A few years ago, on a warm, sunny, October afternoon, I found myself armed with a dust mask, a pair of gloves, a shovel, and a broom — all geared up and ready to clean out the ol' chicken coop.
It may sound crazy, but before long, I was having the time of my life: hummin' songs, scrapin' dried chicken poop, and scoopin' up dusty straw ... But I was jolted out of my peaceful reverie when a little gray mouse came out of nowhere and scampered right over my feet. (Apparently, I'd inadvertently demolished his nest with my cleaning.)
The poor little beggar made it out of the wreckage unscathed, but then he made the mistake of running right past me and into the chicken yard, where our fat old hens were scratching!
Now, I was still kinda new to raising chickens at the time, and I'd always thought they were more or less vegetarians, y'know? Sure, they’d eat a grasshopper now and then, or scratch up the occasional earthworm, but their diet consisted mainly of grains and legumes and other plant-based stuff, didn't it?
Certainly, they wouldn’t go for any actual meat!
Well, I was dead wrong — and unfortunately, so was the mouse.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: Chickens will eat just about ANYTHING, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be eating it.
So, without further ado, here's a list of common foods you should NOT feed your chickens:
According to this article, uncooked dry beans are extremely toxic to both humans and chickens alike thanks to a nearly unpronounceable protein called phytohaemagglutinin. (Quite the mouthful, right?)
They say that a chicken can die from eating as few as 3 or 4 beans, with death occurring in as little as an hour.
Avocados contain a fungicidal toxin called persin. I've heard some folks say that it’s only the skins and the pits that you have to worry about, but the flesh is fine in moderation. Other people will tell you to steer clear of avocados altogether.
In our neck o' the woods, avocados get slicked up so fast we've never had any leftovers to feed to the chickens anyway!
I don't know why a person would go wasting chocolate on their feathery moochers — especially since a chicken's palate is more geared towards maggots and mealworms —but more importantly, chocolate contains an alkaloid called Theobromine, which is toxic to chickens (and dogs and cats too, in case you were wondering). Even a very small amount can be fatal.
When potatoes are left out in the light for an extended period of time they start ramping up their internal preservation processes, turning them green and resulting in high accumulations of solanine, which can cause all sorts of health problems for your chickens.
Onions (and garlic, chives, leeks, shallots, and all the other members of the “Allium” family) contain various forms of thiosulfinates, which can oxidize the hemoglobin in a chicken’s blood, leading to severe anemia.
There are a lot of molds out there. Some good (like penicillin), some bad. Feeding moldy food to your chickens can lead to everything from respiratory problems to liver cancer.
Apple seeds (and pits from peaches, apricots, cherries, plums, etc.) all contain a substance called amygdalin, which, when fully digested, produces a small amount of cyanide.
Citrus is one of the more controversial foods in this list.
Some people will tell you that the high acidity in citrus fruits leads to thinner eggshells. Other folks claim that it will reduce egg production ... There are even anecdotal tales of citrus causing feather plucking and diarrhea!
I am not a scientific authority on this subject! Nor am I a biochemist (that would be my wife).
Although I have done hours and hours of research for this article, I’m still not an expert on chicken physiology, nor do I understand all of the mechanisms at work in toxicology. At the end of the day, this list is just a very small sampling of potentially harmful foods.
For a more comprehensive list, please consult your veterinarian.
Keeping your flock as healthy as possible...