Myth busting: Chicken Superfoods
Superfoods aren't just for people. A quick tour of chicken blogs reveals a range of chicken "superfoods" too. Everything from pumpkin seeds killing worms, to molasses for "flushing out toxins" can be recommended.
But are chicken superfoods real? Do they work? And are they worth the time and money?
Here is a summary of our findings on 8 of the most common "chicken superfood" claims.
Do pumpkin seeds deworm chickens?
There are some studies that show pumpkin seeds to kill worms. But there are some problems: these aren't necessarily chicken-specific worms; most of the studies use a pumpkin seed extract, which is different from a pumpkin seed; and most of the studies are done in a petrie dish, which is totally different to a chicken's gut!
The few studies that tested actual pumpkin seeds, or pumpkin seed meal, in actual animals, seemed to suggest that while pumpkin seed may have a preventative effect and reduce worm loads, it does not work as a proper chicken dewormer.
Pumpkin seeds are a great chicken treat and may help prevent worms, but a proper dewormer is needed to treat worms in chickens. We recommend deworming chooks twice a year.
Is Apple Cider Vinegar really a cure-all?
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is said to kill worms and parasites, as well as curing all sorts of chicken diseases. Some websites even say that ACV oozes out of a chicken's skin to kill mites.
Some claims about ACV are obviously bogus - for example chickens can't sweat, so there is no chance ACV will ooze out of the skin.
But still more of the proclaimed benefits of ACV are actually true. While ACV won't cure chicken diseases, it does seem to stop them spreading. Adding ACV to your flock's water can prevent the spread of a range of illnesses, including E. coli, salmonella and coccidiosis.
ACV also seems to have a positive effect on chicken digestive function.
For the price, ACV is one of the most effective chicken supplements that you can buy. It might not do everything, but there is enough evidence to suggest that using ACV with your flock is likely to improve their health.
Does molasses flush out toxins from chickens?
Molasses is often recommended for chickens because of its nutrient content. It is also recommended as a natural laxative for chickens, to "flush out toxins".
These claims are absolutely true. Molasses does contain high levels of some essential nutrients.
And molasses also has a laxative effect on chickens: They will drink more water if fed molasses, and have loose droppings.
As for "flushing out toxins", the body already does this through natural processes.
There are better nutrient supplements for chickens available, without the laxative effect. Wet, dirty coops are a key cause of diseases and parasites within the flock. And they are not something you want to clean up regularly, either!
Plus, the laxative effect of molasses is unlikely to have any benefit unless your chickens have actually eaten something toxic. And even then, you would probably be better off seeing a vet than trying to flush out the toxin with molasses.
Is homemade chicken feed better?
Many blogs claim that homemade chicken feed is better for your chickens' health, as well as cheaper. But in reality, making your own chicken feed can be downright dangerous for your chickens' health.
Chickens need optimum nutrition for health and productivity. That is why commercial chicken feed is so carefully balanced.
Unless your homemade chicken feed is carefully balanced for optimum nutrition, and introduced carefully, it is more likely to decrease egg production and lead to deficiency than anything else.
Don't trust the homemade chicken feed recipes you find online either - they are never written by poultry nutrition experts and some have been linked to chicken illness and death!
Homemade chicken feed can be downright dangerous for chickens.
Can you feed chickens egg shells for calcium?
Egg shells are often recommended for chickens as a source of calcium. And it's true, egg shells are rich in calcium.
However, just egg shells will not provide enough calcium for a laying hen. Not only is some calcium lost in the process of digesting the egg shell, but chickens also need larger particle calcium such as that found in shell grit.
Chickens must be provided with a proper shell grit. Feed your chooks egg shells if you like, but only as an addition to shell grit.
Egg shells should always come from your own flock, as they can carry disease. They should be crushed and fed in a separate dish to other foods or supplements.
Does cracked corn warm chickens up?
There are lots of claims about cracked corn. Some sources recommend it as an essential part of a chicken's diet. Other sources say it warms chickens up, so should be fed in winter but is dangerous in summer. What is the truth?
To start with, cracked corn absolutely is not a balanced diet for chickens. It is fine as a treat, in small amounts, but should never be used as the only food.
With regard to body temperature, some studies do suggest that cracked corn can increase metabolic heat when it is in large pieces. But there is nothing to suggest this is detrimental to chickens, even in summer.
Cracked corn is fine as a treat, but not as the main part of a chickens diet. Any affect on chicken body temperature is the same as with any whole grain, and not something to worry about.
Are insects the best chicken treat?
Insects are a natural part of a chickens diet and a healthy treat. But insects can also carry parasites and diseases, some of which can be transmitted to chickens. So are they worth the risk?
Commercially raised insects like Dried Mealworms and Dried Black Soldier Fly Larvae are disease- and parasite-free. They are safe for your chickens and contain all of the nutritional benefits of insects, including essential amino acids.
When it comes to live insects, things are a little more complicated. Slugs, snails and earthworms are particularly likely to carry parasites and diseases. But is it worth denying your flock the benefits of free-ranging? We don't think so!
Insects are a healthy treat for chickens, and chooks love them! If you are worried about disease, feed your chickens dried insects.
Does chicken scratch improve digestion?
Chicken scratch grain is an oft-recommended feed for chickens. As well as looking appealing, it is said to improve chicken digestion.
While chicken scratch grain absolutely is not a healthy feed for chickens, it is a healthy treat when fed in small amounts. And studies do suggest that feeding your chickens small amounts of whole grains each day will improve digestive function over time.
Scratch grain should never be used as the sole feed for chickens. But as a treat, it is healthy. And the regular feeding of small amounts of whole grains, like those found in scratch mix, does seem to improve chicken digestive function.
A note on responsible chicken keeping
While some superfoods do seem to do what is claimed, a home remedy is never a replacement for proper medical treatment and the best possible diet for chickens is a complete layer pellet or mash.
While giving your chickens treats and "superfoods" with additional benefits is great, never underestimate the importance of a good vet and a good diet in keeping your chickens healthy, happy and productive!
Happy Chicken Keeping
Rachael at Dine a Chook