Chickens and Plant Toxicity
Chickens free-ranging generally will not eat potentially toxic plants in your yard, they seem to have an innate ability to understand what is healthy for them, and what is not. When introducing new plants into your garden, research and check if they could be potentially toxic to your chickens and family pets.
Plants use toxicity as a natural defense to avoid being eaten and to ensure survival to propagate. Other plant defenses are thorns, spines, sap, and so forth. In other words, different parts of a plant can be potentially harmful, such as seeds, berries, or leaves.
This plant defense has many degrees of toxicity and can affect humans and animals differently. Variables such as an amount consumed, the part consumed, the weight of the animal consuming it, along with the animal’s tolerance to consume a toxic plant, all come into play.
You might be surprised to know that many common landscape plants have a toxicity element to them, such as boxwood, foxglove, hydrangea, juniper, privet, and sweet peas. This is extremely important to be aware of when free-ranging chickens, and of course keeping other family pets.
For the most part you do not have to worry about mildly toxic plants and your chickens, they will not bother with toxic plants. While sheep, goats, and other livestock animals will eat toxic plants, chickens rarely do. You should worry more about accidently throwing something toxic into their coop and having them gulp that down in a rush.
With that said, chickens can still poison themselves by eating something very toxic by mistake. There are many, many lists of toxic plants for chickens available on the Internet. These lists are so extensive that you might wonder is there anything free-ranging chickens can eat.
Understand the source of these lists, and note if they are from a reliable source and note a university or a professional. Many of these lists are not entirely accurate and may not be accurate for free-ranging chickens.
Always keep your chickens well-fed with laying feed, avoiding the possibility of them eating potentially toxic plants because they are underfed. Use common sense and never confine them or house them close to potentially toxic plants, where they might be tempted to try them if bored or stressed.
In the event that you know you have a landscape planted with extremely toxic plants, and want to raise chickens, consider removing the plants or keeping your chickens confined to their chicken coop and secure outside pen full time.