Can Chickens Eat Oats? What Are The Benefits?

Chickens also want to start their day off on a healthy note, so it is no wonder they get excited when they see a bowl of oatmeal coming their way. Oats, for humans, are highly beneficial for digestive health. But do chickens get the same benefits? Can chickens eat oats? While oats are sometimes added to chicken feed, there are some instances where this grain is not all it is cracked up to be. Yes, there are nutritional benefits, but you need to be careful how much oats you feed your flock.

Here is what you need to know about feeding your chickens oats.

Can Chickens Eat Oats?

chickens eat oats

Yes, chickens can eat raw oats. High in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, oats happen to be a wonderful treat for chickens who are still developing into adults. In fact, oats are among the richest in proteins, vitamins A and E, and thiamine. Magnesium, calcium, iron, and phosphorus are also present in oats.

In the past, many chicken owners and farmers used oats and corn meal as part of a chicken’s main diet. However, oats do have some negative effects on chickens, as well. That is why modern chicken feed is largely a mix of cereal grains (sorghum, wheat, and barley) and oilseeds, such as soybean, sunflower, and canola.

What About Oatmeal For Chickens?

Like raw oats, chickens can also consume oatmeal without issue. Many chicken owners will soak the oats in some water overnight before giving oatmeal blended with spices and fruits to their flock, since the water softens the oat. This can help chickens swallow and digest the cereal more easily.

That said, cooking the oats to make oatmeal does not always help your chickens. As with any food, there are downsides you need to know about.

Are Oats Bad For Chickens?

If you are here, then you have probably come across other articles explaining whether oats are good for chickens. There is a huge controversy about oats and oatmeal for chickens. You can find a number of articles, forums, and posts that provide contradictory information. One hand says that oats are safe and that you should give your chickens oatmeal with all kinds of mix-ins regularly. Others claim that oats are dangerous and should be avoided.

What’s the truth?

Oats are a little like citrus fruits when it comes to chickens. In small amounts, chickens can reap huge health benefits from oats, but if they consume too much, their health is diminished. Therefore, if you find an article availing all the great things about oats without listing the downsides, don’t listen to it.

Scientific Findings on Oats

unprocessed oats

The College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment from the University of Kansas reported some findings on studies that looked at the benefits of oats for chickens. According to the report, oats are composed of about 20 percent hull, making it a high fiber cereal. The energy content of a hulled (naked) oat is about 17 percent; this is similar to both wheat or corn. However, oats have a different kind of lipid which causes the chicken’s fat to harden.

Research has also found that a diet of 40 percent naked oats can be used for broiler chickens. There was no adverse effect on the chickens in terms of growth or bone strength. Should the diet be changed to 50 percent oats, however, the juiciness and tenderness of the meat was impacted, resulting in stringier meat.

About Beta-Glucans

Oats and other grains contain beta-glucans, a polysaccharide and soluble fiber that occurs naturally. Yeast and mushrooms also contain beta-glucans. Any whole grain that goes unprocessed, such as steel-cut oats, is going to have phenomenally high levels of beta-glucans; any grain that has been processed will have significantly less.

Now, being that beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, it manages to pass through the digestive tract very slowly. This is the issue with any grain containing a large portion of beta-glucans. When the digestive process is slowed, so is mineral uptake. Plus, beta-glucans bind to water and other sources of food, making it even more difficult for your chicken’s digestive system to utilize the minerals.

Beta-glucans also contribute to a paste-like substance forming in the intestines of your chickens. Too much can cause a degradation of the intestinal tract, as well as sticky poop and diarrhea.

Is there any positive to chickens consuming beta-glucans? Yes — but only in moderation. Beta-glucans can stimulate the immune system, fighting off disease. Broiler chickens who were fed beta-glucan supplements also dealt with less illness, and they had increased body weight. Additionally, beta-glucans work against e.coli and salmonella bacteria.

various types of oats

Phytic Acid in Oats

Have you ever heard of anti-nutrients? Well, oats have one — it’s called phytic acid. Most seeds and grains contain phytic acid, because it is an essential part of the germination process. Seeds and grains that did not germinate have high amounts of phytic acid. When you feed your chickens raw oats, they consume a large portion of this acid.

Now, this may not seem like an issue right away. Phytic acid does have some benefits. For chickens, though, it can be problematic. Phytic acid binds to calcium, iron, and zinc. Your flock won’t be able to absorb these essential minerals, which could impact their health.

Soaking the oats does not remove the phytic acid, and cooking them removes the enzyme (phytase) needed to break the acid down.

Cooked Oats Contain Less Nutrients

Cooked oats or making oatmeal seems to make sense. Not only do your chickens can a boost of hydration, but they are consuming something filling and healthy. Right? Not necessarily. Water will multiply the volume of the oats and make them easier to eat and swallow, but that also dilutes the nutrients present. Chickens would have to eat twice as much oatmeal to get the same benefit from raw, uncooked oats.

Since too much oats can overload chickens with beta-glucans, you want to avoid any scenario that leads to overfeeding.

What Are The Benefits of Oats For Chickens?

bowl of pressed oat

Now that you know a little more about why oats should not be a major part of a chicken’s diet, let’s discuss some of the benefits. As previously mentioned, oats contain some trace amounts of the following minerals:

  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus

Oats also contain the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Choline is also present. When you consider the high fiber content, followed by the vitamins and minerals, it shows that oats do have some nutritional value in a chicken’s diet.

Macronutrients

Aside from the vitamins and minerals overflowing in oats, there are also carbohydrates, protein, and fat amounts to consider. Oats are a cereal grain, meaning they contain a lot of starch and fiber (also known as carbs). Chickens need carbohydrates for energy and thermogenesis, or the heat created during digestion. The low amount of fat in oats allows the chickens to burn the energy from the carbohydrates first.

Oats are also a good source of protein. When compared to other grains, oats stand out from the crowd, because they contain avenalin, a protein commonly found in legumes. Expect around 17 grams of protein in 100 grams of uncooked oats. Since breeding and laying chickens need around 14-19 percent crude protein in their diet, oats can be a wonderful addition to your chickens meals.

Warming Food In The Winter

The main benefit of feeding your chickens oats is warmth. Oats may not be as warming as corn in the winter, but they do provide a slight warming effect. Since oats take a long time to digest, it is recommended that you give the oats to your flock in the late afternoon or evening. This gives them time to roost and digest the meal without too much exercise in between.

How To Feed Your Chickens Oats For Maximum Benefit

Knowing the best method for feeding your chickens different kinds of foods is important. You can optimize the nutritional value of the meal and ensure that your chickens get plenty of energy. Oats are no different. While you can scatter around some oats outside, this isn’t the best way to go about it. Considering that oats should be no more than a snack, you should avoid making it more than 10-20 percent of your chicken’s weekly diet.

The best way to provide oats is to make a hearty oatmeal. This doesn’t mean making a cup of microwaveable porridge, either. Take a few scoops of rolled or steel cut organic oats, about a tablespoon per hen, and put it into a shallow pan or bowl. Add in some berries, scratch grains, cracked corn, or sunflower seeds. Mealworms and raisins are other good additions to your chicken’s oatmeal. Pour in a little bit of warm water and let the oats get moist.

You don’t want to add too much water, or it will become slop — and your chickens probably won’t like that much.

Oats can also be blended together with layer pellets. This way, you know your chickens are getting adequate nutrition. Just remember that moderation is key when it comes to the oats.

Are Oats a Worthwhile Treat?

In the end, you are the one who decides if your chickens can eat oats or not. While oats do have some nutritional benefits when fed in small quantities, they are not as healthy as chicken feed or other fruit and vegetable snacks. A chicken who eats only oats is going to get sick. You can definitely use a little bit of oats as part of a treat in the winter, but otherwise, it may be best to give your chickens other kinds of snacks during the spring and summer.

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