Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Healthy (and Creative) Treats for Your Chickens



When we had only 8 chickens, it was relatively cheap 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 33 little mouths, I find myself trying to be more creative and also feed them mainly kitchen scraps, leftovers and things from the yard and garden.




Of course your chickens will love their treats ! But just like people they will fill up on junk food instead of eating their healthy feed, so treats SHOULD be considered 'junk food' for the most part and limited for the most part to those that are more healthy.  It's best to stick with fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and eggs.

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. (just limit the iceberg lettuce - it has no nutritional value to speak of).


We don't spray our garden, so the bugs and worms tend to put quite a dent in our produce, but the chickens don't mind buggy or wormy vegetables one bit.  I even planted them their own separate garden this year, with spinach, kale, lettuce, watermelon and strawberries.

Wilted, overripe, expired or stale is fine - moldy or rotted is NOT.

(Scroll to the very bottom for an alphabetical list of healthy treats)


The hanging pinata has been a big hit from the beginning. Once they get used to the swinging basket, they enjoy eating anything green and leafy out of it.  Even a basket of cut grass is a huge source of enjoyment for them (just make sure any grass or weeds you feed them are not treated with any insecticide, fertilizer or herbicide).


 Dandelion greens, cut grass, parsley from the garden and wild berries is a very nutritious, free treat that they enjoy during the summer.  Drizzle a little apple cider vinegar/olive oil 'dressing' over it for an added boost of nutrition.

On hot summer days, a nice treat is a bowl of ice water with some grass and bugs (I fish out all the bugs that drown in our horse trough - the chickens love them ).


I also freeze water in ice cube trays with blueberries and chopped fresh mint from the garden with a string  frozen in the center.  Once frozen solid, these make fun hanging popsicles for the chickens and help cool them down in the summer.


Mint Ice Pops are another flock favorite.

 I save all my veggie cooking water for the chickens. It makes a nutritious way for them to get more fluids. 


 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.


Another fun treat is cored apples filled with peanut butter, either hung from the side of the run or cut in half and handed out for them to peck at.


A great tip from a fellow chicken lover is to fill the clear plastic berry boxes with scratch, sunflower seeds or cracked corn and let your chickens kick them around working to get the treats out.  



 For a Christmas treat I made the chickens edible garlands.  Not something I would do often as it's very labor-intensive, but stringing plain popcorn, grape halves, fresh cranberries, raising and walnut pieces on twine and hanging them in the run makes for a festive treat for the chickens that they truly appreciate.

The following year I made a variation on the Edible Garlands which worked a lot better.


I also made them a Seed and Nut Wreath which is a great boredom buster and a huge hit with our chickens!


Almost anything healthy that you eat is fine to feed your chickens - fruits, vegetables, grains, even meat and seafood, but there are a few NO-NOS [Read here for a list of foods to avoid]

Experiment to see what your hens like. Rule of thumb, if its good for you, its good for them. Chickens are true omnivores and will eat almost anything. Go heavier on the fruits, veggies, 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.


Here is a list of Healthy Treats -

Apples/Applesauce (no seeds)
Bananas (peel them and discard the pesticide-laden skins unless the bananas are organic)
Beans, never feed dried beans raw, they have to be cooked
Beef, ground - cooked or raw
Beets/beet greens
Blueberries
Bread (whole wheat or oatmeal 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
Cabbage
Carrot, shredded, plus the leaves 
Cheerios or other whole grain, non-sugar cereal 
Cheese (in moderation) 
Corn/Corn on the cob (fresh, frozen or canned)
Cottage cheese (in moderation)
Cranberries
Crickets
Cucumbers
Dandelions, flowers and leaves
Eggs, scrambled or hard boiled
Eggplant (fully ripe only, and preferably cooked)
Fish (skin or flesh, cooked)
Garlic
Grains - millet and others 
Grape Halves
Green Beans
Grubs 
Kale/collards 
Lettuce (preferably romaine or any type other than iceburg) 
Lobster, cooked
Marigolds, pansies, nasturtium, violets (flowers and leaves)
Mealworms
Meat scraps, including steak, cooked pork, lamb, chicken or turkey 
Melon 
Nuts (unsalted)
Oatmeal (raw or cooked)
Pasta, cooked (in moderation, no butter or salt)
Peas, fresh raw or cooked 
Peaches
Pears
Pomegranates (cut in half)
Popcorn (air popped, unsalted, unbuttered) 
Pumpkins, raw or cooked (seeds especially are good)
Radishes - vegetable and greens
Raisins 
Raspberries
Rice, cooked (brown is more nutritious than white)
Shrimp and shrimp shells, cooked
Spinach 
Sprouts 
Seeds - millet, safflower, sunflower
Squash, flesh, skin and seeds, raw or cooked
Strawberries
Sunflower seeds w/or without shells
Sweet potatoes and peels
Tomatoes, fully ripe, no green ones 
Worms 
Watermelon 
Yogurt (in moderation) 
Zucchini









Sources:
http://www.merckvetmanual.com
www.poultryclub.org/poultry/poisonous-plants-and-toxins/
http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v30je19.htm

31 comments:

  1. And remember try to stay away from citrus....oranges, pinapple...etc....it will not hurt them but for some reason ....it slows their egg production....I have been reading so much... What I do when I peel potatoes I boil the skins down....do you think that's okay....? They do love it.... Please let me know if I'm wrong!!!

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  2. You're right Peggy. I added citrus with a note in limited amounts. Cooked potato peels are fine, mine don't happen to like them, but as long as they are cooked and not green, that's fine.

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  3. GREAT blog post Lisa. I am astonished at the amount of special 'cooking' you do for your girlz. I hope they appreciate it. ;)

    Do they really get to eat off the pretty serving dishes? lol

    Keep up the good work!

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  4. Thanks Kathy ! I love to cook and bake and this gives me a captive audience who love EVERYTHING I make for them to eat !

    They actually do get to eat off that green oval dish. It was a Goodwill find - the chickens have their own set of Goodwill and ebay serving dishes that I use in the run.

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    Replies
    1. Lisa, one of my favorite things to cook for my chickens is their own cornbread. Adding a bag of frozen veggies, a can of beans and egg shells to a prepared mix or from scratch is one of their favorite treats. Sometimes I will even add oyster shell. I often have to warn the family to stay out of it--It's for the girls!

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  5. Good golly. These ideas are all so creative and unique! Have you considered writing a little book about chicken enrichment/ how to have fun with your birds and how to keep them healthy and happy year-round...?

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  6. Thanks Lauren ! I hope that's what the blog will become. Make sure you click at the top to follow future posts or sign up for email notice.

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  7. I have tried spinach and lettuce numerous times, but my girls don't like them! Is that weird? They love anything sweet and white bread. They are just like me! :)

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  8. Great stuff. (contest was a great way to get me to look back at the older posts) I'm hooked on all this good info!

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    Replies
    1. Oh good ! I know some of the older posts tend to get buried, but there's alot of good stuff.

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  9. I'm so glad to find a good list of what they can be fed and what should not be feed to chickens. And I love the recipes---the people and the Peep ones.

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  10. hello,
    Can they have grits.....cooked or raw?

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    Replies
    1. Sure they would love grits either raw or cooked.

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  11. Thank you for the information. I'm just building my first coop and can't wait to fill it with chicks. All of the wonderful information you give has been a big help!

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  12. Thanks, I was just thinking of what to start to feed my chicks. My chicks are 4 to 5 weeks old, are they old enough to start adding other foods besides their chick feed?

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    Replies
    1. Sure...just be sure they have grit available as well...and of course the healthier the treats, the better.

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  13. My chickens' absolute favorite is hamburger. Their next favorite is the FREE scraps of beef and fat that I pick up from the local grocery-store butcher - they absolutely DEVOUR these, it makes their feathers nice and shiny too. :)

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    Replies
    1. I bet. Chickens are not vegetarians that's for sure.

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  14. I once read that I shouldn't feed my chi
    ckens raisins or grapes. So that's incorrect? The article stated that they contained tiny amounts of cyanide. It also stated to avoid feeding these to dogs. Just wondering
    Beth Ann

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  15. That is incorrect. Grapes (and by association) raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs due to a toxin they contain, but its not cyanide. It's not really understand very well from what I understand, but it only applies to dogs, not chickens. Chickens can eat both grapes and raisins without a problem, although I cut grapes in half so they won't try to eat them whole and choke.

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  16. Putting together the healthy seed jar today! Lisa, you've made having my chicks, hens, roosters and ducks so much more fun!!! Thank you!

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  17. I have chickens and ducks together in a pen, my hubby finally built me a large pen for them 17x22, they get along great. I have one rooster with two hens, one male duck with 3 females. I feed them Purina Flock Raiser and Layer, do you know if all of this is ok for the ducks to eat also. I haven't had any issues yet. The ducks try it and eat what they want. They are all so funny to me, they have seperate places they can lay eggs, but tend to lay together, nest together or even take turns setting. One day we found both chickens and one duck in the same nest just sitting on eggs.

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    Replies
    1. When I said this , I meant the extra goodies

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  18. I have chickens and ducks together in a pen, my hubby finally built me a large pen for them 17x22, they get along great. I have one rooster with two hens, one male duck with 3 females. I feed them Purina Flock Raiser and Layer, do you know if all of this is ok for the ducks to eat also. I haven't had any issues yet. The ducks try it and eat what they want. They are all so funny to me, they have seperate places they can lay eggs, but tend to lay together, nest together or even take turns setting. One day we found both chickens and one duck in the same nest just sitting on eggs.

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    Replies
    1. I wouldn't feed them Flock Raiser if they are layers/pets. That is for meat birds and will put weight on the ducks especially way too fast. I feed our mixed flock Nutrena Layer Crumble and then mix in some brewers yeast for the ducks (but won't hurt the chickens) and give them crushed eggshell or oystershell on the side. They can all eat the same thing no problem. I love how yours get along. So do ours!

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    2. That is good to know. I couldn't imagine eating one of them we love them too much. They are fun to watch and I use the duck eggs for all my baking. It makes everything taste so much better. I haven't had much luck on the eggs hatching. They were nesting on about 10 eggs in June, but nothing happened. Any advice ?

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    3. Same here...eating one of our chickens or ducks? No way. Did you read the post I wrote on hatching duck eggs? At the top, there's a tab for Chicken Care but there's a section on hatching duck eggs under the Hatching Eggs section. Not sure what went wrong but that might help for next time.

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