Plants Poisonous to Chickens
Many Toxic Plants for Chickens Are Only Hazardous when Raw
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Let’s identify some plants poisonous to chickens plus the likelihood that poultry will eat toxic plants within your yard.
One of the first things we heard when we started keeping chickens was that they would eat anything. We were advised to offer kitchen scraps and items cleared from the garden. They will love it, we were told.
When the chicks turned into pullets, I realized the advice was inaccurate.
The kitchen scrap bucket contained cucumbers, lettuce, cooked zucchini, and the peels of raw potatoes. Oddly, the raw potato peels remained. I thought chickens ate everything.
Upon further research, I discovered raw potatoes are toxic plants for chickens and other poultry. As are part of the nightshade family, they contain a compound called solanine. This toxin lessens to safer levels when potatoes, and other nightshades with low solanine levels, are fully cooked.
Plants toxic for chickens do not stop with the nightshade family. Many edible and wild vegetation are known to be poisonous plants for chickens and other poultry. To help sort through what is safe and what is considered toxic, take a look at the lists below.
The Natural Instincts of Poultry
It is important to understand poultry’s behavior, especially chickens. Chickens tend to avoid consuming toxic items. Take, for example, the raw potatoes peels mentioned above. The flock pecked at the peels but did not consume them. I have also seen my chickens and other poultry flocks peck at the leaves of rhubarb plants; however, they quickly moved on after a peck or two.
Free-range poultry fed a well-balanced diet will have a strong instinct to avoid toxic plants. Also, a peck or two from all but the most toxic vegetation will usually not cause harm.
With that said, do not plant ornamental plants and flowers within a run. Poultry kept in enclosures are bored and may consume any vegetation onsite, especially if they are not allowed free-range time. Free-range poultry naturally stays away from toxic vegetation if there are healthier and more delicious items to consume.
The following lists contain plants toxic for chickens and other poultry. Keep in mind, the degree of toxicity ranges from slightly toxic to deadly. Much vegetation found in a pasture can be poisonous to chickens and other poultry when consumed.
From the Garden
Many items in the garden are safe for chickens to consume raw. Also, many of the fruits and vegetables listed here can be offered once thoroughly cooked, as a treat. Garden plants to avoid include:
- apricot leaves and pits; okay to offer the flesh
- avocado skin and stone; okay to offer the flesh
- citrus skin
- fruit seeds — apples*, cherry
- green beans; okay to offer once cooked
- horseradish, leaves and roots
- nightshade vegetables; okay to offer once cooked
- onions; okay to offer once cooked
- potato; okay to offer once cooked. Avoid offering green tubers.
- rhubarb leaves
- unripe berries
- unripe green tomatoes; ripe green heirloom tomatoes are okay
*Apple seeds contain cyanide; however, a bird must consume a substantial quantity to become ill.
Much like humans, poultry should not consume nuts such as the ones listed below until they have been crushed or husked.
- black walnuts
Ornamental Plants and Flowers
What is a garden without beauty? Again, the items listed below are classified as plants poisonous to chickens. However, it is unlikely for free-range birds to consume a deadly amount. Avoid planting these items in or around a run.
- buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), This family includes anemone, clematis, delphinium, and ranunculus.
- cherry laurel
- curly dock
- lily of the valley
- Mexican poppy
- mountain laurel
- St. John’s wort
- sweet pea
- tulip and other bulb flowers
- yew, also known as the Tree of Death
Poisonous Plants to Chickens in the Pasture
Free-range chickens have the opportunity to consume bugs, worms, and fresh grass daily. When given the opportunity, poultry gravitates toward these healthier alternatives. Possible toxic pasture plants and weeds include:
- black locust
- death camas
- castor bean
- European black nightshade
- corn cockle
- milkweed — Asclepias tuberosa and other varieties.
- mushrooms — especially Death Cap, Destroying Angel, and Panther Cap
- poison hemlock
- rosary pea
- water hemlock
- white snakeroot
Along with identifying plants toxic for chickens and other poultry, it is also necessary to know how to identify toxins within the environment. As poultry keepers, it is necessary to know the environment in which your flock lives. This will ensure they remain healthy and happy for years to come.
Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.