but again, only in small amounts once a week as it reduces calcium absorption.
- Turnip greens – Yes, serve slightly cooked or raw.
- Dry beans – Never feed dried beans in their raw form because it is lethal to chickens. Beans contain Phytohemagglutinin, a natural insecticide. It may be served cooked only in small quantities.
- Brussels sprouts – Raw or cooked, chickens can eat every part of brussels sprouts that is rich in minerals and vitamins.
- Raisins – Only in very small amounts because it is high in sugar and can cause renal failure in poultry.
- Plain yogurt – Yes, but in moderation as chickens cannot process too much dairy.
- Raw eggs – No, eggs should always be served cooked as raw eggs may encourage chickens to start eating the eggs of other hens.
- Green beans – Only feed cooked green beans as a protein-packed treat. Fresh beans contain Phytohemagglutinin which is harmful to poultry.
- Scratch grains – Look for a mix of barley, oats, wheat, and corn and sprinkle on the ground to encourage foraging.
Giving your chickens a healthy and tasty treat is a wonderful way to vary their diet and bond with them.
From a packet of meal worms or scrambled eggs to cottage cheese, there are many snacks you can choose from that combine nutrition with flavor!
The best time to give chicken treats is during the day or in the evening before sunset when chickens prepare to roost.
When To Give Treats
Don’t introduce treats during their regular feeding time or they’ll choose the snack over their balanced food.
A complete diet should always be prioritized over the odd treat as their daily nutritional requirements come from their poultry feed.
Along with offering chicken treats as a free choice in the chicken coop, you can combine foods such as a cabbage head or seeds with chicken toys.
Not only will your flock enjoy their snack but they will also be stimulated and entertained by toys whether a hanging feeder or a treat ball made for chickens to roll around.
You could also freeze foods such as berries, pieces of watermelon, and mango and give it to your flock on a hot day.
It will keep them busy and definitely keep them cool.
Feeding healthy chicken treats to your feathered friends is a great way to keep them busy but not every snack is suitable for poultry. Beans, too much dairy, and moldy bread should be avoided because it will make your chickens sick.
Feel Free To Share!
If you have a few healthy treat ideas or you want to share some tips with your fellow chicken hobbyists, please remember to spread the word so more chicken keepers can manage the health of their birds with our list of safe and scrumptious snacks.