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!
Kept in a coop or in a tractor, watching your birds do their thing is a great way to while away the afternoon. 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 poultry feed specifically made for laying chickens.
Adding fodder to their diet helps to cut down on feed expenses. Fodder is rich in vitamins and minerals, meaning 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 ensures all your excess food is used efficiently. It’s a great way to help keep the feed bills down.
There are tons of treats you can spoil your chicks with, things like berries, leafy greens, bananas, and even citrus fruits.
However, there are foods that chickens should NOT eat. Some foods that are healthy for us are dangerous food for chickens. Other foods such as french fries are safe to eat but provide little nutritional value.
What Not to Feed to Chickens
The most common foods chickens shouldn’t eat include raw potato peels, citrus fruits, uncooked rice, onion, garlic, avocado, raw eggs, potato greens, uncooked pasta, or cherry pits.
Here’s a quick table with all of them, followed by a short discussion about each of them so you know why they shouldn’t eat them, and finally a PDF at the very end that you can print out.
|Potato peels||Citrus fruits||Raw or Dry Beans|
|Dry Rice||Avocadoes||Raw Eggs|
|Moldy Food||Eggplant Leaves||Onions|
|Coffee or Tea Bags||Anything Sprayed With Chemicals||Asparagus|
|Rhubarb and Rhubarb Leaves||Horseradish||Amaranth|
|Butter||Cherry Pits||Raw Chicken|
|Green Potatoes||Salt in Excess||Garlic|
|Soda and Juice||Alcohol||Chips|
|Pretzels||Uncooked Pasta||Seeds and Pits|
|Green Tomatoes||Bracken Fern||Queen Anne’s Lace|
But here is a more extensive list of what not to feed your chickens (and why you shouldn’t)…
1. Chickens Should Not Eat Raw Potato Peels
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. Chickens Should Not Eat Citrus
Citrus can be harmful to some chickens. That being said, our chickens have never liked it anyway.
3. Chickens Should Definitely Not Eat Raw or Dry Beans
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 own beans lets you control the amount of extra sodium, which is not healthy for your backyard flock.
4. Chickens Should Never Eat Dry Rice
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. Chickens Should Not Eat Avocadoes
Avocado skin and pit are another food that is dangerous for chickens.
All parts of the plant contain persin, a dangerous toxin. The flesh contains very little, but you probably should not take the chance, and definitely don’t let your birds peck at a whole fruit or plant.
Our chickens do not care much for avocados anyway. But, to be sure, we have been keeping them out of the chicken bucket.
6. Chickens Should Not Eat Raw Eggs
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 crushed egg shells back into their diet can help.
7. Chickens Should Not Eat Apple Seeds
Apple seeds contain cyanide, which makes them 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 to 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. Chickens Should Never Eat 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 to 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. Chickens Absolutely Shouldn’t Eat 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. Chickens Should Not Eat Tomato or Eggplant Leaves
You should avoid feeding your chickens the leaves, stems, or raw unripe 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. Chickens Definitely Shouldn’t Eat 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.
12. Chickens Should Not Eat Coffee or Tea Bags
Some people advocate for feeding their chickens coffee grounds or tea bags. This might be okay in small quantities, 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. Don’t Give Your Chickens 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. Chickens Should Not Eat 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. Chickens Should Not Eat 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. Chickens Should Not Eat Lettuce in Large Quantities
Lettuce (including iceberg 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. Chickens Should Not Eat Rhubarb and Rhubarb Leaves
Rhubarb can be toxic to chickens in large amounts. It contains oxalic acid which can kill your birds, as well as anthraquinones which act as a laxative.
18. Chickens Should Not Eat Horseradish
Although it may seem harmless, horseradish, particularly horseradish leaves, can irritate a chicken’s digestive system, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can even cause death.
19. Chickens Should Not Eat 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. Chickens Should Never Eat Butter
Do not feed your chickens butter. Most dairy products are good for your chickens, but you should avoid butter, since it is high in fat and low in other nutrients.
21. Chickens Should Not Eat Cherry Pits
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. Chickens Should Not Eat 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.
23. Chickens Definitely Shouldn’t Eat Green Potatoes
Green potatoes contain high amounts of solanine, a compound we mentioned before as being very toxic to chickens.
Avoid feeding them green potatoes at any cost, or green potato skins peeled from otherwise good potatoes, or else it will attack their nervous system and lead to some horrible things such as paralysis.
Instead, you can just throw these into your compost pile.
24. Chickens Definitely Shouldn’t Eat Salt in Excess
Chickens are very sensitive to salt and it can cause serious health problems if they eat too much of it. It can increase their thirst, and make them more prone to dehydration. It can also cause kidney damage and even death.
So, if you’re raising chickens, be sure to avoid giving them any food that is high in salt content. This includes table scraps, as well as commercial chicken feed that may have added salt.
25. Chickens Should Not Eat Garlic
One foodstuff that chickens should avoid is garlic, as it can cause a number of problems.
First of all, garlic is very pungent and strong-smelling, which means that it can make the chicken’s eggs taste off.
Secondly, garlic is known to be toxic to chickens in large quantities, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid feeding it to them altogether.
26. Chickens Absolutely Shouldn’t Drink Soda and Juice
Chickens should never be given soda or juice. These drinks are high in sugar and can cause health problems, including diabetes and obesity. In addition, the acidity of soda and juice can damage a chicken’s digestive system.
27. Chickens Definitely Shouldn’t Drink Alcohol
This one might sound obvious, but believe it or not, a lot of people wonder if they can give their chickens a beer or two on a hot summer day.
The short answer? Absolutely not. Alcohol can be dangerous to chickens for a variety of reasons. First, alcohol can cause dehydration, which can lead to death in chickens.
Second, alcohol can suppress the immune system, making chickens more susceptible to disease. Third, alcohol can cause liver damage in chickens. Finally, alcohol can negatively impact the gastrointestinal system, leading to diarrhea and other problems.
28. Chickens Should Not Eat Chips and Pretzels
Both of these snacks are high in salt and fat, which can lead to health problems in chickens. In addition, the MSG in many chips and pretzels can also be harmful to chickens.
29. Chickens Should Never Eat Uncooked Pasta
Chickens should not eat uncooked pasta. Pasta is made from wheat, which is difficult for chickens to digest.
When eaten uncooked, it can cause digestive issues and even choke the chicken. In addition, the pasta will absorb water from the chicken’s stomach, leading to dehydration.
30. Chickens Should Not Eat Seeds and Pits
Seeds and pits can be harmful to chickens because they can contain toxins (like cyanide) that can make the chickens sick. In addition, seeds and pits can cause choke or blockage in the chicken’s digestive system.
31. Chickens Should Not Eat Lawn Clippings
Lawn clippings can contain pesticides and other chemicals that can be harmful to chickens. In addition, lawn clippings are generally low in nutrients and can actually cause malnutrition if chickens rely on them as their sole source of food.
For these reasons, it is best to avoid feeding chickens lawn clippings. If you do choose to feed them lawn clippings, make sure that the lawn is organic and free of pesticides.
32. Chickens Should Definitely Not Eat Toads
Toads can be toxic to chickens. The poison is found in the toad’s skin, so even if you remove the skin before feeding it to your chicken, the poison can still be present. This can cause serious health problems for your chicken, and in some cases, death.
33. Chickens Should Not Eat Acorns
Acorns should be avoided as chicken feed for several reasons. First, they contain high levels of tannins, which can make chickens sick. Second, they can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients, leading to deficiencies.
34. Chickens Should Not Eat Mushrooms
Chickens are omnivorous animals and will readily eat a variety of foods, including mushrooms.
However, feeding chickens mushrooms is not recommended, as they can be poisonous to these animals. Ingesting poisonous mushrooms can lead to liver and kidney damage in chickens, and can even be fatal.
There are many species of mushrooms that are safe for chickens to eat, so there is no need to take the risk of offering them mushrooms that may be harmful.
If you are unsure whether a particular mushroom is safe for chickens, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid feeding it to them.
35. Chickens Should Not Eat Periwinkle
Periwinkle contains a substance called saponin, which can be toxic to chickens. In addition, periwinkle can also cause gastrointestinal distress in chickens, leading to diarrhea and vomiting.
36. Chickens Absolutely Shouldn’t Eat Xylitol
Chickens are very sensitive to sweeteners, and xylitol is no exception. This sugar alcohol can be found in a variety of products, including chewing gum, candy, and baked goods.
While it is safe for humans, xylitol is toxic to chickens and can cause serious health problems.
Even a small amount of xylitol can lead to liver failure, so it’s important to avoid feeding it to your chickens.
37. Chickens Should Not Eat Taro
Taro contains a toxic compound called oxalic acid, which can cause kidney damage in chickens.
In addition, taro leaves contain high levels of calcium, which can lead to calcium deficiencies in chickens. As a result, it’s important to avoid feeding chickens taro.
38. Chickens Should Not Eat Ivy
Ivy can be toxic to chickens. Ivy contains a substance called saponin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
39. Chickens Should Not Eat Hyacinth
Hyacinth contains a compound called lycorine that can cause respiratory problems.
40. Chickens Should Never Eat Hydrangea
Though feeding chickens hydrangea may seem like a harmless way to provide them with extra nutrients, there are actually a few reasons why it is not recommended.
First of all, hydrangea is a member of the plant family Caprifoliaceae, which also includes key lime and Honeysuckle.
These plants contain toxic compounds known as grayanotoxins, which can cause severe gastrointestinal distress in chickens
41. Chickens Should Not Eat Bracken Fern
While chickens are known to eat just about anything, there are some things that they should not eat. Bracken fern is one of them.
This plant contains a substance that can be toxic to chickens, causing problems with their digestion and respiratory system. In severe cases, it can even be fatal.
42. Chickens Should Definitely Not Eat Castor Bean
These beans contain a substance called ricin, which is highly toxic to chickens. Just a few beans can cause severe illness or death. Symptoms of ricin poisoning include difficulty breathing, lethargy, and vomiting.
43. Chickens Should Not Eat Lantana
This flowering plant is commonly found in gardens and is poisonous to chickens. Lantana can cause liver damage and death in chickens, so it is best to avoid feeding it to them. If you have lantana in your garden, make sure that your chickens cannot access it.
44. Chickens Should Never Eat Apricot Plants
Chickens are attracted to the smell of apricots, and will often peck at the plants in search of the fruit. However, apricot plants can be harmful to chickens if ingested.
The leaves and pits of apricot plants contain cyanogenic glycosides, which release cyanide when they come into contact with digestive enzymes.
This can lead to cyanide poisoning in chickens, which can be fatal. In addition, apricot pits can also cause choking or blockages in a chicken’s digestive system.
45. Chickens Should Not Eat Green Tomatoes in Large Quantities
The unripe fruit contains high levels of solanine, a poisonous compound that can cause gastrointestinal distress and neurological problems. While a small amount of green tomato is not likely to kill a chicken outright, it can still make them very sick.
46. Chickens Should Not Eat Oak
Oak contains high levels of tannins, which can be toxic to chickens in large quantities. Tannins can cause liver damage and gastrointestinal distress, and can even lead to death. For this reason, it is best to avoid feeding chickens oak leaves or again, acorns.
47. Chickens Should Not Eat Tulips
Tulips contain a substance called lycorine, which can cause gastrointestinal distress in chickens. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. In severe cases, lycorine poisoning can lead to organ damage and even death.
48. Don’t Feed Your Flock Kumquats
Kumquats are not overtly harmful to chickens, but like most citrus fruits they are intensely acidic and contain a lot of sugar. Chances are your birds won’t even like them, but you should make it a point to avoid feeding them kumquats at any rate.
49. Don’t Let Your Chickens Eat Ferns
The subject of ferns and chickens is a complicated one, with some plants that are true ferns being completely safe, if only marginally nutritious, for chickens while other false ferns can be deadly poisonous.
If you don’t have intricate knowledge of all these plants, it’s best just to avoid feeding them to your flock!
50. Chickens Should Not Eat Irises
Irises are another beautiful plant, but unfortunately, ones that should not be fed to chickens. All parts of the plant, but particularly the roots and bulbs are highly toxic and can cause severe diarrhea and kidney problems in chickens.
51. Eucalyptus is Not Good for Chickens
Eucalyptus plants contain eucalyptus oil which is highly dangerous to chickens and other birds. Your chickens should instinctively avoid it, but it is best to not let them go near it and you definitely don’t want to serve it to them. Leave this stuff for the koalas!
52. Don’t Feed Elderberries to Your Chickens
Most parts of the elder plant contain toxins that will hurt your chickens. The berries are only safe and in limited quantities, and even then, they are pretty high in sugar.
This is another entry that can be okay with strict control and in strict moderation, but I think it is best to just avoid the hassle altogether.
53. Queen Anne’s Lace is Not Something that Chickens Should Eat
Queen Anne’s lace is a delicate and pretty plant but one that appears commonly on lists of toxic plants for various animal species. As you might have guessed by now, it is also toxic for your chickens.
54. Jasmine Might Upset Your Bird’s Stomach
Jasmine, like many herbs, is not explicitly toxic for chickens to eat whether fresh or dried. But also like many herbs the potent oil that gives Jasmine its alluring fragrance can cause digestive problems in chickens.
55. Daffodils are Pretty, but Toxic for Chickens
Yet another beautiful flower, but one that should only be admired and not eaten. All parts of the daffodil are toxic, from the roots to the stem, the stamen, and the petals.
Once more most chickens know enough to stay away from daffodils as a source of food, but don’t take the chance.
56. Foxglove is Highly Toxic for Chickens
Foxglove, one of many pretty flowering plants in the digitalis family, has various toxic compounds that can interfere with the rhythm of the heart as well as cause intense vomiting, diarrhea, and other problems.
Once again, chickens typically steer clear of them but you must ensure that any free-range chickens cannot get to them.
57. Honeysuckle Can be Harmful to Chickens
Honeysuckle is a maybe, maybe not food item for chickens. They can eat the flowers and that delicious drop of nectar safely, but other parts of the plant can cause digestive trouble if eaten in excess.
Also, some false honeysuckle plants are definitely toxic for chickens, so if you don’t know exactly what you are dealing with, keep your birds away from them…
58. Hemlock Will Easily Kill Chickens
Hemlock has an ancient reputation as a potently poisonous plant. There are very few living things that can safely eat hemlock, and chickens are not one of them.
Most chickens that have even a little bit will quickly expire, so make any point to clear it off of your property if you have chickens.
59. Deadly Nightshade Lives Up to Its Name
Though the nightshade family comprises many different kinds of plants, including vegetables, deadly nightshade is a surprisingly common but extremely poisonous variety. Note that all parts of these plants are highly dangerous for your chickens.
60. Holly is a Festive but Harmful Plant for Chickens
Holly plants are beloved for their festive appearance thanks to glossy, prickly leaves and small clusters of delicate red berries.
Sadly, no part of the plant is safe to eat and all contain a medley of toxic compounds that will easily kill chickens. You’ll keep your chickens away from holly plants if you know what is good for them.
61. Rhododendrons are Very Common, and Dangerous
One of the most common families of shrubs to be found in use decoratively, particularly azaleas. Once again, these are no good for chickens to eat and can cause substantial health problems.
Luckily, chickens will rarely give these any attention assuming they have anything else to eat but you shouldn’t take chances.
Other Things Chickens Cannot Eat
What Treats Are Better for Chickens? Alternatives to Consider…
So now that we’ve told you what NOT to feed your chickens, you might be wondering, “geez, what’s left?” Here are a few smart alternatives.
In general, leafy greens are a good source of vitamins and minerals, while root vegetables like carrots provide a good source of energy. Here is a list of some specific vegetables that are safe to feed to chickens:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Swiss chard
- Sweet potatoes
Broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts – brassicas in general – should only be given as a treat. They can cause digestive problems in chickens and may even lead to death in large quantities.
These vegetables contain goitrogens, substances that interfere with the thyroid gland’s ability to function properly.
This can result in a condition known as goiter, which can eventually be fatal. In addition, these vegetables are also high in calcium, which can lead to kidney stones and other health problems in chickens.
Feel free to give your chickens any kind of fruit you want (with the exception of things like apple seeds and cherry pits, as mentioned above).
Some great fruits for chickens include:
- Watermelon and cantaloupe
Some plants can be toxic to chickens, so it is important to do your research before feeding anything new to your flock.
Other weeds and herbs that are good for chickens include:
- Grass and grass clippings
Some other treats you can give your chickens include:
- Bread (in moderation)
- Sunflower seeds
There you have it – a list of all the foods you shouldn’t (and should!) feed your chickens.
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?
Be sure to get the PDF checklist I put together so you print it out and see at a glance what not to feed them.
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.