Fish is one of the healthiest forms of high quality protein for chickens, and this simple recipe can be made at any time of year.
Fish is particularly good for chickens to eat when the weather is cold, during the moult, after any stress (such as a predator attack).
And in Italy, fish is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. So this recipe could be a healthy treat for your chickens as part of their holiday festivities!
Be aware, though, that too much protein can be harmful to chicken health, and treats should be exactly that - a supplement to their normal balanced diet.
Feeding only fish, or any single type of food, is not recommended.
Give your chickens fish only occasionally, at most once per week, and only when the need arises.
The written version, with ingredient amounts, method and photos, is further down the page.
As with most things, the answer is "yes - in moderation".
Fish has long been known to provide high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which in turn are known to be beneficial for both human and animal health.
In humans, Omega-3 is known to help reduce the incidence of heart disease, neurological problems, blood pressure and auto-immune disease such as osteo-arthritis(1). Countries renowned for long life, including Italy (where I live), are known to eat large amounts of fish.
In poultry, fish has been proven to improve heart disease, bone formation and immunity, for example to Coccidiosis(1).
But fish is also very high in protein - between 61% and 72%. And high protein diets are known to cause kidney-related problems and obesity in poultry.
So, moderation is the key. Again, don't feed your flock fish more than once a week, and then only when they're under some form of stress: moulting, after a predator attack, or as protection against very cold weather.
It's a treat, not a main food source.
They will enjoy both raw and cooked fish. Avoid fish that's gone off, of course, or in breadcrumbs, batter, or fried. They're all processed, often loaded with additives, and much too high in fat.
Plain, natural white fish is best, and cheaper cuts are ideal.
I'm lucky enough to be able to buy fresh fish straight from the fishing fleet in Italy. It's literally caught that day, and it's very inexpensive.
But if you can't get fresh fish as easily, canned is also good and tends to be less expensive. And it has the benefit of a longer shelf life, of course.
Keep some in your store cupboard so you always have the opportunity to create a fishy masterpiece for your flock!
If you use tinned (canned), choose oil, rather than brine, preserved.
Brine has too much salt for a chicken's digestive system. And avoid those flavoured canned fishes - they contain large amounts of sugar.
Look for those in extra virgin olive oil, if you can find it. It's amazingly high in antioxidants. Drain as much of the oil as possible though, so as to make it less fatty.
Try to avoid the more fatty fish such as salmon and herring. Just as in humans, excessive fats are unhealthy in the chicken diet and can lead to various illnesses including Sudden Death Syndrome.
Mackerel, sardines and tuna are excellent choices.
Yes. They will usually pick the fish from the shell. If you feed prawns, you may find they will eat the shell casing as well - it's soft enough not to cause problems.
Generally speaking, chickens will pick the bones of fish clean and leave the carcass.
Bones aren't a problem nutritionally, and cooked fish bones are generally soft enough not to cause any problems. To be safe, take out any large, sharp or particularly hard bone.
Bones in small fish like sardines aren't an issue at all.
Yes, but they're definitely better cooked. Some fish have tapeworms in their guts, and you do not want them being passed on to your flock. Cooking the guts will kill the worms.
The jury's out on this one. Studies do show that poultry fed large quantities of fish or fish oils can produce fishy-tasting eggs(2).
And anecdotally, many chicken keepers say they can definitely taste a difference in eggs when chickens have feasted on fish.
But we're not talking about large quantities here. Feeding your flock some fish once or twice a month is unlikely to create problems in the way their eggs taste.
Bear in mind, too, that Omega-3 is a healthy fat which can help prevent heart disease in humans. And feeding fish to chickens is known to increase the Omega-3 content of eggs(1).
So, it's a matter for you. Try it and see!
If you don't have access to fresh fish, your chickens will be just as happy with a canned fish treat.
Mackerel is a particularly good choice. Like all fish, it's rich in protein and low in saturated fats. It's also relatively inexpensive.
Sardines are also a good alternative. Avoid those in tomato sauce, which often have added salt and sugar.
Tuna is a third possibility, although it tends to be more expensive and is not as high in Omega-3 as the others. Look for a sustainable brand.
Choose any one of these, or mix two together.
I particularly make this recipe for my chickens to eat on Christmas Eve. In Italy, Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally a selection of fish recipes - so I like my chickens to feel included too!
Use whatever you have available in your store cupboard. In this particular recipe, to feed twelve chickens, I used tuna and mackerel combined - one can of each.
Eggs are another high protein food and are fine to give to chickens as long as they are cooked. (Never give your chickens raw eggs - it can lead to them getting into a habit of eating their own. Cooked eggs are fine).
Garlic is an excellent antioxidant and despite what you might read on the internet, in small amounts it will not make your eggs taste of garlic! (For more information about the benefits of garlic for chickens, take a look here).
Tomatoes are another excellent source of antioxidants.
Peas, spinach, grated carrot - any kind of fresh or frozen vegetable is a good addition for adding nutrients without fat.
Canned sweet corn is an ingredient that adds massive amounts of vitamin ‘C’, again minus the fat.
Herbs or plants in season are a good addition. In this particular recipe I added some marigold petals from plants I discovered had survived in my garden into December!
Use whatever else you find in your kitchen that you know is a good chicken treat.
1 large tomato: chop into small pieces.
1 clove of garlic: chop as finely as possible.
1 fresh egg: hard boil, then peel and chop.
1 cup frozen peas: add to pan with spinach or other frozen ingredients.
2 blocks frozen spinach: add to the peas pan. Bring to the boil, then remove and drain.
1 - 2 cans of fish: use a knife to separate the chunks into strands. Here, I used one can of mackerel and one small can of tuna.
If you have any herbs or flower petals available, add them to the mix before adding the fish. Here, I used some marigold petals.
Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together, then spoon into the serving tray.
Finally, serve to your lucky chickens - and stand back to avoid the rush!
A lot of "facts" you'll find on the internet are often people's individual views, based on inaccurate information repeated from poor quality sources.
The information I provide in this article and others is based not just on my own experience, but on evidenced facts from scientific, peer-reviewed research and books from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Damerow.
Some of the sources I have used in this article are these.
1. Pike, I. H.: Health benefits from feeding fish oil and fish meal: the role of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in animal feeding. Pub. International Fishmeal and Oil Manufacturers Association, 1999.
2. Kouba, M: Effect of Dietary Omega-3 fatty acids on meat quality of pigs and poultry. Pub. Biochimie, 2011.
3. Frempong, N. S. et al: Evaluating the effect of replacing fish meal in broiler diets with either soybean meal or poultry by-product meal on broiler performance and total feed cost per kilogram of grain. Pub. Journal of Applied Poultry Research, 2019.