Chickens just love their food, and treats even better, so here are some tips on what to give and what to avoid. Your hens will develop their own favorites and some they dislike, but with all treats it's important to feed in moderation, no more that 10% of their daily feed ration. As chickens have a limited amout of space in their crops, giving treats later in the day will ensure the bulk of their diet is from a commercial balanced pellet or meal feed. If it is particularly cold at night, a little corn (maize chips) later on will increase the body temperature as it is digested overnight. Some vegetable treats are best suspended from the run to give the added advantage of easing boredom, especially good in winter when there is less time to forage in the garden and more time to squabble in the run !
We use wildbird fatball feeders with chopped fruit, carrots or sweatcorn cobs inside, or leafy greens threaded through and suspend it so the birds can enjoy a treat without ending up with scraps of fruit and veg all over the run floor.
Blackberries, Gooseberries, Raspberries, Peaches, Pears, Seedless Grapes, Strawberries
Apple chunks - minus the pips, don’t give unlimited windfalls
Banana - minus the skin, Water Melon - minus the rind (they just love this one on hot days - but don't we all !)
Red Tomatoes - not green, or any other part of the plant as leaves are poisonous
Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussels, Spinach, Kale, Swede, Carrots, Sweetcorn, Lettuce (split the brussel/broc/cauli stalks open they enjpy the pith)
Potatoes mashed, not green peel or the sprouting bits and in moderation
Pasta and rice - freshly cooked but in moderation
Chickweed, Shepherds purse, Dandelion
Nettle - young plants that have been cut and left to wilt before feeding
Do not feed anything that is showing signs of mould, or foods with salt added. Treats that are not eaten the same day should be removed. Do not feed any leftover meat.
If you must give grass cuttings, ensure that they are fresh and remove any not eaten, the same day. Grass cutting ferment easily and this cuases issues in chickens digestive system and can lead to Sour Crop. Long dry grass can also cause issues as it is harder to breakdown in the Crop and can cause blockages and impacted Crop over time. Short grass also reduces parasites from poultry droppings by drying them out, such as intestinal worm eggs.
If you do give bread as a treat, only give a very small amount, avoid white bread and moisten it slightly, although traditionally fed to birds its not one of the best options.
It must be pointed out that it is illegal to feed kitchen scraps to food producing animals (unless you have a 'Vegan kitchen') because of the risk of transferring bacteria such as Salmonella. The birds wont necessarily show symptoms but eggs they lay can become infected. Remove parts of fruit and veg to feed to your birds before it reaches the kitchen or any food preparation areas. Further information can be found on the DEFRA website.
Teresa Benham hensforpets.co.uk