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The recent popularity of coconut oil may make you wonder, “What is coconut oil good for in the care of chickens?” This topic is still controversial in human health and appears to be less studied in domestic fowl.
Enthusiasts claim antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, that may also bestow anti-inflammatory and healing effects. On the other hand, coconut oil is high in saturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which runs contrary to human diet recommendations. Research into cardiovascular health in humans indicates that coconut oil raises cholesterol of types considered both healthy (HDL: high-density lipoprotein) and a health risk (LDL: low-density lipoprotein). Moreover, it raised both types of cholesterol more than plant oils high in unsaturated fats, but not as much as butter.
However, the main saturated fats in coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which some believe to have health-giving properties. Coconut oil averages 82.5% saturated fatty acids by weight. Three MCFAs, lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid, comprise on average 42%, 7%, and 5% by weight respectively. These MCFAs are being studied for their beneficial properties, but research is not yet conclusive. So, do these health risks and potential benefits apply to poultry?
Is Coconut Oil Safe for Chickens?
Similarly, there is insufficient research to draw a conclusion for chickens. Studies have been carried out in poultry to examine the effects of dietary saturated fats on blood cholesterol and the effect of cholesterol on artery health. A review of these studies concludes that a rise in blood cholesterol increases hardening of the arteries in poultry. It also found that consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) rather than saturated fats resulted in lower blood cholesterol.
Feeding Treats to Chickens
In view of this similarity to the effects in humans, I would be very careful not to feed much fat of any kind to my chickens, and especially not saturated fats. A commercially-produced balanced ration includes only 4–5% fat, and I would not want to upset a carefully formulated diet, particularly when feeding young birds.
The problem with adding homemade treats is that we upset their dietary balance. Treats made with coconut oil or mixing it into feed could provide too much saturated fat. Bear in mind that manufactured products may have processed the oil into a trans fat, which increases LDL further. Moreover, chickens may favor treats and reduce intake of their balanced feed, missing out on essential nutrients. Incidentally, there is one essential fatty acid that chickens must consume, albeit in small quantities: linoleic acid, an omega-6 PUFA. However coconut oil is not a good source, containing only on average 1.7% by weight.
I find that mature free-range chickens are adept at acquiring the nutrients they require if they have sufficient varied pasture to forage. These birds could probably take the occasional fatty treat in careful moderation.
Penned birds dependent on humans to feed them are better off with a complete balanced ration. The lack of variety can be boring for them, so we should provide enrichment to keep them occupied. Rather than giving them treats, consider providing pen enhancements that satisfy the desire to forage. Foraging materials, such as fresh dirt, straw, or fresh grass turfs, fulfill the urge to scratch and seek food, rather than altering nutritional balance. Such measures also greatly improve chicken welfare.
Can Coconut Oil Improve Meat and Egg Production?
MCFAs extracted from plant oils have been tested on broilers for growth and weight gain. There have been some positive results in improved breast yield and lower abdominal fat deposition, probably due to the metabolism of MCFAs for energy. However, long-term effects on health are not known, seeing that broilers are harvested at around six weeks of age. Some MCFAs have been tested on layers, but mainly capric, caproic, and caprylic acids, of which coconut oil contains very little. In any case, MCFAs have not been found to consistently improve performance in poultry. Benefits of selected MCFAs for growth and weight gain in young birds are linked to antimicrobial properties. Little research has been done on coconut oil, and that has shown mixed results.
Does Coconut Oil Fight Chicken Diseases?
Research has shown that MCFAs are effective against micro-organisms, reducing colonization of the gut. This includes some of the major poultry threats: Campylobacter, clostridial bacteria, Salmonella, and E. coli. Trials were performed using individual fatty acids, often converted into a more effective form, such as being encapsulation to protect from digestive processes, allowing transfer to the lower intestines. These results give hope to find effective alternatives to antibiotics, but as yet, more research is required to find the appropriate dose and form of administration. MCFAs make up just over half of coconut oil and the effectiveness of administrating the pure oil in any dose is unknown.
Can Coconut Oil Aid Healing in Chickens?
Coconut oil makes an excellent moisture barrier, so it can aid the healing of skin damage. For children with mild to moderate dermatitis, virgin coconut oil promoted healing better than mineral oil. So far, we have no studies on the effect on chicken wounds or skin.
As an important ingredient in soap-making, coconut oil produces a hard soap that lathers well. Soap and moisturizer are so crucial for maintaining hygiene when caring for animals that we can be grateful for coconut oil’s excellent properties in this respect. The potential of coconut oil for further health applications is promising but needs more research.
- Eyres, L., Eyres, M.F., Chisholm, A., and Brown, R.C., 2016. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition Reviews, 74(4), 267–280.
- USDA FoodData Central
- Bavelaar, F.J. and Beynen, A.C., 2004. The relation between diet, plasma cholesterol and atherosclerosis in pigeons, quails and chickens. International Journal of Poultry Science, 3(11), 671–684.
- Poultry Extension
- Çenesiz, A.A. and Çiftci, İ., 2020. Modulatory effects of medium chain fatty acids in poultry nutrition and health. World’s Poultry Science Journal, 1–15.
- Wang, J., Wang, X., Li, J., Chen, Y., Yang, W., and Zhang, L., 2015. Effects of dietary coconut oil as a medium-chain fatty acid source on performance, carcass composition and serum lipids in male broilers. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, 28(2), 223.
- Evangelista, M.T.P., Abad‐Casintahan, F., and Lopez‐Villafuerte, L., 2014. The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double‐blind, clinical trial. International Journal of Dermatology, 53(1), 100–108.
Leading photo by moho01 from Pixabay.