If you’re reading this, chances are you have chickens that you consider pets and it’s no secret that we all enjoy spoiling our pets. We get a kick out of seeing them run to greet us at the mere sight of the treat container or the sound of the back door opening. It makes us feel good to see them happy and we are entertained by their antics when they compete for the coveted goodies. But the wrong type of treats and treats in excess can be harmful to their health, stunt growth, shorten their lifespan and interfere with production in egg-layers. So, what can they eat, what shouldn’t they eat and how much is too much?
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. Love your chickens, but not to death. Milk 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. Some yogurt on occasion is fine and does contain beneficial cultures, but too much can cause digestive upset and diarrhea.
Every new chicken-keeper wants to know how soon fluffy babies can eat treats. The answer is: any time BUT, if they are fed anything besides starter feed, they will need grit (tiny bits of sand/dirt) to aid in digestion. Starter feed is digested by saliva but other foods require grit for grinding in the gizzard (they’re a little short on teeth).
Given their tiny size and amount of food intake, a very small amount of treats can interfere with a chick’s nutritional balance, even if they're healthy choices. A chick’s growth, development and ability to defend against illness can be negatively affected by too many
treats. I am pretty conservative with baby chicks and snacks. It is fun to spoil baby chicks, but I feel that the potential harm outweighs any feel-good benefit. While not a treat, it bears mentioning that oyster shell should never be given to chicks or non-laying chickens as it can interfere with bone development and cause organ damage.
What’s the problem with excess treats?
When chickens eat treats, they’re not eating feed, which is their primary source of nutrition even for free-range birds. Commercially prepared feed is very carefully and scientifically prepared 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, vent prolapse, a protein deficiency, feather-picking, fatty liver syndrome, increased risk of heat stroke and heart problems.
HEALTHY TREATS for CHICKENS
Proteins: beef, chicken, (I know, it seems wrong), eggs, (cooked only so as not to encourage egg-eating) fish, insects (crickets are
delicious!) pork, worms (earthworms, mealworms), sunflower seeds
Fruits: apples, peeled bananas, berries, coconut flesh, grapes, melon, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries, raisins
Vegetables: asparagus, beans (fully cooked if previously dried), beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn,
cucumbers, eggplant, greens, (kale, spinach, mustard) peas, peppers, pumpkin, squash
Whole Grains: bread, cereal, pasta, oatmeal (cooked or not)
tomatoes (can cause gastric upset in quantity)
potatoes (not green)
rice (a neutral treat)
yogurt (probiotics are a better choice)
About Scratch. Scratch is affectionately referred to as ‘chicken crack’ for a reason; chickens love it, can’t get enough of it and it’s not the best choice for them. Scratch typically consists of cracked corn and a mixture of grains, which tends to lack an appreciable amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Scratch should be thought of as chicken candy and only given in small amounts occasionally. *Scratch should not be mixed into the flock’s feed.*
uncooked, dried beans (contain phytohaemagglutinin, which is\e highly toxic to humans and animals)
MYTHS and FACTS about CHICKEN TREATS
: 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.
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 DO contain high levels of solanine and are toxic to chickens. The take-home message? If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your chickens.
MYTH: Chickens should never eat onions.
FACT: Chickens can eat onions, chives and garlic in small quantities, occasionally. Sufficient 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. You wouldn't eat a bowl of raw onions, chives or garlic, so don't feed them to your chickens as a side dish.
(salty foods are okay in moderation, occasionally as long as there is plenty of fresh water available, but never salt alone)
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