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Can Chickens Eat Potatoes?

Can I feed potatoes to my backyard chickens? Is there a difference between white and sweet potatoes?

Did you know that despite sharing a name and often being prepared in similar ways, white potatoes and sweet potatoes aren't actually even related?

They belong to two completely separate families, and because of that, the simple question "Can I feed potatoes to my chickens ?" doesn't have a simple answer.

Chickens can, and do (and should), eat a wide variety of foods. They're omnivores, so their natural diet includes grains and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and even meat. But can chickens eat potatoes?

Can Chickens Eat Potatoes?

Truthfully, it depends on the type of potato. Not all potatoes are created equal - and some are perfectly safe for your chickens, while others are not.

White Potatoes

White potatoes (as well as the red and yellow varieties) are part of the nightshade family (along with tomatoes and eggplant) and as such, all parts of the plant contains a substance called solanine.

Solanine which is a natural pesticide and neurotoxin which can lead to respiratory distress, convulsions, neurological damage, diarrhea or paralysis and can even be fatal in large enough amounts.

Although solanine is partially killed by cooking the potatoes at high heats (400+ degrees F), mere boiling barely reduces solanine levels.

Although the highest levels of the toxin are found in the skin of green potatoes, the eyes and the leaves, it's best to stay away from feeding all parts of the white potato including the flesh, skins, vines and leaves to your chickens.

Remember, "toxic" doesn't always mean "fatal", and toxins can do damage to internal organs or cause other health issues not

While this toxin isn't well-absorbed by humans or animals, it can build up in the body, and livestock deaths have been attributed to ingesting raw (or green) white potatoes and/or leaves.

In humans, generally the symptoms of overeating potatoes is limited to vomiting or diarrhea.

Those with compromised immune systems will often be affected by lesser amounts of a toxin than a perfectly healthy individual, who generally can eat potatoes without any problem.

I'm sure someone will comment that their chickens ate their entire potato crop and were fine. Of course they were fine.

Very few foods will kill a chicken - or any living being - right on the spot, but toxins accumulate and do invisible damage and also affect each individual differently, so why take a chance?

I choose to err on the side of caution on this one.

My recommendation: Avoid feeding all parts of the white potato to your chickens, but if you must, stick with well-cooked, peeled, fully ripened potatoes.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are members of the morning glory family and all parts of the plant - leaves, stems, vines, flowers, peels and flesh (cooked or raw) - are perfectly safe to feed your chickens. 

Since sweet potatoes are far more nutritious for humans than white potatoes anyway, when we started raising chickens and I learned that white potatoes could be potentially harmful to them, we have switched to eating sweet potatoes almost exclusively. I even grow sweet potatoes here in Maine.

This way, I can feed the chickens all the sweet potato peelings, scraps and leftovers without worry.

My recommendation: Add all parts of the sweet potato plant to your chickens' diet.

One caution: moldy sweet potatoes can be toxic to your chickens, so it's always good practice never to feed anything moldy to your flock.

Interesting to note | Yams, while looking and tasting very similar to sweet potatoes, aren't actually related to them at all, instead being part of the lily family, but are also safe to feed to your chickens.

So in summary, switching out the white potatoes in your family's diet for sweet potatoes is a healthy option for both you and your chickens! But remember that treats should be limited to about 10% of your chickens' diet - so that's about 1 Tablespoon per hen per day.

For more healthy treats for your chickens read HERE.

For more potentially toxic foods that you should avoid feeding to your flock, read HERE

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