Do you feed your flock snacks or treats? What’s the difference? Learning to distinguish between what foods are a healthy snack for your flock and what foods should be considered a treat for your flock is important to keep them healthy. While both snacks and treats can be a healthy addition to their diet, there are some feeding guidelines to keep in mind when giving your chickens either a daily snack or a special treat.
What are Snacks for Chickens?
Snacks for chickens can be considered healthy foods that are a natural part of a chicken’s diet. They can be fed on a regular basis to your flock. Think of your flock’s snacks much like your own snacks. You may have a mid-morning or late afternoon snack to give you energy throughout the day. Usually, we try to make those snacks somewhat healthy so that they provide both energy and nutrition. The same applies for your chickens.
Healthy snacks are usually foods that chickens would naturally incorporate into their diet. Foods such as insects and leafy greens mimic what a chicken would forage for in the wild. While their complete formulated feed should already provide all the energy resources that they need for the day, their snacks should provide supplemental nutrition in their diet. Instead of taking away from the overall nutrition your flock gets from their feed, healthy snacks compliment your flock’s diet and provide essential nutrients.
Healthy snacks can be fed to your flock on a daily basis because they add to your flock’s diet and to their overall nutrition consumption. However, healthy snacks should still be fed in moderation. Much like we don’t eat a snack that is as big as a meal, chickens don’t need a large quantity of a healthy snack every day. Depending on the size of your flock, a few handfuls of a healthy snack may be sufficient for each flock member to get a few bites. If you want to be more specific, follow the guideline of no more than 1-2 tablespoons of snack per chicken per day. Some healthy snacks can be offered free-choice to your flock to allow them to eat what they want of the snack.
Here is a list of some healthy snacks that your flock can have on a regular basis:
- Black soldier fly grubs & other bugs
- Leafy greens- spinach, lettuce, bok choy, arugula, etc..
- Sprouts & fodder
- Access to forage/pasture
- Garden scraps
Just like with us, some snacks are healthier for your flock than others. When considering what snacks are the healthiest for your chickens, think about what nutrition the snack provides, what nutrition your flock is already getting from their daily feed, and if chickens would naturally forage for that snack. From the list above, bugs and leafy greens are the healthiest and most natural snacks to feed your chickens. Other snacks, such as vegetables, should be thought of as table scraps. They can be provided on an as-available basis.
Here at Grubbly Farms, we always refer to our Grubblies as a snack for chickens – not a treat or indulgence. This is because black soldier fly grubs are a healthy, natural part of a chicken’s diet. Grubs are exactly what a chicken would forage for while free ranging. They can be used to supplement protein in your flock’s diet when they need extra (such as during winter or molting season) or used as a way to coop train your flock.
What are Treats for Chickens?
Treats are foods that are not as nutritionally complete as healthy snacks. They would not be a natural part of a chicken’s diet. While some treats do contain good nutrition, they can cause the diet to become imbalanced if they are fed too frequently or in too large quantities. Think of treats like our desserts. If we have desserts too frequently or in too large quantities, they take away from the nutrition we should be receiving from our meal or healthier foods.
Often, treats for chickens are comprised of foods that are already present in a chicken’s everyday feed ration. Treats that are high in grains, seeds, nuts and other carb-rich foods are similar to what a chicken gets in its food, except the treats are not nutritionally formulated to provide the perfect balance of fats, carbs, and protein needed by a chicken. Feeding too many treats that are similar to what a chicken gets in its food will take away from the essential nutrients provided by the food. Too many fatty treats can lead to issues such as fatty liver syndrome and obesity. Too many carb-rich foods will take away from how much daily feed a chicken eats which compromises nutrient consumption. Protein is the one dietary element that can be supplemented with a little more freedom since chickens naturally thrive on a high protein diet. However, too much protein, or too much of the wrong type of protein, can lead to dietary imbalances or health issues such as gout.
The most common treats you will give your chickens are table scraps and store-bought treats. Here are some foods that could be considered treats for your flock:
- Leftover bread products and pasta- high in carbs
- Fruit- high in natural sugars
- Dairy products- hard for chickens to digest
- Meat scraps- not a natural part of the diet, insect-protein is more natural for chickens to consume
- Fish- not a natural protein source for chickens to consume
- Seeds- usually already present in the diet
- Grains (e.g. oats, barley, corn, wheat, etc...)- usually already present in the diet
- Nuts- similar to seeds and grains, high in fat
- High fat foods- too much fat leads to obesity
- Flock blocks- not nutritionally balanced
- Suet cakes for chickens- high in fat
- Scratch grain mixes- high in energy
So, if you know that a particular food should be considered a treat for your flock, when can you give your flock treats and how much of a treat can you give them? Treats should make up no more than 10% of your flock’s daily diet. That is about 1 tablespoon of treat per chicken. Most of the time though, you are safe with giving your flock treats on an as-available basis. As long as you remember that treats should not be fed on a regular basis, you shouldn’t have to worry about each chicken consuming only a tablespoon of the treat on any given day.
If you do have a large stash of table scrap or special treats to give your flock, consider portioning the treats out over several days or freezing some of the treats to feed to your flock later. If possible, avoid giving your flock the same special treat very frequently. It is good for your flock’s diet to be varied, even when it comes to giving them special treats!
Many treats can be offered on a seasonal basis. During the winter, chickens use more energy to stay warm, that means they can have a few more treats in their winter diet. During the summer, chickens won’t have that need for extra energy and they may be able to supplement their diet with free-ranging, so treats should be more limited during the summer. When it comes to table scraps, what you eat will reflect what your flock eats. If you eat a more seasonal, healthy diet, then your flock will too!
Why is it Important to Know the Difference?
It’s important to know the difference between treats for chickens and healthy snacks for chickens so that you can be sure you are feeding your flock a diet that is balanced and good for their overall health. It is fun to give your chickens special foods that make them come running!
Chickens can also help you live more sustainably by eating foods you might have otherwise thrown away. However, their diet and nutritional needs should still be considered. Determining what foods are a healthy snack and what foods are a treat is important for the health of your flock!
Snacks help promote overall good health, add nutrition to the diet, and won’t take away from your flock’s daily nutritional needs which should be supplied by their feed. The healthiest snacks are the most natural foods for a chicken to consume and ones that aren’t already provided by your flock’s daily feed. The healthiest snacks can be offered in moderation on a regular basis to add nutrition to your flock’s daily diet.
Treats can also provide nutrition to the diet, however they are often high in one dietary element over others which can lead to dietary imbalances. Treats should be fed in moderation and should be kept varied. They can be provided on an as-available basis or a seasonal basis.
Snacks & Treats = Healthy & Happy!
Knowing the difference between healthy snacks for chickens and special treats for chickens will help you keep your flock healthy and happy! They can have their favorite natural snacks on a regular basis to keep them healthy and they can have special treats on occasion to keep them happy. Feeding your flock snacks and treats in addition to a nutritionally complete feed is a great way to help them eat a varied and nutritious diet!