Oats are an excellent source of vitamins, protein and antioxidants - and chickens love them. Raw oats can help treat pasty butt in baby chicks and warm oatmeal is a nutritious warming treat for your flock in the winter. Adding a bit of cinnamon and cayenne pepper is also beneficial to your flock, especially in the winter.
Oats are Great Source of Vitamins and Nutrients
Oatmeal contains essential B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and choline, plus calcium (which is so important especially to laying hens), copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Oats are Beneficial for Baby Chicks
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers Bulletin, baby chicks feed a ration of oats will be healthier than chicks that aren't offered oats. Ground raw oats can also help clear up a case of pasty butt in baby chicks, a potentially life-threatening condition often brought on by stress or chilling.
Oats are Beneficial to Laying Hens
Raw or cooked, whole or rolled, oats are one of my flock's favorite treats. I add raw rolled oats to my girls' daily feed (I call it their Breakfast of Champion Layers). In addition to providing them a bit of added calcium to help make nice strong eggshells, oats have also been shown to reduce death rates in flocks, improving their general health. Interestingly, adding a 3% ration of oat hulls to chickens' diets can reduce pecking and aggression which often will lead to cannibalism in flocks - and oats are proven to make chickens more resistant to heat stress and exhaustion.
Benefits of Cinnamon and Cayenne Pepper
Two of my favorite things to add to my chickens' oatmeal are ground cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Cinnamon aids in respiratory health and keeps mucus membranes in tiptop shape. Since chickens are so susceptible to respiratory issues and infections, adding a bit of cinnamon is extremely beneficial to them.
Cayenne pepper flakes act as a stimulant, improving digestive and circulatory system health. Good circulation is important in the cold weather to prevent frostbite. The cayenne aids by increasing blood flow to the chickens' extremities, i.e., the comb and wattles (and feet and legs to some extent) which can reduce the risk of frostbite. Chickens aren't bothered by the "hot" in the cayenne, likely because they lack the large number of taste buds that humans have.
Making Oatmeal for Chickens
One of the ways I like to serve oats in the winter is in the form of oatmeal. I don't actually cook the oats, I just heat up water in the teakettle on the stove while I'm bundling up and getting my snow boots on, then pour the warm water over a casserole dish or pie plate of oats. I use enough water to moisten them, but not so that they're terribly watery. By the time I get to the coop, the oatmeal has cooled sufficiently to serve.
I use Quaker Old-Fashioned rolled oats, but you can also feed your chickens whole oats like these sold by Scratch & Peck Feeds. I don't really measure anything out, I just plan on enough oatmeal so each hen gets maybe a Tablespoon or two. So, not a lot. Just enough to warm them up a bit.
Fun Add-Ins for the Oatmeal
Plain oats are fine, but it's also fun to mix in some add-ins.
Seeds and Nuts
Peanuts (or other types of unsalted nuts such as walnuts, etc.)
So the next chilly morning, why not make a batch of oatmeal for your girls? And then when you're done with your morning chores, make some for your family too. After all, oatmeal is so good for us humans too! You might want to skip the meal worms in the 'people' version though.