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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Toxic Treats! What NOT to Feed your Chickens


To help clear up some of the confusion about what is toxic to chickens and what isn't, we decided to sort through the various misconceptions running rampant, and use some reputable sources such as the Merck Veterinary Manual and other scientific studies to share the facts with you. 



The following foods are 'potentially' toxic (not necessarily fatal in small amounts) but just as we all know that raisins and chocolate can be fatal to dogs depending on the size and health of the dog and the amount eaten, and we don't feed our dog ANY raisins or chocolate because it's impossible to tell how much is TOO much, same goes for foods potentially toxic to chickens. We just stay away altogether.

There are so many other choices for healthy, tasty treats to feed them, why even take a chance with something that could at the very least be unhealthy or at worst be dangerous? [Read HERE for some ideas for safe treats for your chickens]

That said, here are some foods that should NOT be fed to your chickens:
No avocado flesh, pits or skins which contain the toxin persin, and according to the Merck Veterinary Manual: "Ingestion of avocado has been associated with myocardial necrosis in mammals and birds. Cattle, goats, horses, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, sheep, budgerigars, canaries, cockatiels, ostriches, chickens, turkeys, and fish are susceptible. Ingestion of fruit, leaves, stems, and seeds of avocado has been associated with toxicosis in animals; however leaves are the most toxic part."


No white potatoes - cooked or raw, skins or flesh which are part of the nightshade family and contain the toxin solanine. Solanine destroys red blood cells and can cause diarrhea and heart failure. It is sometimes killed by cooking at high heats, however boiling won't reduce the solanine levels.  Best to stay away from all parts of the white potato including the vines and leaves.

(Note: Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, not the nightshade family, and perfectly safe to feed to your chickens.)

No tomato leaves, no rhubarb stalks or leaves, no eggplant leaves all of which are also part of the nightshade family and potentially toxic.  Green tomatoes and immature eggplant flesh should also be avoided until ripe, when the solanine isn't present any longer in amounts that are of concern.
No apple seeds (also avoid pits/seeds from apricots, cherries, peaches, pears and plums which contain trace amounts of cyanide) but the fruits are all fine cored.

No raw dried beans, which contain phytohemagglutinin (PHA/hemaglutin), a natural insecticide that can be harmful unless the dried beans are soaked and then properly cooked. Once cooked, they are fine to feed. Interesting note, sprouted beans are fine for your chickens. The act of sprouting also kills the hemaglutin. [Read how to sprout mung beans HERE]
No onions, which contain a toxin called thiosulphate hat destroys red blood cells. Excessive amounts can cause jaundice or anemia in your hens or even death. Some claim that onions will taint the taste of your eggs as well. We can't validate that claim because we don't feed them to our chickens. We don't recommend feeding onions because any possible health benefits are far outweighed by the potential health risk.

(One thing to note: Garlic, which is in the same allium family as onions, contains only 1/15th of the thiosulphate as onion does and has some truly amazing health benefits. Once processed, powdered garlic has only negligible amounts of thiosuplhate in it, so I feel very comfortable adding garlic powder to our chickens' daily feed in the amount recommended by the experts. Read more about the health benefits of garlic HERE.) 
No chocolate, no caffeine, and no tea bags. Caffeine should never be fed to chickens and chocolate also contains the toxin methylxanthines theobromine which should be avoided.

Nothing moldy, although overripe fruits, wilted veggies and stale cereal or bread products are fine.
No alcohol. Hey, you never know what some people might try!

Nothing too salty/sweet/fried. Self-explanatory, if its not good for you, it's probably not good for them either.  They can get overweight which affects their overall health and laying ability. 

Nothing that has been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, such as lawn treatment products. Self-explanatory.


Okay in Limited Amounts: 
Citrus is thought to interfere with calcium absorption and contribute to thin-shelled and fewer eggs, so don't feed citrus fruits regularly. The oxalic acid in spinach can also interfere with calcium absorption, so spinach should be only an occasional treat. [Read more HERE about calcium absorption]
Asparagus can taint the taste of your eggs, so limit the amounts you feed.

Limit the iceberg lettuce you feed since it has very little nutritional value and can cause diarrhea in large amounts. Far better choices are leafy greens such as cabbage, kale and collards. Also limit the spinach because it can interfere with calcium absorption. [Read more HERE about that.]

Limit the white rice, pasta and bread as they have very little nutritional value. Instead whole wheat products are far more nutritious.

Dairy products including yogurt, milk and cheese can give chickens diarrhea since they aren't designed to digest the milk sugars, so go easy on the dairy if you notice it's having a negative effect.

All of the above foods are either bad for your chickens' systems 
OR can actually be toxic in large enough amounts.

Remember, a toxic substance does not mean that it will immediately kill the bird that consumes it. Many toxins build up in the system and signs of distress take awhile to be apparent.  Symptoms can range from hemorrhaging, internal congestion, visceral gout, diarrhea, convulsions, kidney failure, a rapid heartbeat or poor egg quality and quantity, all depending on the hens' overall health, condition, age, size and what and how much is eaten how often. Toxins often shorten lifespans considerably if fed over time, or lessen quality of life.

in moderation, most things won't hurt them - even those listed above. But there's sometimes a fine line between what will be beneficial and what won't, and what eventually will take it's toll on a body. Even our own daily vitamins that contain such beneficial nutrients and minerals would be toxic if we were to take enough of them in a short period of time.

Most of the time chickens will avoid things that aren't good for them, but if food is scarce, or it is included in with other things they normally eat, they can't always be trusted to steer clear. Additionally, treats of any kind other than so-called 'green treats' such as grass and weeds, should be limited to no more than 10% of your chickens' diet. So do your chickens and yourself a favor and avoid feeding them any potentially 'toxic treats' and stick to this list of Healthy Treats.


Sources:
http://www.merckvetmanual.com
http://us.petvalu.com/health-nutrition/dr-dave/articles/understanding-garlic
www.poultryclub.org/poultry/poisonous-plants-and-toxins/
http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v30je19.htm
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-pick-treats-for-chickens.html


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40 comments:

  1. Great list Lisa. A few of these I did not yet know about, though I do not feed any of these items to my girls. Sometimes I see these kind of lists and think wow, can it really be that good for me either??? Lol. Have a great day.

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    1. Thanks Heidi! I agree, why eat a white potato when a sweet potato is so much more nutritious. Same with whole wheat grains. I just realized I supposed I should have added alcohol to this list - I kind of felt funny adding chocolate, coffee and tea, but you never know what goes through people's heads!

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    2. You needed to add the coffee etc! My MIL trys to give us chicken food (scraps) all the time that she has dumped her coffee grounds into :P

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  2. What an incredibly thorough, well-researched, beneficial article. Thank you for sharing it!

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    1. Thank you. It was hard to sift through SO much information - most of it wrong honestly. I've been meaning to do this for some time now.

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  3. Great information. There are a couple on this list that we have been giving to them, thinking they were "treats". Now we know better. Thanks so much for all your valuable information. Our ladies thank you too!

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  4. Thanks a lot for this post, Lisa. ♥

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  5. Fantastic! Thank you for the information!! Love your posts!

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  6. Thank you for taking the time to post this for us. It will help a lot.

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  7. This is a great list and I found quite a few that I didn't know about! Thanks.

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  8. Good to know! We don't feed them these things (phew), but I have given them organic yogurt before. I didn't know about the dairy! Thank you!!

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    1. Yogurt DOES have great health benefits, so on occasion its not a problem. But probiotic powder is a better option as far as the probiotic benefits go. Although they DO love yogurt.

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  9. I'm so pleased to be able to find valuable and accurate information here, Lisa, thank you for your diligence and easy-to-understand explanations!

    This page is AWESOME!

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  10. As always I love how well written and done your posts are, but wow, my chickens should be sick and or dead based on this list, and yet I have never had any issues to date and I feed darn near everything on your list to not.. (not recommending it to anyone) just stating a fact..

    The question I will ask, is the fact that I clabber my milk before feeding to the birds, part of the reason why it does not seem to bother them on the milk comments..

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    1. Well Arlene, as I pointed out, toxic doesn't mean they die after eating one bite. Some toxins build up on their systems, others won't necessarily affect a young healthy bird but could kill and older or sickly bird.

      I have no idea what clabbering milk means. And a bit of dairy isn't going to be a problem, I'm just giving the facts - that chickens can't digest milk sugars.

      It just makes no sense to purposely feed ANY animal anything that could potentially be harmful.

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    2. Clabber is raw fresh milk, whole or skim that has been allow to sit and sour naturally, it's like a thick yogurt.

      I truly didn't mean offence, I am a member on your facebook page and I know that someone was really rude, but I didn't mean my comment to be so, just that I often feed some of the things on the list and that it surprised me that given the number that are on the list that I have never had issues over the years..

      Have a good day.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clabber_(food)

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    3. Hi there. Interesting thanks for the link. No I totally don't mind dissenting views and comments. That's how we all learn. Alot of this stuff does build up in their systems slowly, so all I"m doing is providing a list to be helpful. But I give mine expired yogurts all the time and its not a problem.

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  11. The bottom line: if there is even a hint of a possibility that something is toxic, why feed it to your birds? And why would anybody recommend that you SHOULD feed something potentially toxic to your pets? It boggles my mind. Thank you for taking this stance and providing this information--there is way too much misinformation going around on this topic. It makes me nuts that there are these self-proclaimed experts out there encouraging people to take such painfully unnecessary risks with their animals. What a waste it would be to lose a chicken from a snack. Unbelievable.

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  12. We laugh at our house because we will examine a food/leftover and say, "Should we feed this to the chickens?" and often it's a "no", but then we decide it's safe for us to eat! If we would eat like our chickens, we would probably be healthier!

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  13. Thank you for this list! As mentioned above, there is so much misinformation flying around, it's so great to have a quick guide that is so straight forward!

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  14. Good info to know! Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop!
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/02/the-homeacre-hop.html

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  15. Wow I had no idea avocados were toxic, I guess they don't get any more of those! Thanks for this list!

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  16. Thanks! I found this very informative as my other half has gotten in to the habbit of slopping the chickens! Meaning that they have been getting scraps of everything and anything! I knew they weren't like pigs! :)

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  17. I would disagree with the white potatoes. I have fattened cockerels up on cooked potatoes and pasta mixed with mash for close to 20 years.

    It is green potatoes that are a problem. Green potatoes should never be eaten since they contain poisonous alkaloids.

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    1. Sure you can disagree. That's fine, but the scientific fact is that the entire potato contains the toxin. More in the leaves and green skin, but the flesh contains it also. Cooking does kill it to some extent. BUT....by your comment I assume you are fattening cockerels up to eat - so by that definition you have no way of judging the LONG TERM effects of feeding a flock potatoes. So I stand by my recommendation NOT to feed laying hens potatoes.

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  18. Are strawberries considered citrus fruits or are we talking lemons, oranges and grapefruit type thing?

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    1. I have fed strawberries for years and never had a problem with soft shells, etc. we're talking lemons, limes, oranges etc. My chickens won't touch those. But they love strawberries.

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  19. Replies
    1. Cucumbers are just fine. Here's a guide to healthy treats: http://www.fresh-eggs-daily.com/2012/01/healthy-and-creative-treats.html

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  20. I don't really think it's all that necessary to freak out about apple seeds. Obviously it's true that they contain TRACE amounts of cyanide, but it's really a very small amount, and as long as the chickens aren't continuously scarfing down cups and cups of apple seeds, they'll really be fine...

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    1. Thanks ...I don't actually 'freak out' about anything - I am just presenting the facts. I have heard of people feeding their chickens apples every day - and yes, eating apple seeds every day can be toxic.

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  21. I see you mentioned foods inhibiting the absorption of calcium. I wonder if you've seen information on spinach advising this too, I've actually seen reports that humans shouldn't eat spinach with calcium often as it does that to us too. When foods are potentially toxic or toxicity can build up and eventually be toxic we will always have diverse opinions on whether the treats can be given as there is rarely an instant cause and effect. I know I have read of old timer chicken keepers who've raised chickens free ranging in an Apple orchard eating whole apples every fall for weeks at a time and living for years to cluck about it! I won't freak out if someone throws a whole apples in from time to time but, I still core them. I don't Give onions but if I have left over soup that has some onions in the broth, they get it. Good information and common sense goes a long way! Thanks for your well written post.

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    1. Yes you are correct. And in fact I wrote an article about spinach recently for Backyard Poultry. Fascinating stuff and I agree that I wouldn't freak about apple seeds, but I just like to provide information so others have the facts. I agree, I don't pick out every piece of onion or always core an apple, but its still good to avoid purposely giving them potentially dangerous foods:
      http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/ducks-and-spinach/?blogger=lsteele

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    2. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. I like to gather as much information as reasonably possible, from great sources like you and a very few others that I trust has researched with care and then use common sense, caring and experience to give any animal entrusted in my care the best I can...
      Thank you once again.

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  22. Can they have raisins? Egg shells? Scrambled eggs?

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    1. Yes! Yes! and Yes! Raisins ( and grapes) are fine for them, unlike for dogs and cats who are sensitive to them and subjet to kidney failure after eating them. Egg shells are a great source of free calcium and scrambled eggs are a super nutritious, economical addition to their diet.

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  23. Indeed a great sheet of advice by Lisa I am going through the detail over and over again. Loved the attention to detail.
    Vaterinary online ce

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  24. "No raw dried beans, which contain phytohemagglutinin (PHA/hemaglutin), a natural insecticide that can be harmful unless the dried beans are soaked and then properly cooked. Once cooked, they are fine to feed. Interesting note, sprouted beans are fine for your chickens. The act of sprouting also kills the hemaglutin."

    My question for you is on soy beans. Are soy bean sprouts included in this "sprouted beans are fine", or do they need to be cooked after they are sprouted?

    Thank you for all the information you provide!

    Deb Casey
    Edgewood, NM

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Thank you for your kind comments and joining along with Fresh Eggs Daily as we live our wonderful, natural country farm life.

Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily
www.facebook.com/FreshEggsDaily