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.
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. Giving 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.
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.
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:
- Oak leaves and acorns
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.
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.
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?
Be sure to pin this for later!
Updated by Rebekah White on July 22nd 2019.