Feeding chickens pumpkins: the facts.

Can chickens eat pumpkins? 

Absolutely! It's one of my flock's favourite foods. 

Why are pumpkins good for chickens? Pin for later!

It's autumn - pumpkin time in the shops. The chickens are loving it and so am I. Why?

Because this time of year, pumpkins are freely available to buy or to pick. They're inexpensive, a really healthy treat, a great source of nutrients for chickens (and for humans!) and they can be easily stored for year-round use.

What's not to like?

Note of caution.

I'm talking about fresh pumpkins here. Canned pumpkin purée is also a good source, but make sure you read the label and avoid any whose ingredients include sugars or additives.

And the canned pumpkin you might use to make pumpkin pie should not be fed to chickens. It typically has added sugars and / or syrup.

It's also easy to make your own pumpkin purée.

How to feed pumpkins to your chickens.

Some people like to blitz the seeds in a food processor, thinking they're too big for chickens to manage.

But there's really no need. Chickens will devour them whole and it won't cause any problems.

You could, of course, make the yummy delicious Poultry Pumpkin Pie or Crunchy Chicken Pumpkin Cookies recipes I've created.

But the great thing about pumpkins is they're a self-contained meal. Simply cut one in half and let the flock peck at it to their little chicken-heart's content, seeds and all.

Then all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the fun.

Take a look at some of my flock enjoying pumpkin as an autumn treat.


Nutrition facts.

The humble pumpkin is one of nature's best sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants while being low in saturated fats. One cup contains just 49 calories.

That makes it an ideal low-fat food to sustain your chickens when other sources of healthy treats are becoming more scarce in the autumn (fall) and winter.

It's a particularly good source of...

Vitamin A: Pumpkin is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant which converts to vitamin A in the body. Increasing Vitamin A in your chickens' diet helps regenerate cells and boosts the immune system.

Sadly, it's often deficient in a chickens' diet. That deficiency creates a lack of mucus in the eyes and throat. Once those tissues are damaged, it opens the way to infection, leading to dry eye and potential respiratory problems like Infectious Coryza(1).

Blood spots in eggs can be a sign of a Vitamin A deficiency, so if you see a lot of spotting (one or two every so often is not unusual) get out the pumpkin! 

Squash varieties - all of them are good for chickens.Squash are also good for chickens to eat, but can taste bitter.

Potassium: Critical to chick development(2), potassium also helps chickens deal with extreme heat(3). So make sure you store some for when heat exhaustion can be a problem and chickens need something cooling in their diet.

And if you intend to hatch from your own eggs, keep some to give to your laying hens for at least two weeks before you start collecting the fertile eggs.

As a bonus, the eggs from chickens fed some pumpkin treats will be a deeper, vibrant orange!


Health benefits of pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin seeds contain additional concentrated amounts of goodies your chickens need for an extra health boost.

Vitamin E: Also found in sunflower seeds, Vitamin E is vital for the poultry immune system and protects against (but does not cure) diseases like coccidiosis, e.coli and bronchitis. Lack of this vitamin causes distressing conditions(4), including wry neck.

Zinc: is concentrated just under the shell in a mega-thin membrane - so  don't try to shell the seeds for your flock. Leave them intact. Zinc is essential to the chicken's development. Lack of it can lead to bone deformity and stunted growth(5).

Again, if you're intending to hatch chicks from your own eggs, make sure your hens have a good source of zinc for at least two weeks before you collect the eggs, to ensure healthy embryos.

Potassium: which we've already seen in the flesh, is critical to healthy development.

Pumpkin seeds - the benefits for chickens.

Are pumpkin seeds a natural wormer?

You'll find a lot of "information" around the internet saying that pumpkin seeds are a "natural wormer" for chickens. Many people firmly and genuinely believe it - watch out for statements like "I believe" or "believed by many" or "I feed / know someone who feeds chickens pumpkin seeds and they've never had worms". 

That does not make it true.

It's never been proven. The research has centered mainly on people, horses and goats. Chickens have never been the focus, and it's just not possible to assume that because they work on mammals, they'll do the same for poultry.

In any event, worms should generally not be a problem for backyard flocks - they tend to affect chickens kept in large numbers and crowded conditions. If you do notice worms in your chickens' poop, check with a veterinarian to assess treatment options. 

So, by all means feed pumpkin seeds to your flock. They're a healthy source of many beneficial vitamins and minerals and your chickens will love them.

Just don't expect them to get rid of worms.

6 chickens eating pumpkin - taken from above.

Can feeding pumpkins to chickens be harmful?

Any treat should only be given in moderation, and only alongside their usual balanced feed

Think of it in the same way you might take vitamin tablets. You wouldn't eat them in isolation, but as a supplement to your usual food.

It's no different with chickens.

Caution: Be sure to take any remaining pumpkin out of the run at dusk. Leaving it will attract rodents on the lookout for an easy meal.

And don't leave any pumpkin in the run if it's become mouldy or wet. Eating food that's gone off is no more good for your chickens than it is for you.


Storing pumpkins for feeding year-round.

Buy as many pumpkins as possible when they're plentiful in the autumn (Fall) and feed them to your flock fresh. It helps them store reserves of vitamins and minerals as the winter approaches.

They're especially inexpensive in the shops and markets when Hallowe'en has passed.

Fresh pumpkin slices in an Italian market.In Italy it's possible to buy slices only - convenient if you have a small flock.

But it's great for them to have pumpkin all year round as a special treat. The easy way to store it is to scoop out the flesh and seeds, either roast or make a puree and freeze it in smaller quantities.

It can then be defrosted and fed by itself, or added to some scrambled eggs or cooked rice during the winter, when your flock needs a vitamin boost.

Don't forget to add the remaining shell to your compost heap. No point wasting any part of a pumpkin!


Some other articles you may find useful.

Treats for chickens: which are healthy? Link.
Two pumpkin recipes your chickens will love - link.
A review of the best automatic chicken feeder on the market - link.
Choosing weeds as chicken treats - link.
Which plants are good for chickens? Link.
Raising Chickens - step-by-step, month by month tasks - link.
5 things your chickens should definitely never eat - link.
Fermented food - why it's good for chickens - link.
Free range chicken gardens book review. Click for article.

Sources and further reading.

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 evidence from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Dammerow.

Some of the sources I have used in this article are these. Click the link to read the full document:

1. Blackhall, P: Infectious Coryza in chickens. Pub. MSD Veterinary Manual, 2018.

2. Baloš, M: Electrolytes in poultry nutrition. Pub. Archive of Veterinary Medicine, 2016.

3. Ait-Boulahsen et al: Potassium chloride improves the thermotolerance of chickens exposed to acute heat stress. Pub. US National Library of Medicine, 1995.

4. Dinev, I: Diseases of poultry: Vitamin E deficiency. Pub. The Poultry Site, 2014.

5. O'Dell, B et al: Zinc deficiency and peripheral neuropathy in chicks. Pub. US National Library of Medicine, 1990.

Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.