If there’s one kind of food that is most commonly associated with chickens, and birds of all kinds, it is probably going to be seeds and nuts.
Everyone knows that birds love both, that’s not in question, but have you ever stopped to think about whether or not some seeds or tree nuts in particular are dangerous for birds?
Let’s look at acorns, for instance. Can chickens eat acorns, and are they safe?
No, acorns are not safe for chickens when raw. Acorns contain dangerously toxic tannins that can cause organ damage and serious digestive distress. Acorns can be made safe to eat by repeated soaking or boiling in water, however.
This might be a point of concern for chicken owners because oak trees are so common.
Most people don’t even know that acorns are that dangerous for chickens, and though you can generally rely on your birds to avoid eating things which are harmful to them, they don’t always get it right!
If you have acorns littering your property, you must take steps to protect your chickens from them, or if you want to turn them into edible, nutritious food for chickens you have to know what to do. I’ll tell you all about it below…
Warning: All Acorns Contain Dangerous Levels of Toxic Tannins
I need to make one thing perfectly clear about acorns: all acorns, every single one of them, contain tannins which are dangerously toxic for chickens.
Tannins are a type of compound that is dangerous to many animals, not just birds, and in fact, they are so toxic they even have a specific sickness named after them- acorn poisoning, also known as quercus.
If chickens eat acorns when raw, it won’t be long before they experience severe digestive upset, with massive diarrhea as a rule but also physical depression, inability to stand, vomiting, kidney and liver damage, and eventually coma and death.
What’s worse, as you probably already know, birds are particularly susceptible to all sorts of poisons and toxins in their environment and in their diet because of their extremely high metabolisms.
As such, it doesn’t take many acorns at all for chickens to start experiencing severe symptoms.
You must never give acorns to your chickens deliberately, and you’ll have to take pains to keep them from eating them if you have any oak trees on your property.
Acorns Must Be Treated to Be Safe for Chickens!
Acorns don’t have to be dangerous. It is possible to make acorns not only safe but nutritious, through proper treatment and preparation.
This counts for human consumption, too, not just birds!
This is accomplished through one of two methods, either by soaking or leaching the acorns in water over a long period of time to extract the tannins or by boiling them which does the same but much faster.
No matter which method is used, several water changes will be required as the tannins are absorbed into the water.
The water should be changed and the acorns leached or boiled until there’s no trace of color tinting the water.
When that’s done, they should get one last rinse or dunk in fresh water and then they will be safe to eat.
This isn’t some desperate field expedient survival method either; acorns have been processed into useful flour and used in all sorts of other foods for humans throughout the ages and also for animal feed using nothing but these techniques.
It takes time, but you can make acorns safe for chickens to eat.
Be Careful: Different Acorn Species Have Different Levels of Toxins
Something else to be aware of is that not all acorns are equal when it comes to the amount of toxins that they contain.
Some acorns are only mildly toxic, comparatively, while others are lethally full of tannins that can kill your chickens outright.
For instance, black oaks produce acorns that are absolutely packed with tannins, while white oaks produce acorns that are only mildly toxic and might only sicken chickens if they eat one or two.
But further complicating matters is that most acorns coming off any given species of oak tree are also individuals, to a degree.
One acorn might have a lot of tannins for the species, while another right next to it could have significantly less…
Don’t assume that just because you have a less dangerous species of oak tree dropping acorns on your property that it’s okay for your chickens to nibble on them here and there– that very next acorn they eat might be their last!
Do Treated Acorns Have Any Health Benefits for Chickens?
So, we’ve established that it is indeed possible to make acorns completely safe for consumption by chickens, but is there any point to even doing so? Actually, happily, the answer is yes.
Acorns surprisingly don’t have a great variety of vitamins and minerals, but they do have some and, more importantly, they are quite abundant with helpful antioxidants that can get rid of free radicals and boost immune system performance in chickens.
Also, not for nothing, acorns are quite calorie-dense and can help your chickens gain weight and recover from injuries, and they also work well as a warming feed during cold weather.
In any case, treated acorns are wholesome and safe for chickens, and most chickens seem to like them.
However, there is one possible point of concern over this because you might not want to help your chickens develop a taste for acorns in case they run across raw ones and try to eat those with potentially fatal consequences!
Acorn Nutritional Info
Acorns contain a decent variety of macro- and micronutrients, and they are a good source of fat and protein.
Most acorns from typical oak species also contain a fair bit of vitamin A and several B-complex vitamins, and will typically have calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.
All of the above is good for your chickens, so long as the acorns have been treated as described previously.
Acorns are also quite calorie-dense and can provide a lot of energy in a relatively small portion.
Are Acorns Safe for Chickens Raw?
No, never! Raw acorns will contain lots of dangerous tannins that can make your chickens severely sick or even kill them.
Never deliberately feed raw acorns to chickens, and do whatever you must to prevent them from getting at them if they are on your property.
Are Acorns Safe for Chickens When Cooked?
Acorns are generally safe for chickens when cooked but they must be cooked properly, by boiling.
Acorns must be boiled continuously, changing out the contaminated water for fresh water periodically until no discoloration occurs.
Then, they should be rinsed one last time in fresh water before being served.
Are Acorns Safe for Chicks?
Raw acorns are definitely not safe for chicks, and highly likely to kill them. However, chicks may have treated or boiled acorns once they have reached about 6 weeks of age, but even then you should only give them the tiniest quantities.
Chicks can easily have their stomachs upset or crops impacted by acorns, both with potentially fatal consequences even though the toxins have been eliminated from the nuts.
How Frequently Can Acorns be Fed to Chickens?
Assuming you have treated the acorns, you still shouldn’t give them to chickens all the time.
They are nowhere near a nutritionally complete food, and chickens will be missing many major nutrients that they need for good health.
What’s worse, chickens will often happily fill up on acorns and miss out on their more nutritious feed and other whole foods.
Because of this, you generally only want to give acorns to chickens in small portions once or perhaps twice a week as part of a well-rounded chicken diet.
What’s the Best Way to Serve Acorns to Your Flock?
The very best way to serve your chickens soaked or cooked acorns is to crush them into small tidbits that will be easier for them to eat and reduce the likelihood of crop impaction or choking.
Alternately, you can coarsely grind acorns down into a sand-like texture that can be mixed with their feed or other foods to bulk it up and add calories when needed.
Just a reminder in case you skipped to this section: never, ever serve your chickens raw acorns or any acorns that have not been thoroughly soaked or boiled repeatedly!
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.