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HomeAnimal HusbandryPoultryCan Chickens Eat Potatoes? The Safe and Toxic Varieties Explained

Can Chickens Eat Potatoes? The Safe and Toxic Varieties Explained

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Did you know that despite having similar names and often being cooked alike, white potatoes and sweet potatoes aren’t even related?

Interestingly, while one is safe for chickens to eat, the other should generally be avoided. Chickens, being omnivores, thrive on a varied diet that includes grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and even meat. So, can chickens eat potatoes?

Can chickens eat potatoes?

Absolutely, the suitability of potatoes for your chickens hinges on the specific variety. You see, not all potatoes are the same—some are fine for your feathered friends, and others? Not so much. You might be curious if it’s okay to serve up raw potatoes, or should they be cooked first? And what about those potato skins or the leaves?

Here’s the thing: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams are all from distinct plant families. So, the question “Can chickens eat potatoes?” isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Let’s explore this a bit more, shall we?

Can chickens eat potatoes?
Credit: Pinterest

White Potatoes

Chickens shouldn’t munch on white potatoes. These spuds, along with their colorful cousins—red and yellow—are from the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

All these plants contain solanine, a toxic compound. It’s concentrated most in the skins of green potatoes, and also in their sprouts and leaves. To keep your chickens safe, it’s wise to avoid feeding them any part of the potato—be it flesh, skin, or even the plant itself.

Solanine is more than just a garden-variety toxin; it’s a natural pesticide and neurotoxin pervasive throughout the nightshade family. The risks? Respiratory issues, convulsions, neurological harm, and even death in severe cases.

Cooking white potatoes doesn’t completely neutralize the threat either. While high-temperature roasting might reduce some solanine, boiling does little to affect its potency.

The term “toxic” doesn’t always spell immediate disaster, but it does mean potential harm over time. Solanine tends not to be fully absorbed but can accumulate, causing significant damage internally.

For chickens, even small amounts could lead to serious health problems. Although humans might only suffer mild gastrointestinal upset from overindulgence, chickens are far more susceptible.

I grew up with potatoes as a staple at every family barbecue—whole potatoes roasted in foil over charcoal. My children, oddly enough, pass on baked potatoes but can’t get enough of potato salad and homemade fries.

I peel mountains of potatoes for our family meals, always careful to discard the peels. They’re rich in solanine, and I’d rather not risk our compost or our chickens.

If your chickens do end up eating cooked potatoes, including the peels, they’ll likely be fine. But raw potatoes? Definitely off the menu. And remember, while chickens can technically eat anything—from plants to pests—too much of anything, like a heap of mashed potatoes, disrupts their diet. Moderation is key.

So, the bottom line? Keep those raw white potatoes away from your feathered friends. If you do opt to feed them potatoes, make sure they’re well-cooked and peeled. Why risk it when it comes to the health of your chickens?

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a fantastic choice for your chickens’ diet! These vibrant tubers belong to the morning glory family and offer a wealth of benefits.

Not only is every part of the sweet potato plant—leaves, stems, vines, flowers, peels, and flesh (whether cooked or raw)—completely safe for chickens, but they’re also packed with nutrients that surpass those found in white potatoes.

Loaded with antioxidants, beta carotene, fiber, vitamins B and C, and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and thiamin, sweet potatoes are not only nutritious but also lower in calories and carbohydrates compared to their white counterparts. Often hailed as a “super food” for humans, it makes perfect sense to include them in your poultry feed.

Personally, I’ve always favored sweet potatoes over white potatoes. When I started raising chickens and discovered the potential hazards of white potatoes, I shifted almost exclusively to sweet potatoes. I even grow them in my garden, incorporating them into many of my meals, including a favorite frittata recipe.

Feeding your chickens sweet potato scraps, peelings, and leftovers is a worry-free way to reduce waste. Plus, it’s fun to share the occasional leftover sweet potato fries or homemade treats with them—and our corgi too!

Can chickens eat sweet  potatoes?
Credit: forestry

So, my advice? Go ahead and enrich your chickens’ meals with all parts of the sweet potato plant. It’s a healthy choice for them and an easy one for you.

Yams

Absolutely, chickens can enjoy yams as part of their diet! Although yams might resemble sweet potatoes, they’re not related; yams actually belong to the lily family. Before serving yams to your chickens, it’s crucial to peel and cook them first. This is because raw yams contain a natural plant protein that can be toxic.

Additionally, yams have oxalic acid, similar to spinach, which in excess can lead to health issues like soft-shelled eggs in hens.

On the plus side, yams are rich in fiber, potassium, manganese, and Vitamin B5, making them a beneficial food for promoting bone health and heart function due to their antioxidant properties. So, feel free to include cooked yams in your chickens’ meals, just ensure they’re properly prepared!

chickens can enjoy yams
Credit: fresheggsdaily

Can Chickens Munch on Garden Veggies?

Wondering if it’s safe to feed your chickens leftovers from the dinner table? Cooked veggies are generally safe for your feathered friends. But what about plucking some fresh veggies right from your garden for them? Well, it’s not always a good idea. Certain raw veggies can be harmful to chickens due to the natural toxins they contain.

Take the nightshade family, for example, which includes potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. These plants contain solanine, a toxic chemical that could potentially harm your chickens, even leading to death if accumulated in high amounts. However, the ripe fruits of tomatoes and peppers are safe in small doses—just steer clear of the plants and green parts!

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Now, let’s talk about sweet potatoes. Unlike their nightshade cousins, sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family and are completely safe for chickens, leaves and all.

As for other greens, most are a fantastic treat for your chickens, but watch out for spinach. It has high levels of oxalic acid, which can mess with calcium absorption, possibly resulting in weaker eggshells if fed in large amounts. However, leafy lettuces, kale, and similar greens are perfect for keeping your flock happy and healthy.

Learn About Herbs for Chickens: Top 14 Herbs To Grow For Your Flock

Can Chickens Have Dairy Like Cheese, Milk, and Yogurt?

Recently, a lively debate erupted on social media about whether chickens can safely consume dairy products. Some participants claimed their chickens regularly eat dairy without any issues, while others pointed out that chickens don’t produce the enzyme needed to break down lactose, which is the sugar found in milk.

Despite this, plain, unsweetened yogurt in small quantities can be beneficial to chickens. It provides them with a dose of probiotics along with calcium, protein, and energy.

However, it’s important to remember that large amounts of any dairy product can cause digestive problems, like diarrhea, in chickens. The key is moderation—too much yogurt can upset their stomachs but won’t necessarily be toxic.

  • What About Citrus Fruits?

The consensus on feeding chickens citrus fruits is mixed. There’s no concrete proof that citrus is harmful, but there’s a concern that excessive amounts might weaken eggshells by interfering with calcium absorption. Personally, I don’t worry too much about it because my chickens naturally avoid citrus, and I’ve heard similar stories from other poultry keepers.

  • Feeding Chickens Meat Scraps

Chickens, being omnivorous, can digest meat. The sight of a chicken chasing down a field mouse or even a snake can be quite a spectacle—they truly enjoy their meat! Offering them leftovers like a chicken carcass (if you’re not using it for stock) is perfectly fine.

However, it’s best to steer clear of fried or overly fatty meats and those cooked in rich sauces as these can cause digestive issues.

  • Legumes and Beans for Chickens

When it comes to legumes and beans, ensure they are fully cooked before offering them to your chickens. Raw beans contain hemagglutinin, a natural toxin and insecticide. Cooking or sprouting these beans neutralizes the toxin, making them safe for chicken consumption.

So, feel free to share your leftover cooked green beans and other legumes with your feathered friends as a treat.

Foods Chickens Should Avoid

Understanding what not to feed your chickens is just as crucial as knowing their proper diet. Chickens, those eager eaters, love to gobble up just about any kitchen scraps you might have—from leftover vegetables and rice to corn cobs cluttering up your countertop.

I use a handy covered container right on my counter to collect these scraps before taking them out to the coop.

However, it’s vital to remember that not all foods are safe for chickens. For instance, while we enjoy fresh spinach in our salads—mixed with everything from walnuts and strawberries to eggs—spinach is a no-go for chickens.

Spinach contains oxalic acid, which interferes with calcium absorption, potentially causing severe health issues like weak or missing eggshells, egg binding, and even kidney problems.

Regarding how much spinach to feed, it’s best to err on the side of caution. While some argue a little spinach is okay, citing its nutritional benefits, these are nutrients chickens generally get from their regular feed. So, it might be wisest to avoid spinach altogether and opt for safer greens like dandelion or beet greens, especially in the summer months.

Avocados are another hazardous food. My childhood memories are filled with the joy of eating fresh avocados right from my grandmother’s trees. But all parts of the avocado—from the flesh to the pit and even the leaves—are toxic to chickens, containing persin, a substance that can cause severe respiratory distress and heart issues, proving fatal within hours.

Stone fruits are also on the list of foods to avoid giving to chickens, despite how much they seem to enjoy them. While my husband Jae and I love indulging in peaches, cherries, and nectarines from our local market, it’s crucial to remove all pits before sharing any with our feathered friends.

These pits contain amygdalin, which turns into deadly cyanide in the digestive system, posing a rapid and lethal risk to chickens.

So, enjoy your summer produce but remember to keep these dangerous items out of your chickens’ reach—your feathered friends will thank you for it!

A Few Other Foods to Mention

  • Onions and Garlic: These kitchen staples are part of the allium family. While garlic is generally safe and can even be beneficial in small amounts due to its low thiosulphate content, onions pack a much higher concentration of this toxin. It’s best to avoid giving onions to your chickens altogether.
  • Chocolate, Caffeine, and Alcohol: We all might enjoy these indulgences from time to time, but they are a definite no for your feathered friends. These substances are harmful to chickens, so keep your treats to yourself!
  • Apples and Other Fruity Concerns: Fruits with seeds and pits often come up in discussions about chicken safety. While the toxicity level is generally low, it’s safer to remove all pits and cores before sharing with your chickens. Apples are fine as long as they’re cored, and though chickens love watermelon, make sure to keep peach pits away from them.
  • Rhubarb: This plant is a no-go for both humans and chickens when it comes to certain parts, especially the leaves. The toxic components are just too risky, so it’s best to avoid feeding any part of rhubarb to your chickens.

What to do

Many of you might recall stories of grandparents tossing green tomatoes or onions to the chickens without any noticeable harm. Indeed, it’s true that most toxins won’t have an immediate lethal impact. Yet, the danger often lies in the cumulative effect of these substances over time, which can lead to illness or death.

For example, feeding chickens potato peels multiple times a week, or allowing them to peck around toxic plants like pepper leaves and potato vines in the garden, might not link directly to any immediate sickness but contributes to long-term health issues.

Similarly, humans face risks from accumulated toxins in our system, derived from sources like plastic packaging and chemical dyes, which can affect our kidneys, nervous systems, and hearts. The liver, in particular, is vulnerable to such accumulations, leading to various diseases.

Our farm animals are not exempt from these risks; they might share our table scraps or roam freely, ingesting potentially harmful substances.

Addressing the question of whether chickens can safely eat certain foods, it’s wise to heed our grandmothers’ advice: moderation is key. Historically, not many farmers would keep a large number of chickens through the winter, choosing instead to cull the flock.

This practice likely prevented the observation of any long-term toxic effects, which might be more apparent in chickens that live longer.

When managing your flock, remember that poor choices might not show immediate repercussions. However, maintaining their health through high-quality feed, safe foraging practices, and wholesome treats like mealworms and dehydrated grubs can significantly mitigate these risks.

Always remember, the rule of thumb when feeding chickens is moderation.

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