Question about plant toxicity

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by 2mnypets, Nov 9, 2013.

  1. 2mnypets

    2mnypets Songster

    Apr 11, 2007
    Galesburg, IL.
    I was reading in the information section about the treats that we give our fine feathered friends. I clicked on the link about plant toxicity. My hubby was just wanting to use the herb garden as a run for the winter since we didn't expect to get chickens until the spring. The herb garden is fenced and we were just going to place some other fencing/netting material to prevent aerial attacks. I noticed that chives and garlic cause gastrointestinal problems but it didn't go into details. Sage however, has too much nitrogen in it. I should clarify that I am in Illinois and the temps here are already in the high 20's at night. Most of the herbs have died off. I recently planted (3 weeks ago) the garlic bulbs in the ground, but for some reason the chives finally decided to start growing. Didn't have a stitch of them all spring or summer. I'm going to assume we need to make another run/enclosed pen for the girls. I just wanted some clarification on my accuracy and point of action I'm assuming I need to take.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2013

  2. dawg53

    dawg53 Humble Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2008
    Jacksonville, Florida
    I wouldnt worry too much about it. Chickens instinctively know what's good to eat and not to eat.
  3. pastryman

    pastryman Chirping

    Dec 12, 2012
    I agree with dawg53. I have heard about a lot of things that should be dangerous. Seeds in apples, leaves from gooseberry and so on. I have many of these things in my garden with my free ranging chickens, and there are no problems.

    I used to have chickens in a run. There where no problems withe the many kinds of plants. One or two they did not like, and they never ate them. Not even when there where nothing else.

    And by the way, Chives is very good for them. I give it to small chickens and ducks. Problem is, there might be a lot of things in many plant which is toxic. But in reality, it is not because they eat many different things, and are strong enough to take small amounts of things that might be a danger in large amounts.

    They will only get stronger from eating many different plants.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2013
  4. appps

    appps Crowing

    Aug 29, 2012
    You are going to want to keep them out but not for the reasons you think.

    Whenever mine get out they make a bee line for the herb garden. They ignore all the herbs including the chives and sage. What they do instead is scratch up the soil around them. My poor herbs have nearly been dug out that many times I'm surprised they are still growing.
    However I have never seen a single chook try to eat them. They will peck at weeds but ignore the herbs.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2013
  5. chooks4life

    chooks4life Crowing

    Apr 8, 2013
    Quote: The old studies cited behind such oft-repeated factoids were performed to excess, as with most toxicity studies focused on establishing a proven lethal level. Don't worry, your chickens aren't going to voluntarily eat many kilos of garlic each, every day, for as long as it takes, until they die of sulfur toxicity. They also won't force-feed themselves garlic oil in extracted form, in such quantity for such a length of time that it irritates their digestive systems beyond being able to digest normally.

    Just before, I was researching deadly plants for livestock, specifically sheep, and the majority of every list I found was false or required rare and extenuating circumstances which normally never occur. Fair enough to introduce a suggestion of caution, but many harmless plants were also branded lethal without a single iota of proof... Plenty of plants on the lists were misidentified, and many of them had no toxic effect noted to support the claim of toxicity, just unproven hearsay which gets passed around more efficiently than the truth.

    Many plants share a common name, too. One government site I found a list of toxic plants upon had misidentified an uncommon weed as a common and harmless healing plant that many farmers deliberately feed to their livestock. I know for a fact, from both personal experience and study, and much anecdotal experience besides, that many of the plants on the lists are lifesavers, nutritional, medicinal, and so forth... They're not all the killers many people believe.

    It's worth bearing in mind though that not all organisms of one species are the same.

    A lactose tolerant individual can have a lactose intolerant descendant or sibling. Some breeds are genuinely weak, even if the species as a whole is strong; also the same is true of some strains, some family lines within strains, some individuals within families, etc. Some have predispositions to certain diseases, or genetics, or behaviors, which predispose them to harm.

    Also, in order to digest anything normally the liver is required to do its job. But liver damage and disease is one of the most common issues with all domestic species.

    The majority of disease-related deaths in commercial poultry, according to one industry source from Australia (which may not apply to the USA but I'd bet it does), are related to the digestive system, namely the liver. If the liver is damaged badly enough to pose a threat to life, the individual is unable to tolerate many normal dietary additives, and any changes may be beyond their capacities to handle.

    Too much of anything is bad for you as a general rule, too. If you force feed a chicken any single component of its normal diet continuously, in exclusion of all else, and to great excess for a long period of time, that too is then 'toxic' and causes problems which can lead to death; then it's 'lethal'. Doesn't mean it's not a valid part of a healthy and normal diet, harmless and indeed beneficial under the right circumstances.

    I use garlic as a staple. My chickens have never exhibited 'gastrointestinal problems' from the continuous dosage of garlic; it's not force fed, just added, and they pick it out eagerly. They can avoid it if they choose. Their standard dose is a clove each per day, and disease rates are very, very low despite me running an open flock. Even newly hatched chicks enjoy freshly minced raw garlic, which prevents them from ever getting coccidiosis, in my experience; (I'd suppose that somewhere out there is a strong possibly new strain they've never experienced. But I'd also suppose garlic would handle that too, if it functions the same as the common strains of cocci).

    I've raised hundreds of birds free-range in completely mixed flocks, from all sorts of sources with all sorts of genetics, with minimal trouble or disease, and raw garlic in their daily diet has been a large part of the reason. (I know for sure, because I've repeatedly tested with and without it, and the same with kelp).

    I doubt things unless I've tested them, and then I like to repeat the tests a good few times, possibly more often than necessary... and I've tested garlic, thoroughly. Even when poultry are allowed to eat as much as they like, I've never seen one look less healthy for it, or show any signs of discomfort. Sometimes a sick chicken will self medicate with many cloves of garlic a day for many days in a row. Haven't had one die from it, nor get sicker. So, if you wanted an anecdotal vote for garlic, take mine, for what it's worth.

    I've remained open to the idea that garlic could kill via sulfur overdose but I've never seen it happen despite them eating at will more than what I originally believed were safe levels. Poultry have quite a tolerance for it.

    Also, as per the generality about differences in species, some strains of garlic are stronger or weaker than others. Anything truly 'organic' (as pesticide (etc) and chemical free as possible) is less of a burden on the liver too. Most things are toxic if you can't digest them. A whole lot hinges on the liver. Good thing dandelion and milk thistle heal it. Funny thing that they're on the majority of toxic plant lists too.

    It's common knowledge that if you take a bird and suddenly change its diet you ought to expect it to have a bit of discomfort. The body needs time to adapt. But, garlic is certainly one thing they have all seemed to adapt to instantly; I have taken birds of all ages from cage environments and just put them onto a diet involving garlic and seen no issues.

    The most at-risk birds, to which many toxic plant lists are possibly pretty relevant, are those descended from, and reared under, unnatural conditions. (I.e. no pasture, no normal social situation, no natural feeds, resulting in depressed or absent instinct regarding all of those things). If all the most recent ancestors knew were sawdust-covered concrete floors, even grass is a threat. It may not be toxic, but they can still kill themselves on it. Cage bred birds are known for trying to swallow very long strands of grass that other chickens spit out, or even use a claw to remove from their beaks, which will bind their crops or guts and kill them if they swallow it.

    Contrary to one popular belief we can, and do, breed some instincts in and out of them (maternal and paternal capacities is an example). It's a widespread fallacy that poultry (and all other animals we've domesticated) automatically inherit a perfect set of unchangeable and non-malleable instincts for social behavior, survival in the wild, etc. Some people think that whatever an animal does is 'natural' and correct for its species, despite the fact that many domesticated animals do a lot of abnormal and non-beneficial things which are due to human intervention, husbandry methods, and so forth.

    Much of this behavior must be reinforced generation after generation or it is abandoned as irrelevant. It can miss being reinforced for a few generations but gradually begins to fade out of behavioral patterns if not reinforced. Animals must adapt to survive. If you take cage-bred birds from a long line of cage bred birds, and put them out into a pasture, they may be ok but it's more likely than not that you would lose at least one to something a free-range bred and reared bird would never fall victim to. Given time, they will recover the instincts their wild ancestors had. But in the meantime they're prime suspects for overdosing on a plant, insect, or other unhealthy dietary addition that is only beneficial in small amounts, or toxic, or merely a 'mechanical hazard' (like swallowing prickly leaves or very fibrous, indigestible seed pods) and therefore avoided by more instinctive poultry. As an example, if a cage bred bird that's never seen garlic got into your garden and somehow swallowed a whole culm/bulb, without separating the cloves individually, there's a chance it could die from internal obstruction. And there, garlic would be a killer! Or, by the modern definition of toxicity, the garlic would then be proven toxic. It doesn't mean that it contains any poison, it just means that an excess (however you want to define that) can be harmful.

    Another thing is that cage birds are often sufferers of 'pika'; they crave a more nutritious diet to an often obsessive and maddened extent and will consume everything in sight as they try to scratch that itch. An animal with otherwise good inherited instincts can have them ruined by an early-life episode of starvation, and turn into a ravening eater of everything despite repeated negative results. Human children with pika present much of the same issue.

    I wish I had the link, (it may even be getting around this site); anyway, a recent peer-reviewed scientific study has confirmed something that many livestock keepers for countless generations have believed and suspected; that chickens have an instant feedback system which registers their body's response to something they're tasting which they have yet to swallow, and that's what causes chickens to spit something unsuitable out after pecking it in the first place.

    Obviously, if not given a chance to learn to trust and obey their instincts, and reared on artificial foods under artificial circumstances, and descended from poultry which experienced the same lifestyle, they can be quite clueless. But, generally speaking, they're quick learners both from personal experience and also learn from watching each other. So even cage birds can learn to cope in the 'outdoors'. It seems best to take all toxic lists of plants with a massive pinch of salt. If we followed them to the letter we would deprive many a sick bird of a chance to self medicate and thereby recover, and we'd also deprive many a healthy bird of a chance to retain its health and improve upon it, and its subsequent genetic quality (and the instincts its offspring could stand to inherit).

    Anyway, best wishes, and sorry for the mini novel. ;)
    1 person likes this.
  6. CedarAcres

    CedarAcres Sunny Side Up

    Mar 18, 2013
    My Coop
    Chooks4life gave an excellent explanation. Basically, anything can be toxic when eaten in excess, even in humans. Your chickens will be fine [​IMG]

  7. 2mnypets

    2mnypets Songster

    Apr 11, 2007
    Galesburg, IL.
    Well I very much appreciate all of the information that everyone has given. As a nurse, I know what to do with humans, and I usually ere on the side of caution until I get more information, which is exactly why I asked the question. I knew people somewhere would have the answer I was looking for. The girls are having a blast in what's left of my vegetable garden. I gave them some plain yogurt, scratch, their grit, oyster shells, food and water. They are currently doing chicken football or chicken get a way with whats left of the pear tomatoes that are on the ground. Who needs tv when you have chickens. Again, thanks everyone.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by