by Meredith ChilsonThis has been a terrific year for growing pumpkins! We’ve given each of our grandchildren their choice, taken some to co-workers, passed them out to family and friends, and there are still a few left on the porch! Every once in a while, we’ll find one that has begun to “over-ripen”—has a spot or blemish that means it may spoil soon. These lucky members of the family Cucurbitaceae (genus Cucurbita) have been taken to the hen yard. We break the pumpkin in half, and let the chickens work at it.
Our girls love to pick at the seeds, interior—and finally the shell—of a pumpkin. All parts of a pumpkin are very good for poultry. That bright orange skin is full of beta-carotene, a carotene and antioxidant that is converted into Vitamin A, which will cause egg yolks to be almost bright orange and the albumin (“white”) to be firm and thick. Vitamins C and E are also found in pumpkins, along with various minerals like calcium, potassium and phosphorus. The pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and one authority says they are also a “good natural wormer”.
In addition to all the nutrients found in pumpkins, they can also be a source of entertainment for the chickens. Bored chickens get into trouble! Pecking and poking and rolling a pumpkin around a run gives our girls exercise as well as something different to do.
Here’s the thing—our chickens are a great source of entertainment for us, too! From the time they are tiny balls of fluff in the garage—and we sit in our lawn chairs with our morning coffee (or evening tea) and watch their antics; to their first experiences on grass or catching bugs; to their evening jostling for position on the roosts, we’ve found humor and enjoyment.
So…we had a couple extra pumpkins, and my husband had an idea…how would a chicken “carve” a pumpkin if given the opportunity?
The first time, he actually carved a face in a pumpkin and set it in the chicken yard. It wasn’t long before the girls took over.
Some of them worked on the front; some on the back—
after several hours, they apparently had the scariest grin possible—
–and wandered off to some other project.
The second time we tried the carving experiment, a few days after the hens had cleaned everything up from the first, he only made eyes and a nose in the pumpkin before setting it in the run. The pullets were interested, but Jimmy and his mother took over the first shift—widening the eyes and working on the … ears?
“Somebody” removed the stem, widened an eye, stretched out the nose, and poked a hole through the back—and by morning the pumpkin had collapsed in on itself.
As a disclaimer, we did NOT spend all week watching the chickens dismantle pumpkins…not even all day. We did, however, make many, many trips out to the coop with our cameras—and even though my husband says, “the chickens belong to my wife”—he was the one caught by the neighbors as he was lying in the grass next to the fence with his eye to the viewfinder!
I guess this pumpkin carving idea turned out to be a neighborhood activity—we entertained the neighbors as we were entertained by the chickens that were entertained by a pumpkin!