Healthy Chicken Treats and What Not to Give Your Flock

Hand feeding helps tame your chickens

Giving goodies to your chickens is a great way to earn their trust and get them to love you!  Chicken treats are also very helpful for use in training your flock to come when called.   It's quite a sight to see the procession that follows me every time I walk across my yard---even when I'm empty handed.  I look like The Pied Piper of Hamelin, but with large birds marching after me instead of rats!

When to Dole Out the Good Stuff and What Chicken Treats are Safe for Your Flock: It's sometimes hard to wait, but I usually keep my baby chicks on chick starter only, and delay giving them chicken treats, until the chicks are old enough to be in an outside coop.  Chick starter is formulated to be easily digested by the chicks.  Once the chicks are outside, they will naturally pick up grit, in the form of sand and tiny pebbles from the ground, which aids them in digesting grass, bugs, or treats.   If you choose to give chicken treats to your chicks before they are living outside, you'll need to provide a small dish of sand or parakeet grit in their brooder for them.

We eat the insides of the melons and our hens are happy to get the rest.

Most of your leftovers will be safe for your flock, but try to avoid salty foods.   It's okay to give your chickens fruit that has gone a little soft, such as strawberries or tomatoes that no longer appeal to you, but if there are any signs of mold or the food is spoiled - toss and do not give to your flock.  Moldy food is toxic to chickens.   Occasional cookies, pasta, or breads are fine, but make sure poultry feed makes up the main part of your flocks' diet or you may see a reduction in the number of eggs you collect.  Citrus is another food that should not be given to the chickens because of the acidity, although my flock seem to have figured that out themselves.  They do not touch the citrus fruit that falls from our trees.  Garlic and onion won't hurt your flock, but may give a strong taste to the eggs.  According to My Pet Chicken's free chicken care e-book, it's also important to avoid feeding your flock avocado skins and pits, bones, raw potato skins, long cut grass (can clog their digestive system), and chocolate.

My hens love the following fruits and veggies:

  • Watermelon and cantaloupe, including the seeds
  • Strawberries  (our hens get all our strawberry tops)
  • Blueberries, Raspberries, etc
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Tomatoes
  • Fresh or cooked Pumpkin  (pumpkin seeds are a natural dewormer - grind or chop raw seeds for best results)
  • Fresh Spinach   (a great source of greens during the winter )
  • Turnip and Mustard Greens, Kale, and Clover (I've just planted  some Chicken Salad seeds  for these greens and am sure my hens will love them)

Good protein sources:

  • Scrambled or Boiled Eggs   (this is not cannibalistic - baby chicks digest the egg yolk right before hatching, which makes an egg yolk their first meal)
  • Fish   (remove the bones before giving the fish to your flock)
  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms   (home-raised are best, since they do not carry parasites - click here  to see Les' info on raising your own)
  • Crickets   (check your local pet store)

Other yummy, but healthy chicken treats my hens love:

  • Cooked Oatmeal
  • Flaxseed   (I mix it into their oatmeal or scrambled eggs)
  • Corn/Scratch  (use sparingly, as a dessert only - too much and you'll see a drop in egg production)
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Plain Yogurt   (great calcium source with helpful probiotics) 

Hens looking for more scratch and our little dachshund hoping to find some chicken treats the hens missed

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Shelley Giangaspero
10 years ago

I love the tips. In the summer time when it gets really hot, I give my girls frozen berries floating in water. It's fun for me to watch them bob for it and they love it and get cooled down a the same time.

10 years ago

Some raw, ground, organic beef or buffalo meat (in moderation) is good also (& wow do they love it!!)

10 years ago

You didn't mention nastursiums, self sowing, fast growing and invasive here in California. I pull up handfulls on the weekend, leaves and flowers disappear. Weedy grasses I pull up, and will now tear shorter, are also well loved.

10 years ago

Mine also like cheese and they love raisins

Brian Grafton
10 years ago

I give my peeps gut loaded mealworms for a couple days seems to work for me.
I carry chicken treats in a white bucket. I had over 70 birds a while back.
Thet would all follow me all over , till I turned around then they would just start milling around like nothing was going on..A soon as I started walking away the would be hot on my heels.

Whittni OBrien
10 years ago

Thanks for writing that, helps a ton.

10 years ago

ricipie for chicki treats ! \
raisins spoiled milk raw oats,
mix together until it forms a paste
bake for 10 mins or until crispy, on 350, my chickis like them burn a little !

10 years ago

Hi i heard that letting your chickens eat raw eggs will make them want to crack and eat there own eggs is that true?

johnnie holt
10 years ago

I was raise on a farm, and we raised chickens, and as a young boy, I enjoyed helping with that. I am retired now, and have had chickens ever sinces as a ho by, but we enjoy the eegs to eat and for cakes and pies.

Kristen E. Martin
10 years ago

My chickens, 7 so far, love cat and dog food. They also eat basically everything everyone's already mentioned, except earthworms. They hate those. Won't even look at one.

10 years ago

So far mine don't like too much of anything like lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, celery. However, they like cheese a LOT! Today I gave them apple sauce which they seemed to enjoy.

What a birthday surprise I received today! My little white hen laid her first egg. I really wish my silkie would have turned out to be a hen.

10 years ago

I buy the cheapest store brand water-packed tuna and sardines for my chickens. They go CRAZY for both these. Excellent source of protein, and cheaper than cat food (which I'd read was a good source of protein, and got me thinking about it to begin with). They also are obsessed with grapes, and during our hot Texas summer I give them fresh corn and watermelon straight out of the refrigerator.

10 years ago

In the cold Minnesota winter, I give my flock suet, just like I give to the chickadees, woodpeckers, etc. They love it! 🙂

10 years ago

My girls LOVE when I mix plain yogurt with a little milk or water, add in some whole oats, a mashed banana, raisins and viola...sit back and watch the yogurt flinging at it's best - the girls eat the entire bowl and if they could lick it clean, they would!

10 years ago

Since the stinkbug invasion has spread to NY, I have been grabbing the bugs that accumulate on my laundry as it hangs on the line and feeding them to my "girls". It's all very "circle of life". 😉

10 years ago

Mine like the discarded shrimp shells after a low country boil. They also like the soft sections of crab body shell.

10 years ago

Could you please tell me the name of the top left chicken in the hand-feeding photo accompanying this story? I have one that looks exactly like this and I am unsure of her breed. I think she is an Ameraucana? Thanks!

10 years ago

I give mine a mash of lentils, split peas, plain yogurt, steel cut oats and corn meal. Stick everything but the yogurt in the microwave with enough water to cover for 3 min on high. I take it out, cool it down, mix in the yogurt and any frozen veggies and the love it!

Michael Merendino
9 years ago

They LOVE hemp seeds as a treat, mix with plain yogurt.

9 years ago

We hang a cabbage up in our pen every couple of days until it's nice enough to let the birds out to range a little. I screw an i-bolt into the bottom of the cabbage and hang it just a little higher than they can easily reach. They get a treat and a little extra activity. A large cabbage is usually gone by nightfall - even on short winter days.

9 years ago

I have some raw fish frozen in our freezer. Is it safe to thaw and feed my chickens the fish raw or should I cook it first?

9 years ago

If you would eat it raw--in other words, if it's sushi quality fish (is there such a thing as frozen sushi quality fish?)--you can share it with them. But don't use your chickens as a way to get rid of food that is questionable or bad. If it would risk making you sick to eat it, it'd risk making them sick, too.

9 years ago

We feed our chickens on our worm farm Superworms, they are big and like to run. The chickens LOVE to chase them and slurp them up!

Kristen E. Martin
9 years ago

Is high-protein cat food good for chickens? I mix Taste of the Wild cat food at a 1:5 ratio w/ layer feed. They also get 1:5 ratio of Calf Manna to layer feed. They also run around our fenced backyard, get scraps, suet, sunflower and other types of seeds. I get comments from other chicken keepers about my chickens' healthy plumage.

9 years ago

Kristen, we don't recommend feeding your chickens cat food, or cattle feed. It is not nutritionally balanced for them, and can lead to deficiencies and/or toxic amounts of some nutrients. A handful as a treat every now and then will probably not hurt, however, there are much better ways to add protein to your birds' diet. For instance, just switch to a higher protein feed brand. Consult with your vet; he or she might agree that supplementing with game bird feed (generally higher protein) will work. Mealworms are also a great protein source (and you can get the dried mealworms if you don't like having the live mealworms around). Don't regularly feed your chickens something that is not designed for them as a part of their regular diet, though. Even very similar animals often have vastly differing nutritional needs. For instance, sheep can get toxic amounts of copper from goat feed. Your best bet will be to stick with the chicken feed and consult with your vet about whether your birds need more protein, and how best to provide that for them.

9 years ago

They love maggots, which are also very nutritious!

9 years ago

Great site and fabulous ideas for feeding chickens. It has been really cold here in NY and I am considering giving "Tillie" and the girls a warm treat of cooked veggies; broccoli and carrots. Has anyone done this? I am inspired to feed them fresh foods thru the winter.

8 years ago

Is it okay to give my chickens raisins?

8 years ago
Reply to  rachel

Yes, chickens love raisins and grapes!

8 years ago

My rooster is weird he loves cat food & his chicken feed occasionally i give him scrap food but he just loves digging in the dirt for worms i don't really make anything special but i give him fresh blueberries & grapes i dice them up & throw it in the yard but he only nibble here & there...his name is henry boi

7 years ago

Do you think store-bought grit is necessary for chickens that get to run around the yard most days? What about in winter? Is there a way to tell if chickens are getting too much or too little grit or small stones?

Finally, can I add some dried herbs, like dill, for baby chicks just on starter? Countryside Organics seems to think it's fine.

7 years ago
Reply to  Kris

Grit is probably not necessary for chickens who free range--most will find small stones on their own--but it's inexpensive and doesn't go bad, so why not provide it just to be safe? You can certainly offer plant material to baby chicks; just make sure they have access to chick-sized grit if they're getting anything other than starter. Parakeet gravel usually works well for baby chicks.

7 years ago

Is it good to give juice of ginger or garlic to chicken?
is ginger gives health benefit and raise immune towards disease in Chicken?

7 years ago
Reply to  Lukas

Ginger is thought to be anti-inflammatory.... but garlic is probably not a good idea for chickens. It won't hurt them, but if they eat strong aromatics like onions or garlic, their eggs can come out tasting of onions or garlic, too. If you're making quiches or onion omelettes, this might be okay with you... but you definitely don't want it in your eggnog or angel food cake!

6 years ago

I buy a 1/4 or a 1/2 cow each year and get the liver as well....I won't touch liver and have asked many people if they are interested.....none would this be a good thing to give to my chickens? Should it be given raw or cooked? Thanks

6 years ago

We are considering planting wild river oats around the outside of our chicken and duck coop because this area is shaded and we are told the river oats are good ground cover and will grow in shaded areas. The birds will also be grazing in this area (as well as other parts of our yard). Are wild river oats okay for the chickens and ducks to eat?

6 years ago
Reply to  Yulanda

If you're talking about Chasmanthium latifolium or Uniola latifolia, yes they can be grazed by livestock. Pretty species, too! If you do want it to survive foraging, though, be sure to keep the birds out of the seed bed until you have a nice carpet established. Otherwise they will love to eat all those oat/grass seeds you scatter!

6 years ago

Is it ok to give chunks of plantains to chickens?

Anna C
6 years ago

Hi, I grow onions and wonder what will happen they eat some of them?

6 years ago

Can chickens eat craisins?

6 years ago

I give my girls crushed up oyster shells, I was told it is good calcium and helps will shell strength.

I am currently giving them frozen berries on hot days (I'm in Australia, so it is summer now) and they love them, helps keep them cool.

Mine are definately tame, I basically raised them from day 1, we had them as eggs in June 2016 and I kept 4 of the 18. So they have from the beginning been used to me holding them, eating out of my hand and following me around. They come running when I open the back door, and one jumps up an pulls on my shirt when I go out with food. Today I was crouched down filling up one of their outside water bowls under a tree, and she jumped onto my back and refused to get off. Pecking at my hair and neck even just preening herself.

5 years ago

How can I train my dogs to allow my chickens to free range some. I see the pup in your pic

5 years ago
Reply to  Debra Taylor

Hi, Debra! I talk about how to train your dog here in this blog post, "Training your dog to accept your chickens." As it turned out, my little dog is off-leash all the time, and just isn't interested in adult chickens. I'm very lucky with his personality! It can certainly depend on the breed, too. Reggie is a Cavalier Spaniel, and that breed doesn't have a super strong prey drive in general.

Debi Weatherly
4 years ago

I enjoy reading comments. My husband & I just started last year with our backyard chickens. My grandson's 3rd grade class (with 4 H) hatched eggs in class & students could have a chick if they so desired. We took the baby chick & were instantly hooked & rushed to get 6 straight run barred rocks. We ended up with 3 hens & 3 roosters. I loved hearing them crow!!! Until my husband pointed out that roosters don't lay eggs. I loved them- it was heartbreaking to see them go.(They were so beautiful-prettier than the hens) Anyway, now we have 4 lovely hens & enjoy their eggs.
We share them with our neighbors & family.

4 years ago

I ordered 3 lavender Orpington hens from a hatchery... turns out two are roosters. It’s hard to tell with that breed but idk what to do with the roosters

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