All chicken keepers know how much their birds love receiving tasty morsels and delicious treats, but responsible chicken keepers also know that while chickens are unfussy eaters, there are still some foods that are dangerous for them and that are best avoided.
So what about cranberries? Are they safe for chickens or do they come under the category of foods that chickens can’t eat? And how should you feed them to your birds? In this post, we have all the answers you need as we discuss the question, can chickens eat cranberries?
Can Chickens Eat Cranberries? The short answer
Before we get into the details of chickens eating cranberries, let’s make things simple and give a short answer to the question.
Can chickens eat cranberries? Yes, they certainly can – and most chickens seem to love them.
What’s more, cranberries are considered a “superfood” for humans and chickens alike, and as such, they are packed full of beneficial nutrients and goodness that will help keep your chickens healthy, happy and productive.
So if you have some leftover cranberries and are wondering what to do with them, hand them over to your chickens – because they’re sure to appreciate them.
What are cranberries?
So now let’s delve into the question in a bit more dept – and to start, let’s think about what cranberries are.
In North America, cranberries are the name we give to the fruit of the Vaccinium macrocarpon plant that grows in boggy areas in the north of the continent (as well as in parts of Chile).
The fruit is a berry that’s most famously made into the traditional sauce that accompanies the Thanksgiving turkey, but the fruit can also be eaten raw or dried, or it can be made into juice.
Raw cranberries are naturally hard and sour, so a large proportion of the annual harvest is made into juice – which includes adding a large amount of sugar to improve the taste. Sugar and preservatives are also often added to cranberries when they are dried.
This means that consuming them as juice or as dried fruits can have some negative health implications – but on the whole, as we’ve already mentioned, cranberries are considered a superfood, so let’s look at why that is now.
Are cranberries good for chickens?
Cranberries are counted among the healthiest fruits to eat – for both humans and chickens – due to their nutritional value along with their other health-bringing qualities.
Fresh fruits are made up of 87% water, and a further 12% consists of carbohydrates – while their protein and fat content is practically zero. They also provide some dietary fiber.
As raw fruit, they contain a high amount of vitamin C – although this is lost in the drying process – and they also provide high amounts of the important mineral manganese as well as some calcium and potassium.
However, what truly marks cranberries out as a superfruit is all the valuable antioxidants they contain.
For example, they are known to contain quercetin, myricetin, peonidin, ursolic acid and A-type proanthocyanidins, and they also contain the highest amount of phenols of any fruit.
Cranberries are a source of anthocyanins, which may play a role in preventing cancer, inflammation, liver disease and high blood pressure while improving eyesight and cardiovascular health.
Some research has also shown that they may help alleviate urinary tract infections (in humans), and they may also be able to improve gut bacteria.
So in short, whether you’re a human or a chicken, eating cranberries will bring you a whole range of potential health benefits!
Is there anything to watch out for?
So we’ve established that cranberries are an amazing superfood, but is there anything you need to watch out for when feeding them to your birds?
The main thing to be aware of is that when they are dried, sugar and preservatives may be added to cranberries to make them more palatable.
However, giving chickens food that’s high in sugar is not a good idea, so you should check the packaging to see how they’ve been prepared before handing them over to your flock.
If possible, try to buy cranberries with no added sugar or preservatives – or if you can only find cranberries with sugar and preservatives, don’t give your chickens too many or they may start to develop certain related health issues.
However, the best thing to do is to grow your own cranberries.
That way, you will know exactly what has gone into them – and you can feed them to your birds fresh when they ripen, and you can also dry them yourself without adding sugar or preservatives to ensure they are suitable for your chickens to consume.
How should you feed cranberries to chickens?
Other than deciding whether to give your chickens fresh or dried cranberries, there’s nothing special you need to do to prepare them for your birds since they’ll love cranberries, however they come.
We recommend feeding fresh, raw cranberries to chickens whenever possible since in this form, they contain the most nutrients and other beneficial goodness.
If you have fresh cranberries available, you can simply serve them up in a bowl and give them to your flock or scatter a few out on the floor in their run.
Scattering them on the floor will encourage them to peck about foraging for them, which will also have the added benefit of making sure they get some exercise while also helping to alleviate boredom.
You can also do the same with dried cranberries, but as we mentioned before, avoid giving them too many of these if they contain high amounts of sugar.
If you’re more concerned with your birds receiving the nutritional benefits of cranberries but don’t think they need to be encouraged to exercise or kept busy, you can also simply mix dried cranberries into their regular feed and let them peck at the cranberries there.
When feeding chickens cranberries or any other treat, the word to remember is moderation.
Chickens have very specific dietary requirements, and if they don’t receive all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need, their egg quality may drop, their egg production may decrease – and in extreme circumstances, they may become malnourished.
Commercial chicken feed is specially formulated to deliver everything they need in their diet, but it’s fine to supplement this with other healthy and nutritional snacks.
However, if you give them too many treats, they may begin to neglect their regular food, just like a child who eats too many chips or too much candy before mealtimes.
To avoid this, you should always stick to the 10% rule, which states that only 10% of a chicken’s diet should consist of snacks and treats.
The other 90% should come from the properly balanced regular feed, and if you stick to this guideline, you will ensure your chickens are always in the best possible health and that their egg-laying productivity remains as high as possible.
Chickens love treats like cranberries as well as many other food items because this can break up the monotony of eating the same thing every day. However, cranberries and other treats should be just that – an occasional treat rather than their staple, everyday food.
Pro tip – make a “pecking block” with cranberries and other foods
A great idea for feeding cranberries to chickens is to incorporate them into a “pecking block” that also contains other goodies such as nuts and scratch grains.
A pecking block is a block of chicken food that’s held together by gelatin and oil. Once made, you can hang it up for your chickens to work away at, which is a great way to give your chickens something fun to do while also supplementing their regular diet with extra nutrients.
This is also an excellent option in the winter since the extra protein in the nuts will help keep them warm during the colder months.
Similarly, making a pecking block with nuts, grains and cranberries in fall when your birds are going through their annual molt can add protein to their diet, helping them grow their feathers back quicker.
You can also do the same in the summer when your chickens need help keeping cool.
If you prepare a pecking block but then freeze it before giving it to your chickens, you can hang it up while it’s still cold, and your chickens will love pecking at it to stay cool – in just the same way many people enjoy eating ice cream in the summer!
Putting out a bowl of frozen fresh cranberries can also work in the same way.
Chickens love cranberries and they’re a particularly beneficial food for them
So as we’ve seen, chickens love eating cranberries, and they will appreciate being given them because they just love the flavor – but at the same time, cranberries are packed with all sorts of health-boosting goodness, so they’ll also help keep your birds in great condition.
However, as always when giving chickens treats, you should remember not to overdo it – but as long as you remember the 10% rule and only give them cranberries in moderation, they can form a valuable and beneficial part of your chickens’ varied and balanced diet.