Everyone enjoys spoiling their pets. We get a kick out of seeing our pet chickens run to greet us at the mere sight of the treat container or the sound of the back door opening, but the wrong type of treats and treats in excess can be harmful to a chicken’s health, stunt its growth, shorten its lifespan and interfere with production in a laying hen. So, what can they eat, what they not eat and how much is too much? Let’s find out!A good rule of thumb is: if you shouldn’t eat it, your pet chickens shouldn’t either (mealworms, insects and dirt notwithstanding). Common sense should be the guide in treat selection. The types of foods we require to maximize our own health are the foods we should consider when spoiling our chickens: high protein, whole grains, low salt, low sugar, fruits and vegetables. Dairy products are an exception to this general rule because birds are not equipped with the enzymes necessary to properly digest milk sugars. Think about it: mother birds do not nurse their young- chickens do not naturally drink milk. Some yogurt on occasion is fine and does contain beneficial cultures, but too much can cause digestive upset and diarrhea. A better choice would be to add probiotics specially formulated for chickens to their diet.
What’s the problem with too many treats?
When chickens eat treats, they’re not eating feed, which is their primary source of nutrition. The ingredients in commercially prepared feed are carefully calculated by poultry nutritionists to ensure that a chicken’s daily vitamin, mineral and protein requirements are met. Supplemental foods (treats/snacks) replace a portion of those essential dietary elements to some degree. Excessive treats, even healthy ones, can cause any of the following: obesity, reduced egg production, malformed eggs, habitual laying of multiple-yolked eggs, potentially resulting in vent prolapse, protein deficiencies, feather-picking, fatty liver syndrome, increased risk of heat stroke and heart problems.
Treats/scraps/snacks should not be fed to chickens daily due to the obesity-related health concerns which have reached epidemic proportions in backyard chickens.
5 Healthy Treats for Chickens
1. Scrambled Eggs– it may seem ironic to feed chickens eggs, but eggs are an outstanding source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin E and beta carotene. (2) During a molt, eggs are one of the best sources of protein to feed a chicken. Feather production and egg production are very protein-intensive processes and scrambled eggs as an occasional treat can help provide a little extra protein necessary for these nutritionally demanding processes. Chickens will not develop a raw, egg-eating habit as a result of eating cooked eggs.
2. Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, minerals including copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus, dietary fiber and protein in the seeds. Pumpkin seeds contain 30 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds. (1) When in season, I make my flock Peeps’ Pumpkin Pie,” for a nutritious snack. Unsupported claims propose feeding pumpkin seeds to chickens as a ‘natural dewormer,” however, there is no scientific evidence anywhere to suggest that pumpkin seeds are capable of deworming or reducing worm loads in chickens. As such, I do not rely on pumpkin seeds as a preventative measure or as a treatment option in my flock. I give my chickens pumpkins and pumpkin seeds simply because they’re nutritious and they enjoy them- that’s reason enough for me. When my chickens have a worm overload, I treat them with one of the proven, effective de-worming treatments described here.
3. Mealworms are a good source of protein, reportedly containing 49% to 51%. They can be purchased live or dried and can also be farmed very easily at home. During a molt, mealworms are a particularly smart snack choice as re-growing feathers is a very protein-intensive activity.
4. Flock Block Substitute– Flock Block is a commercially available treat for chickens that is intended to entertain them and fulfill their natural pecking instincts.They can be purchased at feed stores for approximately $13. I have only purchased the product once or twice, but have always thought there had to be a more nutritious and economical option. I made my own treat block recently and am much happier knowing that my homemade Flock Block Substitute is a healthy, fresh, nutritious treat for my flock.
5. Chickens’ Soup– In the cold winter months, I occasionally feed my chickens a high-protein, vegetable packed soup as a mid morning or afternoon treat. It’s a breeze to throw together from leftovers and is a good excuse to clean out the refrigerator and freezer.
MYTHS and FACTS about CHICKEN TREATS
MYTH: Chickens should not eat avocados.
FACT: Chickens can eat the flesh of avocado in moderation. However, avocado pits and skin contain persin, which can be toxic in significant quantities. Don’t worry about sharing your turkey and avocado sandwich or guac dip with your feathered friends.
MYTH: Chickens should not eat raw potatoes or potato skins.
FACT: Chickens should not eat GREEN potato skins. The green color indicates the presence of solanine, a toxin that affects the nervous system when consumed in large quantities. However, the average, healthy human would have to eat 4.5 pounds at one sitting to experience any neurological effects. Similarly, a chicken would need to consume large quantities of green potato skins to experience any effects. The leaves and stems of the potato plant levels of solanine that could be toxic to chickens in large amounts.
MYTH: Chickens should never eat onions.
FACT: Chickens can eat onions, chives and garlic in small quantities, occasionally. Significant quantities of onion and garlic can be harmful to chickens, causing hemolytic anemia, aka: Heinz anemia. “The alkaloid N-propyl disulphide is present in cultivated and wild onions, chives and garlic, and affects the enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in red blood cells,” which can cause Heinz anemia. “Allicin, which gives garlic its odor, is also a strong oxidant. In rare cases, this chemical can be dangerous and can cause Heinz body hemolytic anemia, as well.” Again, if you wouldn’t eat a side dish of raw onions, chives or garlic, don’t feed them to your chickens.
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