One of the most polarizing fruits out there, even though it isn’t a true fruit, is the juniper berry.
Actually, a modified cone growing on Juniper trees, juniper berries are famously used to make gin and somewhat infamously used to make a resinous, pine-tasting sauce in certain cuisines.
That’s all well and good, but can chickens eat Juniper berries?
Yes, with caution. Juniper berries may be sparingly fed to chickens so long as they come from a juniper species with low or no toxicity. Keepers are advised that excessive ingestion of juniper berries have been linked to digestive and kidney problems, however.
This is one of those foods that are similarly polarizing among chicken owners: some keepers report that their birds absolutely love juniper berries and can’t get enough of them, whenever they can get at them.
Others report that their birds won’t go near them, and warn of toxicity.
In any case, caution is advised, so keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know about feeding juniper berries to your chickens.
Caution: Some Juniper Species are Acutely Toxic
Before going any further, you must be aware that not all species of juniper tree are created equal. All produce a berry-like cone, but some of them are acutely toxic, both to people and animals.
For instance, the most common juniper that produces a berry used for flavoring, the production of gin, and other culinary purposes is juniperus communis.
However, other species that look quite similar and grow in various regions include juniperus sabina and juniperus oxycedrus.
These species, among others, can prove to be dangerously toxic if ingested at all, especially by small animals like chickens.
You must positively ID and assess the toxicity of any juniper tree before allowing your chickens to eat from the plant.
Can Chickens Eat Juniper Berries Raw?
Yes, chickens may eat Juniper berries raw, and this is the preferred way to give them.
If they grow low enough to the ground, your chickens are likely to pluck them right off of the branch; otherwise you can gather them up and give them to your flock.
Can Chickens Eat Juniper Needles?
No, chickens should not eat Juniper needles. The needles are the immature form of the trees leaves, and there are generally tough and often have an acutely pointed and which might become lodged in the throats of chickens.
Your birds should generally know not to eat them, but do keep an eye on them in case they are feeling adventurous.
Can Chickens Eat Juniper “Leaves”?
No. Junipers that are said to have leaves simply have mature or adult needles, and they often appear as a braided or ridge stalk topped with an immature berry.
Although softer and more flexible than the immature needles, your chickens still shouldn’t eat them, although if they are eating berries from a safe species of juniper having a small nibble of the stalk along with the berry generally won’t hurt them.
Can Chickens Eat Juniper Cooked?
You can cook juniper berries prior to serving them to your chickens, but there is no reason to generally. The berries themselves are soft and easy for chickens to handle and eat.
Never Feed Juniper to Chickens that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
It is worth pointing out that you should never feed juniper berries to chickens that have been prepared with other ingredients that they cannot have.
This could be things like oils, salt, sugars, and other things typically used for the making of glazes or sauces.
At best, these highly caloric ingredients are going to cause your chickens to gain weight but at worst they can cause serious digestive upset or even lead to major problems like fatty liver syndrome, high blood pressure or sodium poisoning.
And I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but in the interest of completeness I will remind readers that you cannot give gin to chickens; gin is a potent alcohol, and just because it is distilled from these wholesome berries does not mean it is okay for chickens to have it.
Beware of Pesticides and Herbicides on Wild Juniper
As with all wild-growing plants not under your direct control on your property, you must take care not to feed juniper berries that might have been treated with herbicides or pesticides to your chickens.
Many such chemicals can result in serious harm in both the near and long-term of a chicken’s life, and quite a few of them have a neck at building up in tissues slowly over time with repeated ingestion.
You’re advised to take care when sourcing any juniper berries from the wild or from other properties, and as always be sure to wash them before handing them over to your flock.
How Often Can Chickens Have Juniper?
Chickens should only be fed juniper berries quite sparingly, both for nutritional and cautionary reasons.
First, excess consumption of juniper berries, even those from safe or very low toxic species can result in digestive upset. Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress is common.
Second, chickens should receive the majority of their calorie intake from a nutritionally complete chicken feed.
About 90% of their total calories should come from this feed, with the remaining 10% or so of their calorie intake coming from treats or other wholesome, nutritious foods, including juniper berries.
If you allow your chicks to free range you can let them have at the juniper tree a couple of times a week.
Preparing Juniper for Your Flock
There is not much to do in order to optimally prepare juniper berries for your chickens. If they are able to reach the berries growing on the tree or shrub, they will take care of them.
However, if you are picking them or sourcing them some other way you can scatter them around their enclosure or give them to him in a bowl or on a tray.
Can Baby Chicks Have Juniper, Too?
It is highly advised that you do not give baby chicks any juniper berries. Even at their safest, juniper berries are a food that is pretty intense and can generally be hard on a delicate constitution.
Chicks already suffer from a variety of digestive problems at the drop of a hat, so you don’t want to tax their young and developing systems with the intensity of a juniper berries.
We recommend waiting until your chicks are well into adulthood before you let them try juniper berries for the first time.
Keep in mind that even a small taste of a juniper berry could be enough to give a chick diarrhea, and considering they’re much smaller size and general frailty this could be enough to cause dehydration, electrolyte shock, or other maladies that could be fatal to them.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
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