Gourds are one fruit that is rarely thought of as food, at least in North America, but nonetheless is a regular sight when autumn rolls around.
Though these hard-shelled plants are commonly associated with pumpkins, cucumbers, squashes, and melons, there are nonetheless distinct unto themselves.
Culturally significant around the world, what we really need to know is whether or not our chickens can eat them. So, can chickens eat gourds?
Yes, chickens can eat gourds, though they’ll struggle to break into these hard, tough-skinned fruits. The softer flesh is appealing to them, and cooking the flesh will make it even more attractive. Gourds do contain a fair amount of micronutrients including vitamins A and C, magnesium, and potassium.
Though you probably associate gourds more with decorations or arts and crafts than you do dinner time, you might be happy to know that your chickens will eagerly chow down on them assuming they can get at the soft flesh within.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about feeding gourds to chickens.
Nutritional Profile of Gourds
Gourds, though not overly common in the average chicken diet, are actually quite nutritious and offer a variety of vitamins and minerals that are important to chickens.
|Total lipid (fat)||0.02 g|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||3.69 g|
|– Fiber, total dietary||1.2 g|
|Calcium, Ca||24 mg|
|Iron, Fe||0.25 mg|
|Magnesium, Mg||11 mg|
|Phosphorus, P||13 mg|
|Potassium, K||170 mg|
|Sodium, Na||2 mg|
|Zinc, Zn||0.7 mg|
|Copper, Cu||0.026 mg|
|Manganese, Mn||0.066 mg|
|Selenium, Se||0.2 µg|
|Vitamin C||8.5 mg|
|Pantothenic acid||0.144 mg|
|Vitamin B-6||0.038 mg|
|Folate, total||4 µg|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||0.002 g|
Gourds contain ample vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are necessary for good health in chickens.
Health Benefits of Gourds for Chickens
Vitamin A is important for chickens as it helps to keep their eyesight sharp, nerve cells functional, and their immune system in good shape.
Vitamin C, though redundant in a chicken’s diet since it can make it internally, is still a valuable antioxidant that helps to protect cells from damage and also aids in the absorption of iron.
Potassium is critical for maintaining proper fluid and electrolyte balance in the body and supports healthy nerve and muscle function.
Magnesium is necessary for strong bones and teeth, and further aids a healthy nervous system.
In addition to these key nutrients, gourds also contain fiber and lots of water, which can help with digestion and hydration respectively.
Can Chickens Eat Gourds Raw?
Yes, but the tough, hard skin of a gourd will likely defeat any attempts by chickens to access the edible, nutritious flesh.
If you want to help your birds out, crack open or split the gourd before giving it to them.
Can Chickens Eat Gourds Cooked?
Yes, and this is a great way to serve it to them. Cooking gourds will soften the flesh, enhance the flavor, and generally make it much easier for your chickens to eat.
It will, however, somewhat negatively affect the nutritional value by reducing the vitamins and some minerals present in the edible parts.
Never Feed any Gourd to Chickens that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
Since we are talking about cooking gourds, it is worth mentioning that you should never give gourds to your chickens that have been prepared with any harmful ingredients.
Things like onions, garlic, salt, sugar, oil, and fat should all be avoided as they can be harmful or even deadly to chickens.
At best, any highly caloric or rich ingredients could make for serious digestive upset, including diarrhea, but in some cases they could even result in serious diseases.
Things like fatty liver syndrome, salt poisoning, sour crop, and more are all possible outcomes, and none of them are good. Any could be life-threatening for your chickens.
Accordingly, never give your chickens any gourds that have been prepared with or as an ingredient in something that they should not eat. You have been warned!
Beware of Pesticides on Grocery-bought Gourds
It is always best to grow your own gourds if you can, but if you must buy them from the store, try to make sure that they are organic.
Non-organic gourds are often sprayed with harmful pesticides that can be dangerous for chickens (and people too, for that matter) in order to ensure they make it to market intact and unblemished.
Many such chemicals can result in serious health problems and, even worse, have a way of building up in the tissues of your birds over time.
Even if you trust the source of your gourd and are confident that it has not been sprayed with anything harmful, it is always best to wash it thoroughly before serving it to your chickens.
A good rinse and wipe under clean water should do the trick.
How Often Can Chickens Have Gourds?
Gourds can definitely be classified as a healthy option for chickens, but you still shouldn’t let them overindulge on them.
Chickens should not have more than 10-15% of their diet composed of foods, including gourds, other than their usual chicken feed and even that is pushing it a bit.
A good rule of thumb is to offer gourds to your chickens as an occasional treat or supplement, not a mainstay of their diet.
This will help ensure that they get the full range of nutrients they need to stay healthy while still being able to enjoy the benefits that gourds have to offer.
Gourds are definitely a safe and healthy meal option for chickens, but like with anything else, moderation is key.
Preparing Gourds for Your Flock
If you have a softer species of gourd you can serve it to your chickens raw by splitting it open to let them pick at it or by slicing it into rings or sections that can be scattered around.
These are especially good for providing your chickens with a little extra hydration on hot days.
If you have a harder variety of gourd, cooking it first will make it much easier for your chickens to eat. You can bake, boil, steam, or roast gourds to soften them up before giving them to your flock.
Just make sure that you don’t add any harmful ingredients to them as mentioned above and let them cool before serving.
Can Baby Chicks Have Gourds, Too?
Yes, chicks can have gourds, too. However, it is best to wait for them to age a bit.
You can let your chicks try a few tiny bites of gourd once they are 3 to 4 weeks old, and keep in mind that they really struggle with hard foods until they are at least 6 weeks old.
That said, it is always best to be very conservative when feeding anything new to your chicks.
Start with just a few bites and watch them closely for any adverse reactions like diarrhea or vomiting before offering more.
If everything goes well, you can slowly introduce gourds into their diet more regularly along with the rest of the flock.
Always Clean Up After Serving Gourds to Chickens
One more thing to note about gourds that might be a problem.
Gourds rot quickly, especially when split open, and you should always clean up any leftovers as soon as possible to prevent them from attracting pests or becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.
Though your chickens will happily snap up any ants, beetles and other critters that come looking for a piece, mice, rats, and other pests can pose serious risks to your birds and their eggs.
They also bring fleas and other parasites with them that will further disrupt the well-being of your birds.
Let your chickens eat what they want, then move in to clean up the mess if you to help keep your flock healthy and safe.
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Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.