The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

This is a list of almost everything you can feed a chicken. However, everybody's chickens have their own tiny brains full of likes and dislikes, so while one person's chickens may come running for grapes or watermelon, another person's chickens may turn up their pointy little beaks at it. Anything on this list is safe to feed and worth a try.

Your comments and feedback are welcome—please post them in this thread:

At the bottom of the page are things you should avoid feeding your chickens.

TreatTypeGeneral Opinions
ApplesRaw and applesauceApple seeds contain cyanide, but not in sufficient quantities to kill.
AsparagusRaw or cookedOkay to feed, but not a favorite.
BananasWithout the peelHigh in potassium, a good treat.
BeansWell-cooked only, never dryAlso, green beans.
BeetsGreens also..
BerriesAll kindsA treat, especially strawberries.
BreadAll kinds—this is a good use for stale bread or rolls.Feed starches in moderation.
Broccoli & Cauliflower
Tuck into a suet cage and they will pick at it all day.
Cabbage & Brussels SproutsWhole headHang a whole cabbage from their coop ceiling in winter so they have something to play with and greens to eat.
CarrotsRaw and cookedThey like carrot foliage too.
Catfood * (see bottom of page)Wet and dryFeed in strict moderation, perhaps only during molting * (see bottom of page)
CerealCheerios, etc.Avoid highly sugared cereal such as Cocopuffs, etc.
CheeseIncluding cottage cheeseFeed in moderation, fatty but a good source
of protein and calcium
Cooked Chicken.They may like it and it won’t kill them, but it just seems so... Ummm… wrong.
CornOn cob and canned, raw and cooked.
Crickets (live)Can be bought at the bait or pet-supply stores.Great treat—provides protein and it’s fun to watch the chickens catch them.
CucumbersLet mature for yummy seeds and flesh.
EggsHard-cooked and scrambled are a good source of protein and a favorite treat.Feed cooked eggs only because you don’t want your chickens to start eating their own raw eggs.
Fish/SeafoodCooked only..
FlowersMake sure they haven't been treated with pesticides,
such as florist flowers might be.
Marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, etc.
FruitPears, peaches, cherries, apples.
GrainsBulgar, flax, niger, wheatberries, etc..
GrapesSeedless only. For chicks, cutting them in half makes it easier for them to swallow.Great fun—they are the chief cause of many entertaining "chicken keep away" games.
"Leftovers"Only feed your chickens food items that are still considered edible by humans, don't feed anything spoiled, moldy, oily, salty, or unidentifiable..
Lettuce / Kale Any leafy greens, spinach collards, chickweed included.A big treat, depending on how much other greenery they have access to.
(see photo after the chart)
Available at pet supply stores or on the internet,
although shipping is expensive!
A favorite treat, probably the most foolproof
option in the books.
Meat scraps of any kind.Not too fatty.A good source of protein in moderation.
MelonCantaloupe, etc.Both the seeds and the flesh are good chicken treats.
OatmealRaw or cookedCooked is nutritionally better.
Pasta/MacaroniCooked spaghetti, etc.A favorite treat, fun to watch them eat it, but not much nutrition.
PeasPeas and pea tendrils and flowers
(thanks to YayChick for the advice)
Peppers (bell)..
PomegranatesRawSeeds are a big treat.
PopcornPopped, no butter, no salt..
Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes/YamsCooked only—avoid the green parts of peels!Starchy, not much nutrition
Pumpkins/Winter SquashRaw or cookedBoth the seeds and the flesh are nutritious treats.
RiceCooked onlyPilaf mixes are okay too, plain white rice has little nutrition.
ScratchScratch is cracked corn with grains (such as wheat, oats
and rye) mixed in.
Scratch is a treat for cold weather, not a complete feed. Toss it on the ground and let them scratch for it for something to do.
SproutsWheat and oat sprouts are great! Good for greens in mid-winter.
Summer SquashYellow squash and zucchiniYellow squash is not a huge favorite, but okay to feed.
Sunflower SeedsSunflower seeds in the shell are fine to feed, as well as shelled.A good treat, helps hens lay eggs and grow healthy feathers.
TomatoesRaw and cooked..
TurnipsCooked.Not a huge favorite
WatermelonServed cold, it can keep chickens cool and hydrated during hot summers.Seeds and flesh are both okay to feed.
YogurtPlain or flavoredA big favorite and good for their digestive systems. Plain is better.

The most favorite chicken treat of all—mealworms! Note the lightning speed of the chicken lunging for them. By the time my camera was ready to take the next shot, all the worms were gone.

Chicken eating mealworms

Yogurt's a favorite, and it is very good for their intestinal health.

chickens eating yogurt

Here is Rooster-Red and his chickens enjoying their yogurt.

The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

Rooster-Red recommends standing back from your chickens when feeding yogurt, because the stuff flies EVERYwhere!

The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

Here are BYC member Punkin's girls enjoying their first taste of yogurt in June 2008:

The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

This is a mix of good quality birdseed, raw oatmeal, and scratch. I only feed this on cold mornings, and I scatter it sparingly in their run, so they have something to scratch for and occupy their treat-obsessed minds.

The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

Here's a Gold-Laced Wyandotte rooster belonging to BYC member "Addiedunn" leaping up for his favorite treat—a whole peanut:

The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

Introducing odd treats can result in some very quizzical looks...

chicken eating lobster

Here's a bowl of warm oatmeal, girls!

chickens eating oatmeal

Warm oatmeal's even better after a big snowstorm:

The Best Treats for Backyard Chickens

Some leftover steamed rice with veggies:

chickens eating leftover rice and veggies

Don’t feed the following things to your chickens:

(I'm sure people have experienced exceptions to this list, but if we want to raise our birds the best way possible, it's "better safe than sorry".)

ItemHere’s why:
Raw green potato peelsA toxic substance called Solanine.
Anything really saltyCan cause salt poisoning in small bodies such as chickens.
Dried or undercooked BeansRaw, or dry beans, contain a poison called hemagglutinin which is toxic to birds.
Avocado Skin and PitSkin and pit have low levels of toxicity.
Raw eggsYou don’t want to introduce your chickens to the tastiness of eggs which may be waiting to be collected in the nest boxes.
Candy, Chocolate, SugarTheir teeth will rot… no, it’s just bad for their systems, and chocolate can be poisonous to most pets.
A quote from Nifty-Chicken, the Administrator of BYC:"I gave up on my birds knowing what was best for them when I caught them all eating a block of Styrofoam pellets."

Regarding toxicity, the following is copied from a post by DLhunicorn on May 14, 2007, in a thread titled "Potato Peels". (Thank you DLhunicorn for your tremendously helpful and knowledgeable contributions to BYC!)

"Do not count on your chickens "knowing" what is bad for them...also do not count on these "toxic" plants immediately being identifiable by finding a dead bird the next morning...usually it is a slow process damaging organs, inhibiting the ability of your bird to utilize the nutrients in their feed, etc..

Toxic Plants:

* Regarding feeding CAT FOOD to chickens,

The following is from DLHunicorn in response to the listing of cat food in this Treats Chart: (A word to the wise, and thank you, DLHunicorn)

"You all know how I feel on cat food and I have posted the links and reasoning behind my objections several times can potentially be detrimental to your bird's health and even deadly in the right circumstances and for this reason, I feel it should be left off the chart (as when you put it on it is as if you are condoning its use) I will repost here one of the sources for my objection:

..."While it is nutritionally essential, methionine excesses are far more toxic to poultry than similar excesses of tryptophan, lysine, and threonine (National Research Council, 1994). Force-feeding methionine to excess can result in death to chicks (National Research Council, 1994). A dosage of 2 g per mature cat per day (20 to 30 g/kg dry diet) for 20 days induces anorexia, ataxia, cyanosis, methemoglobinemia, and Heinz body formation resulting in hemolytic anemia (Maede, 1985). ..."

You can read and discuss more chicken treats here:

Feeding & Watering Your Flock Forum Section
Topic/Question of the week—Feeding table scraps to your flock
Topic of the Week - Feeding Treats