Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are important – but do your flocks need a daily snack, too?
Chickens have a lot of energy and need plenty of calories to keep them going. At the same time, you can provide most of your chickens’ nutritional requirements via their feed – which is specially formulated to meet their nutritional and caloric requirements.
A good way to fill in the gaps during certain periods of the year is to provide a daily snack.
Curious about what makes a good snack – and whether your chickens actually need it? Here are some tips to help you figure out whether that might be the case.
When Do Flocks Need a Daily Snack?
To snack – or not to snack? In general, a chicken feed will be formulated to meet all of your flock’s specific nutritional needs.
You don’t have to worry about providing snacks as long as the feed is offered free choice.
However, there are several reasons to offer your girls a daily (or twice daily!) snack. Here are some of the most common.
Molting is a natural process that occurs once a year (after your chicken’s first year of laying, that is) when molting occurs when chickens naturally shed their feathers to grow new ones.
Because they will need extra protein and energy to regrow those feathers, it’s a good idea to offer your flock a daily snack.
While you can alternatively switch the layer feed to a grower feed to provide a higher protein ratio, this can prove to be more effort than it’s worth.
Adding a high-protein snack is an easier way to offer your flock the nutrients they need without having to switch feeds entirely.
Consider offering up a serving of treats such as black soldier fly larvae, which will supplement them enough to get them through their rough patch of regrowing new feathers.
Support Healthy Eggshells
If you’ve noticed that the eggshells on your hens’ eggs have been looking a little worse for wear, it might be a good idea to offer up a treat now and then.
You see, chickens need lots of protein and especially calcium to lay healthy eggs with strong shells.
Without adequate calcium and other nutrients, your chickens’ eggs will be paper-thin and prone to breakage.
Some feeds have calcium added in, but these aren’t always as effective as you might think.
That’s because feeds get dusty and essential nutrients (like calcium) can float to the bottom of the feed as dust. There, the nutrients are wasted.
You can add occasional treats to your hens’ diets to make up for this deficiency.
Black soldier fly larvae are great snacks for this purpose, as they have a three to one calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Phosphorous is another essential nutrient for chickens as it helps aid in the absorption and utilization of calcium.
Some other good snacks to consider giving your chickens for calcium include cooked eggs and dairy products.
Inclement Weather and Extreme Temperatures
During extreme heat and cold, it can become more challenging for hens to control their body temperatures – because of this, they need more calories.
Offering lots of water during both extreme heat and cold is a good idea, as is offering treats.
In the summertime, you may want to offer cooling snacks such as watermelon and zucchini slices. In the winter, you can give your animals warming snacks like heated-up oats.
Providing treats that address inclement weather conditions can help you reduce any stress that your birds might experience.
If you are trying to train your chickens, there’s no better way to do so than with treats. Chickens, like most animals, are extremely food-motivated.
Offering treats such as mealworms and fresh fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to train your chickens to do various things.
Whether it’s treated or simply convincing your chickens to go back inside at night, offering treats and snacks will help your birds understand that chickens can take you seriously!
Illness or Injury
It’s no secret that when you are sick, you need extra calories to nurse yourself back to health. The same is true with chickens.
If your chickens are sick, they might not be as interested in eating or drinking – but they’ll be tempted to eat far more by tantalizing treats and snacks than they will with their regular feed.
After all, aren’t you more interested in eating (even when you aren’t hungry) if it’s a juicy cheeseburger or ice cream cone rather than a boring old salad?
Plus, giving your chickens treats when they are sick or recovering from an injury will help them recover more quickly.
They will get over whatever it is that is ailing them much more quickly when they have the energy to do so.
Last but not least, offering your chickens regular snacks and treats is a great way to bond with your flock.
Chickens love enjoying healthy snacks like veggies, insects, and seeds, and there’s no better way to spend time with your flock than by watching them in the midst of this feeding frenzy.
If you have particularly shy chickens, offering treats is a good way for you to bond with them and get them used to your presence. Over time, they’ll lose that shyness for sure!
Don’t Feed Chickens Too Many Snacks
Now, when it comes to feeding your flock a daily snack, you mustn’t go too overboard. A few snacks here and there are great – too much snacking is a recipe for disaster.
It’s also important that you understand which foods are and are not appropriate snacks – we will address this below.
Start by feeding your chickens complete feed in the morning before they leave the coop.
You can do this by feeding once in the morning or by setting up an automatic feeder that your chickens have access to all day.
This complete feed should be a formulated feed – not scratch grain, with lots of empty calories.
Of course, your chickens can free-range and forage to their heart’s content – you don’t have to worry about fitting that into their diet calculations.
The 90/10 Rule for Snacks
When it comes to moderation in feeding your flock, the 90/10 rule is the best one you can follow.
In this, you’ll offer a diet that is 90% formulated feed and only 10% other foods like scratch grains, scraps, or treats.
The average laying hen eats around a quarter of a pound of feed each day or about half a cup. This means that treats should not exceed two tablespoons.
Just one or two chicken treats are all that is needed to keep your flock happy and well-fed.
What are the Best Treats for Chickens?
There are all kinds of treats you might want to consider feeding your chickens, including things like vegetable and fruit scraps, mealworms, and scratch grains.
Moderation is key when feeding any treat – even healthy ones – to ensure your chickens have plenty of variety in their diets.
Chickens are natural foragers and will eat all kinds of new foods throughout the course of their day.
They will generally avoid harmful foods, though some treats will be far healthier than others.
Free-ranging birds will naturally find their favorite things to snack on.
If you don’t want them damaging your plants, you might want to consider raising your birds in portable chicken tractors or installing a fence in the yard to keep them out of your garden.
Here are some good chicken treats you can give to your chickens.
Dark, Leafy Greens
Chickens love all vegetables, including things like chard, turnip greens, kale, and lettuce. In fact, if you feed your chickens these greens, their eggs will have richer, darker-colored yolks.
When you’re looking to provide calcium to your laying hens but don’t want to spring for the oyster shell, few foods are quite as rich in calcium as dairy products – and cottage cheese is one of the best.
Chickens love the consistency of cottage cheese, and it’s also a wonderful source of protein. You can mix it with vegetables or feed it right out of the tub.
They might not sound all that appetizing to you. Buy mealworms make wonderful snacks for chickens.
They are quick and easy to prepare with no extra work required. You can buy mealworms, or you can farm your own to save some money.
Or, if you would like to try our Happy Grubs brand, a great alternative is black soldier fly larvae. They are more nutrient-dense and a much better supplement for calcium than mealworms.
You shouldn’t’ feed your chickens raw pasta, as it can be hard to digest.
However, cooked pasta is a great snack to consider. Just two cups of pasta are all you need for six chickens.
It’s an inexpensive treat that you can pair with vegetables for a complete meal!
Oatmeal is rich in nutrients and will fill your chickens up like nothing else. It is easy to pour into a trough, and you can add other treats to it if you’d like, such as bananas or honey.
Oatmeal is loaded with fiber along with various vitamins and minerals. It’s a “stick to your ribs” kind of food that’s sure to fill your girls up well on a cold winter morning.
Other Treats for Chickens
You can buy store-bought treats for your chickens, but there’s really no need. There are plenty of treats you will find in your own kitchen that makes wonderful snacks for your flock.
Some other excellent chicken treat ideas include:
- Almost any fruit or vegetable
- Cooked meat and fish
- Popcorn and corn
- Scratch grain
What Not to Feed to Chickens
There are a few snacks you should never, under any circumstances, offer to your chickens.
While some are off-limits simply because they can cause an off-putting flavor in eggs (but don’t cause any known health effects), some foods can be downright dangerous to feed your birds.
Some of the most common foods that are listed as not safe for chickens (or should not be fed to chickens due to egg flavor concerns) include:
- Dry beans
- Green potatoes or potato skins
- Unripened tomatoes
- Tomato, eggplant, or pepper plants
- Peach pits
Avocado Pits and Skins
Avoid feeding avocados to your chickens. Although they contain many healthy fats, avocado skins and pits are toxic because they contain a toxin known as persin.
This can kill your chickens. It’s fine to feed the fruit’s flesh but make sure the skin and pit are completely removed.
Like most other animals, chickens cannot eat rhubarb leaves. It contains anthraquinones with a laxative effect and high amounts of oxalic acid, which can cause organ failure.
Rhubarb is even more dangerous if it has been exposed to extreme cold.
Foods That Are Salty, Sugary, Moldy, or Rotten
Avoid feeding your chickens anything that isn’t good for you, including sugary and salty snacks like candy or potato chips.
Alcohol, chocolate, coffee, and tea are off-limits, too (though we hope you aren’t sharing a beer with your favorite laying hen!).
Whether you should feed chickens treats that are starting to go bad is up for debate.
Some people argue that this is an excellent way to recycle spoiled food, but it can cause your chickens to have extremely wet feces – and could be toxic.
Sometimes, Flocks Need a Daily Snack!
When it comes to chickens, a daily snack is a great idea. Chickens love treats like sunflower seeds and mealworms, but you can give them just about anything.
Please don’t overdo it, and make sure a formulated feed is the main component of your birds’ diets.
If your chickens are a little finicky about their food types, try giving them some of these healthy snacks now and then.
It will make for happy hens that lay more eggs – and are healthier overall, too.