What Not to Feed Chickens: 45+ Foods To Avoid At All Costs
Published: May 3, 2023
Having grown up on farms, I've seen many chicken owners make the mistake of assuming that their feathered friends can eat anything and everything. While it's true that chickens are omnivores with a diverse diet, there are certain foods you should avoid feeding them at all costs. Failing to do so may lead to health complications or even death for your beloved birds.
In this article, we'll dive into over 45 specific foods that should never find their way into your chicken's feed. We'll discuss why they're harmful and provide alternative options that are both safe and nutritious for your flock.
By following these guidelines, you'll ensure the long-term health and happiness of your chickens while preventing any unnecessary mishaps in their diet.
While they may seem like a harmless and nutritious fruit for humans to enjoy, avocado toxicity is a real concern when it comes to our feathered friends.
The chemical compound persin found in all parts of an avocado - from the skin to the seed - can cause serious health issues for chickens, including respiratory distress, weakness, and even death. It's crucial for chicken owners to be aware that feeding their birds avocados might lead not only to nutrient deficiencies but also put their lives at risk.
Symptoms of avocado poisoning can occur within hours or days after consumption, depending on the quantity ingested. If you suspect your flock has been exposed to this toxic fruit, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
Some common symptoms include (but are not limited to):
Labored breathing or respiratory distress
Weakness or lethargy
Loss of appetite
Difficulty standing or walking
Decreased egg production or complete cessation of egg-laying
Seizures or tremors
To keep your backyard hens safe and healthy, steer clear of offering them any part of an avocado as a treat or supplementing their feed with it.
Raw Potato (Skin Included)
Because potatoes are in the nightshade family, the raw green versions of them can pose a potential risk to chickens.
It is especially important not to feed them the potato peelings.
So what makes toxic potatoes so harmful? Solanine is a glycoalkaloid poison present in all members of the nightshade family; however, its concentration varies depending upon factors like growing conditions and storage practices. When ingested in large quantities by chickens or other animals, this toxin has been known to cause gastrointestinal distress, weakness or even death through respiratory failure if left untreated.
To keep your feathered friends safe from these hazards, it's crucial that you avoid feeding raw potatoes (including skins) altogether - cooked potatoes without any green parts are generally considered safe but offer limited nutritional value compared with healthier alternatives like leafy greens or fruit pieces.
Onions, a common ingredient found in many human dishes, should never be included in your chickens' diet. Onion toxicity symptoms can manifest in various forms such as anemia, and lethargy.
Onions contain thiosulphate, which is harmful to chickens in large quantities as it causes their red blood cells to rupture. This leads to Heinz body anemia – a condition where the chicken's body cannot efficiently transport oxygen due to the damage done by onion consumption.
Instead of risking your flock's health with onions, consider safe onion alternatives that provide similar flavors without posing danger. Herbs like chives or collard greens can provide some of the same tastes that onions do while being safer for your chickens.
You may be surprised to learn that spinach, a leafy green known for its health benefits in humans, is not always recommended for chicken consumption, especially in large amounts.
The main concern with feeding uncooked spinach to chickens is the possibility of pesticides and other chemicals that may be present.
Instead of offering uncooked spinach as a treat or supplement to your birds' diet, consider providing them with other alternatives such as kale, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce or collard greens.
These options contain lower amounts of oxalic acid while still delivering essential nutrients like vitamins A and C, which contribute to maintaining optimal bird health.
Did you know that rhubarb leaves contain 570-1900mg of oxalate per 3.5 ounces? This may not seem like much, but could potentially cause rhubarb toxicity in chickens if they ingest even small amounts of these tempting green leaves.
Rhubarb is a popular garden plant grown for its delicious and nutritious stalks, which are safe for human consumption. However, the same cannot be said for our feathered friends who might come across fallen or discarded rhubarb leaves.
When consumed by chickens, the high levels of oxalic acid found in rhubarb leaves can lead to nutrient deficiencies and severe health issues. The oxalic acid binds with essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium, preventing their absorption and utilization by the chicken's body. This can result in weakened bones, poor egg production, and lethargy.
It is crucial to keep your flock away from any access to rhubarb plants or dispose of the leaves securely so that they do not pose a risk to your birds' wellbeing.
Because some types of mushrooms are known to have toxins in them, we recommend you keep these fungi away from your prized flocks.
Mushroom toxicity in chickens is often caused by consuming wild mushrooms that contain harmful toxins.
Although some types of store-bought mushrooms may be safe for human consumption, they still pose risks for chickens. This is because even edible varieties can cause digestive issues or other health problems in poultry if consumed in large quantities.
If you must insist on feeding your flock mushrooms try these store bought types instead:
Additionally, it's important to remember that identifying toxic mushrooms from non-toxic ones can be extremely difficult even for experts, making it crucial not to take any chances when it comes to your birds' well-being.
Although a popular and healthy vegetable for humans, the presence of certain compounds in this nightshade plant can lead to eggplant toxicity when consumed by our feathered friends.
Chickens have different digestive systems than ours, making them susceptible to problems arising from eating these seemingly innocuous vegetables. Feeding your chickens eggplant may not only cause immediate health issues due to its toxic nature but also contribute to nutritional deficiencies over time.
The solanine content found in the leaves and stems of this plant family can be harmful if ingested by poultry in significant amounts. It's crucial to provide a balanced diet consisting of grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein sources specifically formulated for their needs instead.
Apple Seeds & Core
Imagine walking through an apple orchard on a crisp autumn day, picking apples to feed your flock of chickens as a special treat. While it's true that they will eagerly gobble up the juicy fruit, there are some parts of the apple you should be cautious about sharing with them: Apple seed dangers and core concerns come into play here.
It’s important to remove the seeds and core from apples before feeding them to your chickens. The primary reason behind this warning is that apple seeds contain amygdalin, which turns into hydrogen cyanide when ingested. Although small amounts might not cause immediate harm, consuming large quantities could lead to serious health issues or even death in chickens.
Moreover, the hard texture of the cores may pose choking hazards for your feathered friends. So remember, while apples themselves make for great snacks packed with vitamins and fiber, always take care to eliminate those risky elements beforehand – ensuring happy and healthy hens!
When it comes to citrus nutrition, these fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for humans.
However, feeding your chickens citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits can have negative effects on their overall health when not given in moderation.
One reason is the high acidity found in these fruits.
The acidic effects of citric acid may cause irritation to the digestive system of chickens, leading to discomfort and a decrease in egg production.
It's important to remember that while we appreciate the benefits of citrus fruits in our diet, they might not be suitable for our feathered friends.
While not strictly on the absolutely do not feed list, we prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to our flock.
Elderberries are another food item that should be avoided when feeding chickens.
While elderberries have gained popularity for their health benefits and antioxidant properties in human diets, they can pose a risk to your flock due to elderberry toxicity.
Certain parts of Elderberries contain cyanogenic glycosides, which release hydrogen cyanide upon ingestion. This compound is toxic to many animals, including chickens.
Instead of offering elderberries, consider providing other berries like strawberries or blueberries that offer similar nutritional value without the associated risks.
Feeding your chickens peach seeds can be dangerous, as these seeds contain a compound called amygdalin. When ingested by the birds, this toxic substance breaks down into cyanide, which has well-known lethal effects on their health.
On the contrary, the flesh of the peach (similar to cherries) is in fact, safe for them to eat in moderation. Just remember to remove the seed before feeding them the flesh.
Some excellent seed alternative options include sunflower seeds (both shelled and unshelled), pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and sesame seeds. These are not only nontoxic but also packed with necessary nutrients that promote healthy growth and development in your chickens.
It is recommended that you remove the shells before feeding to make the digestion more comfortable for our feathered friends.
Providing a diverse diet consisting of various vegetables, fruits minus pits or large stones like peaches and cherries will keep your hens happy while keeping dangers at bay.
Eggs are widely known for their rich nutritional value, which includes protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. However, when it comes to feeding them to chickens, there are some factors to consider.
The egg itself, when raw is actually safe to feed chickens however, one major concern is the potential transmission of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella from raw eggs to chickens and ultimately back to humans who consume those eggs or meat.
Additionally, allowing chickens access to raw eggs may develop an undesirable habit – egg-eating!
Chickens might start pecking at and consuming their own freshly laid eggs in search of similar nutrients found in the ones they have been fed. To avoid this issue altogether while still capitalizing on the benefits of recycling eggshells (which are high in calcium), simply crush clean and dry shells into small pieces before adding them into your chicken feed mix.
This practice will help meet calcium requirements without risking any adverse effects associated with whole raw eggs.
One might assume that since chickens are omnivores and can consume meat, offering them raw chicken would be harmless or even beneficial. However, this is far from the truth as there are significant health risks associated with feeding raw chicken to your birds.
The primary concern when feeding raw chicken to chickens is the potential for Salmonella transmission and other bacterial infections.
Chickens can contract Salmonella through consuming contaminated food such as raw or undercooked meats, leading to severe illness and sometimes death in their flocks.
Additionally, if one bird becomes infected, there's a higher likelihood that the infection will spread throughout the entire flock causing devastating consequences.
Let's now move on to another hazard that may be lurking in their food: maggots.
While it might seem like a protein-rich and natural option, incorporating maggots into your chickens' diet can lead to unforeseen health issues.
Maggots can carry harmful bacteria and parasites, such as salmonella, E. coli, and intestinal worms, which can cause illness and even death in chickens
Additionally, feeding maggots to chickens can increase the risk of fly infestations in the coop, which can lead to poor sanitation and further health problems for chickens.
With so many other delicious alternatives, it is best to avoid including maggots in their diets altogether.
Uncooked beans, especially red kidney beans, contain harmful substances called lectins that can lead to serious health issues in your flock.
Consuming raw or undercooked beans might result in symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and weakened immune systems among your birds.
To keep your chickens healthy and well-fed without risking their lives on dangerous foods like uncooked beans, consider safe bean alternatives.
Cooked beans are an excellent option once they have been thoroughly boiled for at least 10-15 minutes to eliminate any toxins present; this process also makes them easier for your chickens to digest.
Additionally, you may choose other protein-rich sources such as mealworms, sunflower seeds, or peas which offer similar nutritional benefits without posing any threats to their wellbeing.
It can be easy to overlook this seemingly simple food – uncooked pasta. The hard texture of raw noodles can be difficult for chickens to digest and may lead to crop impaction or blockages in their digestive tract.
Additionally, most commercial pasta is made from refined wheat flour which lacks essential nutrients required for a healthy diet. Chickens need protein, minerals, vitamins, and other beneficial components found in high-quality poultry feeds rather than empty calories from processed foods like uncooked pasta.
Instead of tossing leftover spaghetti to your flock, consider alternative pasta options such as cooked whole grain varieties that provide more fiber and nutritional value or simply stick with their regular balanced diet designed specifically for optimal health and egg production.
Uncooked rice poses several dangers to the health and well-being of your chickens. One of the primary concerns when feeding uncooked rice is that it can expand in their crop (the muscular pouch located at the base of the chicken’s neck), leading to a condition known as impacted crop or even sour crop. This occurs because the dry grains absorb moisture from the chicken's digestive system and swell up, causing blockages and discomfort for the bird.
Additionally, uncooked rice does not offer much nutritional value compared to other grain options. To prevent these risks associated with uncooked rice, consider alternative grain options such as oats, barley, or quinoa which are more nutritionally balanced for your flock. These healthier alternatives provide essential nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that contribute positively to their overall wellbeing.
Feeding your birds cooked rice may also be an option if you still wish to include rice in their diet but want to avoid potential complications related to raw grains.
Moving away from uncooked rice, another ingredient to be cautious of in your chickens' diet is uncooked amaranth.
While it is safe to extrude grain amaranth to add to broiler chick feed, a 40% upper limit is recommended.
The leaves and stems of some amaranth species contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can bind to calcium and other minerals in the body and cause health problems such as kidney damage and the formation of bladder stones
You can also consider alternative feed options such as wheat bran or alfalfa meal that are both safe and nutritious for your beloved feathered friends.
You might think that lawn clippings are a great way to use up excess waste and provide extra nutrients for your flock, but the truth is there are hidden dangers lurking in those innocent-looking piles of greenery.
Lawn clippings can potentially contain dangerous substances like pesticides or herbicides which, if consumed by your chickens, could lead to serious health problems.
Furthermore, grass cuttings can quickly ferment and become moldy when left in a heap, posing further risks to poultry.
Tomato & Potato Plants
These common garden plants can pose an issue to the health and well-being of their flock because they contain solanine, which can cause gastrointestinal distress, and weakness, or worse in birds when consumed in large quantities.
Potato plants share similar dangers due to their high concentrations of solanine and other toxic alkaloids present in both the leaves and unripe tubers.
To protect your flock, it's essential to fence off your vegetable patch or use netting to prevent access.
Apricot plants are another potential hazard when it comes to feeding chickens. These plants, especially the leaves and seeds, contain a substance called amygdalin which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when consumed.
Similar to other seeded plants, apricot leaves and seeds contain cyanide which is highly toxic and can cause severe health issues in poultry. Therefore, apricot toxicity prevention should be a priority for all chicken keepers who have access to these plants.
To ensure your flock stays healthy and safe from this danger, consider removing any apricot trees or branches within their reach. Alternatively, provide them with safe plant alternatives like lettuce, oregano or various herbs that will not only satisfy their natural instinct to peck but also offer valuable nutrients they need for optimal growth and egg production.
Hyacinths are beautiful flowering plants often used for ornamental purposes in gardens and landscapes; however, they pose a threat to chickens due to their toxicity. Hyacinth toxicity stems from all parts of the plant, including bulbs, leaves, and flowers containing toxic compounds known as alkaloids. Ingestion of these compounds can lead to symptoms such as drooling, vomiting (in species capable), diarrhea, tremors, and seizures.
Chickens will benefit greatly from access to alternative greens and vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, cooked spinach, and kale among others which provide necessary nutrients without posing risks associated with poisonous plants.
Perilous periwinkle poses a potent problem for our precious poultry. Periwinkle, a common groundcover plant with pretty purple flowers, may appear harmless; however, it can cause harm to your chickens when ingested.
All parts of the periwinkle plant, including the leaves, stems, and flowers, contain toxic compounds called alkaloids that can affect the nervous system or worse in chickens.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that has gained popularity as a sweetener in many human food products. However, it's crucial to note that xylitol can be extremely harmful to chickens and should never be included in their diet.
Xylitol toxicity occurs when chickens ingest this artificial sweetener, leading to rapid insulin release which results in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This sudden drop in blood sugar levels can cause weakness, seizures, or even death in severe cases.
If you ever suspect your chicken has ingested Xylitol, you should contact the veterinarian immediately.
This seemingly innocent plant can wreak havoc on the health of your chickens, so it's crucial to protect them from its toxic effects.
All parts of the ivy plant, including the leaves, stems, and flowers, contain toxic compounds that can affect the nervous system, cause skin irritation, or damage the digestive tract of chickens.
To keep your flock safe, prevention strategies should be implemented in your chicken coop area. One effective measure is to carefully inspect the surroundings of the coop and remove any existing ivy plants or vines that could potentially come into contact with your birds.
Regularly monitoring for new growth will also help maintain an ivy-free environment for your precious feathered friends.
Moving on from ivy, another plant that should be kept away from your chickens is hydrangea.
These beautiful flowering plants are commonly found in gardens and landscapes, but they can pose a threat to the health of your flock if ingested.
Hydrangeas contain high levels of cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause hydrangea toxicity in chickens when consumed.
Symptoms of this toxicity include difficulty breathing, weakness, and seizures.
To protect your birds from these dangerous effects, it's essential to take prevention measures such as removing any hydrangea plants or clippings within their reach or providing secure fencing around the area where the plants grow.
One floral option that should never be on your chickens' menu is tulips. While these beautiful blooms might seem like a harmless addition to their diet, they can actually cause severe distress in poultry. Tulip toxicity symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness.
It's important for chicken keepers to be aware of this potential danger and ensure that their flock stays far away from these toxic flowers. Instead of offering tulips as a treat or allowing them access to areas where the flowers are growing, consider providing safe floral alternatives such as marigolds or sunflowers.
While not all ferns are deemed toxic, bracken ferns should certainly not be fed to your chickens. Ingestion of this plant can cause issues like anemia or weight loss when consumed in large quantities.
These plants can be invasive so do take preventative measure when you see this growing around your farms.
Similar to many other bulbed plants, Irises should not be consumed by your chickens. These also include daffodils and narcissus.
All parts of the iris plant, including the bulbs, flowers, leaves, and stems, contain toxic compounds that can affect the digestive system, nervous system, or skin of chickens.
Yellow jasmine contains alkaloids that can affect a chicken's nervous system and even cause paralysis or death.
While true jasmine is typically found in tropical or temperate areas and is often used as a decorative plant, yellow jasmine can be found growing wild across the United States, particularly along the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Florida and as far west as Mexico.
If you have chickens in these areas, you should be mindful of yellow jasmine growing around your property and make sure to remove it to keep your chickens safe.
Similar to Jasmine, daffodils are also potentially harmful to our feathered friends. These vibrant yellow blooms may brighten up your garden, but they could spell disaster for your chickens if ingested.
Daffodils contain the toxic chemical lycorine, which can be harmful to chickens if ingested in large quantities. Lycorine is found in all parts of the daffodil plant, including the bulbs, leaves, and flowers, and can cause a range of symptoms in chickens, including vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Chocolate & Candy
Before you toss that chocolate bar or piece of candy into your chicken coop, think twice.
Many people are unaware that common human treats like chocolate and candy can have a negative impact on our feathered friends.
Toxic sweets like chocolate contain theobromine, a compound that is harmful to birds as they are unable to metabolize it effectively.
Similarly, candy often contains high levels of sugar and artificial ingredients which contribute nothing to a chicken's nutritional needs – only causing harm in the long run if left as part of their routine diet.
Instead, opt for healthy alternatives like fruits, vegetables, grains, and insects to keep your flock happy and well-nourished without risking their lives by indulging them with toxic treats.
Any Greasy Or Processed Food
Any greasy or processed food should never find its way into your chickens' diet. Greasy food dangers not only pose a threat to the health of your flock but can also lead to serious digestive issues and decreased egg production.
Processed foods are often high in salt, sugar, additives, and preservatives – none of which belong in a chicken's natural diet. Instead, focus on providing them with a balanced feed specifically formulated for poultry needs.
A healthier flock will result in better quality eggs and meat, as well as reduced risk of diseases caused by poor nutrition.
While the thought of sharing ice cream or popsicles with your flock might seem like an act of kindness, in reality, these frozen desserts don’t have a place in your bird’s diet.
Unhealthy cold snacks such as ice creams, sorbets, and other sugary treats contain high levels of processed sugars and artificial additives which can lead to digestive issues and obesity in poultry. Furthermore, dairy products found in many frozen desserts can cause diarrhea as chickens cannot digest lactose properly.
Offer alternatives like chilled watermelon chunks or homemade fruit-based popsicles without added sugar. These refreshing options will keep your feathered friends safe while still providing relief from the heat during those scorching summer days.
While it might be tempting to share a piece of bread or cookie with your chickens as a treat, you won’t be doing them any health favors.
Many bakery items contain ingredients that are harmful to chickens such as high levels of sugar, salt, artificial preservatives. Additionally, feeding large amounts of these carbohydrate-rich foods can lead to obesity and other health issues.
Chickens require a well-balanced diet composed mainly of grains, proteins, vitamins and minerals found in their commercial feed or natural sources like insects and plants. Introducing excessive amounts of baked goods into their diet will disrupt this balance causing malnutrition over time.
Soda & Juice
Moving on from baked goods, another category of items that should never be offered to your chickens is soda and juice. While these drinks may seem innocuous enough for humans, they can lead to serious health problems in poultry.
The high sugar content found in sodas and juices can cause significant digestion issues for chickens. Their digestive systems are not designed to handle such large quantities of simple sugars. In addition, the carbonation present in many sodas can further disrupt their delicate gastrointestinal balance.
Instead of providing your flock with these sugary beverages, there are several alternative drink options available. Clean water is always the best choice: it keeps your birds hydrated without any negative side effects associated with consuming sugar-laden liquids or additives commonly found in sodas and juices.
If you'd like to provide a treat for them occasionally, consider adding some apple cider vinegar into their drinking water. As with all things, just do so in moderation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I am overfeeding my chickens?
If you're feeding chickens that lay eggs, as long as you avoid giving them scratch grains, cracked corn, or table scraps, you can give them extra food without worrying about overfeeding. They typically don't overeat.
But if you're feeding chickens for meat, be careful as they can grow too big too fast, which can cause their heart to fail and lead to their death.
Can you feed egg shells to chickens?
Laying hens can benefit from consuming crushed egg shells as an additional calcium source, which aids in the production of strong eggshells and supports their overall health. However, it's crucial not to rely solely on egg shells for calcium.
Provide chickens with shell grit at all times, which contains essential minerals and trace elements, even when supplementing with crushed egg shells, and regardless of their free-range status.
Before feeding egg shells to chickens, ensure they are clean and dry to prevent the risk of spreading bacteria or attracting pests.
Is popcorn OK for chickens?
Chickens can consume plain popped popcorn, but it should be in moderation and without any flavorings or seasonings added.
However, it's essential to avoid feeding them unpopped kernels that can be challenging for some chickens to digest. Interestingly, popcorn is a popular treat for many chickens and can provide a source of enrichment for them. But, keep in mind that it shouldn't make up a significant portion of their diet and should only be fed as an occasional treat.
Can chickens eat uncooked oatmeal?
Oats are highly nutritious, packed with essential vitamins, protein, and antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to your chickens' diet. However, it's important to note that chickens may have difficulty digesting raw oats. To ensure easy digestion, consider soaking the oats overnight before feeding them to your flock. Raw oats can also be beneficial in treating pasty butt in baby chicks, while warm oatmeal can provide a nutritious and warming treat for your chickens during the winter months
Keep Those Chickens Safe & Healthy
For new chicken owners, figuring out what not to feed their feathered friends can be overwhelming. However, there are some basic tips to keep in mind when it comes to feeding your chickens.
Always consider whether a food is suitable for humans before giving it to your chickens, as they are omnivores but some foods can be harmful or toxic to them. You should avoid giving your chickens anything that is moldy or spoiled, as well as foods such as chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits, avocado, green potatoes, and raw beans.
To maintain your chickens' health and wellbeing, it is important to give them a balanced diet of whole foods. They can enjoy most vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, and some dairy products in moderation. It is perfectly fine to give them healthy snacks from the kitchen or garden, as long as they are not on the list of harmful foods.
By following these simple guidelines and using your best judgment when feeding your chickens, you can ensure that they are happy and healthy. So, always keep in mind what you should and should not feed your feathered friends and enjoy raising a thriving flock.
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