Can your chicken eat watermelon?
Who doesn’t like to give our dogs, cats, ferrets…treats? If you’ve never had poultry, you probably never asked what goodies would be healthy for them. Watermelons are nutritious and full of water, vitamins, minerals, AND chickens love them!
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Most of us like giving our pets treats! We shouldn’t regularly. However, chickens like goodies too! Had you ever thought about using a watermelon as enrichment for your chickens? Well, you can!
What types of foods are safe to give our chickens?
Veterinarians recommend a commercially prepared feed. Poultry requires over 38 dietary nutrients daily. These nutrients must be in specific ratios to be balanced (Klasing, 2015; Gwaltney-Brant, 2013). Commercial diets are 100% formulated to provide your chickens with all the nutrition they need (Clauer, 2016).
We all enjoy things we DON’T need. We all know that feed can be the costliest part of having an animal, and chickens are no exception. But it is still critical that they get the right balance of nutrients.
Your chicken’s breed and “purpose” matter
Also, suppose your chickens are eggs-layers, or you are raising them for meat, or are simply companions to keep you company. In all cases, their breed will guide what their nutritional needs are.
Where can I get proper nutrition advice and information?
For more information on full nutrition and feed, recommendations check with your state agricultural extensions or state agricultural schools for more details. For example, https://extension.psu.edu/management-requirements-for-laying-flocks has useful information.
Additional valuable information on the nutritional requirements of poultry is found here: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/poultry/nutrition-and-management-poultry/nutritional-requirements-of-poultry?query=Poultry%20nutrition.
But really, you want to know is what treats are safe for your chicken, right?
A chicken’s well-balanced diet may include pellets, green pick, household scraps (with caution), and grains in small volumes, such as wheat, cracked corn, or oats. Yes, you can feed table scraps but always with a word of caution (see below) (Klasing, 2015).
Watermelon, a definite yes!
To my knowledge, no scientific studies exist saying it is ok for chickens to eat watermelon. Over time, people have continued to feed it and all its parts, including the flesh, rinds, seeds, you name it. Watermelon provides a lot of water but being high in sugar and low in protein should only be fed as a treat.
All in all, watermelon has a fair amount of nutrients. Mostly, it is made up of water, about 92%. But it also contains some antioxidants and Vitamins such as C and A. So, providing them now and again on hot days can help with hydration (Szalay, 2017).
Watermelon can help with hydration.
One blog, the Happy Chicken Coop, suggests freezing watermelon pieces and then putting them in the water bowls to thaw during the hot summer days. A nice refreshing treat and quenches the thirst, keeping them cool (Coop, 2020). https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/9-healthy-treats-your-chickens-will-love/
Is it safe to feed watermelon to your chicks?
NOPE! It is not recommended to feed watermelons to chicks.
Chicks’ crop, defined below, isn’t fully developed, so things like seeds and rinds should be avoided. Easy to digest flesh in moderation may be ok, really should be avoided until they reach adulthood. Once fully grown, most birds’ digestive tracts have evolved to eat and digest seeds, even fruit rinds, unlike humans.
What is the crop?
The crop is a large expansion of the esophagus (or the main tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). It sits just before it enters the chest cavity and stores food before digestion. It allows eating at only specific times per day, allowing the gut to have ongoing all day digestion, keeping them feeling full (Poultry Hub’s Digestive System, 2020).
For more information on the digestive tract of poultry, feel free to visit http://www.poultryhub.org/physiology/body-systems/digestive-system/.
Other safe foods to feed my chickens
Besides their ration, you can feed your chickens things like dark greens. They help with calcium and phosphorus balance but minimize their consumption. Kale, Collards, and mustards are safe, while spinach, bok choy, and chard, for example, should be avoided (Fudge, 2020).
What else do I need to know when feeding my chicken?
In animals like chickens, they get their energy primarily from carbs and fats. They are omnivores. They can eat a vast array of foods and proteins. They can digest a variety of textures and enjoy many flavors.
What if I feed the wrong foods to my chicken? The dangers of fatty liver!
Chickens are omnivores. Like people, they can handle and digest protein-rich foods such as meat and protein. But when fed a commercially balanced diet, you don’t want to overdo the fats and proteins. Everything in moderation, a good mantra for us all!
Experts recommend feeding a well-balanced, ideally commercially prepared ration. Those provided only treats/table scraps are at risk for developing something called fatty liver.
Fatty liver is can be fatal! So, make sure your birds get exercise with time outside and a properly balanced diet. If the diet is balanced, then a watermelon treat now and again will be tasty and provide significant enrichment (Sato ; Wakenell, 2020).
What CAN’T or SHOULDN’T I give my chickens to eat?
Giving treats to our chickens is almost as rewarding to them as it is to us! Who doesn’t love calling out the word treat or corn or insert favorite treat name here and seeing their chickens come running? However, too much of even something that is “healthy” can be dangerous. Watermelon is a fruit and contains sugar. Poultry shouldn’t have excess sugar, so it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence. But it isn’t toxic, and they LOVE it.
Chickens do not need a lot of fat in their diet. They can get sick with too much fat or sugar and not enough protein and fiber. So, table scraps can be fed but only in moderation. To some table, scraps suggest poor-quality, or what we want to discard as inedible simply. However, what we give our chickens still needs to be something you would even eat.
Several foods, regardless of the quality, should be avoided. Some foods can increase the risk of disease, while others can be toxic.
Avoid the following foods (Pitesky, 2016; Cawthray, 2013; Steele, 2020; Biggs, 2020).
- Avacado (This is because parts are toxic and it is a high fatty food (Gwaltney-Brant, 2013)
- Raw beans
- Eggplant (and other foods in the nightshade family)
- Green tomatoes
- ALL alcohol and tobacco are toxic!!!
- Yes, chickens can eat various proteins. However, they aren’t designed to digest the sugars in dairy products and get diarrhea if eating dairy, so avoid dairy.
- No onions or garlic
- Nothing with chemicals of any kind, including pesticides or herbicides
For additional reading on some dos and don’ts to feeding your chickens see https://www.fresheggsdaily.blog/2013/02/toxic-treats-what-not-to-feed-your.html?m=1
Always remember that anything can be toxic.
Eating an excess of any substance can be toxic to any species, even if safe in small quantities. We all need water and salt. However, both can kill you in excess, and without them, life cannot function normally. Poultry can be sensitive to salt, so watch that you aren’t adding salty proteins like fish meal to pre-made rations/ pellets or giving high salty treats. Watch that they don’t have access to rock salt or salt blocks provided for cows or horses (Porter, 2019).
Some things go without saying, but we’ll mention them just in case:
NEVER FEED ROTTEN FOOD!!!
Remember to always wash all parts of the melon (including the rind) well before giving it to your chickens while ensuring that it is still fresh! Washing the fruit well goes without saying, yet it happens all too often. Rotten food usually means mold, and mold produces toxins that can be toxic to mammals and birds alike. If you wouldn’t eat it, then your chicken shouldn’t either.
What can we give again?
We all know that chicken feed is $$, but a fully balanced diet is still critical to their health. Nevertheless, we all love to spoil the ones we love, right? Some scraps to our chicken friends like strawberries or celery can be given now and again. I’ve seen so many different things fed, such as mealworms, corn, greens, and more.
Remember that treats in any diet for various species, including chickens, should be limited to no more than 10% of their diet (Biggs, 2020). This ensures they are eating a balanced diet and minimizes the risks of diseases such as obesity or fatty liver.
Who doesn’t like a treat? My personal favorite, peanut butter M*Ms, is toxic to a chicken, but watermelon provides a nice, occasional, tasty treat. To many, it is their “chocolate,”; their to-die-for treat!
So, showing our affection, giving our chickens enrichment, giving them a treat, is enjoyable and fun. One of their favorites, watermelon, is safe, healthy, and they love it! Give your chicken friend a piece today, and I bet they will want more!