As the cooler months arrive, chickens spend more and more time cramped inside their coops. Boredom and lower quality food (since grazing is less of an option) can result in birds with weaker immune systems.
Not only that, but boredom can result in an increase in fights. All of this can dramatically affect your flock’s ability to not only handle the winter stress, but also to emerge ready for a new spring season. Investing some time and minimal finances in providing healthy treats for your chickens can improve your flock’s resiliency. When spring arrives they’ll be ready for a new season of egg laying and chick rearing.
One quick caution before continuing. Supplementing your flock’s diet with treats can be a great way to improve health and wellbeing. However, realize that any treats they are eating are replacing their intake of commercial feed that has been scientifically prepared to provide your chickens with the proper balance of vitamins, minerals and proteins. Excessive treats can actually cause more problems than they cure. So, treat in moderation.
Sometimes the best treats are the easiest to provide. While chickens should avoid some human foods, many foods can offer increased nutrition and keep chickens busy. Here are some particular chicken favorites and great, healthy options.
Fruits like peaches, apples, pomegranates, bananas and berries are great for chickens. Chickens often have a fascination with anything red colored, so they will likely get excited when offered berries. Grapes are great, too, but avoid the seeded ones. Cut the grapes in half and watch your chickens entertain themselves with games of keep-away. Greens (spinach, carrot and beet tops, etc.) are excellent for chickens and considered a real treat when other forms of greenery are limited due to the weather. Cooked brown rice is a nutritious treat as well. White rice is okay, but the nutritious value is low and it’s probably better that your flock fill up on their chicken feed instead. Cooked or raw pumpkin and seeds are good options. Cut your pumpkin in half and let them pick at it. Melons, including the seeds, are another great treat. Chickens adore sunflower seeds (both shelled or unshelled). They also assist hens with the demanding job of egg-laying, and they contribute to healthy feather growth. Meat scraps can be a great form of extra protein. Cheese in moderation is another form of protein and calcium, but can be too fatty if fed in larger quantities. Plain yogurt is appreciated by any flock and gives their digestive systems a boost. Warm oatmeal is an especially great treat in colder weather or after a snowstorm. Feed a variety of the above and your chickens will be delighted all winter long.
Non-Human Food Chicken Treats
There are several foods greatly appreciated by chickens that are available from pet supply centers or livestock food stores. Live crickets are an excellent source of protein and a way to alleviate boredom. It can be entertaining to watch the chickens chase down live crickets in their coop. Mealworms are another chicken favorite available from pet stores and they can even be purchased over the Internet. They are a wholesome addition to any chicken diet. Scratch is cracked corn combined with either wheat, oats or rye. While not a complete food, it can be a good treat and gives chickens the chance to scratch in the dirt like they would in the warmer seasons. Toss a handful on the ground in the chicken run or even on the floor of the chicken coop. Sprouting grains are another excellent treat for chickens. Sprout your own or purchase a tray at your local pet supply center.
Foods to Avoid
While most human foods are okay in moderation, it is best to avoid the following foods altogether. (Of course, don’t feed your chickens anything spoiled, moldy or unidentifiable.)
Avoid raw green potato peels. These contain toxic substances that can significantly harm chickens. Avoid very salty foods. Excessive salt can lead to salt poisoning and has a greater chance of affecting smaller chicken-sized bodies. Raw and dry beans contain hemaglutin, which is toxic to chickens, so avoid them completely. Avocado skin and pit can be toxic, although a little avocado flesh (in leftovers) is probably okay. Candy, chocolate and sugary foods should be avoided. Chocolate is poisonous to the majority of pets.
Don’t feed onions, chives or garlic in large quantities to chickens, although it is probably okay to feed leftover dishes where these were used as seasonings. Excessive ingestion of them can cause hemolytic anemia. Also, avoid all types of citrus (grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, etc.). Finally, you should avoid feeding your chickens raw eggs. While not toxic, raw egg ingestion can influence chickens to start eating their own eggs, resulting in you being shortchanged. Once a chicken starts eating her eggs, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to break her of the habit. However, scrambled and cooked eggs can be a great, highly nutritional edition to your chickens’ diet.
Entertaining and Homemade Chicken Treats
The following treats take minimal time to assemble, but can provide added nutrition and stem the development of chicken cabin fever.
Try tying a cabbage head on a string and hanging it from the coop ceiling. Chickens will enjoy eating and playing with it all day. Or, tuck some broccoli or cauliflower into a suet cage and hang that from the ceiling. Another great idea is to take whole corn on the cob, or leftover cobs, and freeze them during the summer. Then in the winter, thaw them out to room temperature and place them in the coop. The chickens will enjoy pecking the kernels and milky juice.
The Chicken Chick website offers a number of healthy chicken treating recipes. Chicken Soup  includes meat scraps, carrots, peas, asparagus, calendula petals, scratch, Manna Pro Harvest Delight, Purina Flock Raiser, Gro2Max probiotics, Oregano oil and enough warm water to cover everything. This soup isn’t cooked and isn’t served hot, but it has a lot of healthy ingredients (the oregano oil can help with parasites), and chickens will enjoy the variety.
Another recipe the Chicken Chick shares is her recipe for Flock Block Substitute . It includes chicken feed, scratch, Omega3 supplements, eggs, oatmeal, cornmeal, cracked corn, wheat germ, cinnamon, calendula petals, apples, applesauce, molasses, water and coconut oil. These are combined and baked into a block that can either be hung up with a piece of string or crumbled onto the coop or run floor, keeping chickens busy for hours while increasing their winter-time nutrition.
While you don’t need to feed your flock treats through the winter, taking a little extra time to gather table scraps or tie up a head of cabbage can go a long way to keeping your flock healthier and more content. As a result, springtime will arrive with your chickens ready for the demands of increased egg-production and chick rearing.
What are your chicken feed tips for the winter? Share them in the section below: