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Toxic Treats! 15+ Foods You Shouldn't Feed to your Chickens

Chickens are omnivores, meaning that they eat almost anything, but there are certain foods that can be harmful to them. Here's a handy list of "toxic treats" to stay away from.

One of the major benefits of raising chickens, besides the delicious, fresh eggs, bug and weed control and excellent manure for the garden, is that they eliminate nearly all food waste in our home.

I keep a bowl out on the counter when I'm cooking and toss all the scraps into it to save for our chickens. Just like my grandmother and my mom both did.

Chickens can, and will, eat almost anything. They are true omnivores and opportunists. But there are some foods that either aren't healthy for them or can actually be toxic for them.

So to help clear up some of the confusion about what is toxic to chickens and what isn't, what not to feed chickens and what's okay, I've decided to sort through the various misconceptions running rampant.

I like to use reputable sources such as the Merck Veterinary Manual and other scientific studies to figure out what "toxic" treats you shouldn't feed to your chickens.

Toxic Treats! 15+ Foods You Shouldn't Feed to your Chickens 

Just as we all know that raisins, grapes and chocolate can be fatal to dogs depending on the size and health of the dog and the amount eaten, similarly younger birds or those who are not as healthy could be harmed by some foods as well even in small amounts.

We don't feed our dogs ANY raisins or chocolate because it's impossible to tell how much is TOO much, same goes for foods potentially toxic to chickens. We just stay away altogether.

Although it is interesting that raisins and grapes are perfectly safe to feed to your chickens. Chocolate not so much, but I'm getting ahead of myself....

There are so many choices for healthy, tasty treats to feed your chickens, why even take a chance with something that could at the very least be unhealthy or at worst be dangerous?

The following foods are potentially toxic - although not necessarily immediately fatal in small amounts for a healthy adult chicken. 

Toxic Doesn't Mean Fatal, But Still...

That said, here are 15+ foods that you should NOT feed to your chickens.

15+ Foods Chickens Shouldn't Eat

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Avocado.

Chickens shouldn't eat avocado flesh, pits or skins, all of which which contain the toxin persin, and according to the Merck Veterinary Manual: "Ingestion of avocado has been associated with myocardial necrosis in mammals and birds.

Cattle, goats, horses, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, sheep, budgerigars, canaries, cockatiels, ostriches, chickens, turkeys, and fish are susceptible.

Ingestion of fruit, leaves, stems, and seeds of avocado has been associated with toxicosis in animals; however leaves are the most toxic part." Avocados, all parts of the plant, are bad news. Just 5% of one avocado can kill a small bird in 48 hours. Seriously, don't even think about feeding your chickens avocado.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat White Potatoes.

I don't feed our chickens white potatoes. No white potatoes - either cooked or raw. The entire plant, leaves, stems skins and flesh are part of the nightshade family and contain the toxin solanine.

Solanine destroys red blood cells and can cause diarrhea and heart failure. It is sometimes killed by cooking at high heats, however boiling won't reduce the solanine levels.

Best to stay away from all parts of the white potato including the vines and leaves.

(Note: Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, not the nightshade family, and perfectly safe to feed to your chickens.)

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Peppers, Eggplant Or Tomatoes.

I don't give my chickens leaves or stems from pepper, eggplant or tomato plants, all of which are also part of the nightshade family and potentially toxic. 

Green tomatoes and immature eggplant flesh should also be avoided until ripe, when the solanine isn't present any longer in amounts that are of as much concern.

My chickens do love tomatoes from the garden in the summer, but I only feed them very ripe tomatoes and in moderation.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Stone Fruit Pits or Apple Seeds  

Apple seeds contain cyanide. Also avoid pits/seeds from apricots, cherries, peaches, pears and plums which also contain trace amounts of cyanide. But the fruits themselves are all fine cored or pitted. 

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Rhubarb.

Rhubarb leaves are toxic to humans and animals. Also, the entire plant contains oxalic acid, which can lead to soft-shelled eggs as well. So best to avoid giving rhubarb to your chickens.

Chickens Shouldn't eat Mushrooms.

Although store-bought mushrooms that are edible for humans to eat are safe for chickens as well,  there are many types of mushrooms that grow wild in the lawn or woods that are dangerously toxic. 

Since they can be dangerous for chickens to eat, I don't recommend letting tour chickens get used to eating any type of mushrooms.  Just to be on the safe side.  

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Raw Dried Beans.

Dried beans, which contain phytohemagglutinin (PHA/hemaglutin), a natural insecticide that can be harmful to humans and animals, should never be eaten raw. Dried beans shouldn't be given to your chickens unless the beans are soaked and then properly cooked. 

Once cooked, dried beans are fine for chickens to eat. Interesting note, sprouted beans are also fine for your chickens. The act of sprouting also kills the hemaglutin.

Fresh beans, frozen or canned beans are okay for chickens.  

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Onions

No onions for my chickens. Onions, which contain a toxin called thiosulphate that destroys red blood cells, should be avoided. Excessive amounts can cause jaundice or anemia in your hens or even death. Some claim that onions will taint the taste of your eggs as well. 

I can't validate that claim because I don't feed them to our chickens. I don't recommend feeding onions because any possible health benefits are far outweighed by the potential health risk.

If I happen to have leftover soup or salad that has onions in it, I don't bother to pick them out, but I also don't go out of my way to feed my chickens onions. I've also noticed that the chickens will eat around the onion pieces and just leave them.

(One thing to note: Garlic, which is in the same allium family as onions, contains only 1/15th of the thiosulphate as onion does and has some truly amazing health benefits. I do give my chickens garlic.

Once processed, powdered garlic has only negligible amounts of thiosuplhate in it, so I feel very comfortable adding garlic powder to our chickens' daily feed or adding fresh garlic cloves to our chickens' water in the amount recommended by the experts.)

Chickens Shouldn't Have Caffeine.

This should go without saying, but no chocolate, no coffee grounds, and no tea bags for chickens.

Caffeine which is a methylxanthine should never be fed to chickens, and chocolate contains the toxin theobromine which should also be avoided.

If you have a compost pile where you toss your coffee grounds and tea bags, be sure your chickens can't get in to rummage around.

Chickens Shouldn't Have Alcohol.

Again, this should go without saying, but drinking with your chickens is fine as long as your chickens aren't actually doing any drinking of alcoholic beverages!  Hey, you never know what some people might try!

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Moldy Food.

You shouldn't give anything that is moldy to your chickens, although overripe fruits, wilted veggies and stale cereal or bread products are fine.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Anything that is Too Salty/Sweet/Fried.

Self-explanatory, if its not good for you, it's probably not good for your chickens either. They can get overweight which affects their overall health and laying ability. And too much salt or sugar isn't healthy for anyone. Fried food as well - not great for your chickens diet.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Anything that Has been Treated with Chemicals.

Nothing that has been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, such as lawn treatment products, is going to be good for your flock. Self-explanatory. Don't use chemicals on your lawn or garden if your chickens have access to it.

Okay For Chickens To Eat in Limited Amounts

There are a couple of other foods that chicken can have - in limited amounts.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Too Many Oranges.

Citrus is thought to interfere with calcium absorption, leach calcium out of bones and contribute to thin-shelled and fewer eggs, so don't feed your chickens oranges or other citrus fruits regularly.

Although oranges and other citrus fruits are a good source of Vitamin C for humans, chickens are able to synthesize their own Vitamin C, so they don't need it in the foods they eat. 

(Fun fact: An egg contains every nutrient needed for life EXCEPT Vitamin C!)

My chickens actually won't eat any type of citrus fruit - and they do usually know best - so just skip the orange sections! Although if there are a few in a fruit  salad you share with the chickens, don't worry about picking them out. They likely will just eat around them anyway.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat too Much Spinach.

The oxalic acid in spinach can also interfere with calcium absorption, so spinach - while super nutritious - should be only an occasional treat for your chickens.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat too Much Asparagus.

Asparagus is one of the few foods that can actually taint the taste of your eggs, so limit the amounts you feed your chickens.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Too Much Iceberg Lettuce.

Limit the iceberg lettuce you feed your chickens since it has very little nutritional value and can cause diarrhea in large amounts. 

Far better choices are more nutritious leafy greens such as cabbage, kale and collards. However, during a heatwave, the water content in iceberg lettuce can be beneficial to your chickens. 

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Too Much White Grain

Limit the white rice, pasta and bread you feed your chickens, as they have very little nutritional value. Instead whole wheat products are far more nutritious. Try brown rice or seven grain or whole wheat bread and pasta.

Chickens Shouldn't Eat Too Much Dairy

Dairy products including yogurt, milk and cheese can give chickens diarrhea, since they aren't designed to digest the milk sugars, so go easy on the dairy and cut it out of your chickens diet if you notice it's having a negative effect.

toxic treats for chickens

All of the above foods are either bad for your chickens' systems OR can actually be toxic in large enough amounts., so they'll go into the compost pile instead of to our chickens.

Remember, a toxic substance does not mean that it will immediately kill the bird that consumes it. Many toxins build up in the system and signs of distress take awhile to be apparent.

Symptoms of Food Toxicity in Chickens

Symptoms of having eaten a toxin can range from:

  •  hemorrhaging
  • internal congestion
  • visceral gout
  • diarrhea
  • convulsions
  • kidney failure
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • poor egg quality
  • laying fewer eggs 

The severity of the results of eating a toxic food will depend on the hens' overall health, condition, age, size and what and how much is eaten, how often.

Toxins often shorten lifespans considerably if fed over time, or lessen quality of life.

Feed Chickens a Wide Variety of Foods in Moderation

In moderation, most things won't hurt chickens - even those listed above. But there's sometimes a fine line between what will be beneficial and what won't, and what eventually will take it's toll on a body. 

Even our own daily vitamins that contain such beneficial nutrients and minerals would be toxic if we were to take enough of them in a short period of time.

Most of the time chickens will avoid things that aren't good for them, but if food is scarce, or it is included in with other things they normally eat, they can't always be trusted to steer clear. 

Additionally, treats of any kind other than so-called "green treats" such as grass and weeds that your chickens eat while out free ranging, should be limited to no more than 10% of your chickens' diet. 

So do your chickens and yourself a favor and avoid feeding them any potentially 'toxic treats' and stick to this list of Healthy Treats.

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Further Reading/Sources

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