Treating Your Chickens Right

Posted by Melissa Caughey, Wed, Sep 2, 2015

Chickens, like any pets, love to indulge in treats. Typically, their diet should predominantly be comprised of chicken feed with access to oyster shells, grit and clean drinking water; however, like us, now and then it’s nice to treat them to something different.

Surprisingly, chickens can eat lots of different foods. In addition to free-ranging on grass, weeds, bugs, worms, grubs, and the occasional frog or snake, chickens enjoy eating vegetables. Vegetables as well as fruits are excellent sources of supplemental vitamins and minerals for your flock. Chickens will readily eat the parts of fruits and vegetables that we traditionally do not, such as carrot tops and melon rinds. Backyard chickens enjoy lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cooked beans, pumpkin, squash, cucumbers and peppers, to name a few. They also enjoy apples, berries, grapes, melons and bananas without peels. They especially love watermelon filled with plump seeds on a hot summer day. Chickens can also have other foods from the kitchen such as cooked white and brown rice, plain pasta, bread, oatmeal, and quinoa.

Chickens love to eat seeds and dried morsels. These include goodies such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cracked corn, chicken scratch, mealworms, raisins, barley and oats. In addition, there are some terrific poultry treats available on the market that my flock just loves.

Mealworms are a terrific source of protein and an easy treat option for your egg-laying hens and molting flock. Chickens need a great deal of protein when they’re making eggs or growing feathers. Manna Pro® Mealworm Munchies™ are one way to help supplement their protein needs during these times. These dehydrated, inch-long, brown, crispy worms will make your flock go gaga! They are also a great training treat to use with your flock, as chickens happen to find mealworms irresistible.

Another great option is offering your flock pre-made blends of goodies such as Manna Pro Harvest Delight™ and Manna Pro Garden Delight™. These blends have been developed and specifically formulated with your flock’s nutrition in mind. Each blend contains a diverse variety of seeds and nuts and is packed with an assortment of chicken-safe dried fruits and vegetables.

It is very important to never feed your flock foods that contain salt, caffeine, alcohol or sugar, as these substances can harm them. There are also some specific foods that you should avoid sharing with your flock for a variety of different reasons, including uncooked potato skins, uncooked beans, citrus, rhubarb, avocado pits or skin, and onions. A good rule of thumb is to never feed your flock something you would not eat from your own kitchen. Keep this in mind especially when cleaning out the refrigerator. When in doubt, throw it out or compost it instead. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

And finally, a word of caution: When it comes to treating your flock, be careful not to over-treat. Sometimes people wonder why their flock has stopped laying eggs, their plumage is lackluster, they have started pecking one another or their overall health has declined. One of the most common causes of these situations can be over-treating. A handful or two of dried goodies is really all your flock should have per day. The flock should find and gobble up the treats in about five minutes or so. As for fresh fruits and vegetables, I would recommend about 1/2 cup of fresh produce per chicken, per day.

I hope you enjoy spoiling your flock with a variety of fresh and dried goodies throughout the year. Our chickens’ treats tend to change during the year as our garden grows. It’s wonderful to mix it up and see which treats are your flock’s favorites. When you first introduce them to a new food, they may hesitate before trying it. Some may turn their noses up at it while others may devour it like there is no tomorrow! Sometimes one flock loves a certain treat while a different flock just around the corner tends to ignore it. Just like us, chickens have their own favorite treats.

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Melissa Caughey

Melissa Caughey is a backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper, gardener, and cook who pens the award winning blog, Tilly's Nest. She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her family of four and her Miniature Schnauzer.