Chicken Treats: A Nutritional Overview
Every chicken keeper knows the value of treats! Keepers can use them to bond with chickens or to train them to come back to the coop, especially in the evening when the risk of predators is higher.
There are many types of treats, ranging from kitchen scraps like fruit or popcorn to items like meal worms and seeds. These snacks vary in nutritional value and, and just like for us, too many treats can upset the digestive system. Chickens eat to their energy requirement, so if they fill up on treats, they may refuse their nutritious feed.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing and feeding your chickens treats:
1) Treats like meal worms are an excellent source of protein. However, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. A chicken’s intestinal tract can only absorb so much protein, and if they ingest too much it can cause diarrhea. The lower intestine can also be harmed by certain populations of bacteria that break down protein. Too much protein can also put stress on the chicken’s kidneys and can be harmful to the environment.
2) Meal worms can also be an excellent source of fat. Too much fat can cause diarrhea and prevent other essential nutrients from being absorbed.
3) Sugary treats from the kitchen, like fruit, are a great way to compost. Hens really enjoy these types of treats even though they don’t really taste the sweet flavor. Sugar is a great source of energy to help chickens grow and makes eggs. However, just like with any other treat, moderation is key. Hens turn excess sugar into body fat, and too much body fat on a laying hen can cause her to stop laying eggs and put extra stress on her leg joints.
4) Grass clippings and other vegetation make better nesting material than treats or food. Unlike cows, chickens don’t have the ability to turn grass into energy. Sometimes the undigestible fibers in grass and leaves can cause pasty butt and prevent nutrient absorption.
Just like for humans and other animals, balance is key when considering chickens' treats. We recommend that treats make up no more than 10% of the feed your chickens eat.