Gardening with chickens: plants to avoid.

It’s a question I get asked a lot, what plants are poisonous to hens?
As part of my answer you need to remember that hens are foragers – they nibble plants here and there, and then set off scratching for more bugs. Because the honest answer is that there are LOTS of plants that are considered toxic to chickens but, in my experience, most* hens know not to eat them.

The exception to this comes when chickens are in a smaller space, and there perhaps aren’t as many plants available. In this situation you might find that a hen is tempted to eat something they wouldn’t otherwise. Equally, if you give a hen something they shouldn’t eat, there’s a chance they will, because you gave it to them and you are a wise human. Well, most of the time.

Therefore if you’re keeping chickens in a smaller space, you might want to take more precautions with the below list of plants. If your hens have access to a larger space, they are less likely to eat them.

I’ve therefore compiled a list of some of the most common plants to avoid. It’s worth pointing out I have lots of these in my garden, which is why understanding the above and looking at your space is so important. It’s also probably a good time to just remind you that foods with salt, sugar or mould are also a big fat no.

You’ll frequently see daffodils and tulips listed, but many bulb varieties can cause problems. It’s due to bulbs containing alkaloids which is said to cause a whole host of problems including low blood pressure and fits. If you think about the above, hens might be more likely to eat bulbs because in many gardens they’re among the first new green shoots of the year. I have hundreds of bulbs in my garden and the hens have always been fine with a nibble here and there, I’m just not going to plant a display of tulips in their area anytime soon.

All parts of foxgloves are toxic, and I’ve seen on forums many chicken keepers say their hens are unwell after eating them. It’s worth noting that foxgloves are also toxic to humans and other pets, and are one plant I’m not introducing to our back garden with hens and a toddler. As beautiful as they are, they’re one to stay at the allotment where I can safely enjoy them! On a similar tall pretty flower theme, delphinium are also said to cause respiratory and digestive problems in hens

Green parts of the nightshade family (eg potatoes and tomatoes)
My girls go absolutely mad for a ripe tomato. In fact, it used to be Debs’ favourite treat. However the nightshade family contain alkaloids which can cause heart and respiratory problems – in particular the green parts of the plants, with potato leaves being considered fairly toxic for example. I’ve had lots of people say their grans used to always feed potato peelings as scraps to hens, and others who say potato peelings are one to definitely be avoided. I wouldn’t like to gamble – but I suspect an otherwise healthy hen can process some toxins, while a hen with underlying health problems might struggle and be very ill.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had people ask me about this one, mainly because yes, they would look nice growing up the outside of the chicken run. However raw beans contain hemagglutinin which is toxic to hens, but cooked beans are fine

Rhubarb leaves
Perhaps no surprise, rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid which is toxic to hens, much as it is with humans. In fact, I still haven’t found a good use for rhubarb leaves other than as a makeshift umbrella or to boil up into a pan cleaner. (Honestly google it, it’s a thing!). Oxalic acid can cause liver damage in hens.

Azaleas and rhododendron
Grouping these together because if you have acid soil you’re likely to plant both. All parts are listed as toxic, in particular causing digestive problems.

Lobelia and lupines
Lobelia contains pyridine alkaloids which can cause a lack of cooridination, while lupines contain quinolizidine alkaloids which can cause fits. I do grow trailing lobelia which the girls have nibbled in small amounts to no harm.

I’m including this here because it’s something people ask about. From my research, hydrangeas are noted as toxic – but I think a chicken would have to eat a lot. Like, a whole plant.

Ferns – in particular bracken
Bracken fern poisoning in chickens is listed as a thing in Google, which is slightly alarming. It’s reported that large amounts have to be eaten, but it can lead to weight loss and anemia. Bracken is the UK’s most popular fern, so one to watch if you hens mainly forage in woodland.

I’m including this in a bid to be festive, but my hens have never tried to eat holly. The leaves contain saponins which can cause digestive problems. On a similar festive theme, ivy is noted as being toxic but it’s also something my hens have never had any interest in. So much so, I’ve had it hanging in their run in the past with zero interest.

I do have a soft spot for periwinkle, mainly because it grows so well in shady spots in my garden. However it contains cardiac glycosides which are toxic.

Not one we have in our garden, but yew is listed as very toxic – containing chemicals that can result in heart failure and death. It’s reported a number of cases are from hens freely eating hedge clippings, so definitely one to be aware of.

I have to say this one surprised me, considering how many fruits are safe for hens. My girls love any fallen cherries, apples and plums in our garden. Anyway apricots (fruit and plant) contain cyanogenic glycosides which can cause a number of problems, in particular respiratory and low blood pressure.

Onions contain thiosulphate which destroys red blood cells, causing anemia and jauncice. However large quantities would have to be fed.

Right, that’s it for now – but I’ll try and keep updating this as and when people get in touch about other plants/their experiences. I hope it’s useful, love Rach and the girls x

*I say most, because this didn’t apply to my beloved Ginger, who was the greediest, most thug-like chicken to ever steal my heart, and she was still fine.

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