A typical day for a domestic chicken usually involves eating lots of chicken feed and the occasional bug or worm that they can pluck out of the dirt.
But chickens also eat greenery, and there are many kinds of plants and produce that they like. But do chickens eat all parts of a plant? How about leaves? Can chickens eat leaves safely?
Yes, chickens can eat leaves safely, but only if they come from a non-toxic plant. Some plants produce leaves that are entirely safe and healthy for chickens, while others have leaves that can make them terribly sick or even kill them.
When it comes to your chickens eating leaves, they generally know which ones are safe and which ones aren’t, but they can and do make mistakes!
It’s up to you to familiarize yourself with any and all of the plants that your chickens might be able to reach and eat from.
I’ll tell you more about the do’s and don’ts of letting your chickens eat leaves below…
Some Leaves are Safe for Chickens
Not all leaves are safe for chickens to eat. Many are, and lots of plants that chickens like eating are completely safe from root to flower.
Many leaves in this category are actually vegetables that you and I are familiar with, things like spinach, cabbage, chard, kale, and so forth.
Some common wildflowers, shrubs and even weeds also produce safe and nutritious leaves that chickens will love. Dandelions are one good example…
In short, there is no shortage of leaves that chickens can eat, and many of them are highly nutritious.
Other Leaves are Dangerously Toxic
And then on the other hand some leaves are anything but nutritious. Some leaves contain serious irritants or even toxins that can make your chickens sick, or even kill them.
Lots of these leaves come from plants that are decidedly deadly to chickens, like henbane or hemlock, while others actually happen to be leaves on plants that produce safe, nutritious produce, like leaves on pepper or tomato plants.
The fruits of these plants are safe and completely edible, but no other part of the plant is! Depending on the type of toxin present in the leaf, it might cause your birds some discomfort, indigestion, diarrhea or worse.
On the upper end of the severity scale, terrible outcomes like organ failure, paralysis, seizure, and sudden death are possible!
Again, it is up to you to positively identify each and every plant on your property, or anywhere else, that your chickens might be able to eat from.
What Benefits Do Leaves Have for Chickens?
The benefits of any given leaf depend entirely on the plant that it comes from. Some leaves will provide chickens with a little bit of entertainment and a few calories, while others are nutritious superfoods that make great supplements to their usual diet…
Nutritional Info for Leaves
In the same vein, the nutritional profile of any given leaf is entirely dependent on the plant that grows it.
Some leaves are minimally nutritious, offering a few vitamins and minerals, and a meager macronutrient profile.
Other leaves, particularly those that we recognize as leafy vegetables, are usually abundant with vitamins, minerals and macronutrients, and are an excellent source of nutrition for chickens.
Are Leaves Safe for Chickens Raw?
Yes, generally. If a leaf is safe for chickens to eat it will almost certainly be safe for them to eat raw.
One thing to keep in mind is that raw leaves will almost always offer chickens more nutrition than cooked ones. This is because the cooking process destroys or degrades nutrients present in the leaf.
Can You Cook Leaves to Give Them to Chickens?
You can, although this is rarely necessary and even more rarely a good idea, although some particularly tough leaves do benefit from light cooking.
Cooking leaves will always degrade their neutral profile, and so should be avoided if your chickens will eat them raw.
Are Leaves Still Safe for Chicks?
Leaves are safe for chicks with just a couple of reservations. First, you should let your chicks grow up for a little while before they get any leafy vegetation.
Leafy vegetables have a bad tendency of blocking the crops of chicks, and this can be fatal.
Plus, chicks do struggle somewhat to digest the tougher varieties of vegetation while they are young. Indigestion can be a serious enough problem for a chick!
For these reasons, you should generally wait until your chicks are anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks old, if anyone how fast they grow and the breed, before you allow them to have novel vegetation in the form of leaves from any plant.
How Frequently Can Leaves be Fed to Chickens?
Most leaves are nutritious and worthwhile foods for chickens, but they aren’t primary items in their diet and instead should be treated as supplemental or incidental foods.
Chickens can have certain leaves more often than others, and a few make genuinely good, regular supplements as a part of their ongoing diet.
That being said, a good rule of thumb concerning leaf intake is that they should only be getting about 10% of their calories from whole foods and vegetation, and of that 10% leaves should only make up a small portion.
Chickens need a lot of foods to thrive, and definitely a lot more than just leaves!
What’s the Best Way to Serve Leaves to Your Flock?
The very best way to feed leaves to your flock is just to let them nibble on them wherever they happen to be growing.
If your chickens like them, they will munch on them, and if they don’t like them so much they’ll probably take just a couple of bites and then move on.
But, it is of course possible to harvest or gather leaves and then prepare them for your flock, usually best done by roughly chopping them into smaller pieces that can be given as is or mixed in with other foods.
Another rule of thumb is that the tougher and thicker the leaf, the finer the chop. Large and strong chickens rarely have any difficulty tearing pieces from intact leaves, but the same may not be true for your smaller birds.
Try to Only Feed Leaves to Chickens if it is Pesticide Free
One thing you must be aware of before you feed leaves to your chickens or allow them to eat leaves growing on any plant is that they could potentially be contaminated with pesticides or herbicides.
A constant threat associated with commercially sold produce, this is also something to worry about if you have purchased any plant recently from a nursery or other vendor.
These chemicals can spell big trouble for chickens and have been linked to long-term health consequences when ingested over time.
Washing doesn’t always eliminate all residues, so if at all possible, only let your chickens eat leaves that you know are free of any chemical contamination, or in the case of purchased plants and produce, certified organic.
Don’t Give Rotting, Moldy or Fungal Leaves to Your Chickens
Some people think of their chickens as tiny, walking trash cans that will eat just about anything, but this is not a good sentiment if you want your birds to be happy and healthy.
Accordingly, don’t let your chickens eat any leaves that are obviously rotting, moldy or showing fungal growth or any other kind of problem. It might make your chickens sick in return!
Be Careful: Safe Leaves Have Deadly Look-alikes!
One last warning about leaves: you must not make assumptions about the safety of any plant that you have not positively identified, and sometimes this is easier said than done.
Many completely safe plants have dangerous or even deadly look-alikes, and vice versa. You cannot strictly depend on your chickens to know which plants are dangerous or to instinctively avoid harmful ones.
It is up to you to watch out for them and keep them safe, so make sure you identify every plant on your property that you’re going to let your chickens eat from.
Complacency, or a mistake, could be fatal for your poor birds!
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.