Every chicken owner knows that their birds will eat just about everything, and that includes all sorts of plants. Whether it is vegetables out of your garden, ornamental flowers out of your landscaping or seemingly every kind of wild native plant, chickens will eat it all.
Also, most chickens tend to be pretty good at avoiding things that could hurt them, but not quite everything. How about maple leaves from maple trees? Can chickens eat maple leaves and are they safe?
No, maple leaves are usually not safe for chickens because they contain toxic gallic acid. The level of gallic acid varies from species to species and leaf to leaf, and though some species are safe for chickens to eat, most aren’t.
You can generally depend on your chickens to avoid eating maple leaves, but not always, and positively identifying the species that do have safe leaves can be tricky.
For these reasons, it is generally preferable to keep your chickens from eating maple leaves at all, though you usually won’t have to panic if they steal just a bite or two.
I’ll tell you more about the problems associated with maple leaves below…
Many Maple Leaves Contain Toxins
Most maple trees grow leaves that contain a substance toxic to chickens, called gallic acid. Gallic acid is not uncommon and is, in fact, a component in most plant life.
However, some plants produce leaves with high amounts of, and many maple trees in particular have leaves with extremely high concentrations that can be dangerous for chickens.
Particular maple species to watch out for are Norway maples, silver maples, red maples, and sugar maples.
If chickens eat enough leaves from these or other maple trees, they can experience severe stomach and intestinal distress, and a high enough dosage can be fatal.
Most Chickens Will Instinctively Leave Maple Leaves Alone
The first clue we have that maple leaves are probably not good for your chickens comes from the chickens themselves: chickens, as it turns out, are pretty clever or if not clever they at least have good instincts and most chickens will instinctively avoid eating fallen maple leaves.
Most chickens that do go near the maple leaves might take a cursory peck or two to assess it, but rarely more than that, and owners that do report their chickens “eating” maple leaves are probably just seeing them peck and scratch at them to look for juicy bugs or choice plants beneath.
Usually, chickens will only resort to actually eating maple leaves if there is absolutely nothing else for them to eat.
While it is true that the occasional oddball chicken might show a preference for them, this is definitely the exception and not the rule.
Are Maple Leaves Safe for Chickens Raw?
No, raw maple leaves are not safe for chickens. Whether they are on the tree and alive or have fallen and are dead, the gallic acid that is so toxic for chickens will remain and does not degrade quickly.
Can You Cook Maple Leaves to Give Them to Chickens?
No. Nice try, but heating or cooking maple leaves doesn’t reduce or otherwise eliminate the amount of gallic acid present in the leaves, at least not in quantities that will make it safe for chickens.
It is technically possible to make maple leaves safe for chickens to eat or at least safer by repeatedly soaking the leaves in water and then changing the water out for fresh as it becomes discolored.
Even so, maple leaves offer only scant nutrition for chickens, and it is just not worth the trouble.
Will Eating Maple Leaves Kill my Chickens?
It might, but this is only likely if they get a high dose of gallic acid from a large serving of potent leaves.
Generally speaking, if your chickens take a few bites off of a handful of leaves, you probably don’t have anything to worry about though they might suffer from an upset stomach. Aside from this, diarrhea is the most likely consequence.
However, particularly high concentrations of gallic acid or repeated feedings of larger quantities of leaves can lead to vomiting, depression, pronounced dehydration, weakness, and death.
Even if you know you’re dealing with a safer variety of maple tree, make it a point to avoid giving your birds maple leaves, and don’t let them eat maple leaves if they try to go for them.
Chicks are More Vulnerable to Maple Leaf Toxins than Adults
It should go without saying that maple leaves are definitely not good for chicks since they aren’t good for adults, but it’s worth repeating.
You should also know that baby chicks are even more vulnerable to toxins in their food and in their environment, and that includes the gallic acid present in maple leaves.
Chicks have an extremely rapid metabolism and an underdeveloped immune system, two factors that generally spell death if they get a high dose of any toxin.
Never give your chicks any maple leaves, and keep them away from maple leaves once they are old enough to go outside.
How Often Can Maple Leaves be Fed to Chickens?
You should not give maple leaves to your chickens, but you don’t have to panic if they eat a bite or two, either.
That being said, if you do notice that your chickens eat maple leaves, particularly those from a species that is known to produce high concentrations of gallic acid, keep a close eye on them.
What Should You Do if Your Chickens Eat Maple Leaves and Seem Affected?
Whether or not you actually see your chickens eat the leaves, if you have maple trees in the area and notice some of your chickens acting a bit off or seeming ill, it’s time to take action.
The very first thing you should do is remove the birds from the source of the potential poisoning, and that means the leaves themselves, or else get rid of the leaves if it is a small enough quantity. This will prevent further ingestion, and hopefully keep other birds from becoming affected.
Next, make sure your chickens have lots of fresh water because even in the case of mild poisoning gallic acid has a tendency to cause dehydration.
If your chickens just seem a bit off and seem to be suffering from loose stools or diarrhea but aren’t otherwise worse for the wear, they’ll probably be fine as long as they don’t get any more leaves. Just keep an eye on them and watch for them to improve.
But, if the symptoms seem very severe or are getting worse, contact your vet right away and follow their instructions.
Prompt treatment can greatly reduce the chances of lingering health problems or mortality from gallic acid poisoning.
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.