If you’ve had chickens for long, you probably have noticed that they eat all day long.
They peck and scratch at the soil and eat every last bit of our kitchen scraps and leftovers.
Letting your chickens free range, or giving them access to plenty of natural vegetation and/or rotating their grazing parameters, is the key to happy chickens and healthy eggs.
While also being more cost-effective than a diet consisting mostly of store-bought chicken feed, giving your hens a diverse menu to choose from greatly increases the nutritional benefits of a single egg.
Here on our homestead we’ve recently reintroduced our hens to having free range of the yard and within a week we noticed a difference in the quality of the eggs they were laying.
The shells were thicker, the yolk was brighter, and the eggs were tastier (our chickens were happier too!).
Making sure your chickens are eating nutritiously is just as important as making sure we are eating nutritiously.
Giving your chickens access to highly nutritious plants can be an easy way for you to consume the benefits of the plants as well.
Before we get into highlighting specific plants individually, here is a full list.
- List of Chicken Friendly Plants:
- 9 Healthy Herbs For Chickens
- Naturally Growing Food For Chickens
- Plants To Avoid Growing Near Chickens
- Free Ranging Your Chickens Offers Additional Diet Variety
- Plants Toxic to Chickens
- Is elderberry toxic to chickens?
- Plants And Foods That Are Poisonous For Chickens
- The Big List of Chicken-Safe Plants
- Chicken-Safe Floral Plants
- Chicken-Safe Foliage Plants
- Chicken-Safe Herbs
- Chicken-Safe Vines
- Chicken-Safe Shrubs
- Chicken-Safe Trees
- Garden Plants Toxic To Chickens: What Plants Are Bad For Chickens
- Garden Plants Toxic to Chickens
- Common Plants That are Poisonous to Chickens
- Breaking news
- What should chickens not eat?
- 1. Never, ever allow your chickens to eat dried or raw beans.
- 2. Chickens should not eat anything mouldy.
- 3. Parts of the avocado should not be eaten by chickens.
- 4. Chickens should not eat green potatoes or green tomatoes.
- 5. Chickens should not eat chocolate.
- Thank you for sharing the chicken love!
- Gardening For Your Girls – Plants That Your Chickens Love
- Download Your Ebook Now
List of Chicken Friendly Plants:
Vegetables & Grains:
- Peas, Beans, & Legumes
- Garlic, Onions, Leeks (Alliums)
Fruit & Shrubs:
- Most Fruit Trees & Canes
- Siberian Pea Shrub
Chickens Free Ranging on the Author’s Homestead
9 Healthy Herbs For Chickens
Having culinary and medicinal herbs right outside your chicken coop provides your chickens with easy access to these plants, while also making it convenient for you to add oregano or rosemary to your morning omelet.
Here is a list of herbs to plant in or around your chicken coop
1) Comfrey: Symphytum officinale
Perennial plant rich in protein, potassium, and calcium. Beneficial to chickens for their general health and laying.
2) Fennel: Foeniculum vulgare
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Fresh fennel fan club 💚 #edibleflowers #fennel #yum
Lacy pods of yellow flowers attract butterfly larvae and beneficial insects for chickens to eat. Their foliage and seeds are also good for general health.
3) Thyme: Thymus Vulgaris
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It’s #Thyme… #herbs#herbflowers#flavour#scent
Aids in respiratory health and has antibacterial/antibiotic properties.
4) Lavender: Lavandula species
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😍 #lavender #lavenderfields #lavenderlove #purple #newtylelavender #scottishlavender #scotland #moray
Lavender is a natural insect repellent. Putting dried lavender in your chicken coop can have calming effects on the chickens as well as being a natural air freshener.
5) Nasturtium: Tropaeolum majus
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A great general plant for chicken health. It has antiseptic and antibiotic properties. Its seeds can be used as a natural chicken de-wormer. It also has insect repellent qualities.
6) Rosemary: Rosmarinus officinalis
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Pretty little things #rosemary #rosemaryplant
Aromatic scent repels insects.
7) Sage: Salvia spp
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#sageplant #vegetables #meatseasoning #sage
A good herb for chickens’ general health. Acts as an antioxidant and can help prevent salmonella.
8) Wormwood: Artemisia absinthium
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Wormwood growing steadily & with great dignity. #herbgarden #magicherbs #wormwood #artemisiaabsinthium
Helps control external parasites and is a natural insect repellent.
9) Oregano: Origanum vulgare
Can boost chickens immune systems and helps fight off e.coli, coccidiosis, salmonella, and avian flu. Oregano is being studied as a natural antibiotic on large scale poultry farms.
To learn more about keeping your hens healthy with herbs, take a look at An Herb Garden For Chickens by Lisa Steele.
Naturally Growing Food For Chickens
Here are a few more plants that can be valuable to sow in your chicken area for extra protein and more calories. Many of these plants service multiple purposes in the garden, including cover cropping and soil improvement.
Siberian Pea Shrub: Caragana arborescens
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Would you believe this is the tree that was covered in snow at Easter!? 🌳🌿❤
This amazing plant is a premier permaculture plant and can be a homesteaders best friend. A perennial in the legume family that is high in protein and is also a nitrogen fixer for the soil.
Amaranth: Amaranthus hypochondriacus
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Loving the Pygmy Amaranth in my garden this year. It has the most amazing flower spires 6-10″ tall and lovely edible leaves that are green on one side and purple on the other. . #amaranth #edibleflowers #peapatch #seattlegardening
A beautiful addition to any garden, with bright colored seeds and lush broad leaves, your chickens will love having a grain supplement in the garden, that is also gorgeous to look at.
Plantain: Plantago lanceolata
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The mature seeds of this plant can used by humans as a natural laxative and as a high protein and mineral source for animals.
White Clover: Trifolium Repens
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#whiteclover #clover #valkoapila #apila #kukat #flowers #luonnonkukat #natureflowers #wildflowers #flowerstagram #flowersofinstagram #suomi100kesä #suomi100vuotta
We’ve written about the benefits of white clover as a living mulch in the past. Our friend Kevin Fletcher of New Country Organics had this to add:
If you are looking for ground cover to use near chickens I would suggest White Clover. Clover is high in protein but can withstand traffic and stress very well. If you are looking to supplement their feed, Millet and Sunflowers growing beside the coop will provide extra treats. But you’ll have to protect them until they are at least two feet high.
Looking for more ideas? Try more grain-like plants like Clover, Alfalfa, Sunflowers, Peas, Lentils, and Buckwheat. You can also try more fruit trees and canes like Raspberries, Blueberries, and Mulberries. While many people consider them weeds, Chickweed, Dandelions, and Nettles are also decent additions as well.
Plants To Avoid Growing Near Chickens
Before you release your chickens into the abundance of your backyard or decide to plant a garden specifically for your chickens, there are a few plants you should know about.
Unlike other livestock animals, chickens have a keen sense in knowing what plants are poisonous and what plants are good for them. Luckily their intuition keeps them away from even trying the poisonous ones, but there are exceptions to everything. If you’re planting near a coop, you’ll want to make sure you’re not growing these plants nearby in case your hens are feeling hungry or pressured to eat something due to proximity (hopefully you have enough natural food to avoid that, of course).
In order to eliminate all chances of accidental toxicity, here is a list of common plants to be aware of:
- Daffodil: Narcissus spp.
- Daphne: Daphne spp.
- Foxglove: Digitalis spp.
- Honeysuckle: Lonicera spp.
- Hydrangea: Hydrangea spp.
- Nightshades: Solanaceae spp. Tomatoes, Potatoes, Eggplant, and other members of the Nightshade family.
- Rhododendron: Rhododendron spp.
- Tulip: Tulipa.
For a full list of potentially poisonous plants visit BackyardChickens.com.
Free Ranging Your Chickens Offers Additional Diet Variety
In permaculture philosophy each garden element has multiple functions. An example is bamboo that acts as a windbreak while also providing food, shade and shelter.
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Sourced some help from our weeding contractors ☘🐔🌿🐔🍀
Free range chickens can also serve multiple functions in the garden, providing your family with more than just eggs or meat. Joel Salatin, known for his revolutionary and holistic methods of raising livestock in a sustainable and regenerative way, gives examples of how chickens can help us accomplish simple tasks in and around the garden.
Debug A Space
Chickens eat bugs at all levels of the bugs life (adult, larval and egg). Leave your chickens in a space where you have a bug problem and within a few hours you will have a pest free area and have fed your chickens an abundance of protein rich food!
Place chickens on top of a mulch pile and they will spread it for you within hours.
Leave chickens in an area long enough and they will till the ground for you. Make sure they have normal feed in addition to what is growing so they’re not forced to eat something that they don’t want to.
Put chickens out in a pasture or soon to be garden space and let them naturally fertilize the soil with their manure.
Assist in Composting
Leave chickens on your compost pile and as they scratch it looking for bugs and other food sources, they will be oxygenating the pile. And as they add manure to the pile they will be contributing the necessary nitrogen element to the composting process.
Here’s an awesome post that talks about how chickens can perform multiple functions in the garden and demonstrates the symbiotic relationship of gardening and animal raising.
Do you plant crops near your chickens to provide them with additional feed during the year? What do they love & what works best for you? Leave your comments below!
Plants Toxic to Chickens
I originally made this a post, but I think it’s an important enough topic to have it’s own page as well.
Spring has sprung, and the chickens are getting much more outside time. With that in mind, while doing spring yard cleanup, it’s smart to pay extra attention to things that could potentially damage your foraging hens. The winter snow covers so much, and invariably I find things like screws, nails, candy wrappers, Styrofoam pieces & cigarette butts that somehow find their way into my yard. If I don’t clean those things up, the chickens WILL find them- and if they find them, they’ll try to eat them. They’re not always the smartest of birds.
Additionally, spring is a good time to review what sort of plants you have growing in and around your yard, to make sure you’re not exposing your chickeny charges to something dangerous. Below, I’ve pasted a list of toxic plants from chickenkeepingsecrets.com:
|ARUM LILY||ELEPHANT EAR (TARO)||MOONSEED|
|AMARYLLIS||ENGLISH IVY||MORNING GLORY|
|ARROWHEAD VINE||EUCALYPTUS (DRIED, DYED OR TREATED IN FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS)||MUSHROOMS, AMANITA|
|AUTUMN CROCUS||EUONYMUS (SPINDLE TREE)||MYRTLE|
|AUSTRALIAN FLAMETREE||EUPHORBIA CACTUS||NARCISSUS|
|AUSTRALIAN UMBRELLA TREE||FALSE HELLEBORE||NETTLES|
|AVOCADO||FLAME TREE||NIGHTSHADES: (DEADLY, BLACK, GARDEN, WOODY, BITTERSWEET,|
|AZALEA||FELT PLANT (MATERNITY, AIR & PANDA PLANTS)||EGGPLANT, JERUSALEM CHERRY)|
|BEANS: (CASTOR, HORSE, FAVA, BROAD, GLORY, SCARLET RUNNER,||FIRE THORN||OLEANDER|
|MESCAL, NAVY, PREGATORY)||FLAMINGO FLOWER||OXALIS|
|BIRD OF PARADISE||FOUR O’CLOCK||PARSLEY|
|BISHOP’S WEED||FOXGLOVE||PEACE LILY|
|BLACK LOCUST||GOLDEN CHAIN||PHILODENDRONS: (SPLIT LEAF, SWISS CHEESE, HEART-LEAF)|
|BLEEDING HEART OR DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES||GRASS: (JOHNSON, SORGHUM, SUDAN & BROOM CORN)||PIGWEED|
|BLUEBONNET||HEATHS: (KALMIA, LEUCOTHO, PEIRES, RHODODENDRON, MTN. LAUREL,||POINSETTIA|
|BLUEGREEN ALGAE||BLACK LAUREL, ANDROMEDA & AZALEA)||POISON IVY|
|BRACKEN FERN||HEMLOCK: (POISON & WATER)||POISON OAK: (WESTERN & EASTERN)|
|BULB FLOWERS: (AMARYLLIS, DAFFODIL, NARCISSUS, HYACINTH & IRIS)||HOLLY||POTATO SHOOTS|
|CAMEL BUSH||HOYA||RAIN TREE|
|CASTOR BEAN||HYACINTH||RANUNCULUS, BUTTERCUP|
|CANA LILY||IRIS IVY: (ENGLISH & OTHERS)||RATTLEBOX, CROTALARIA|
|CARDINAL FLOWER||JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT||RED MAPLE|
|CHALICE (TRUMPET VINE)||JASMINE (JESSAMINE)||RED SAGE (LANTANA)|
|CHERRY TREE||JERUSALEM CHERRY||RHUBARB LEAVES|
|CHINA BERRY TREE||JIMSONWEED||RHODODENDRONS|
|CHRISTMAS CANDLE||JUNIPER||ROSARY PEA SEEDS|
|CLEMATIS (VIRGINIA BOWER)||KY. COFFEE TREE||SAND BOX TREE|
|CLIVIA||LANTANA (RED SAGE)||SKUNK CABBAGE|
|COFFEE (SENNA)||LILY OF THE VALLEY||SNOW DROP|
|COFFEE BEAN (RATTLEBUSH, RATTLE BOX & COFFEEWEED)||LILY, ARUM||SPURGES: (PENCIL TREE, SNOW-ON-MTN, CANDELABRA, CROWN OF THORNS)|
|CORAL PLANT||LOBELIA||STAR OF BETHLEHEM|
|CORIANDER||LOCOWEED (MILK VETCH)||SWEET PEA|
|CORNCOCKLE||LOCUSTS, BLACK / HONEY||SWISS CHEESE PLANT (MONSTERA)|
|COYOTILLO||LORDS & LADIES (CUCKOOPINT)||TANSY RAGWORT|
|CUTLEAF PHILODENDRON||MALANGA||UMBRELLA PLANT|
|DAFFODIL||MARIJUANA (HEMP)||VETCH: HAIRY/COMMON|
|DAPHNE||MAYAPPLE (MANDRAKE)||VIRGINIA CREEPER|
|DATURA STRAMONIUM (ANGEL’S TRUMPET)||MEXICAN BREADFRUIT||WATTLE|
|DEATH CAMUS||MEXICAN POPPY||WEEPING FIG|
|DELPHINIUM||MILKWEED, COTTON BUSH||WHITE CEDAR, CHINA BERRY|
|DIEFFENBACHIA (DUMB CANE)||MOCK ORANGE||YEWS|
Is elderberry toxic to chickens?
According to PoultryDVM:
Caution – Potential Toxicity: Elderberry leaves, stems, roots and immature fruit are capable of producing large amounts of cyanide (a deadly toxin). Also, chickens should not be given large quantities of the berries to snack on either—as even when mature, S. nigra contains an assortment of active ingredients, which if ingested in large quantities, can be toxic to poultry.
Additionally, according to NormsFarms.com:
A common misperception is that the European Elder is the edible variety of Black Elderberry and that the American Elder is not edible, or does not contain the same constituents for which the European Black Elderberry is known. In fact, they are now considered to be different varieties of the same genus-species, and current research on the American Black Elderberry indicates that it may actually contain more of the anthocyanin’s and polyphenols thought to give elderberry its health benefits. The seeds, stems, leaves and roots of the Black Elder are all poisonous to humans. They contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside. Eating a sufficient quantity of these cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body and make you quite ill. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even coma. Most people recover quickly, although hospitalization may be required. The fruit of the elderberry is a tiny berry, about 1/8 to ¼ inch in diameter, and about 50% of the berry is seed. Cooking the berries destroys the glycosides present in the seeds, making the berries with their seeds safe to eat. As such, the fruit of the Black Elderberry should always be cooked before consumption. Interestingly, research indicates that exposing elderberry to heat actually concentrates the polyphenols and anthocyanin’s.
Verdict: Proceed with caution. Chickens don’t appear to really love eating the plant parts, but love the fruits. It might made sense to place chicken wire around the plant prior to fruit ripening.
This is in no ways definitive, and there are other lists floating around out there. For instance, this list on poultryhelp.com cites several plants that aren’t on the list above, such as lamb’s quarters, a common backyard weed in Michigan. I’ve found nothing that indicates lamb’s quarters are toxic for chickens- in fact, my chickens have eaten them since last year, and I regularly eat them in salads and spinach pie. Likewise, that list also cites alfalfa, which many chicken keepers give directly to their hens. Do your homework with plants you may have around, watch what your chickens go after, and be cautious. For instance, from the above list I have quite a few toxic plants, like daffodils, burdock, wisteria, and lily of the valley. I noticed a few days ago that my daffodils are starting to poke through the ground, and one curious hen grabbed a bit of green in her beak. Before I could chase her off, she let go and walked away- on some of the more toxic plants, they’ll leave them alone of their own accord. Does that mean I trust the chickens to 100% never eat anything dangerous, or that I could leave them in their chicken tractor parked over a bed of daffodils. Nope. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and to limit their access to poisonous plants in ways that make sense. Most of the things naturally growing in your yard will be fine for your chickens to peck and eat- keep them away from tomato plants & potato plants (nightshades), ornamental plants, and seedpods (especially wisteria).
Plants And Foods That Are Poisonous For Chickens
Chickens will eat most things you feed them. They love treats from the kitchen and love to wander around the garden in search of plants, bugs and juicy worms. However there are some plants and foods that can cause illness or be fatal to your hungry hens.
A group of hens feeding in the garden
Below is a list of foods you should refrain from feeding your chickens.
- Plants that are part of the nightshade family – Members of the nightshade family include potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. The latin name for these plants is Solanaceae. This is because they contain a compound called solanine. This is toxic to chickens. The compound can be broken down if the plants are cooked however. So any cooked potatoes or tomatoes are generally ok to give to your chickens. If you are worried, it is better to just not feed these plants to your chickens.
- Onions – Fed in large quantities onions can cause anemia or jaundice, and sometimes it can be fatal. This is because it contains thiosulphate which destroys red blood cells.
- Avocados – Avocados contain the toxin persin. This has been associated with myocardial necrosis, which is where the heart stops working.
- Apple seeds – The seeds contain cyanide which can kill your chickens. Any other part of the apple is fine, so when giving them apple ensure they are seed free.
- Citrus fruit – Citrus fruits probably won’t kill your chickens, however they do cause a drop in egg production. Fed in moderation is ok.
- Dried, raw beans – Uncooked beans contain hemaglutin which can be toxic to your chickens. Cooked beans are fine.
- Chocolate or sweet things – Chocolate contains toxin methylxanthines theobromine. Just like too much sugar is bad for humans, too much sugar can cause your chickens to be overweight leading to a drop in egg production.
- Salty foods – Chickens can suffer from salt poisoning, as they don’t naturally ingest a lot of salt.
- Mouldy food – Mouldy food should never be fed to chickens as the mould can cause illness and may be fatal. Overripe, wilted vegetables, or stale bread is all fine as long as mould is not present.
When feeding treats such as bread, cereals, and pasta be very sparing as these food have little nutritional value and can cause your chickens to be overweight. Dairy products and too much iceberg lettuce can cause diarrhea, so these should also be fed in moderation.
Toxic Garden Plants
There are many garden plants that are also toxic to your chickens. Your chickens will usually stay away from them by themselves as they don’t taste very nice to them. However it can be a good idea to make sure your chickens don’t have access to these plants. Below is a list of garden plants poisonous to your chickens.
- Bull Nettle
- Castor Bean
- Curly Dock
- Ground Ivy
- Horse Chestnut
- Horse Radish
- Laburnum (seed)
- Lily of the Valley
- Nightshade (Also called Deadly Nightshade)
- St. Johns Wort
- Water Hemlock
The Big List of Chicken-Safe Plants
There are plenty of lists of toxic and unsafe plants for chickens, but it is very hard to find plant options that can be used in your chicken area. I have compiled a list of plants that are deemed chicken-safe.
The following plants are appropriate and worry-free for the areas chickens roam. The list tells you the zone said plant grows in as well as if the plant is an annual or perennial. Some annuals can be over-wintered as perennials in warmer climates. Plants marked with an asterisk (*) have medicinal properties for chickens.
Chicken-Safe Floral Plants
If you find yourself wanting to landscape around your chicken’s enclosure, these plants will add seasonal color and are perfectly safe.
Bee Balm 3-9 Perennial
Black Eyed Susan 3-11 Perennial
Coreopsis 3-9 Perennial
Daisy 5-8 Perennial
Day Lilly 4-8 Perennial
Echinacea (Coneflower) 3-9 Perennial
Orchid 6-8 Perennial
Thistle 3-10 Perennial
Velvet Nettle 3-10 Perennial
Chicken-Safe Foliage Plants
Do you need year-round foliage to hide the less-than-aesthetically-pleasing areas around your chicken yard? These plants will do the trick.
Hens & Chicks 4-8 Perennial
Hosta 3-7 Perennial
Yucca 4-11 Perennial
Many herbs benefit from a trimming. They tend to perform better and get bushier with regular pruning. Why not let your chickens prune for you?
*Catnip 3-9 Perennial
*Lavender 5-10 Perennial
*Lemon Balm 4-11 Perennial
*Mint 3-10 Perennial
Oregano 5-11 Perennial
*Rosemary 6-10 Perennial
Vines are wonderful for growing up the side of a chicken enclosure. They offer shade in the summer and die back to allow for light in the winter. We have grapes and hops along the sunny side of our run.
Black Eye Susan 10-11 Perennial
Bougainvillea 9-11 Perennial
Grape Ivy Annual
*Rose 3-11 Perennial
Swedish Ivy Annual
Virginia Creeper 3-9 Perennial
You may be worried about shrubs on your property when you begin to free-range your chickens. Although shrubs like azalea and rhododendron can pose a risk, these plants are perfectly safe.
Bamboo 5-9 Be sure to plant the non-invasive variety!
Butterfly Bush 5-10
Hop Tree 4-9
No need to be concerned about the fruit, nuts, and leaves of these trees dropping. Your chickens will happily clean up the mess and it won’t hurt them at all.
Citrus (all) Keep in mind that too much citrus may cause weak egg shells because it affects calcium absorption.
Crab Apple 3-8
Hop Tree 4-9
Willow (Goat/Pussy/Weeping) 2-9 (depending on species)
Keep in mind, just because a plant is “safe” does not mean it will be safe from hungry chickens. Be sure to check out the big list of poisonous plants if you are worried about a plant already located on your homestead. If you have a suggestion of a plant to be listed, let me know in the comments below.
Don’t miss ⇒ The ultimate guide to raising laying hens.
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I am a non-traditional homesteader. What is a non-traditional homesteader? I’d like to think we are the people who don’t fit the mold. I am a busy mom on a small bit of property with not a lot of financial resources, but I am figuring out how to live the life I want. A homesteader’s life.
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Garden Plants Toxic To Chickens: What Plants Are Bad For Chickens
For many urban dwellers and small homesteaders, chickens are among the first additions when it comes to raising animals. Not only do chickens require considerably less space than some other livestock, but the benefits are numerous. Whether raising these birds for meat or their eggs, meeting their needs will require research and effort from first-time owners.
One important aspect of this relates directly to maintaining healthy living environments for your chickens – ensuring that the flock is always safe. And this includes knowing what plants are bad for chickens, especially when they’re free to roam your property.
Garden Plants Toxic to Chickens
While predators are obviously a threat, many people overlook other more common issues that may already be present. By nature, chickens are grazing animals. As they roam, it will be likely that they take a nibble (or more) of various plants that are growing.
Plants that are poisonous for chickens occur in a variety of places. While it may be obvious that some ornamental plantings would be dangerous, some garden plants toxic to chickens may exist in your own vegetable garden. Plants chickens can’t eat may also be found growing wild throughout your property, as many native flowers and foliage plants could cause harm.
Toxins in certain plants can cause serious harm to birds within the flock. These symptoms include lowered blood pressure, seizures, and even death. While there is no exhaustive list of what plants are bad for chickens, owners can help avoid their consumption by providing well managed places in which the birds are allowed to roam.
Providing an ample supply of high quality food for the chickens will help reduce the likelihood that they will nibble on plants they shouldn’t. When in doubt, the removal of the plant is the best option.
Common Plants That are Poisonous to Chickens
- Castor beans
- Corn cockle
- Flowering bulbs
- Nightshade plants
- White Snakeroot
Toxic does not necessarily mean fatal. It usually refers to a substance which may cause a reaction in an individual bird (or person) ranging from a mild irritation to death. There are many lists of possible plants which may be regarded as toxic to birds and in particular poultry.
This can cause confusion among people who want to do the right thing for their birds and those who rubbish such lists by saying “my birds have always eaten so-and-so and they never died!” Many of the plants listed may be there because of their observed toxicity to other animals (and humans) and so the author has assumed they will also be toxic to chickens without any factual evidence.
In fact, chickens are remarkably tolerant of some apparently toxic plants that do affect other species. Other reasons are often put forward that poultry may consume some of the listed plants without apparently being affected. The age of the bird, the amount consumed, the stage of growth of the plant, the season (winter or summer) and the part of the plant consumed can all vary the degree to which the bird can be affected.
Another fact which is often overlooked is that the effect may take several months to develop after the toxic plant has been consumed, such as chronic kidney or liver damage. An affected organ may only begin to fail when the bird comes under stress, eg during a moult or at the commencement of lay when the bird’s body is working harder than normal, which may be several months later.
The symptoms caused by consumption of a toxic plant can vary according to the poison which the plant contains. If it does not cause severe sickness or death within hours or days of consumption then the other range of possible effects can easily be overlooked by an owner who feeds their birds and sees them for a few minutes each day. Toxins which cause intestinal upsets and diarrhoea may be apparent as scouring, vent feathers caked in faeces, or wet/runny faeces. Many people will put these symptoms down to worms or a disease, and these are also symptoms of illness caused by mycotoxins from moulds or a bacterial infection.
But plants such as lily of the valley, sorrel, oxalis, fat hen, inkweed, rhubarb, daphne and green potatoes can all cause symptoms of diarrhoea and enteritis (inflammation of the gut). Plants which may cause an irritation of the skin, or more importantly inside the mouth or oesophagus, include hog weed, angelica, fennel, dill, parsley, parsnip and celery. The chemical compounds involved are furocoumarins which are present in the leaves and roots. They can cause fluid-filled blisters on unfeathered skin on the face, and burning in the mouth and throat. Can anyone categorically say that their birds do not have a burning sensation after eating any of these plants?
Some plants may cause symptoms including incoordination, staggering, convulsions, blindness or lameness, something that may often be seen but easily put down to causes other than plant poisoning. The green immature berries of black nightshade, green potato peelings and potato sprouts are very common sources of the toxin solanin, which can cause these symptoms.
Chickens have good instincts, don’t they?
It may appear poultry and other livestock know what not to eat instinctively, but that’s not necessarily true.
When birds have access to a bountiful free range and in addition are fed a well-balanced, nutritious commercial feed, they are less likely to consume things which may have a toxic effect on them. However, there will always be occasions when they may over-consume plant material which may cause them harm. This is more of a risk if they are confined to a run which has become bare of vegetation except those plants which up until this time they have avoided. When birds are free ranging but the range is restricted to an overabundance of the harmful vegetation and they are not getting enough to eat to satisfy their hunger, it’s possible they may eat toxic plants.
Time of year may also influence the level of the toxic substance in the vegetation. Rhubarb is one plant that many people say their birds strip without apparent affect. This could well be due to the varying levels of oxalic acid at different stages of growth (which may also vary between plants). Animals, particularly pigs and rats, and even humans, have been recorded as having been poisoned by rhubarb leaves, but evidence of a similar effect on chickens has been hard to find, making rhubarb one of the ‘assumed to be toxic to chickens’ plants.
However, while it takes a great quantity of leaves to be lethal to humans (in the region of 5kg to obtain 2-4g of oxalic acid), you only need to eat a fraction of that to cause sickness. The recorded effect of rhubarb toxicity in poultry is diarrhoea and haemorrhages (nose bleeds), but again these are symptoms which could easily go unobserved in a free ranging flock.
Plants often protect themselves with a bitter taste or spiny/shiny or tough leaves. While hens may well give most things a tentative peck and either reject or consume based on their first taste and learn from the experience without causing harm, other birds may not be quite as cautious, especially if newly introduced to an area abundant in potentially toxic plants.
5 tips to keeping your chickens safe
1. A good quality, well-balanced, nutritionally correct commercial pellet or mash should make up the majority of a bird’s diet. If a bird becomes deficient in something like protein, vitamins or minerals and is craving it, it will begin to taste and eat many types of plants which it wouldn’t otherwise touch while looking for the missing elements, inadvertently eating toxic plants.
2. Err on the side of caution and do not feed large quantities of garden waste to hungry birds without knowing what it contains.
3. Try to eliminate known toxic plants in areas where your poultry may roam.
4. Don’t feed out plant material from your kitchen in a form that a chicken wouldn’t normally see in the wild, eg chopped or peeled.
5. Restrict what your birds can eat, just as you would for children or other animals such as dogs to a foodstuff you know could cause a problem – don’t trust their instincts as their instincts may be very wrong.
What’s toxic for one may not be for another. A toxin may cause problems in mammals but that doesn’t mean it has the same effect on poultry, due to differing physiology. The reverse may be true, so always check.
Chickens & parsley: toxic or not?
There’s an old saying, “moderation in all things” and the same can go for what your chickens eat. Some plants can be beneficial and toxic. Parsley is one such plant. It is found in some herbal lay seed mixes especially put together for poultry, but it is also a plant that should be fed out with caution as it belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants (formerly known as umbelliferous) which includes parsnip, celery and hog weed. All plants in this family are known to cause a skin irritation which can affect bare skin on the face of a chicken, and irritate their mouths and throats.
Other possible results from eating too much parsley can include fluid retention by holding on to sodium (salt) and raised blood pressure.
However, parsley is high in minerals thanks to its deep roots, making it a beneficial addition to a bird’s diet.
In my experience, it appears some birds will eat the whole plant and others will leave it alone. Toxic effects can vary too, from a minor irritation to death so listing a plant on the toxic list may only mean that some individuals may be affected to a greater or lesser degree depending on how much of the plant they eat and whether the toxin is present in any quantity at a particular time of the year.
More on toxic plants
A comprehensive list of toxic plants can be found here
Note: This is a list compiled in the USA and many of these plants aren’t present in New Zealand.
For more on poultry and farming life, check out NZ Lifestyle Block magazine
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What should chickens not eat?
- What do chickens eat?
- What chickens should not eat
Chickens are really little food-munching machines – they will eat practically anything. But it’s important to know what’s good for them and what’s not.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out in internet-land about what chickens should and should not eat.
I found it extremely confusing when I started out. Where did the information come from, and which was accurate? Because it clearly couldn’t all be right.
With experience and research I’ve discovered that there’s actually very few foods which will kill chickens.
Some won’t do them much good and some may make them ill if eaten in very large quantities, but very few are actually lethal.
The five foods here, though, are potentially killers for your chickens.
1. Never, ever allow your chickens to eat dried or raw beans.
Dried beans are known to create very serious illness and even death in adult humans(1) and for chickens, they are always fatal. Kidney beans are the worst culprit but any bean which has not been properly cooked is potentially lethal for your chickens.
What’s the problem?
They contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin which is fatal to chickens.
Illness will occur after eating as few as three or four beans and will progress very rapidly, killing in as short a time as an hour.
Once eaten, there’s nothing to be done to save the bird.
How to prevent it?
Keep any bean plants well out of the way of your chickens.
Got plants like this? Keep your chickens away!
Any beans you want to give your hens should be thoroughly cooked. Soaking alone is not enough, nor is cooking in a crockpot or slow cooker. They don’t reach high enough temperatures to de-activate the phytohaemagglutinin.
You should not use dried beans for sprouts either. Seeds such as sprouted lentils are healthy and carry no risk of poisoning.
To make them safe for both humans and chickens, beans should be soaked in cold water for at least five hours – preferably longer. Then, discard the water, rinse the beans rinsed thoroughly and boil rapidly in fresh water for at least ten minutes – fifteen to be on the safe side.
Once cooked, they can be added to any recipe or given to your hens.
2. Chickens should not eat anything mouldy.
Would you eat this tomato? Or give it to your family?
No, thought not. Then don’t give it to your chickens.
Some moulds, of course, are good. Penicillin was developed from a mould and some cheeses have mould deliberately injected into them.
But others, including the mould which grows on soft fruits, produce toxins and it’s not possible to judge which moulds are good and which are toxic.
Some, in particular aspergillus flavus, the mould which grows on nuts, corn and apples, produces a toxin called aflatoxin which is known to contribute to the development of liver cancer in both humans and animals.(2)
Simple – don’t feed your chickens food which has any signs of mould or is in any way going rotten.
It’s equally important to make sure your flock’s feed does not become damp, which is one of the mediums in which moulds and their toxins flourish. Remember – mouldy feed can kill.
3. Parts of the avocado should not be eaten by chickens.
Avocado is a controversial one. You’ll see information on the internet which states categorically that avocados as a whole are poisonous to chickens.
That’s not entirely accurate.
It’s right to say that chickens are particularly susceptible to the toxin carried by the avocado which is called persin.
In large doses, persin will cause birds to have heart problems followed by difficulties breathing. It can cause death in less than 48 hours. (3)
Persin is carried mostly in the skin and the stone of the avocado (and the bark and leaves of the tree, if you happen to have one).
The flesh has lower levels of persin but it still contains some because persin is fat soluble and leaches into the flesh from the stone.
Avocado is actually an excellent source of nutrients including iron, potassium and Omega-3 fatty acids. But you need to balance that with the fact that it does have toxins which are potentially lethal to chickens.
If for some reason you want to your chickens to eat avocado give them the flesh only, and even then in great moderation.
Personally, I wouldn’t give my chickens avocados anyway – I like them too much myself.
4. Chickens should not eat green potatoes or green tomatoes.
My chickens love mashed potatoes. They would eat it until it came out of their little chicken ears.
I feed it them in moderation. Left-over cooked potato (including potato skins) is fine for chickens to eat but contains very few nutrients so isn’t one of the best treats.
Green potatoes, though, are another matter entirely.
The toxins found in green potatoes and green tomatoes are called solanin and chaconine, both of which are found in the peel, the flesh and the sprouts.
So any part of a potato which is green is poisonous for your chickens, as are unripened green tomatoes.(4)
Solanin is not altered by cooking, so don’t think it will be fine if you boil some green potatoes for your flock. It won’t be. It will cause drowsiness, paralysis and eventually, death.
Potatoes go green when they’re exposed to light, so make sure you keep them in a cool, dark place.
If you find some leftover potatoes which have already gone green or have sprouted, do not feed them to your chickens, even if you cook them. And don’t throw green peelings onto the compost heap if your chickens have access to it.
Green tomatoes should also be avoided but are slightly different in the sense that once they have ripened the levels of solanin they contain are greatly reduced.
They can then be fed to your flock although, as with everything, they should be given in moderation.
5. Chickens should not eat chocolate.
It’s fairly well known these days that chocolate is harmful to some mammals, particularly dogs and cats.
But did you know it can also be fatal for your chickens?
Theobromine and caffeine are the toxic elements of chocolate and are also found in some drinks – coffee, tea and colas among them. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains and the more dangerous it is.
Now, it’s right to say that eating a few pecks of chocolate or some leftover chocolate cake is probably not going to do your hens much harm – depending on how much chocolate that cake contains and how much they eat.
But even something we might think to be as innocent as a packet of chocolate chips can prove fatal.
Chocolate is known to cause heart problems in birds which can range from an irregular heartbeat to full cardiac arrest and death will happen very quickly – within 24 hours of eating the chocolate.(5)
So don’t kill them with “kindness”. Do your chickens and yourself a favour – keep the chocolate for yourself. Feed your flock a good quality chicken feed, allow them to range on pasture if you can – and let them have some healthy treats instead.
Free ranging on pasture is not always possible, but a great way to raise chickens if you can.
If you’d like to know more about what chickens should eat, you may find these pages helpful. Just click on the pic.
There is a lot of inaccurate and misleading information on the internet about foods which chickens should not eat. In order to bring you evidence-based information I refer only to facts which have been demonstrated by peer-based research and review. These are the resources on which my information on this page is based.
(1) U.S. Food and Drug Administration : ‘Foodborne Illness and Contaminants’. May 2013.
(2) B. W. Horn et al : ‘Aspergillus Flavus’. Advanced Center for Genome Technology, 2009.
(3) Buoro et al : ‘Putative avocado toxicity’. Journal of Veterinary Research, 1994.
(4) Cornell University, Department of Animal Science : ‘Plants Poisonous to Livestock’. 2014.
(5) Peterson et al : ‘Small Animal Toxicology’. Pub. Elsevier Saunders, 2006.
Thank you for sharing the chicken love!
Please note : I am required to tell you that in Europe, EU regulations state that chickens should not be fed any foods which have been in a kitchen, whether the kitchen is a professional or a domestic one and even if the food has not been prepared there but only ‘passed through’. This includes meats, vegetables, fruits and kitchen scraps and it applies to all backyard chickens, whether or not you sell their eggs or meat to others.
Gardening For Your Girls – Plants That Your Chickens Love
Senior Editor • Backyard Chicken Coops
01 September 2014
Giving your chickens fresh veggies as part of their diet is incredibly good for them. If you’ve got a green thumb and want to plant a little patch for your girls to feast on, then why not incorporate some of these goodies.
If you are going to section off a nice little veggie patch for your girls, it’s best to ensure there’s a wire mesh fence around it, unless they’re in a run. In fact, it’s a great idea to separate each different section of the veggie patch into quarters, so the chickens rotate around and get the goodness from everything, instead of gobbling up just one kind of the tasty morsel.
Incorporating leafy greens into your chicken’s diet is one of the best things you can do for it! Spring time is perfect season to quickly grow some green veggies – why not try some of these.
Lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage
These plants can grow in slightly cooler temperatures, so you can start growing them before Spring is in its peek. When the weather is warm, the plants will grow very quickly. Whether they’re feasting on the leaves or pecking on the leftover seeds on the ground – your chickens will eat their greens more than your children will!
Pumpkin and Squash
Yummo! Your chickens looove pumpkin and squash. The great thing about these veggies is that they keep for a long time – probably not something you’ll have to worry about, your chickens will have gobbled them up by then!
With pumpkin, just plant a few seedlings – once they’ve grown to around 6 inches tall, pull out all but the strongest. You’ll certainly have no shortage of pumpkins with just one or two plants. You can even feed your chickens the plants that didn’t make the cut.
Plant squash seeds into warmed soil (once the winter frosts have passed)
Giving your chickens a little grain boost will keep them fighting fit, and make their yolks golden and healthy.
Wheat, rye, barley
Grains are great for your chicken’s health – grains are packed with juicy vitamins. Sow them into the ground and let them grow to around 4 inches in height, then snip the little bits off the top and scatter them around for your girls to forage and peck at. One great perk of grains is that they’ll make your chickens egg yolk a vibrant yellow!
Sprouts are a wonderful, chewy treats for your chickens that are packed full of vitamins. Grow them until they’re around 4 inches long, then scatter them about for your chickens to enjoy.
You can really get creative with the way you grow sprouts – that’s the beauty of them! Jars are always a great choice, glass containers…even sponges have been known to work.
Spring is the perfect time to start indulging that green thumb of yours – after the winter you’ve had, you must be chomping at the bit to start digging and planting! Why not spend a little time planting your chickens their own little slice of veggie patch heaven – their health will thank you for it.
Many gardeners buy coops for their chickens that have a run attached, which they love to landscape and grow veggies in. This gives your chickens something to peck at, keeping them amused and well fed – whilst also giving them all the diet goodness that they need.
The Taj Mahal and Penthouse coops both come with nice big runs for your chickens to stretch their wings – a run for the Mansion can also be bought separately.
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