We all love spoiling our pets - and our backyard chickens are no different. But too many treats can make them fat, reduce egg laying performance and lead to other health problems. So how many treats are too many?
This is one question I get asked all the time by readers. Other chicken experts offer recommendations that range from "chickens should only eat layer feed and never be given any treats" to "give them anything you would eat yourself". I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum! Do I sometimes feed our chickens leftover fast food, baked goods or white pasta, sure I do. Do I do it regularly? No I don't.
Chickens on farms have been eating garden and kitchen scraps for generations (except in the UK where it's illegal to feed them anything that has passed through the kitchen). But it stands to reason that the healthier your family eats, the healthier your chickens will be if they're sharing your diet.
As a family, we eat lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains and seafood. So the leftovers our chickens get are generally healthy. I also share weeds from the yard (when the chickens can't free range) and herbs and plants from the garden with our flock.
I try to give our chickens treats every day, especially if they can't get out to free range for a bit in the afternoon. (On free range days, they're pretty much on their own because I figure they can find their own bugs, worms, seeds and the like) But on a normal day, I give them a bit of this, some of that. Whatever we have leftover from dinner the night before, anything that needs to be trimmed back in the garden, sunflower seeds, warm oatmeal, etc.
But how much is TOO much? Well, here's a simple formula:
A chicken eats about 1/2 cup of feed a day. Treats should be no more than 10% of their diet. Half a cup is 8 Tablespoons, so 10% of that would be 8/10 of a Tablespoon. So, roughly figure on under a Tablespoon of treats per chicken per day.
Daily Feed Ration = 1/2 Cup (8 Tablespoons)
Daily Treat Ration = 10% = 8/10 of a Tablespoon per Hen
Note: "Green" treats (including grass, weeds and herbs) are not included in the formula since they are allowed in pretty much unlimited amounts - being what a chicken would naturally eat in a free range situation.
So limit treats to the healthy variety (heavy on the veggies, light on the cookies!), limit the daily amount, and go right on "spoiling" your flock! After all, they spoil us with delicious fresh eggs daily!
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