22 Things NOT To Feed Chickens To Keep Them Healthy

Which of these 7 mistakes are you making when feeding your backyard flock? Here’s a list of what NOT to feed chickens if you want to keep them healthy!

Having a backyard flock of chickens is a great way to get fresh eggs. Chickens are terrific for keeping the bug population down. They even make rich compost for the garden. They do all of this while providing great entertainment around the homestead! You want the best feed for chickens, to get the healthiest flock.

Most of the time, what to feed chickens is a no-brainer. Your local feed or farm supply store will often carry a poultry feed specifically made for laying chickens. The feed bags often come in the pre-measured amounts that chickens need to be healthy and lay great eggs.

To make your own chicken feed, read the post here. 


Adding fodder to their diet helps to cut down on the feed expenses.  (See how to grow your own fodder here.) Fodder can be rich in vitamins and minerals, and provide greens to feed chickens. It’s a perfect supplement during the winter when grass is not available.

Many will give their chickens kitchen scraps as a way to supplement their diets, which can help make sure all your excess food is used efficiently. It’s a great way to help keep the feed bills down. However, there are foods that chickens should NOT eat. Some people food that is healthy for us is dangerous food for chickens.

Knowing what to feed chickens is important for maintaining a healthy backyard flock.

Here is a list of what not to feed your chickens:

1. ✗ Raw potato peels, especially green ones, can contain a toxic substance called solanine. This chemical may be harmful to your flock, even deadly. If you have a large number of peels, it is best to cook them first if you want to give them to the chickens. Or, you can compost them directly without giving them to the chickens.

2. ✗ Citrus can be harmful to some chickens. That being said, our chickens have never liked it anyway. We normally do not put citrus peels in our chicken bucket because we use them for making homemade cleaners and homemade lemon extract.

3. ✗ Raw or dry beans can be toxic to birds due to a poison they contain called hemagglutinin. However, cooking or sprouting the beans before serving them to chickens will kill this toxin. If you choose to add cooked beans, it’s best to use homemade versus canned. Using your won beans lets you control the amount of extra sodium, which is not healthy for your backyard flock.

4. ✗ Chickens that are fed dry rice are in danger of the rice blowing up when it is introduced to moisture in the bird’s stomach, potentially causing harm to the gut. We do give our chickens leftover COOKED rice, and they love this treat.

5. ✗ Avocado skin and pit are another food that is dangerous food for chickens. Our chickens do not care much for avocados anyway. But, to be sure, we have been keeping them out of the chicken bucket.

6. ✗ Raw eggs to your chickens could result in your flock turning cannibal. They will eat their own eggs because of a deficiency in their diet or due to stress. Adding some oyster shells or even the crushed egg shells back into their diet can help.

7. ✗ Apple seeds contain cyanide, which makes it a dangerous food for chickens. In small amounts, apple seeds are usually not an issue. But, chickens are not known for their self-control when eating apple bits. We try and make sure the seeds from the cores do NOT make it to the chicken bucket. We aren’t perfect at this. The occasional apple seed still gets in there. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

8. ✗ Chocolate (or any kind of candy)

So a piece of candy here or there probably won’t do your chickens any harm – but it’s not going to benefit them in any way. Chocolate, on the other hand, can be seriously detrimental for your flock’s health. Chocolate is famous for being toxic to dogs because it contains Theobromine. This is the compound that makes dogs sick, and it can also make your poultry sick, too.

9. ✗ Moldy food

This should go without saying, but don’t feed your chickens anything that you would not eat yourself. If it’s rotten or moldy, toss it out. Don’t make your chickens clean it up for you.

10. ✗ Tomato or eggplant leaves

You should avoid feeding your chickens the leaves, stems, or raw fruits from tomato or eggplant plants. These are both members of the nightshade family and can present dangerous symptoms to your chickens. They can be toxic when eaten raw, as the solanine they contain can kill your chickens.

11. ✗ Onions

Chickens should not be fed onions. Onions contain a toxin known as thiosulphate that can destroy your hen’s red blood cells. This can cause jaundice or anemia. Garlic, which is in the same family as onions, also contains thiosulphate, but in very small quantities, so it’s safe to eat.

12. ✗ Coffee or tea bags

Some people advocate for feeding their chickens used coffee grounds or tea bags. In small quantities this might be okay, but if there is any caffeine in the tea you need to steer clear. Caffeine is a methylxanthine that can cause your chickens some serious health problems.

13. ✗ Anything that isn’t good for you

Okay, so you might not think of mealworms as being good for you – that’s probably the one exception to this statement. But you should avoid feeding your chickens any foods that you might like, but are bad for your health.

Foods and beverages like alcohol, salty treats, sweet desserts, or fried food fall into this category. It may not affect your chickens overnight, but it will cause some weight problems and other health issues later on down the line.

14. ✗ Anything sprayed with chemicals

You can safely feed your chickens lawn clippings or weeds – in fact, they’ll love them! However, if any of these have been treated with chemicals, you’ll want to avoid doing so.

15. ✗ Asparagus

Asparagus may not cause any issues when you feed it to your flock, particularly if you are raising broiler birds. However, if you are raising chickens for egg production, you may want to avoid feeding them asparagus. It can taint the taste of your eggs.

16. ✗ Iceberg lettuce

Lettuce is fine in small quantities, but when fed in large amounts to your chickens, it can cause diarrhea, since it has so much water. Instead, feed more nutritious options like kale, cabbage, and collards. You also need to avoid feeding too much spinach, which can inhibit calcium uptake. Other dark, leafy greens are safe.

17. ✗ Rhubarb and rhubarb leaves

Rhubarb can be toxic to chickens in large amounts. It contains oxalic acid which can kill your birds.

18. ✗ Toxic plants

There are certain plants that you may be growing as ornamental species on your lawn. You might also have some of these growing naturally. However, you should avoid feeding the following plants to your chickens as they can cause digestive problems and other major health concerns (including death, in some cases).

Your chickens will usually avoid them when they are free-ranging on their own, but make sure you restrict access to the following plants:

  • ✗ Azaleas
  • ✗ Foxglove
  • ✗ Lobelia
  • ✗ Mushrooms
  • ✗ Rhododendron
  • ✗ Oak leaves and acorns
  • ✗ Holly
  • ✗ Lupine
  • ✗ Ferns

19. ✗ Amaranth

Many people believe that feeding amaranth to their chickens is a great way of providing them with healthy grains. While it won’t necessarily harm your birds, amaranth contains antinutrients that can suppress the growth of your birds. If you cook it, however, it reduces those nutrients so that it is safe for your birds to eat.

20. ✗ Butter

Do not feed your chickens butter. Unlike most dairy products, which are good for your chickens, you should avoid butter, since it is high in fat and low in other nutrients.

21. ✗ Cherries

You can feed your chickens cherry fruits, but you need to avoid feeding them the pits of the cherries. Like apple seeds, these contain cyanide.

22. ✗ Raw chicken

You can feed chicken other meats, including chicken, in most cases. However, it should always be cooked, as raw chicken can carry the risk of salmonella.

Feeding chickens these items by accident will probably NOT hurt your flock. If you have, don’t worry too much about it. Try and keep these foods out of the chicken bucket in the future if you can. Error more on the safe side.

What items on the “potentially harmful” list of what not to feed your chickens surprised you the most? What is your favorite treat to give your backyard flock?

To see some healthy things that you CAN feed your backyard flock.

Be sure to pin this for later!

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Updated by Rebekah White on July 22nd 2019.

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25 thoughts on “22 Things NOT To Feed Chickens To Keep Them Healthy”

  1. Our chicken coop is located near our Apple orchard. Should we worry about the chickens eating the apples falling from the trees?

    1. I don’t worry about it myself…they don’t seem to eat the entire apple anyway. Most of the time, in my experience, they only eat the sweet parts, and what seeds they DO get are minimal. I just wouldn’t add a bunch of cores to the compost they are eating.

  2. I cook up all my veggie peelings onion is the exception I also cook up brown rice buying it only when on half price special I also ferment wheat for 5-6 days it softens it as well creates a natural probiotic I grow extra spinach and kale for regular treats yeap they are spoilt I love my girls

  3. I tie a bunch of kale to the fence every day and my girls devour it! Also love whole oats and mealy worms and carrot tops. Lay amazing eggs!

  4. My chickens love watermelon. Fortunately, I read that tomatoes were dangerous. They had been eating cherry tomatoes also.

  5. Thanks for the info! I used to think apple cores were bad for my chickens, but I guess it’s only the apple seeds. I have gotten into the habit of taking the seeds out and feeding them the scraps.

    I do have one question. What kind of rooster is that read one with green tail feathers? I have one similar but it was a rescue and I have no idea what breed. I’m thinking New Hampshire. Thank you!

    1. I give my single remaining 10 year old hen a grain seed mix (raw shelled sunflower seeds, chia seeds, gold and red flax seeds, wheat berries and rye), cooked brown rice, 5-7 super worms, watermelon, purple grapes, plums, wheat grass and kale (in the winter) also in winter; dried blueberries, dried cherries and black raisins. She has a large run but I also let her free range in the backyard. She turned 10 in June of this year so I must be doing something right. I also Google anything new before adding it to her diet. She layed until she was 8 years old.

  6. I wanted to add a few points… you mentioned that feeding eggs can cause egg eaters and this is so true! Egg eating isnt always an easy habit to break so it’s easier to prevent than it is to fix.

    Also, if someone notices their chickens are acting cannibalistic, I would assume first that it’s either a methionine deficiency and they need some mealworms or other insects in their diet.

    Lentils also contain hemagglutinin. It wasnt mentioned with beans but they are both toxic. Not sure how many people eat lentils but we do! Lol

  7. I like to feed my chickens Japanese beetles mixed into all natural Greek yogurt. I n season, I knock the beetles into a bowl of yogurt and stir them together so the beetles can not escape. The chickens love this treat.

  8. I have a big oak tree in the front yard. I was considering letting my chickens free range under the oak, because there are lots of bugs in the ground that they can scavange for. Will the chickens be harmed by the oak leaves? I assumed they would not eat them, but scratch around them to find bugs.

  9. My chickens LOVE sweet Basil leaves! The first two plants I bought I put in their run and they were devoured in about 10 minutes. Now I have the plants just outside their cage and give a couple of leaves as a greeting thing. I just bought a bunch of Basil seeds and plan to grow some plants over the winter.

  10. Elizabeth Stokell

    My hens love pumpkin .I sliced the top off so it was like a bowl and they pecked away till the inside was clean . They love grapes and cooled porridge ,
    rice crispy breakfast cereal and scrambled eggs ?

  11. Patrick J Kennedy

    I feed them wheat germ with bacon fat and there food mixed together. Thy also love sweet potato’s, hard boiled and scrambled eggs, liver mush, ham, my meatloaf, fresh kale from my garden and a lot more. I on the other hand get the giant eggs and entertainment. Loving it

  12. Ripe tomatoes are VERY healthy as treats for chickens. Ask and read the experts. Ripe tomatoes no longer contain solanine, and are rich in vitamins and minerals. I started my girls on fresh ripe tomatoes as treats every day when they were five months old. They ate them daily all summer and into the fall. It was they’re favorite treat. Yes, they’re all alive and healthy!

  13. We have giant ant hills in our yard and field. We give the chickens and turkeys shovels full daily. They love them! Red ants seem to be their favourite. The secondary benefit is that we don’t have an ant problem anymore.

  14. I live on a farm and the chickens are free range. They go everywhere, eating falling fruit, going through the garden and pecking whatever they want. All kitchen scraps go onto our manure pile along with dead critters. Chickens make a daily walk over the pile. I make Angle Food cake and give the yokes to the chickens. Never had a bad egg, get so many eggs I give 305 dozen eggs away each week.

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