If you've ever made the mistake of eating a piece of watermelon in front of your chickens, you'll know how much they love it.
They would rip the thing right out of your hands if they had the chance!
Sometimes, like children, chickens aren't too keen to eat foods which are good for them. I've found vegetables such as carrots don't do down well unless I grate them, for example.
Picky, my chickens...
But watermelon, they adore. Try it. Put a piece in the chicken run and stand back before you get squashed in the stampede...
But is watermelon actually good for chickens? What's its nutritional value? Can it help maintain their general health? And are any parts of the fruit harmful for our flocks?
This article is based on proper scientific, peer reviewed research carried out with chickens (sources and further reading are here). It makes the results easy to understand so that we can know the ultimate answers to these questions.
I also share some simple watermelon "recipes" your chickens will love.
Chickens may like watermelon, but does it offer any nutritional benefit to chickens?
As a move towards more natural ways of raising livestock has developed, interest in fruits and vegetables with their many health-promoting benefits has also grown. So there are now several pieces of research which have specifically considered the benefits of watermelon for chickens (see sources).
Here's what that research tells us.
When temperatures soar, watermelon is one of the absolute best ways of keeping chickens hydrated. As its name might suggest, around 91% of a watermelon is water(1).
Take a look at this short, slow motion video. It makes it very clear how much liquid is contained in even one small piece of watermelon.
And how much chickens enjoy eating it!
So as well as adding important nutrients to their diet, watermelon can prevent acute heat exhaustion in your flock.
See my detailed article about keeping chickens cool and hydrated, which also contains a more comprehensive video.
There has only been one study undertaken involving the effects of watermelon on baby chicks specifically(3).
That research found no adverse effects on feeding watermelon flesh and seeds to baby chicks at up to six weeks of age. However, their digestive systems at that point are not fully developed, and they will resist eating the rind.
As always, moderation is important here. Chicks will benefit in the same way as adults from the nutrients and hydration benefits of watermelon, but they need a well balanced feed to aid their fast growth.
And they must always have a chick grit available to them once they eat anything else – including watermelon.
These young chicks were 17 weeks when I first introduced watermelon into their diet. As you can tell, they loved it – once they were sure it wasn't a "big red monster come to kill them"!
This is the part of the fruit the chickens seem to like most. Not surprisingly – because chickens are good judges of food that's healthy for them – the flesh contains concentrated amounts of lycopene, beta-carotene (one of the most important carotenoids, also said to give egg yolks a deep orange colour), Vitamin 'C' and anti-oxidants.
When the flesh ripens and turns from a pale white-ish pink to a deep red, the quality and quantity of all those benefits increases substantially(1).
So although there's no evidence that giving chickens un-ripe watermelon is harmful, it will benefit them more if you feed the flesh when it's had a chance to ripen and looks a striking red colour.
The evidence from those who know best – our chickens – would say that the seeds are one of the most delicious parts of the watermelon.
My flock always seem to strip them out first, before starting on the flesh.
Again, moderation is the key.
There's no evidence of this at all. You may see on the internet claims from backyard keepers that their chickens have never had worms because they eat a lot of watermelon.
There could be many reasons for being worm free. But watermelon is not one of them.
This is generally how my chickens leave the watermelon they've finished with... The rind (also called the skin) is too thick and hard for them to peck at, so it remains more or less untouched. The ants strip sugar from the remains of the flesh.
But one of the most interesting findings of the research into chickens and watermelon is that the rind is one of the most nutritious parts and is especially effective in the control of heat stress.
In particular, the rind contains a rich source of a substance called L-citrulline (L-cit) – more than the flesh or the seeds(2).
L-cit is an amino acid which, when eaten by chicks and laying hens, was found to reduce their body temperature and so potentially improve their tolerance of heat(2, 5, 6).
It was also found to reduce harmful bacteria in the gut and increase both the digestive system's health and the ability of the chicken to properly digest its other food(6).
So, rather than throwing that melon rind on the compost heap – or even in the bin – it makes both ecological and dietary sense to feed it to our flock.
It's not the chickens' first choice of a tasty treat, though. So how is the rind best fed to the flock?
Enter the special recipes!
Chickens are more than happy to eat watermelon as it comes – straight out of the skin. Just slice it so that everyone gets the chance to have some, or for a smaller flock halve the fruit and let them dig out their own!
But having read the section above, you now know that using the rind of the watermelon can help to keep chickens cool. It seems only right that we try to incorporate it into a couple of tasty recipes.
So if you'd like to prepare an extra-special recipe to cool the flock down, try one of these. In fact, make more and keep some for yourself!
Take two of the most water-dense summer fruits (cucumber is technically a fruit, although most people think of it as a vegetable), mix with some nutrient-rich berries and a refreshing, cooling herb.
What have you got?
A hydrating, cooling, summertime salad both you and your chickens will love!
There's evidence(1) that when they're juiced, fruits like watermelon provide even more nutrients, being easily digested.
Adding a little mint to the mix provides even more refreshment – it's been proven to be a cooling agent(7). There's also evidence that honey, as well as having antioxidants which help prevent cell damage, has a cooling effect(8, 9).
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 trusted sources I have used in this article are these.
1. Nigala, J: Watermelon Nutrition: Benefits, Calories, Risks and More. Pub. Livestrong, 2021.
2. Linh, T. N et al: Dried Watermelon Rind Mash Increases Plasma L-Citrulline Level in Chicks. Pub. Journal of Poultry Science, 2018.
3. Undigweundeye Ukpanukpong, Dr. R: Effect of Watermelon Seed Powder on Growth Performance Parameters of Broiler Chickens. Pub. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 2018.
4. Ahmed, Dr. H. S. E: Evaluation of watermelon seed meal as a feed for poultry. Pub. as a PhD thesis, 2004.
5. Azad, M. A. et al: Metabolic characteristics and oxidative damage to skeletal muscle in broiler chickens exposed to chronic heat stress. Pub. Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, 2010.
6. Penaite, T. et al: Impact of Watermelon Rind and Sea Buckthorn Meal on Performance, Blood Parameters, and Gut Microbiota and Morphology of Laying Hens. Pub. Journal of Agriculture, 2022.
7. Ghosh, Anwesha: Why menthol chills your mouth when it's not actually cold. Pub. The Conversation, 2015.
8. Oke et al: Effect of different levels of honey on physiological, growth and carcass traits of broiler chickens during dry season. Pub. Acta agriculturae Slovenica, 2016.
9. Otu et al: Effect of honey-flavoured diets on the performance and relative organ weights of finisher broiler chickens. Pub. Nigerian Journal of Animal Production 2021.