When it comes to their dietary habits, chickens often surprise their owners. Most people with little experience raising chickens assume they only eat grains, bugs, or both. More often than not, chickens will do best on as wild a diet as possible.
This gives them the chance to eat bugs, to find stones that will work well with their special gut type, and to enjoy the feeling of foraging freely. Those who raise chickens for the eggs will want the most nutritious eggs possible, and letting your chickens roam free is a good way to get that.
Naturally, it stands to reason that supplementing your chicken’s diet with other nutritious items is a good idea, especially during the colder months when free-range food is harder to come by. This leads to a lot of chicken owners to wonder what their chickens can and cannot eat.
This also leads folks to ask some very specific questions about whether or not chickens can eat specific foods. Often times, the things we consider feeding to our chickens are what we happen to have on hand. Over the next few posts, I’ll try to answer some of these questions as fully as possible.
Can Chickens Eat Cherries?
Most people don’t think of chickens as fruit eaters. Many assume that, as with cats and dogs, anything sugary is a no-no. But as stated, they will eat just about anything, and they can actually handle cherries quite well.
Cherries are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is just as good for chickens as it is for us. The average serving of cherries (for humans) is about one cup, and we’ll measure for that amount just for the sake of continuity.
One cup of cherries with the pits in has no cholesterol, no fat, and no sodium. It contains about 1.5 grams of protein, 22 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of fiber. They are also an excellent source of phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are known for appearing primarily in fresh plant-based foods. They are not necessary nutrients, but they are known for being good for helping to prevent disease. We do not know that they have this same disease prevention effect on chickens, but it’s a fair guess that they do.
It might also help to keep in mind that the eating habits and the dietary needs of chickens and roosters are more or less identical, as far as the best current science reckons.
If you want more nutrient-dense eggs from your chickens, then you want to provide them with a high protein and high variety diet. If you’re a big egg-eater, then it might also help to remember that the more nutrient-dense your chicken’s food is, the more nutritious and satisfying your eggs will be.
More on Chickens and Cherries
Just to be clear, I want to let you know early on that chickens can eat cherries safely, and they will love them once they get used to them. That being said, let’s dive into the nuances.
Chickens Love to Forage
Cherries are one of the most flavorful things you can give chickens, even compared to other fruits that your feathered friends might usually get. As mentioned above, chickens get the most pleasure and exercise out of their dietary activities if they are allowed to forage for their food.
If you have a cherry tree in your yard, then you are probably already feeding them cherries on a regular basis. You will find that chickens enjoy cherries most after they have fallen from the branch to the ground.
Even if you have a simple lawn, you have probably noticed that small birds will forage in the grass in the cold and dry parts of the late and early winter. That’s very similar to the foraging behavior that comes so naturally to chickens. They also benefit from a good mix of healthy soil, sand, and pebbles in their diet.
So if you want your chickens to be happy, let them forage. Fruit trees are one of the best assets you can have on hand for their mental and physical health. If you have a cherry tree, so much the better since cherries are small and, therefore, much easier for chickens to eat.
If you don’t have a cherry tree, then tossing handfuls of cherries into the yard for the chickens to root around for might be the best. However, if you do give them cherries from your kitchen, it is very important to make sure that the cherries have not been mixed with other things like dessert toppings.
The cherries you give them should be well washed to remove pesticides, and they should be free of any preservatives that will come with any processed food made with cherries as an ingredient.
The preservatives, pesticides, and flavor additives in many of the foods we eat are unhealthy for us. Because we are much larger with more complex defense mechanisms, we grow ill slowly over many years from eating these things. Your chickens do not have the same gut-health buffer zone and can develop serious illnesses from eating these things much more rapidly.
For best results, let your chickens eat cherries that fall from a local tree naturally. Do not feed them cherries that are not sold pure and whole as cherries alone. Wash any cherries you feed them thoroughly, as you should and would do for any product that you eat yourself or feed to your family.
Keep in mind that you’re not just looking out for your chickens, but you are also helping them to produce the most delicious and nutrient-dense eggs possible. At the end of the day, the healthier your chickens’ diet, the healthier yours can be as well.
More About Cherries and Chickens
In addition to your concerns about your chickens’ ability to get their full enjoyment out of their foraging behavior, you will also be interested in considering the many different types of cherries you may give them. According to Homestratisphere.com, there are no less than 28 different species of cherry, and possibly more.
To make things even more interesting, all chickens have different personalities. Even two chickens of the same breed and family are all but certain to have different attitudes, likes, and dislikes. With all that variation to play around with, you are almost certain to be able to find a cherry type that your chickens prefer.
However, if your chickens dislike cherries at first, don’t lose heart. They may like another kind better, or they may even like the same species of cherry grown in a different way in a different part of the world. While it is unlikely that your chickens will dislike any type of cherry, they are likely to prefer one type more than any others- that is, if they don’t love them all equally.
Think in Terms of Flavor-Strength
If you do have trouble matching a cherry with a chicken and you want to keep trying other kinds, we have one tip that is likely to help more than any other. It is to consider the strength of the flavor of the cherries you try. Some cherries are richer than others. Some are sweeter than others.
More than any other factor, it is most likely to be the strength of the flavor, the tartness, the richness, and the sweetness that is most likely to drive your chickens one way or another. For the sake of convenience, you can simply think in terms of how strong or pronounced the flavor is. If you have the time and energy, begin with cherries on either end of the flavor-strength spectrum.
If your birds dislike the first one you try, then you can begin giving them cherries flavored more toward the other end of the flavor-strength spectrum.
However, the chances are good that none of these minor concerns will ever come up. The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that they will love any cherries you give them.
Cherries are made up of about 82% water. That means it’s going to be pretty difficult to give them too much. What’s more, the animals are likely to simply stop eating them if they have had enough. So what you’re more likely to be worrying about- rather than feeding them too much- is wasting cherries should they opt not to eat them all.
Of course, even if the chickens don’t eat everything they are given, you can count on the leftovers to enrich the soil they are left on. Alternatively, you can compost any remaining cherries that may be leftover when the chickens have had their fill.
Remember, chickens need a variety of foods to be healthy and to produce healthy eggs. They have even been known to eat small rodents if nothing else is available. They will certainly eat bugs, crickets, and grasshoppers, especially. You could judge the quality of the diet they are getting by the darkness and richness of the yolks in the eggs they produce.
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