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Toxic Treats! What NOT to Feed 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.

Chicken 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 not to feed your chickens.

Toxic Treats! 

The following foods are potentially toxic (not necessarily fatal in small amounts for a healthy adult chicken). 

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

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

That said, here are tips on what NOT to feed your chickens.

What NOT to Feed Your Chickens

No avocado flesh, pits or skins 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.

No white potatoes either cooked or raw, skins or flesh which 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.)

No tomato leaves and no eggplant leaves both 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.

No apple seeds (also avoid pits/seeds from apricots, cherries, peaches, pears and plums which contain trace amounts of cyanide) but the fruits are all fine cored. 

No rhubarb. Rhubarb leaves are toxic to humans and animals. And the entire plant contains oxalic acid, which can lead to soft-shelled eggs. So best to avoid rhubarb.

No 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.  

No raw dried beans, which contain phytohemagglutinin (PHA/hemaglutin), a natural insecticide that can be harmful unless the dried beans are soaked and then properly cooked. 

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

Fresh beans are okay for chickens.  

No onions, which contain a toxin called thiosulphate hat destroys red blood cells. 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.

(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. 

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.

No chocolate, no caffeine, and no tea bags. Caffeine which is a methylxanthine should never be fed to chickens and chocolate contains the toxin theobromine which should also be avoided.

Nothing moldy, although overripe fruits, wilted veggies and stale cereal or bread products are fine.

No alcohol. Hey, you never know what some people might try!

Nothing too salty/sweet/fried. Self-explanatory, if its not good for you, it's probably not good for them either. They can get overweight which affects their overall health and laying ability.

Nothing that has been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, such as lawn treatment products. Self-explanatory.

Okay in Limited Amounts:

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 citrus fruits regularly.

My chickens actually won't eat any type of citrus fruit - and they 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.

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

Asparagus can taint the taste of your eggs, so limit the amounts you feed your chickens.

Limit the iceberg lettuce you feed since it has very little nutritional value and can cause diarrhea in large amounts. Far better choices are leafy greens such as cabbage, kale and collards.

Limit the white rice, pasta and bread as they have very little nutritional value. Instead whole wheat products are far more nutritious.

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 if you notice it's having a negative effect.

All of the above foods are either bad for your chickens' systems OR can actually be toxic in large enough amounts.

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 can range from hemorrhaging, internal congestion, visceral gout, diarrhea, convulsions, kidney failure, a rapid heartbeat or poor egg quality and quantity, all depending 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.

In moderation, most things won't hurt them - 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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