Topic of the Week - Toxic treats and foraging



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8 Years
Jun 28, 2011
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There are a lot of discussions here on favorite treats, what treats to give your flock, when to feed treats, what plants to grow for the flock, but this week I want to hear you all's thoughts on the flip side… What foodstuff should you never, ever offer your flock? What plants are poisonous or otherwise harmful to chickens and should not be planted in or near foraging areas?

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I have 2 sick birds - some kind of poisoning. I have just remembered I gave them some fish a few days ago. fish is ok. BUT I could feel the smell of fish the next day and it is already hot here. just crossed my mind that maybe they didn't eat all the first day and although I didn't see any fish around there might have been some. my chickens usually grab food and run so maybe they dropped some small pieces somewhere.

next time I will blend (boiled) fish and mix it with their feed and make sure they eat it all.
Last fall shortly after I got my flock, I realized I was letting them forage in an area that had a lot of buttercup in the grass. I was in a panic all night - running out to the coop every hour to make sure no one was dead. Everyone was fine. Then about a month ago I had them loose in my garden when I realized I hadn't blocked them off from the rhubarb. When I got out there they had obviously been picking around the rhubarb and didn't even touch it. I also noticed while they are walking the area from their run to the garden where alot of the buttercup is they just nibble around it. So I firmly believe they have an innate intelligence about what they can eat and what they can't; which is one less thing I have to worry about.
In general, one bite won't kill them. Dosage is important. And I agree with Trish, if they have an option they avoid things that can harm them. But a key is that they need an option. If they have a wide variety of things when they forage I don't worry about it. The risk comes in when they live in a barren run with no green stuff and you offer them something. Even if it is harmful and they would generally avoid it, if it is the only green they can get they just might eat it in quantity.

An example is tomato plants. The fruit is fine, mine love ripe tomatoes. But the leaves contain a substance that can harm them. If they are foraging and bite a tomato plant it's really bitter so they leave it alone and eat something else. But if they are living in a barren run and you toss them tomato plants, they might eat the leaves, maybe enough to harm themselves.

Sumi, one of your questions is what plants do I avoid in their foraging area. My answer is none because they have good foraging options. That's the easy one.

Your other question what should you never offer your flock. This is mostly for those that don't have good foraging. I avoid avocado in any case, I'm not sure they have a natural defense against avocado and it is dangerous. Avoid moldy foods. Most mold won't hurt them but there are a few types that will and I don't know the difference. Moldy feed is especially dangerous. I'd avoid tossing them tomato, pepper, eggplant and potato plants if they have limited forage.

Avoid green potato skins and green potatoes. Regular white potatoes and potato skins are fine but the green ones contain a dangerous toxin. You should not eat green potatoes or potato skins either. Even cooked they are still dangerous.

Uncooked dried beans contain a toxin. Cooked beans are fine. it doesn't bother me if they eat a few but don't dump a pile of uncooked dried beans where they can get to them.

Apple seeds and other fruit seeds are often looked upon in horror on this forum. They do contain a toxin but the dosage is so small it's not going to harm them unless they really eat a lot. Mine forage in an orchard and eat fallen fruit and seeds all the time. No problems. By the time they have eaten enough of the fruit to get to the seeds they are not going to eat enough seeds to harm themselves. But when I make jelly or jam and have a pile of seeds, I dispose of those where they can't get to the pile.

Other than moldy foods or avocados, the key to me is moderation. A bite of green potato skins, uncooked dried beans, or fruit seeds won't bother them, but in quantity they can. Even great treats like cabbage contain a substance that can harm them, but you would have to feed them large amounts daily for several days or maybe even weeks for them to build up enough toxins to harm themselves.
I've always heard terrible things about citrus. Mine love the core of a pineapple. Totally agree with @Ridgerunner Moderation is key. I have bittersweet nightshade around and I do my best to get rid of it. Although I've never seen the chickens eat it I'd rather they not on top of I'm allergic.

I'm usually more on the lookout for non edibles they may find. Of course I'm not feeding them bits of trash but if it flits like a bug or is sparkling they are all over it.
Oh yeah, citrus. When I lived in California I had chickens, ducks, geese and at one time or another a Viet. potbelly pig, horse, and goats. We would give the yard and garden cuttings to them, leftovers from the kitchen (both fresh and cooked) and they would chow down on all of it, depending on their personal preferences. EXCEPT anything from a citrus tree. Any kind of citrus tree! Fruit, rinds, leaves, no body would touch any of it. I think all farm animals have an innate repulsion to anything citrus.
I have spent a lot of time literally crawling around with knowledgeable free-range adult chickens as they forage. They eat some things in moderation that are considered toxic to us. They also can learn to avoid certain food items based on color that are otherwise good to eat. Insects with red generally rejected. Spikey plants avoided. They will consume fruit of nightshade without apparent issues. They will also consume enough fermented fruit to get drunk.

Birds here have a couple hundred plant species to choose from. Consumption does not always reflect what is most abundant.
Never had a chicken die of eating poisoned food....they have instinctive ideas about poison stuff...however i have had many perish due to being crop-bound due to my early habits of feeding them long cut pieces of grass.. not toxic, but mostly fatal. Ask questions if anyone wants or needs clarity. As for eating poison greens while free range forranging. ... doubt it.
Never had a chicken die of eating poisoned food....they have instinctive ideas about poison stuff...however i have had many perish due to being crop-bound due to my early habits of feeding them long cut pieces of grass.. not toxic, but mostly fatal. Ask questions if anyone wants or needs clarity. As for eating poison greens while free range forranges. ... doubt it.

Tell me more, just so I know and can tell my brother. Thanks. What @Ridgerunner said sounds about right, though I would not know. Once I had a chicken die because of bacteria in the water we weren't cleaning. Now we have been putting baking soda or vinegar in the water.

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