I often describe chickens as miniature trash compactors – they will eat almost anything you put in front of them. An emphasis should be placed on “almost anything”.
For the most part, we feed our chickens food items they would normally find around the ranch – veggies, fruits, seeds and grains. As open as these birds are to eating a varied diet, there are a few food types to steer clear of.
10 Foods Your Chickens Should Avoid
- Plants from the nightshade family – Nightshade plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants have a toxic substance in their unripened fruit and leaves called solanine that could be harmful to your flock. Even the peels of potatoes are potentially harmful and should be avoided. If you have a large amount of leftover nightshade vegetables (potatoes or peels), cook them first and your chickens will enjoy the treat even more.
- Salty foods – Foods containing large amounts of salt can lead to a condition known as salt poisoning, salt toxicity, hypernatremia, or water deprivation-sodium ion intoxication. The small bodies of chickens are not meant to ingest large amounts of salt. Chickens can tolerate up to 0.25% salt in drinking water but are susceptible to salt poisoning when water intake is restricted.
- Citrus – Some varieties of chickens can be very sensitive to citrus. Many believe it is a build up of citric acid and vitamin C that can cause excessive feather plucking. That said, I have fed citrus to my chickens and they don’t care for it.
- Onions – Onions contain a toxin substance called thiosulphate that destroys red blood cells. When excessive amounts are fed to chickens, it can cause jaundice or anemia in your hens or even death.
- Dried or undercooked beans – Raw, or dry beans, contain a poison called hemaglutin which is toxic to birds. Cooking or sprouting the beans before serving them to chickens will kill this toxin.
- Dry rice – If we feed them rice, we cook it beforehand. Chickens that are fed dry rice are put in danger of the rice blowing up when it is introduced to moisture and will cause a gut problem in chickens.
- Avocado skin and pit – Chickens do not care much for avocados. They probably sense or smell the low levels of toxicity in the skin and pit.
- Raw eggs – Introducing raw eggs to your chickens could result in your flock turning cannibal. If they are doing this, it could be a result of a deficiency in their diet or because they are stressed. Adding crushed oyster shells to their diet usually helps as well as adjusting their environment (more nesting boxes, lessen the light in the coop, etc.)
- Candy, chocolate, sugar – Chickens do not have much of sweet tooth. In fact, they only have around 25-30 taste buds, so more than likely, they wouldn’t realize they are eating anything sweet. Further, it’s bad on their digestive tract and chocolate especially contains a toxin called methylxanthines theobromine and is poisonous to chickens. Therefore, adding sugar to their diet wouldn’t be advisable.
- Apple seeds – Apple seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide that could kill your chicken. As much as chickens love apples, do them a favor and remove the seeds.
One of the most important aspects of caring for your flock is ensuring their diets are the healthiest possible. Your flock of chickens will be much happier and healthier if you can find a way to avoid these foods from becoming the chicken’s food source.
Tess Pennington is the editor for ReadyNutrition.com. After joining the Dallas chapter of the American Red Cross in 1999, Tess worked as an Armed Forces Emergency Services Center specialist and is well versed in emergency and disaster management and response. Tess is the author of The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. When a catastrophic collapse cripples society, grocery store shelves will empty within days. But by following Tess’s tips for stocking, organizing, and maintaining a proper emergency food supply, your family will have plenty to eat for weeks, months, or even years.