Fat balls, also known as suet balls, are popular feed for wild birds. They are often put out to help provide much-needed energy. But are they an appropriate food for chickens? As a keeper, can or should you look to offer them to your flock? Here is what you should know.
So can chickens eat fat balls? Chickens can eat fat balls, but only in minimal amounts and on rare occasions. They are best offered in very cold weather. This is because they are mostly comprised of fat, are high in calories, do not offer much protein, and are naturally low in calcium. There are generally better treats to offer.
The clue is in the title, really.
These balls are almost entirely fat.
And while chickens have a dietary need for fat, which serves many critical biological processes and functions (such as digesting other nutrients), they only need around 5% in the diet.
And consider here, almost all poultry feed will include fat around the 3.5-4% range.
Your flock will be getting the fat they need already.
So, you can see how fat balls can quickly become problematic.
Nevertheless, they can serve a place in the diet of your flock.
We will now see how, why, and how to serve if you did ever feel inclined.
What Are Fat Balls Made Of?
Fat balls are generally made up of suet (animal fats), vegetable oils, seeds, and grains (such as maize and wheat) – although some brands and products do differ. Some have been known to include mealworms too.
Nevertheless, fat balls are based primarily on animal and vegetable fats.
They are therefore designed to be very high energy.
A source of much-needed stamina and strength for wild birds struggling to obtain the calories they need for survival.
Whom will only get a few pecks at a fat ball at a time; it’s got to be worthwhile!
As such, one fat ball, which is around 100 grams in weight, contains about 500 calories (according to some manufacturers.)
It could quite easily be more in other brands.
This is why they are intended for birds such as:
- Blue tits
- Great tits
- House sparrows
- Long-tailed tits
Of course, it’s all very different when keeping chickens.
So, let us take a closer look at these birds specifically.
How Many Fat Balls Can Chickens Eat?
Fat balls should be offered to chickens in very small servings and on rare occasions. One fat ball, once per month or a couple of times during the winter season, is advised.
The truth is, fat balls should never be a staple in the diet.
There are much better foods out there.
And feeding high-fat foods is not without its risk.
For instance, an excessive intake of fatty foods (such as from fat balls) can cause a condition known as Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome (FLHS).
This condition can be fatal; fat builds up around the liver and causes the organ to rupture and hemorrhage (bleed).
‘Because FLHS occurs more frequently when birds are in a positive energy balance, body weight and daily feed intake should be monitored. When potential problems are seen, remedial action to limit energy intake through the use of lower energy diets and/or change in feed management should be considered’MSD Vet Manual
In fact, this study even found that up to 97% of chickens who developed FLHS were classified as obese.
You can see how fat balls can be an issue here.
And as the MSD Vet manual concludes, this condition is associated with high-energy diets and limited exercise – more likely to occur in warm summer months.
So, if you are going to offer fat balls – do it rarely. Offer a small amount and consider doing so mainly in the winter.
How And When To Offer Fat Balls To Chickens
Fat balls should be fed sparingly to chickens if offered at all. They are certainly not necessary in the diet, and there are generally better treats you should look to provide.
That being said, research has shown that fats (comprised of fatty acids) are responsible for cell membrane integrity, hormone synthesis, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
So fat has to be included in the diet to some extent.
The problem, however, is that fats are often incorporated into feed.
Therefore, you must check the packaging or contact your manufacturer to find out the fat content of your feed.
If fat is naturally high, and your birds consume a lot of feed daily, then fat balls should be offered even more rarely.
If your birds are not always consuming feed or are more reliant on scraps that are lower in fat content (such as grains), fat balls could prove less problematic.
So it does depend on context to some extent.
That being said, on the rare occasion that you may consider offering a fat ball to your flock, you can do so in the following ways:
- Offer a fat in thirds/quarters,
- Crumble a fat ball up into small pieces and spread across the ground
In either case, you’ll want to ensure that the fat ball is sufficiently soft for your preparation and for your chickens to consume.
It’s not a good idea to offer a fat ball whole to your flock.
This increases the chances of the bird at the top of the pecking order eating it all or bullying other birds away.
Not only can this result in birds going without, but it also means one bird will be getting all the energy.
Better Treats To Offer Than Fat Balls
If you are looking to treat your flock regularly, then there are generally much better options for fat balls to consider.
Below, we take a look at some simple alternatives that chicken keepers swear by:
- Cooked meats (with excess fat removed),
- Fruits with apples, pears, grapes and berries being ideal choices.
- Grains; such as rice and small amounts of fresh bread.
- Vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, spinach, and squashes.
- Misc, including the likes of popcorn.
As you can see, there are plenty of treats to offer your chickens.
And the recurring trend between them; they are all naturally low in fat!
Chickens can eat fat balls, although there are generally much better options for them when it comes to treats.
Fat balls should never be a staple in the diet, and feeding them excessively can have severe consequences on your birds.
That being said, their high-calorie content can have its advantages – particularly in very cold winters where your flock does need to generate heat to stay warm.
As such, if you do want to offer them, just be sure to offer a minimal amount at a time – and save them for freezing days!
Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my other chicken feeding guides below!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.