It’s winter and in the colder parts of the country your cooped up birds are getting restless. Chickens get cabin fever too. It’s time to offer them some treats that will brighten their day and give them something to do other than peck at each other. You don’t need to order expensive chicken treats from catalogs or online. Your kitchen or local feed or grocery store has everything you need to make your birds happy.
Most chickens are happy to gobble up any treat you offer but if a new treat doesn't incite much interest be patient and give it a day or two to register as something yummy. Always start with small amounts of treats and don’t make treats more than about a third of the chicken’s diet. If you want high production laying hens to keep maximum egg production you may want to keep treat amounts smaller. If your chickens aren't eating very much of their regular ration- which hopefully is a balanced pellet or crumble ration- you’ll want to cut back on the treats.
It’s a chicken’s natural instinct to scratch around looking for food. If your chickens always get their feed as pellets in a feed dish it’s time to change things up. Toss a little whole corn, or scratch feed, found at any feed store on the floor of the coop so they can run around digging and scratching to get it. Hulled oats or wheat is also liked. Chickens will eat dry popcorn - but if you pop it for them- without butter please- they’ll like it more.
Chickens will also appreciate sunflower seeds, don’t worry about the hulls, they won’t hurt the chickens. A small amount of wild bird seed sprinkled over the coop floor gets rave reviews. While not actually grains, dried whole or split peas, which you can find in any grocery, are great chicken treats. Cooked rice is great for chickens as is pasta.
Consider sprouting some seeds for your chickens. Sprouted seeds contain added nutrients and chickens love them. You can use any seeds packaged for “human” sprouts or use millet, oats or grass seed. Sprouts should not be moldy when fed.
Fruits and vegetables
Chickens crave greens in the winter. Don’t give them iceburg (head) lettuce unless you get it free- it is nutritionally useless. Instead give your chickens any dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale or romaine lettuce. You can pick up packages of out dated or marked down greens, your chickens won’t mind a little brown edges. Moldy greens however, should be avoided.
A whole head of green or red cabbage can be put in the coop for chickens to peck at. They’ll enjoy destroying it as much as eating it. Whole turnips, rutabaga’s and winter squash or pumpkins can also be placed in the coop for chicken fun. Squash and pumpkins may need to be split open the first time you offer them, but once your chickens know what they are, they will generally peck them open to get at the meat.
You can try whole carrots but shaved or grated carrots are probably better appreciated by chickens. Try buying cheap bags of cull carrots, often sold as deer feed, for your chickens. Chickens also enjoy celery, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Even canned or frozen vegetables can be fed.
Do not feed potatoes to chickens without cooking them and avoid any green or sprouted potatoes which will make chickens sick or kill them. Potato peels without any potato sprouts that are cooked for 10 minutes will be fine. Sweet potatoes and yams are fine for chickens in any form as are Jerusalem artichokes.
Apples, pears, cherries, any type of berries and all kinds of melon are eagerly eaten by chickens. Some people believe grapes are not good for chickens but chickens eagerly eat any wild grapes they eat when free ranging. Do not feed avocado- it is harmful to poultry. Peeled bananas will be eaten but its best to avoid citrus and pineapple. Look for reduced priced, old or damaged produce to save money.
If you have hay for other animals give your chickens a flake, (section) every week. If you can find it at store near you by the bale you can buy a bale of hay for your chickens. Look for green leafy looking hay, alfalfa or an alfalfa- grass mix is best. The chickens will eat the softer blades, pick off any seed heads and devour any dried or live insects in the hay and enjoy hunting through it.
If a large bale of hay is too much to store at your house consider buying some alfalfa cubes at a pet store or feed store. They come in bags of various sizes. You can sometimes find alfalfa pellets at feed stores too. You can put these out dry but the best way to use them is to put some in a bucket and add some warm water. Let the cubes soak for an hour or so until they are moist and expanded. Then feed them to the chickens. Don’t feed more of the moistened alfalfa than the chickens can eat in a day because it may mold, which isn't good for your birds.
Other fun feeds
Look for day old bread at your grocery store at a good price, chickens love it or just about any baked goods. Cookies, doughnuts, pie, it’s all good. Try to avoid gooey frostings, even though chickens certainly don’t mind them. They are just too sweet and calorie ridden. A whole loaf of bread, like French bread, is fun for the chickens to peck at. Old breakfast cereal is greatly loved by chickens. You may want to buy some cheap fruit flavored cereal as a special treat.
Salty snack foods, like chips or cheese curls, won’t really hurt chickens unless they get large quantities but there are better treats to choose from if you are buying treats and not disposing of leftovers.
If you are cleaning out your cupboards and find old baking nuts, flaked coconut or dried fruit pass it along to the chickens. Do avoid giving chickens any peanuts that look moldy, the mold can be toxic. You can dump old commercially canned food out to the chickens but use a little caution giving them old home canned foods. If the jars have bulging lids, leaky seals, or look or smell bad they could harm your flock. (Wash your hands after handling home canned foods that may not be properly sealed as they could contain botulism, which is tasteless and odorless, but very deadly, and can be contracted by handling.)
Meat and bones are also liked by chickens. Save your scraps for them. It’s funny to watch chickens fighting over the bones left from your chicken dinner! If you have excess eggs you can cook them and feed them to your birds. Never feed them raw eggs, you don’t want them to get a taste for those!
Dry pet food is greatly liked by chickens. If you don’t have other pets that can share a little food with the chickens, buy a small bag of some cheap pet food to offer as treats.
Cheese, yogurt, sour milk or cream are all great chicken foods. Milk that has soured in your frig is great for the chickens. Only feed what they can eat in one day though. You can dump out left over dips for the chickens, except for dips containing avocado. Avocado is said to harm chickens.
Catalogs and feed stores sell freeze dried or even live meal worms but bait worms from a bait shop or even your local sporting goods store are cheaper and just as appreciated. They are even sold during the winter for ice fishermen. Minnows will also be gobbled down if they are dumped on the coop floor.
Chickens aren't fussy eaters and they appreciate any variety in their diet you can give them in the winter, when they can’t hunt and peck their own treats. Just look through your cupboards or the local grocery and you’ll find something to please them.
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