Everybody loves popcorn. Whether it’s air-pop popcorn from that big machine at the movies pumping out salty, buttery popcorn or making organic popcorn at home and drizzling some homemade caramel on it, it’s a favorite among kids and grown-ups alike.
If you own chickens, you might have found yourself wondering now and then—can chickens eat popcorn too? Maybe you have thought once or twice about whether you could share this delicious snack with them. But is it safe, and are there any nutritional benefits?
The answer isn’t so straightforward. While popcorn can be given as a treat to chickens, there are a couple of caveats about it. Today, we’ll take you through what kind of popcorn to feed your chickens and what they get out of it.
Popcorn is Safe But Not Super Nutritious for Chickens
Popcorn isn’t exactly top-of-mind when it comes to snacks you can give your chicken flock. It’s best to give them treats that can be found in the wild, such as fruits like blueberries and strawberries, or herbs and veggies like lettuce, cabbage, and kale.
Obviously, popcorn is not something animals can simply stumble upon in the wild. It’s considered a man-made food that some would categorize as “junk,” especially if it has additional flavorings.
But don’t confuse popcorn with dried corn, which is the preserved, nutrient-dense corn that is usually but in chicken feed. When we say popcorn, we’re talking about corn kernels that are heated up to create little puffs of delicious, fiber-rich goodness.
Although it’s safe for chickens to eat popcorn, it’s not exactly the most nutritious food out there for them. Unlike fruits and veggies which are rich in all kinds of vitamins and minerals, popcorn has just a few health benefits.
Think of popcorn not as a nutritional snack, but as an entertaining treat for your chickens. It’s a lot of fun seeing chickens discover and play around with this unusual treat. We recommend hanging up some pieces of popcorn with a string to see how the chickens fly and peck at them!
Curious to see how chickens interact with popcorn if it’s foreign to them? Watch these adorable chickens eat popcorn for the first time:
A Few Health Benefits of Feeding Chickens Popcorn
There aren’t too many nutritional benefits popcorn has to offer chickens. That’s why most of your chickens’ essential nutrients should be from their commercial feed, which comprises 90% of their everyday diet, not snacks like popcorn.
However, this light, fluffy, crunchy snack isn’t 100% junk. It still has a few minerals and components that help boost your chickens’ health—namely fiber, carbohydrates, and magnesium.
1. Fiber to improve their metabolism
Popcorn, like corn, is rich in dietary fiber, which is great for chickens’ digestion and metabolism. Fiber can help your chickens’ intestines absorb and metabolize nutrients from their food. This is important since chickens are known for their sensitive digestive tracts that are prone to diarrhea.
2. Carbohydrates to boost their energy levels
Carbs are amazing at boosting your chickens’ energy levels so they can walk around the farm and lay eggs without feeling fatigued after. Chickens usually get their carbohydrates from grains like wheat and oats, but popcorn is an excellent source of it too.
3. Magnesium for healthy bones and feathers
Did you know that there is 123 mg of magnesium per 100 grams of popcorn?
Magnesium is a must in the overall growth and development of chickens, particularly when they’re developing feathers and bones. Not only that, but this mineral also contributes to the durability and quality of hens’ eggs and their shells.
Only Plain Popcorn is Allowed
Don’t be fooled by these health benefits of popcorn. It’s also easy to feed your chickens the wrong kind of popcorn, which can do them more harm than good. And the number one rule of feeding your chickens popped popcorn? Never give them any unnecessary flavorings and seasonings.
There are three common ingredients in microwave popcorn that are great for human tastebuds, but terrible for the health of chickens. These are salt, butter, and sugar. Let’s take a look at why you should avoid each one.
1. No salt
Salted popcorn is everyone’s default type of popcorn. But even if sodium is good for chickens, you shouldn’t give them too much of it.
Their regular feed will already have the right amount of sodium they need for their daily intake. Any more than that can be dangerous to their health. So, always feed them unsalted popcorn only.
It can even cause kidney disease if your chickens can’t break down large amounts of salt. And in the most severe cases, too much salt can cause death in older chickens.
2. No butter
Another favorite flavoring among popcorn aficionados is butter. This one is a huge no-no as well if you want to feed your chickens some popcorn. Not only is butter high in salt and calories, but it’s also dairy. Chickens’ sensitive digestive tracts aren’t designed to metabolize dairy products.
Chickens that eat butter can struggle with things like diarrhea and bloating. The high-calorie content of butter can also make your chickens gain lots of weight. This makes them prone to sicknesses like heart disease and fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome.
3. No sugar
Some people love their popcorn with a little caramel on top. But feeding your chickens popcorn coated with caramelized sugar is a disaster waiting to happen.
Like butter, caramel can be high in calories, which can increase your chickens’ chances of becoming obese. The tricky part is that sugar is insanely addictive. Even if you feed your chickens caramel popcorn once or twice, they may start demanding more, putting you in a sticky situation.
Watch Out for Those Hard Popcorn Kernels!
Aside from unhealthy flavorings, another thing to watch out for is popcorn kernels. Kernels are extremely hard and nearly impossible for tiny beaks to chew and digest. Even if kernels are technically just corn, their hard texture and small size make them a choking hazard to chickens.
When serving popcorn to your chickens, always make sure there are no hard kernels on the tray. That way, you can prevent chickens from choking on it.
If you really want to feed your chickens some kernels, crush them up into a gritty texture first before serving.
Chicks and Small Birds Should Never Eat Popcorn
Popcorn—not just its kernels—is also a choking hazard for baby chicks and small birds, like bantam chickens. Pieces of air-popped popcorn are quite large. It can be difficult for chickens with small bodies to eat them.
Instead, feed small chickens other types of fiber- and carbohydrate-rich foods. One they might love is oatmeal. Not only is it healthy and tasty, but its texture is soft and easy to digest too, even for the smallest of birds.
Making Popcorn for Your Chickens at Home
Making popcorn at home is always better than store-bought popcorn if you’re feeding it to your chickens. That way, you will always have control over what goes into the popcorn. That means no salt, butter, sugar, flavorings, or oils that can be detrimental to the health of your chickens.
You can either pop some unsalted, unbuttered popcorn in the microwave and cook it there, or do it the old-fashioned way with kernels in a hot pan. When the popcorn is cooked and fluffy-looking, put it aside to cool down. Never give your chickens piping hot food that can burn them.
The rest is easy. Just scatter your popcorn across the lawn for your chickens to peck at. What’s great is that since popcorn comes in many small pieces, there’s always enough of it even for a big flock. You can also mix your popcorn with some berries and other fruits to make it extra nutritious.
Generally, popcorn is indeed safe for chickens to eat. Just make sure the popcorn you feed your chickens doesn’t have salt, butter, and sugar, and it will be harmless.
However, don’t expect a lot of health benefits from it. Popcorn isn’t as nutritious as other fruits and vegetables you can feed your backyard chickens. Picture it instead as an entertaining “junk” food for your birds. But it still has some nutrients, like fiber, carbs, and magnesium.
There are also a few watch-outs for chicken owners intending to feed their flock some popcorn. Make sure to keep hard kernels out of your chickens’ reach. And never give your baby chicks and bantams popcorn—the big pieces won’t fit in their mouths.
All in all, it’s not such a horrendous idea to feed popcorn to your chickens. Just make sure you keep all the caveats above in mind, and you can safely let your flock try out this all-time favorite snack.