It seems like chickens can eat just about anything, but as varied as their diet is and adventurous as their appetites can be, there are a few things that are truly bad for them.
Most of these things are well known, and chickens tend to avoid them anyway, but there are some other foods that are a little less certain. There are some foods that chicken keepers swear are harmful, while others swear are safe and nutritious.
As you probably already guessed, garlic is one of those foods. Is it a nutritious supplement? A dangerous toxin? Can chickens eat garlic safely or not?
Garlic is safe for chickens only in very small amounts, periodically, because it contains harmful compounds that can cause anemia in chickens.
However, used sparingly it has some health benefits for chickens and can naturally help them deal with parasites.
Garlic is one of those foods where both camps turn out to be correct, in a way: garlic can definitely be toxic for chickens, but it also has proven health benefits so long as you only feed it to them sparingly.
There’s lots you’ll want to know if you’re planning on giving it to your flock, and I’ll tell you about it below.
Bottom Line: Garlic Does Contain Toxic Compounds
We need to get crystal clear on one point: garlic is, indeed, toxic for chickens. This is because it and most other allium genus plants contain harmful sulfur compounds, particularly thiosulfate, which are bad news for birds and many other animals.
These compounds cause harm by binding with red blood cells in the bloodstream.
Red blood cells are the ones that carry oxygen around the body to organs and other tissues. As they are disrupted by these compounds the amount of available oxygen in the bloodstream begins to decrease.
This will cause the chicken distress at first, and eventually culminate in full-blown anemia which can be fatal.
This is not conjecture: these symptoms are well documented in multiple laboratory studies, and you will regularly see garlic appear on lists of toxic plants or vegetables that are harmful to chickens.
Garlic Toxicity in Chickens
So what exactly do these sulfur compounds do to chickens? Do chickens eat a little bit of garlic and then simply keel over dead with bad blood?
Not exactly, and like most toxins, the symptoms follow a logical progression based on dosage, and chickens that eat a lot of garlic in a short period of time, or are fed garlic consistently, and often over a longer time will start to show symptoms that are worse and worse.
At first, chickens that eat too much garlic will usually lose their appetite and stop eating for a time.
This is brought on by general digestive distress, often accompanied by diarrhea, and if they eat a little bit more garlic past this point they will become depressed and exhibit low energy.
After this, things get worse. You’ll want to watch out for labored breathing, or a greatly increased respiratory rate.
This is where we start getting into the danger zone, and chickens that are struggling to breathe one way or the other are trying to get more oxygen into their bloodstream.
This is because the red blood cells that carry the oxygen are basically under siege from the compounds in the garlic.
After that, you’ll probably notice the color beginning to drain out of the combs and wattles of the chickens.
Again, this is due to the loss of oxygen-rich blood that is usually circulating through these parts of their anatomy. The combs in particular are likely to appear purple or even blue as the oxygen content in the blood goes down.
After this, the end is not far off and chickens that are acutely poisoned or have accumulated a lot of thiosulfate over time will collapse and die due to a lack of oxygen. This is a horrendous way for a chicken to go!
But, feeding garlic to your chickens does not have to end in death outright. Other negative consequences include the tainting of eggs and meat alike.
It’s true: regular ingestion of garlic, even in smaller amounts, has been proven to give egg yolks and chicken meat a nasty, sulfur-like flavor. Pretty gross!
And you don’t have to take my word for any of this: multiple studies conducted in the past 20 years have borne out all of these conclusions in chickens and other birds, a couple of them linked above.
Garlic Does Have Some Proven Benefits for Chickens
That all sounds like pretty grim news when it comes to feeding garlic to your chickens, and I suppose it is, but that being said we cannot ignore the huge body of anecdotal evidence, and even some scientific evidence, that shows there are some benefits to feeding garlic to your chickens (in very limited amounts).
Particularly, garlic has known utility as a vermifuge, or parasitic worm remover. That’s right: if your chickens are suffering from intestinal worms, feeding them garlic as a dewormer can help them expel the nasty little bloodsuckers.
It doesn’t take much to do it, and if you don’t want to mix grated garlic in with their food, you can even use it to infuse their water for the same benefit.
A little bit will do it, and you only want to give them a tiny amount every other day or so for a couple of weeks, but it definitely works!
Garlic Nutritional Info
Aside from the aforementioned benefits, garlic also happens to be highly nutritious when it comes to vitamins and minerals.
To be clear, you cannot load your chickens up with garlic to let them take advantage of this nutrition, but if you’re only giving it to them every once in a while, or putting them through a round of parasite treatment, it is definitely a welcome benefit.
Looking at the vitamins, we see that garlic is particularly rich in the B complex ones, with tons of B6, lots of thiamine and pantothenic acid, and a good shot of riboflavin, niacin and folate. Garlic is also highly abundant in vitamin C.
The mineral content is likewise very impressive, with great amounts of manganese, phosphorus, iron and calcium with somewhat lesser amounts of magnesium, potassium and zinc along with a little bit of sodium.
All good resources for chickens, and ones that they need in their diet.
Is Garlic Safe for Chickens Raw?
Garlic is safe for chickens when raw but only in very limited amounts as described above.
Is Garlic Powder Safe for Chickens?
Not really. Garlic powder is not going to provide much in the way of nutrition, but it still contains the harmful compounds that can hurt chickens.
Garlic might have a specialized place in their diet, but garlic powder does not.
Can You Cook Garlic to Give it To Chickens?
Cooked garlic is not really safer for chickens than raw garlic, but it doesn’t make it any more dangerous either.
Cooking garlic can reduce the amounts of harmful compounds, but it will also seriously reduce the vitamin and mineral levels, and also degrade the compounds that help to expel worms when ingested.
Is Garlic Still Safe for Baby Chicks?
Garlic is not safe for chicks. Chicks have greatly reduced body mass compared to adult chickens, or more delicate overall and they are especially sensitive to toxins of all kinds.
It would be an easy thing for a chick to get too much of the harmful compounds present in garlic, and either become terribly sick or even die.
Wait until your baby chicks have a grown up into adulthood before you make garlic a specialty part of their diet.
How Often Can Garlic be Fed to Chickens?
Garlic should only be given to chickens on a very limited basis, perhaps one tiny portion no more than once a week unless you are treating them for worms.
What’s the Best Way to Serve Garlic to Your Flock?
If you are using garlic as a vermifuge, you can press or mince garlic into a rough paste before mixing it in with their usual feed.
The approximate amount should be no more than a single clove per adult chicken. When they eat their feed, they will also get the garlic and that will start acting on the worms.
Alternately, you can press the garlic to release the oils in essences and then use that to infuse their water, though solid garlic works better for this purpose.
You need to keep this up for a week or perhaps two, and monitor their condition for improvement as far as the parasites are concerned, and also to make sure they aren’t getting too much garlic.
As a reminder, it does take time for garlic to begin dislodging worms in the body, so don’t expect results before a week at the earliest.
Garlic Is Safe, But Only By Itself: No People Food!
Garlic has become such a ubiquitous inclusion in all sorts of cuisines around the world that it’s truly difficult to imagine cooking without it, one way or the other. If a dish is savory, chances are pretty good it has garlic in it, one way or the other.
Despite garlic’s sheer ubiquity in our own kitchen, we cannot give anything made with it to chickens.
This is because ingredients like salt, butter, oils and the like are all harmful to chickens, above and beyond whatever negative effects excess garlic might have.
Feeding these things to your chickens could lead to some serious diseases like fatty liver syndrome, hypertension, salt poisoning and more.
If you’re going to give your chickens garlic, raw or cooked, it must be plain and it must be fed to them only in very limited amounts!
Don’t Leave Garlic Scraps Around the Run or Coop
And the last thing you should know about garlic is that you must clean up any leftover scraps once your chickens are done with it, whether you feed it to them by itself or mixed into their feed.
Garlic has a highly pungent aroma, and this aroma will draw in all sorts of critters, including mice and rats and possibly large animals like raccoons or possums.
These animals may or may not eat the garlic, but they will definitely stick around to eat your chickens, or at least eat chicks and eggs.
You definitely don’t want that to happen, so to avoid it make sure you clean up after your chickens once they have finished the garlic.
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.