Chicken keepers are always looking for tasty treats that can supplement their flock’s diet to keep them healthy while also keeping things interesting for them by varying their diet – but while there’s lots of stuff they can eat, some foods should be avoided. So what about oatmeal?
Can you give your birds a warming bowl on a cold morning to help them fight the cold? Or is this a human treat they can’t have? This topic is surprisingly contentious, so to help you understand both sides, in this post, we answer the question, can chickens eat oatmeal?
Can Chickens Eat Oatmeal? The short answer
Although the question of whether chickens can eat oatmeal is controversial, to keep things simple, we can still start with a short answer.
Can chickens eat oatmeal? Yes, they can.
Oats have long been an important element in feed in the livestock industry, and oatmeal contains a range of important nutrients, including several vitamins and minerals that are vital to chickens’ health.
Despite this, some people still argue against giving oatmeal to chickens for various reasons – and it’s true that oatmeal can be harmful to chickens if not fed to them in the right way.
So now let’s jump in and look at all the details you need to know before you start dishing out oats to your flock.
Is oatmeal good for chickens?
Oatmeal is largely carbohydrate, so it’s an energy-rich food to give to your birds. It’s a source of protein and also provides a good amount of dietary fiber, both important elements of a chicken’s diet.
In addition, oatmeal contains several important vitamins, including plenty of thiamine (vitamin B1) and a smaller quantity of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). Folate (vitamin B9) and riboflavin (vitamin B2) are also present, as are vitamin B6 and niacin (vitamin B3) in smaller amounts.
Oats are extremely rich in manganese, with a 100g serving providing 233% of the recommended daily amount for a human. Phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron are also present in significant amounts, and oats also contain some potassium and calcium.
Oats are also known to contain antioxidants, which also help fight disease and keep your chickens in robust health.
Furthermore, a warm bowl of oats is a great option for your birds in winter since it can help them keep warm – and can also provide the carbohydrates they need to burn to generate extra body heat.
The beta-glucan controversy
Although nutritionally, oats and oatmeal contain plenty of goodness that chickens need, some chicken keepers still say you shouldn’t feed oats to chickens – and a big part of this is down to something called beta-glucan that’s found in oats.
Beta-glucans are a group of polysaccharides that occur naturally in oats, but they are also found in other cereals as well as in bacteria and fungi.
The argument goes that beta-glucans in oats bind with water in the chicken’s guts, forming a kind of gel that prevents the bird from properly digesting other food and absorbing nutrients from it – and in severe cases, blocking the intestines completely.
Why the beta-glucan argument is a fallacy
There are several problems with the argument that oatmeal is bad for chickens due to beta-glucans.
First, while these effects may be possible, you would have to feed a chicken unreasonably large quantities of oats to cause such problems – but by sticking to the recommended amounts, the risk of this happening is minimal.
Next, as we’ve just mentioned, beta-glucan isn’t just present in oats but can also be found in other cereals, such as barley, wheat and rye.
Wheat, at least, is one of the main constituents of commercial chicken feed, so this argument against oats is disingenuous and best – and downright deceptive if you’re of a more cynical nature, especially is the person making this argument has some kind of anti-oat agenda.
Also, if we’re talking about oatmeal (or rolled oats), the amount of beta-glucan is much lower than in raw oats anyway since processing removes a lot of the beta-glucan.
And finally, in lower – more realistic – doses, beta-glucan can actually be beneficial.
For example, rather than preventing the absorption of nutrients, they slow the absorption of carbohydrates, which results in a steadier supply of energy rather than a sudden spike followed by a crash.
Other evidence suggests that beta-glucans can help lower blood cholesterol, and they also boost the immune system by stimulating macrophages, neutrophils and basophils.
So in short, unless you feed excessive amounts of oatmeal to your birds – and we’ll look at the correct doses to give them in just a moment – the benefits will far outweigh any supposed potential health risks.
Can chicks eat oatmeal?
What about chicks? Can they eat oatmeal?
Yes, they can have some oatmeal too.
In addition to the benefits that have been observed in chickens that have been fed oatmeal, it has also been shown that chicks that are fed oatmeal grow faster and gain more weight than those that are not given any.
Feeding chicks oatmeal can also help clear up the dreaded pasty butt, a nasty condition that causes a chick’s vent to become blocked – and that can quickly kill them if the condition isn’t resolved.
Of course, you need to make sure that chicks receive most of their nutrition from their regular feed – but supplementing this with a small amount of oats can help with their development.
How to feed oats to chickens
So you’re convinced that oats for chickens is a good idea, but how should you go about feeding oatmeal to your flock?
The best way to do it is to simply measure out the right amount of oatmeal for the number of birds in your flock and then add some hot water to make the oats soft.
You don’t want the oats to become soggy or be swimming in water – you just want to moisten them a little to make them easier for your birds to eat.
You can then hand the bowl over while the oatmeal is still warm – although you must make sure that it’s not too hot for them to eat before you give it to them.
If you’re giving oatmeal to chicks, make sure the oats are well softened – but again, try not to add so much water that you end up with a soup.
One thing you should avoid, however, whether feeding oatmeal to chicks or adults, is using milk in place of water.
While oatmeal with hot milk might be a delicious warming breakfast for humans, chickens’ bodies can’t break down the lactose in milk, so it will make them sick.
Alternatively, you can also simply mix some raw oatmeal into your chickens’ regular feed or serve it to them separately in a bowl – they will be happy to peck at it that way too, and it’s a great way to supplement the main nutrition they receive from their regular feed.
How much oatmeal should chickens get?
As you’ve probably realized by now, how much oatmeal you give to chickens is of the utmost importance, so how much is the right amount?
Chickens have very specific dietary requirements, which is why commercial chicken feed is carefully formulated to provide all the nutritional goodness that they need.
As a result, 90% of their diets should be made up of their regular feed – and no more than 10% should come from supplements or treats like oatmeal.
However, since you’ll want to give them other treats too, oatmeal probably won’t even come close to making up 10% of your flock’s overall diet.
In practice, feeding your chickens about one spoonful of oats every few days will never exceed the recommended amount and will allow them to enjoy all the benefits of eating oats without suffering from any of the negative effects.
Be critical of what you read online
Incidentally, one fairly sensationalist post online argues stridently that oatmeal is awful for chickens by using the example of chickens eating a diet where oatmeal made up 2lbs out of every 5lbs of their overall feed.
However, that would mean oatmeal accounted for 40% of everything the chickens ate, an amount that’s way above the recommended 10% maximum for supplements – which of course would be detrimental to chickens’ health.
But as long as you feed oatmeal to your birds in moderation rather than doing anything extreme like this, it will only benefit your birds and won’t do them any harm
Pro tip – add extra ingredients to make oaks more delicious and nutritious
Adding extra ingredients to the oatmeal is an excellent way to supplement your flock’s diet even further. For example, adding some nutritious fruit or even mealworms to the oatmeal can be a great idea.
You can also slip in a little cinnamon powder – not for the flavor but because it has many powerful scientifically-proven benefits for chickens.
Oatmeal is great for chickens – in moderation
So as we’ve seen, while some people scream that oatmeal is a terrible choice for chickens, most reasonable voices will say that it’s a healthy and delicious warming treat when fed to them in moderation.
Of course, you shouldn’t go replacing large proportions of your chickens’ regular feed with oatmeal – but they will appreciate a spoonful each every now and then, and it can also be extremely beneficial to their overall health and wellbeing.