Can Chickens Eat Snails? The Complete Guide for Chicken Owners

A Giant African Land Snails on Rock (image by Sonel, Pixabay)

Article Summary

  • Chickens can safely eat snails as they are a natural part of their diet.
  • Cooking snails before feeding is advisable to kill bacteria, neutralize parasites, and reduce choking risk.
  • Overfeeding may lead to health issues like excess calcium, imbalanced nutrition, increased parasite risk, and reduced appetite for regular feed.

Snails may seem like pests to gardeners, but they can actually be a nutritious treat for chickens. Chickens are omnivores and will eat both plants and meat. Offering snails to backyard chickens provides them with extra protein while helping control snail populations.

Is it Safe for Chickens to Eat Snails?

Eating snails is generally safe for chickens. In fact, snails are a natural part of a chicken’s diet in the wild. Chickens have traditionally been used by gardeners to help control snail populations.

Snails can potentially transmit some parasites and bacteria to chickens. However, the risk is low if chickens eat only a few snails occasionally. Avoid feeding chickens very large numbers of snails on a frequent basis.

To be safe, collect snails from areas not treated with pesticides or other chemicals. Only offer snails that look healthy. Do not feed chickens decaying snails or very large quantities at one time.

Benefits of Feeding Snails to Chickens

Feeding snails to chickens offers several benefits:

  • Provides protein – Snails contain 12-16% protein, providing chickens with essential amino acids.
  • Aids egg production – The protein in snails can help hens produce more eggs.
  • Supports bone health – Snails contain calcium to strengthen chicken bones and eggshells.
  • Natural behavior – Chickens enjoy foraging for insects and meat. Eating snails satisfies this natural urge.
  • Controls pests – Letting chickens eat garden snails helps reduce damage to plants.
  • Free food source – Snails are often plentiful and easy to collect as a supplemental feed.
Chickens Foraging on Plants (image by Kim Gorga)
Chickens Foraging on Plants

Potential Risks of Feeding Snails to Chickens

While snails are a good occasional treat, there are some potential downsides to be aware of:

  • Parasites – Snails can potentially transmit parasitic flukes or worms. Risk is low in small amounts.
  • Bacteria – Snails may harbor Salmonella. Proper cooking kills bacteria.
  • Choking hazard – Snails have hard shells that could potentially lodge in a chicken’s throat. Crush shells before feeding.
  • Too much calcium – Excess calcium from overfeeding snails can cause kidney damage. Feed snails in moderation.
  • Biomagnification of toxins – Snails may concentrate any pesticides or heavy metals in the areas they inhabit. Avoid collecting snails from contaminated areas.

What Type of Snails Can Chickens Eat?

Chickens can safely eat most types of terrestrial snails found in gardens:

  • Common garden snails – The small brown snails seen on plants are perfectly fine for chickens to eat. Crush the shell first.
  • Giant African land snails – This larger species is also edible. Their size may present a greater choking risk, however.
  • Decollate snails – These predatory snails feed on other snails but are not toxic.
  • Vineyard snails – The common vineyard pest is safe for chickens when crushed and cooked.

Avoid offering chickens aquatic snails like ramshorn snails from ponds and aquariums. These species may harbor more parasites. Chickens should not eat sea snails like periwinkles.

Can Chickens Eat Raw Snails?

Chickens can eat raw snails, but cooked snails are safer. Eating snails raw poses a slightly higher risk of transmitting bacteria like Salmonella.

To make raw snails safer:

  • Remove the snail from the shell to reduce choking risk.
  • Rinse the snail under water to remove dirt and slime.
  • Crush the shell thoroughly so there are no large sharp pieces.
  • Only feed snails collected from your own pesticide-free garden.

RECOMMENDATION

For optimal safety, thoroughly cooking snails is recommended. Boiling for 3-5 minutes kills any potential parasites or bacteria.

Should You Cook Snails Before Feeding to Chickens?

Cooking snails before feeding them to chickens is advisable for several reasons:

  • Kills bacteria like Salmonella
  • Neutralizes parasites and pathogens
  • Softens snail meat for easier eating
  • Reduces choking risk by softening shells
  • Improves digestibility

To cook snails:

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  • Drop in live snails and boil for 3-5 minutes.
  • Drain and rinse cooked snails with cold water.
  • Remove meat from shells by crushing shells.
  • Chop snail meat into smaller pieces if desired.
  • Allow cooked snail pieces to cool before feeding to chickens.

Follow basic kitchen safety and handwashing practices when preparing snails to avoid illness. While not required, cooking makes snails safer and more digestible.

Can Chickens Feast on Snails from the Garden?

Absolutely! Letting chickens forage for snails in the garden is an excellent option. Chickens will enjoy hunting for these tasty treats while helping eliminate pests.

Avoid areas where snail bait or other chemicals have been used. Also, be cautious of chickens eating too many snails in one meal. Consider crushing larger snails and limiting the amount of snails that chickens eat in one feeding.

Free-range chickens will supplement their diet with various bugs…

Free-range chickens will supplement their diet with various bugs and insects. Snails can be part of a varied diet without risk if chickens eat garden snails in moderation. Collect snails yourself to control intake.

Do Chickens Eat the Shells Too?

Chickens can eat whole snail shells. However, the shells are not digestible and provide no nutritional value. Eating whole shells does pose a minor risk of choking or internal cuts from sharp shell fragments.

For safety, it is best to crush snail shells thoroughly before feeding them to chickens. Remove as much of the shell as possible from larger snails. Discard any uneaten crushed shell fragments.

If chickens accidentally ingest a few small pieces of shell, it should pass through their digestive system without issue. Just avoid letting chickens eat whole shells, which could get stuck in their throats or crops.

Can Chickens Safely Feast on Pond Snails?

Ramshorn snails and other aquatic pond snails are not recommended for chicken feed. These snails are more likely to harbor parasites like flukes or internal worms. Chickens who eat infected raw pond snails are at higher risk of contracting diseases.

A Ramshorn Snail on Leaf (image by Egor Kamelev, Pexels)
Ramshorn Snail

If you want to feed pond snails to chickens, thoroughly cook them first by boiling them for at least 5 minutes. This will kill any parasites present in the snails. Let the snails cool before feeding them to your flock.

For safety, it’s best to stick to feeding chickens normal garden snails and slugs. Only offer pond snails occasionally after proper cooking. Never feed chickens raw pond snails.

How Much Snail Serving Size is Okay for Chickens?

Chickens should only eat snails in moderation, not as a main diet component. About 1-2 crushed snails per chicken 2-3 times per week is a reasonable amount.

Monitor to ensure chickens are not filling up on snails instead of their regular feed. Overeating snails could cause calcium or protein imbalances.

Limit snail treats for younger chickens. Baby chicks under 12 weeks old do not need snails and cannot chew shells properly.

For larger flocks, collect snails over a few days rather than offering many snails at once. This prevents chickens from overindulging and helps avoid possible parasites.

Like any other animal treat, snacking on snails should supplement a balanced diet. Snails make a nutritious occasional protein boost but are not a dietary staple.

Feeding Snails to Chickens: Step-By-Step

Here is a simple process for collecting and feeding snails:

  1. Use gloves and wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling live snails.
  2. Gather snails in the early morning or evening when they are active. Target larger adult snails.
  3. Rinse each snail under running water to remove dirt and slime.
  4. Bring water to a boil and cook snails for 3-5 minutes. Cool completely.
  5. Remove snail meat from shells. Crush shells into small fragments.
  6. Chop cooked snail meat into bite-sized pieces.
  7. Place snail meat and crushed shell in a bowl and let chickens forage.
  8. Provide 1-2 snails per chicken 2-3 times per week.
  9. Refrigerate unused snails for up to 3 days.
A Vineyard Snail on Wood (image by azeret33, Pixabay)
Vineyard Snail

Follow safe handling procedures and wash all utensils after prep. This provides chickens with safe seasonal protein they will eagerly devour!

How Frequently Can You Offer Snails to Chickens?

Snails should be an occasional treat rather than a daily menu item. Offer chickens snails 2-3 times per week at most.

Feeding snails more often than this can lead to potential health issues:

  • Excess calcium from shells
  • Imbalanced nutrition
  • Increased parasite risk
  • Reduced appetite for regular feed

Limit snails to twice weekly for most backyard flocks. Chickens with existing health issues or very young/old birds should stick to just once a week.

Monitor chicken droppings after feeding snails. Runny or off-color droppings could mean reducing snail frequency.

Let chickens eat as many snails as they want during each designated snail meal. Just be sure to limit snail feedings to every few days for a healthy supplement.

Can Baby Chicks Eat Crushed Snails Too?

Snails are not recommended for baby chicks under 12 weeks old. Young chicks have a developing digestive system and do not require snail protein.

If you want to offer snails to starter pullets over 12 weeks, take precautions:

  • Cook snails thoroughly to kill pathogens
  • Eliminate all shell pieces
  • Chop snail meat into tiny pieces
  • Feed just a few pieces per chick
  • Avoid giving snails to smaller breeds like bantams
Chicks on The Grass (image by Lolame)
Chicks on The Grass

Wait until chicks are fully feathered and consuming adult feed before introducing a few boiled, shelled snails. Never feed chicks whole raw snails or shells.

With some care, snails can provide a protein boost for growing pullets. But snails are unnecessary for young chicks who need a balanced starter feed.

In summary, chickens can safely eat garden snails in moderation. Cook snails and crush shells first to reduce risks. Offer limited quantities 2-3 times weekly for a healthy supplemental protein. With some simple precautions, snacking on snails can benefit backyard chickens while reducing the garden pest population.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can chickens eat snail shells?

While chickens can eat snail shells, it’s important to note that the shells are not easily digestible and provide no significant nutritional value. Eating whole shells poses a minor risk of choking or internal cuts from sharp fragments. If chickens accidentally ingest small pieces, they should generally pass through the digestive system without issue. However, it’s crucial to avoid letting chickens eat whole shells to prevent potential complications in their throat or crop.

Can chickens eat snails in the garden?

Yes, chickens can eat snails in the garden. In fact, allowing chickens to forage for snails helps control pest populations in the garden. The natural behavior of chickens scratching and pecking at the ground makes them effective in reducing the number of snails and other garden pests.

Are snails safe for chickens?

In general, snails are safe for chickens to eat. They provide a protein boost and essential minerals like calcium. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the snails are free from pesticides or other harmful substances. Always supervise the introduction of new foods and observe your chickens for any adverse reactions.