Every November, when Halloween has come and gone, our neighbor Jim gives us all the picked-over pumpkins from his patch down the road. We load up the bed of our old Ford pickup and truck tons of free feed to our pasture for the chickens. The hens effortlessly devour the piles of pumpkins, pecking a hole in one side and cleaning them out, seeds, membrane and pulp, leaving only the skin for us to toss in the compost.
These free pumpkins are a huge plus for us and for the hens. Not only do we save a pretty penny on chicken feed, but the chickens absolutely love it! The pumpkins are also a huge plus for our egg customers. The beta-carotene in pumpkins help create an even more beautiful orange supple yolk. So, what other great benefits are hidden in pumpkins?
NUTRIENT PACKED TREATS
Pumpkins are a low calorie fruit packed with protein, dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, and more. Most of the benefits are found concentrated in the seeds, but pumpkin as a whole packs a big ol’ nutrient punch, so let’s see what this chicken super-food is made of:
Vitamins A, C, and E: Pumpkin contains lots of anti-oxidants and boasts one of the highest counts of Vitamin A in its family which makes it a great immunity booster as well as a benefit for hear t health.
Protein: About the same time that pumpkins ripen in fall, chickens molt, growing new feathers for winter. Since feathers are 85% protein, a chicken’s need for dietary protein increases tremendously. Pumpkin seeds, like sunflower seeds, are a really good source of protein, and naturally timed for the occasion!
Beta-Carotene: The bright orange color of pumpkins indicates that they’re a storehouse for beta-carotene. Not only is this directly linked to an increase in beautiful orange yolks, but it may also play a role in cancer prevention. (Yes, chickens can get cancer too!)
Plant-based Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Raw seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are one of the best sources for plant-based Omega-3s!
Amino Acid Tryptophan: The same amino acid that made turkey famous is readily found in pumpkins too. Tryptophan is the ultimate mood-booster for happy hens.
Zinc, magnesium, potassium, copper, calcium, and phosphorus: These minerals found abundantly in pumpkin seeds have a wide range of health benefits from immunity to heart health.
Dietary fiber: Although the necessity of fiber is different in chickens than humans, a good source of fiber can help our feathered friends with nutrient digestibility, enzyme production, and organ development.
B-Complex Vitamins: The fruit of pumpkins is a good source of folates, thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B-6. For your chickens, these B-complex vitamins help break down food and nutrients for them to use, and also help them respond to stress.
THE THEORY OF PUMPKINS AS A NATURAL DEWORMER
Many backyard chicken blogs and forums are filled with excitement over the theory that pumpkins can be used as a natural dewormer. Outspoken chicken keepers tout their success with natural wormers when their healthy hens have a low incidence of worms. But most researchers have significant doubts about the true effectiveness of pumpkins as a wormer. Let’s break it down:
Pumpkins are part of the cucurbitaceae family which also includes other winter squashes, zucchini, and cucumbers. The seeds from these plants boast particularly high levels of cucurbitacin relative to other plant families. In test tubes, large quantities of cucurbitacin have been found to paralyze worms such as tapeworms and roundworms. This is where the excitement is born for using pumpkins as an all-natural wormer for chickens. However, the question is whether chickens can consume an adequate dose of cucurbitacin from pumpkin seeds, given the relatively small amount found in each seed, and the small size of a chicken’s diet, to effectively paralyze worms. So, although some homesteaders may suggest that it has worked for their pigs, cattle or sheep, the same dependable results may not occur in poultry. And the bottom line is that there is actually little to no research on worming chickens and other poultry at all, with formulated wormers, pumpkins, or other traditional homeopathic wormers, such as garlic and nasturtium. Research exists only for using formulated wormers on larger livestock.
Essentially, there is just no proof that pumpkins act as a successful wormer for chickens, but given how much our chickens love to eat them, and their excellent health benefits, there’s no reason not to feed them as a treat with a tiny hope that it could be helping to reduce the population of intestinal worms. Find your local pumpkin patch and see if you can work out a deal for the picked over pumpkins, or ask your neighbors for their carved pumpkins before they throw them out.