Most chicken keepers know that providing their birds with a range of tasty morsels and yummy treats is a great way to keep them happy and healthy while also ensuring they receive plenty of beneficial supplements to their regular diet.
However, there are some foods that you need to avoid, and if you keep chickens, you may be wondering if zucchini is a suitable treat – so to help you understand the answer, in this post, we look at the question, can chickens eat zucchini?
Can Chickens Eat Zucchini? The short answer
Before we go into the details of zucchini and feeding them to chickens, let’s start with a short answer to a simple question.
Can chickens eat zucchini? Yes, they most certainly can!
And what’s more, they can eat all parts of the plant and not just the part we humans normally eat, including the vines, the leaves and the flowers.
So if you have leftover zucchini from a meal you’ve cooked or you just have an overabundance growing in your vegetable garden, feel free to give them to your chickens because they will be greatly appreciated!
But there’s more to feeding zucchini to chickens than just this, so now dive in and look a bit more closely at the details!
What is zucchini?
Zucchini is a type of squash, which puts it in the same family as things like pattypan squash, butternut squash and the various varieties of pumpkins.
All modern squashes are descended from squashes that were domesticated over 7,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, but the zucchini in particular was created in Milan in the 19th century.
The word “zucchini” itself is the Italian word for this type of food – but in Italian, zucchini is plural, while a single zucchini in Italian is called a zucchino.
However, in British English, the French word “courgette” is used instead.
When used for cooking, we usually think of zucchini as a type of vegetable. However, technically it is a fruit – more specifically, a berry.
Zucchini are the same as marrows – with the only difference being that zucchini are harvested earlier while the fruit is still young and tender. The Italian word zucchini actually means “little marrow”.
But enough about what they are – let’s get back to feeding them to chickens!
Why is Zucchini good for Chickens?
Zucchini, like many other types of fruit and vegetables, are highly nutritious, and feeding them to chickens is beneficial for the chickens in many ways.
Zucchini are full of the essential vitamins and minerals that chickens need to stay healthy, and they are also a great source of fiber, which helps maintain chickens’ digestive systems in good working order.
Furthermore, they are also a rich source of antioxidants, and they even work as a natural dewormer for chickens – more about this in just a moment.
As well as all these nutritional benefits, zucchini are 95% water. This is also important for ensuring your chickens’ digestive systems remain healthy, and it’s also an effective way to help keep your chickens hydrated during the hotter summer months.
One thing to watch out for
So with all these amazing qualities of zucchini, is there anything you need to watch out for?
Well, yes and no.
As a type of squash, Zucchini belongs to the Cucurbita – or gourd – family, and wild gourds contain a poison called cucurbitacin, hence the name.
This poison is used as a defense mechanism by gourds to prevent animals from eating them.
In domestic squashes, the ability to produce cucurbitacin has largely been bred out, and in the zucchini we eat, cucurbitacin is only present in low amounts – although there’s still enough of it left to make zucchini a natural dewormer in chickens.
However, if zucchini are crossed with ornamental, non-edible squashes, the zucchini in the resulting harvest may have a much higher cucurbitacin content, making them potentially toxic for your chickens – and for you too.
The same can also happen if you keep seeds from your zucchini harvest and try to grow plants from them.
If you do this, the zucchini you grow may revert to forms containing higher levels of cucurbitacin, again, making them potentially toxic for you and your chickens.
Finally, dry weather or irregular watering can also cause even domesticated zucchini to produce higher levels of cucurbitacin.
Zucchini with high levels of cucurbitacin taste bitter and unpleasant to humans, so if you find your homegrown zucchini are too bitter for you to eat, you shouldn’t give them to your chickens either.
But other than this, there’s nothing to worry about!
How to feed zucchini to chickens
When it comes to preparing zucchini for chickens, is there anything special you need to do?
Chickens can eat zucchini raw or cooked, and they can also eat all the other parts of the plants.
We can eat the flowers too, incidentally. Zucchini flowers are considered an expensive delicacy since they are difficult to preserve or transport to market – but we’ll leave you to research how to cook and eat them elsewhere.
If you’re feeding raw zucchini to chickens, you can simply leave the whole thing for them to peck at – the soft skin of the zucchini will pose no problem for your chickens’ hungry beaks.
However, if you want to make things just a little easier for them, you can slice the zucchini in two lengthways, which will make the fruit inside more accessible and will also help prevent chickens from fighting over their food!
Can chickens eat too much zucchini?
Other than issues with cucurbitacin, there’s one other thing to bear in mind when feeding chickens zucchini and that’s not to overdo it because there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Chicken feed is specially formulated to provide all the nutrients they need, and if you spoil them with too many treats, they will gorge themselves on the treats and ignore their normal feed.
As a result, they will be missing out on some of the vital nutrients contained in their feed, which may lead to decreased egg-laying production or even malnutrition in extreme cases.
The thing to remember here is that you should feed zucchini to chickens in moderation – just as you should with all treats.
A good guideline is to always follow the 10% rule. If you feed your chickens a commercial formulated feed, treats should make up only 10% of their overall diet – and the remaining 90% should come from the feed you give them.
That way, they will receive all the benefits from treats like zucchini – including extra vitamins and minerals, fiber antioxidants and water – while still receiving all the essential nutrients they require from their regular feed.
This means once or twice a week is perfect – but they shouldn’t be eating zucchini every day or even every other day.
Here are a couple of extra pro tips about feeding zucchini to chickens that will help keep your chickens happy, healthy and productive.
Stick to seasonal veggies
While we humans have now become accustomed to having whatever food we like flown to us from all around the world regardless of the season, it’s better to stick to seasonal produce for your chickens.
There’s no need to feed zucchini to chickens when they’re out of season – during the winter, they can eat many other foods, including winter squashes like pumpkins
They will still receive all the various benefits from the nutritious treats you give them – and doing this will have the added advantage of providing them with a varied and interesting diet.
Feed them the cuttings when you work on your garden
When you harvest your zucchini from your garden or cut back the plants to keep them in check, don’t forget that your chickens can eat all the other parts of the plant.
Instead of throwing away the leaves, vines and other parts of the zucchini plants, you can save them up and hand them over to your chickens.
They will receive all the same benefits from the other parts of the plant, and you can save the fruit for your table – unless you have a surplus of zucchini, in which case they’re sure to enjoy eating those spare fruits too.
Mix zucchini with other fruit and veg or with their regular feed
As an alternative to just feeding them zucchini, chickens will enjoy it if you mix cut-up zucchini with other fruit and veg – or even their regular feed.
You can also spread this over the floor of their run to encourage foraging behavior – although don’t forget to clear up any leftovers after feeding time has ended because moldy pieces of fruit and veg will attract pests and may also put the health of your birds at risk.
A healthy and nutritious treat to be given in moderation
Issues with cucurbitacin aside, zucchini is an excellent choice of treat for chickens due to all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and water they contain.
As with all chicken treats, zucchini should be fed to your flock in moderation to ensure they don’t neglect their regular food, but apart from that, feel free to hand any spare zucchini along with leaves, vines and other parts of the plants to your hungry chickens.