Whatever else you might say about them, chickens are definitely some of the most varied and adventurous eaters among all the animals you might own.
If chickens are awake, they are thinking about eating and plenty of keepers know the joy of seeing their chickens react positively to some new treat that they bring to their beloved birds.
Even better, chickens can share many of the foods that we enjoy, but they can’t have all of them. Let’s look at chocolate, for instance. Can chickens eat chocolate safely?
No, chocolate is not safe for chickens because it has dangerous amounts of caffeine, theobromine, and sugar, all of which will cause health problems and can kill in sufficient quantities. Never give your chickens chocolate!
This is one treat that you can never, ever share with your chickens. The theobromine present in chocolate is harmless to humans, but highly toxic to many other animals, and especially toxic for birds, including chickens.
Giving your chickens even a small sample of dark chocolate might be enough to kill them. You just can’t risk it, but regardless you need to know about the risks that chocolate and other products containing cocoa can pose to your flock.
I’ll tell you all about it below…
Chocolate and Cocoa are Very Harmful for Chickens
The bottom line is the chocolate is extremely bad for chickens, and will only ever result in serious health issues and possibly death.
In fact chocolate, or rather the cocoa in chocolate, is so bad for chickens that even a few small nibbles might be enough to kill the poor bird that eats it.
And the worst part is that chocolate doesn’t have just one ingredient that disqualifies it from serving to chickens.
Every single thing about it is bad for chickens, and that means there is no way to avoid the harmful effects of one ingredient or another. If you feed your chickens chocolate, it’s going to hurt them. That’s it.
Caffeine and Theobromine are Both Toxic to Chickens
So what are the major offenders when it comes to toxic compounds in chocolate? There are two, and both are present in cocoa not just in chocolate. These harmful compounds are caffeine and theobromine.
You’re probably already familiar with caffeine: It is a potent stimulant, one that pretty much everybody in the Western world is addicted to, to a degree.
The side effects of caffeine consumption can be slight tremors or tics, restlessness, and accelerated heart rate. It does the same thing to chickens, but a chicken cannot handle it like we can, and furthermore their basic bodily processes are just not able to cope with it properly.
This usually results in heart failure, among other issues, and even if they live they face long-term problems like reduced egg production, egg deformities, birth defects, and a loss of fertility.
But the major culprit on our list is theobromine. Theobromine is a natural compound, not something that we put in chocolate during the production process, and it is found in cocoa beans growing naturally.
But it also survives processing into cocoa powder and subsequent use in various foods! Theobromine is noteworthy because it’s toxic to many animals, with the notable exception of human beings for some reason.
I guess it is because God loves us, and wants us to be able to eat chocolate. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our chickens.
Theobromine poisoning leads to diarrhea and severe gastrointestinal upset, full body tremors, seizures, elevated heart rate, erratic heartbeat, and eventually cardiac arrest.
Eagle-eyed reader’s probably already noticed that a few of those symptoms are concurrent with caffeine, meaning that the compounds toxic to chickens present in chocolate are a genuine double whammy and can easily result in a bird having a heart attack and a very short amount of time.
No amount of either caffeine or theobromine is safe for chickens!
Chocolate Usually Has Tons of Sugar, Also Bad for Chickens
And, to make things even worse, most kinds of chocolate, even dark chocolate, have a lot of sugar.
Sugar is bad for chickens, and a sudden intake of sugar alone is enough to cause serious health problems, including fatty liver syndrome, sour crop, and serious digestive upset.
Combined with the even more severe symptoms brought on by theobromine and caffeine, your poor chickens aren’t going to stand a chance if you feed them chocolate.
And, just for the record, don’t think you can feed them sugar-free chocolate and it will somehow be okay: remember that theobromine and caffeine are present in the cocoa, and that is only one of chocolate’s several ingredients.
Can You Cook Chocolate to Give it to Chickens Safely?
No. Melted or hot chocolate is still not safe for chickens, and neither is chocolate as an ingredient in any other food. The sugar, caffeine and theobromine will all remain and be dangerous for chickens if ingested.
Chocolate is Extremely Dangerous for Baby Chicks!
As bad as chocolate is for adult chickens, it is way, way worse for baby chicks. Just considering them overall, chicks are delicate and vulnerable because they are still growing and have nowhere near completed development.
This fact alone combined with their greatly reduced body mass means they are disproportionately vulnerable to poisons and toxins of all kinds, including caffeine and theobromine.
Giving chicks any amount of chocolate or cocoa, of any kind, it’s probably going to seriously sicken them if it does not kill them outright. Never, ever feed baby chicks chocolate!
Is There Any Amount of Chocolate Safe for Chickens?
No. Chocolate and the compounds that it contains are so harmful for chickens that absolutely no amount of chocolate it is safe for them, and no potential benefit that would justify the risk of giving them any whatsoever.
How Much Chocolate is Fatal for Chickens?
It is hard to say exactly how much chocolate is fatal because of all the variables. The amount of caffeine and theobromine in chocolate is a major factor, and this varies highly depending on the quality and type of the cocoa.
Broadly speaking, darker chocolates are far more dangerous because they contain lots more theobromine, and often more caffeine.
As a general rule, any chocolate that has a cocoa content of 25% or greater is considered very dangerous for birds, and that includes chickens.
So now when you consider that there are many cocoa powders or dark chocolate bars or chips on the market being sold that have 60 to 80% cocoa or even more, you are talking about stuff that is genuinely lethal if a chicken eats it.
Never Give Your Chickens Any Food with Chocolate in It
It should go without saying, but it is a good reminder. You can’t give your chickens chocolate, and you can’t give them any food that has chocolate or cocoa as an ingredient.
This could be something like a cake, pie, cookie, muffin, or pudding besides the usual candy, but it could also be more innocent things that you might give to them without thinking, something like chocolate covered nuts. Chickens can eat most kinds of nuts, of course, but they can’t have chocolate.
As I mentioned above, cooking or heating does nothing to destroy or degrade the hazardous compounds present in chocolate and cocoa, and neither does any other kind of processing alongside other ingredients.
Whatever it is, if it contains chocolate it is going to hurt or kill your birds. Spare them a terrible and painful death: don’t ever give them chocolate!
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.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.