As a chicken farmer, I belong to—and moderate—quite a number of online poultry groups. My responsibilities are typically limited to approving new members and posts, deleting inappropriate comments, and shutting down heated debates.
I participate in discussions as much as time allows, which I readily admit is not too often these days. One recurring theme that keeps popping up since this spring, however, intrigued me: offering chickens wet food. In all my years of raising poultry, I had never heard of this practice.
One poster commented that her veterinarian told her that offering chickens wet food is like offering cats and dogs wet food. It’s just as nutritious and more enjoyable than dry pellets and crumbles.
I disregarded this post, thinking it was a fluke. But the theme kept coming up every couple of weeks—not in one but in four of my online groups.
Those singing the praises of feeding chickens wet food were people of all ages and genders, scattered throughout the U.S. After yet another post last week lauding wet food for chickens, I could no longer hold back my curiosity.
I contacted several veterinary experts and did a lot of research. Here’s the scoop on offering your flock wet food.
Wet Food to Hydrate Chickens
Extreme heat can be life threatening for chickens, as they do not have the ability to sweat in order to regulate their body temperature. Instead, they release body heat via their combs and wattles and by panting.
But these methods become increasingly inefficient as temperatures soar, often resulting in heat stress.
Early signs of heat stress are not obvious. Other than heavy panting and wings raised away from the body, a heat-sick bird behaves normally. Unfortunately, a chicken can quickly deteriorate, becoming lethargic, listless and unconscious.
Offering your flock a mash of feed mixed with cool water is one way to hydrate your birds on hot days. This method, however, is inefficient. The moisture in the mash will also react to outdoor heat and lose its refreshing chill. It will evaporate, causing the mash to thicken to a concrete-like consistency.
To help your flock stay cool, add shade to your run by attaching sheets or tarps to your fencing. Consider buying a misting garden hose and place this inside your run, where the cooling mist will refresh your birds all day long. Add another waterer and keep the water within chilled with ice packs.
I use bottles of frozen water. Once the water inside the bottles thaws out, I simply clean and refreeze the bottles, then use them again.
Wet Mash for Medication
Pet owners know that an easy way to get a cat or dog to take prescriptive medicine is to hide it in their food. Some flock owners apply the same principle to their poultry. They mix up a mash of water and feed, then add such medications as electrolytes, antibiotics and deworming agents.
Providing medications this way is not only ineffective but can be dangerous. There is no guarantee that the sick birds will get a sufficient dose of their needed medicine, states Dr. Michael Hoffman, an Army Veterinary Corps veterinarian based in Alamagordo, New Mexico.
Most poultry medications are formulated to be administered via the birds’ water. When providing medication to your flock, always follow the directions specified on the box or bottle.
Benefits of Wet Feed
Despite not being a means to hydrate or medicate your birds, wet feed does have its advantages. According to J. Michael Forbes, a poultry scientist at the Centre for Animal Sciences at the University of Leeds, a wet mash is more easily digested due to its being in a semi-liquid form.
A chicken’s digestive juices break down the wet food particles much more swiftly, allowing for the nutrients to be more quickly absorbed.
Offering your flock wet feed instead of dry feed encourages more rapid growth in your birds, especially if you are raising birds for meat. Another bonus is that providing wet feed instead of dry reduces the amount of dust inside a coop.
Disadvantages & Dangers of Wet Feed
Offering your chickens a wet feed is not without its problems. Wet feed tends to cling to the feathers surrounding a bird’s beak. This causes clumps that are not only unsightly but can cause discomfort and attract insects.
Wet feed results in wetter droppings, too. This will require you to clean your coop’s litter more frequently.
To safely offer your flock a wet feed, you will need to invest in livestock feed bowls. You can’t use gravity poultry feeders. The wet mash hardens inside the feeder, creating a cement-type blockage that prevents the food from getting out.
You’ll also need double the number of feeders you already have. Why? Feed bowls must be thoroughly washed regularly to prevent the build-up of mold, mildew and fungus, which can lead to stunted growth and death if ingested by chickens.
Finally, you’ll need to budget for more feed when offering your birds a wet mash. Not only will your birds’ food intake increase (wet feed is more swiftly digested), but also wet feed must be properly discarded—away from your birds—at the end of every day.
According to Dr. Jacquie Jacob from the University of Kentucky, wet chicken food is a main source of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism. Offering your birds wet feed from a previous day is a surefire way for them to become very sick very swiftly.
How to Offer Chickens Wet Food
If you’ve never given your chickens wet feed but are curious to see whether they’d like it, do a quick test. Purchase a small heavy-rubber livestock bowl from your farm-supply store. Then mix up a small amount of wet mash using your chicken feed plus fresh water.
The mash should be the consistency of porridge. Aim for watery but not soupy.
Place the bowl in your chicken run, away from your gravity feeder and waterer. After that, let your chickens discover it for themselves. It might take a day or two—in which case, mix up fresh mash each time—but your birds will eventually find the bowl and happily slurp the slurry down.