Chickens are curious creatures that will eat almost anything they come across. However, there are certain plants that they tend to avoid due to their taste, smell, or toxicity. Whether you’re a chicken keeper or simply have a backyard garden, it’s essential to know which plants are safe from their pecking beaks. Let’s explore the different categories of plants that chickens generally won’t eat:
Groundcover Plants Chickens Won’t Eat:
- Blueberry (low bush) – Chickens will eat the berries without killing the plant.
- Creeping mint – Chickens usually don’t like the taste of mint.
- Creeping thyme
- Feverfew – Feverfew is a natural insect repellent.
- Ground cover roses – Chickens might eat the rose petals, but they usually leave the plant alone.
- Juniper* – Large amounts of juniper berries can be toxic for chickens, but chickens usually won’t eat too many of them.
- Sweet woodruff
- Trailing Rosemary – Rosemary is a natural insect repellent, and chickens generally don’t like the taste.
Shrubs That Chickens Won’t Eat:
- Breath of Heaven
- Lavender – Has insect repellent properties, and the smell might be soothing to chickens.
- Woody Salvias
Perennials That Chickens Won’t Eat:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Calla Lily and Daylily* – Most lilies are toxic to chickens, especially peace lilies and lilies of the valley.
- Shasta Daisy*
Edible Plants That Chickens Won’t Eat:
- Asparagus – While it’s a plant in the ground.
- Avocado* – Avocado is poisonous to chickens, particularly the leaves, skin, and pit.
- Beans and legumes* – raw beans and legumes are poisonous to chickens.
- Garlic – Garlic is good for chickens’ health, but they generally leave the plant alone.
- Herbs – There are lots of herbs that chickens don’t like eating, such as chives, tarragon, sage, and mint.
- Nightshade fruits and vegetables* – Including potatoes, eggplant, bell pepper, and tomato.
- Onions* – Onions are toxic to chickens, and they can make their eggs taste bad.
- Rhubarb* – Rhubarb leaves are highly toxic to chickens.
- Squashes – Most chickens aren’t interested in mature squash plants.
Ornamental Plants Chickens Tend to Avoid:
- Rose of Sharon
- Most shrubs and bushes
- Hardy Geraniums
- Hardy Fuchsias
- Alchemilla Molis
- Oriental Grasses & Bamboos (once established)
- Honeysuckle (once established)
- Perennial Sweetpeas
- Petunias (mixed reports, some say they will eat them)
- Ophiopogan planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (Black lilyturf)
- Purple Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) ‘Purpurea’
While some chickens may eat the following plants, they are considered mostly chicken-proof:
- Fruit and vegetables:
- Garlic, Onions, and Leeks
- Chives, Mint, Rosemary, Tarragon, and Sage
- Rhubarb (they will occasionally eat the young leaves but don’t seem to get ill)
- Climbing beans once established
- Currant Bushes (established and without fruit)
- Asparagus (once in leaf)
- Plants that are part of the nightshade family – e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. These plants contain a toxic compound called solanine.
- Onions – Can cause anemia or jaundice in large quantities due to the presence of thiosulphate.
- Avocados – Contain the toxin persin, which can lead to myocardial necrosis (heart failure).
- Apple seeds – The seeds contain cyanide, which can be harmful to chickens.
- Citrus fruit – May not be lethal, but can cause a drop in egg production when fed in excess.
- Dried, raw beans – Contain hemagglutinin, which is toxic to chickens. Cooked beans are safe.
- Chocolate or sweet things – Chocolate contains theobromine, which can be harmful to chickens.
- Salty foods – Chickens can suffer from salt poisoning if they ingest too much salt.
- Mouldy food – Mouldy food can cause illness and may be fatal to chickens.
- Treats with little nutritional value – Bread, cereals, and pasta should be fed sparingly to avoid overweight chickens.
- Dairy products and excessive iceberg lettuce – Can cause diarrhea and should be fed in moderation.
Toxic garden plants to avoid giving chickens access to:
- Bull Nettle
- Castor Bean
- Curly Dock
- Ground Ivy
- Horse Chestnut
- Horse Radish
- Laburnum (seed)
- Lily of the Valley
- Nightshade (Deadly Nightshade)
- St. John’s Wort
- Water Hemlock
Knowing which plants are safe and which are potentially harmful is crucial when keeping chickens or designing a chicken-friendly garden. By avoiding toxic plants and offering a variety of chicken-friendly options, you can create a safe and healthy environment for your feathered friends. Always consult with a veterinarian or poultry expert if you have any concerns about the plants in your chicken’s surroundings.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q1: Can chickens eat all types of herbs?
A: While chickens generally avoid eating herbs like chives, tarragon, sage, and mint, some may still nibble on them. It’s best to provide a variety of safe options and monitor their preferences.
Q2: Are all nightshade plants toxic to chickens?
A: Yes, most nightshade plants, including potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants, contain toxic compounds like solanine and should be avoided in a chicken’s diet.
Q3: Can chickens eat avocado flesh?
A: Avocado flesh itself is not toxic to chickens, but the leaves, skin, and pit contain a toxin called persin, which can be harmful. It’s best to avoid feeding chickens any part of the avocado.
Q4: Are there any ornamental plants that are safe for chickens?
A: Yes, there are several ornamental plants that chickens tend to avoid, including roses, lavender, and camellias. However, it’s essential to ensure that chickens don’t consume large quantities of these plants.
Q5: Can chickens eat apple slices without the seeds?
A: Yes, chickens can eat apple slices without the seeds. The seeds contain cyanide, but the flesh is safe for chickens in moderation.
Creating a chicken-friendly environment involves careful consideration of the plants they have access to. Chickens will eat a wide variety of vegetation, but there are certain plants they tend to avoid due to taste, smell, or toxicity. By incorporating chicken-safe plants into your garden or chicken coop, you can enhance their living conditions and promote their health.
Remember to avoid toxic plants such as those from the nightshade family, avocados, and other harmful varieties. Additionally, providing a mix of safe herbs, shrubs, and groundcovers can enrich their diet and discourage them from nibbling on potentially dangerous plants.
Regularly inspect your chicken’s surroundings and make adjustments as needed to ensure their safety and well-being. If you have any doubts about a particular plant’s safety, consult with a poultry expert or veterinarian to make informed choices for your flock.