What Not to Feed Your Chickens so They Stay Healthy

Know the Answer to These Questions. Can Chickens Eat Avocados? Can Chickens Eat Oranges? Can Chickens Eat Potato Peels?


Feeding your chickens a varied diet supplies them with plenty of nutrients for optimal health, can alleviate boredom and help with seasonal issues like heat and cold. But knowing what not to feed your chickens is as important as knowing what to feed them.

Let’s start with first things first. Chickens require clean water daily. And the best feed for chickens includes daily rations of a well-balanced feed formula from a reputable feed company. When you’re picking a chicken feed formula, you need to choose a formula based on the end-goal for the birds you’re raising. For instance, laying hens require more calcium in their diet to help them form strong eggshells. Roosters don’t really need the extra calcium, so they do well on an all-flock diet. Meat birds require a high protein diet and then a “finisher” feed as they get closer to their ideal slaughter size and weight.

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Today’s commercial feeds provide lots of choices including organic and formulations for how your chickens are raised, like free range vs. confined. Each company has slightly different names for its products, so it’s important to check the back of the bag for the product specifics. Most have helpful charts and graphics so you can make a well-informed choice to suit your needs.

Beyond commercial feed, many people choose to feed their birds table scraps. This is a great way to recycle your unused food and turn it into backyard eggs and meat. It can cut down on your feed bill. Plus, it’s fun for the birds and for the owners as they interact with their birds when they’re getting a treat and enjoy watching their excited antics.

Once people go beyond commercial feed, they often have questions and wonder about what not to feed your chickens.

It’s important to make sure that treats stay just that…treats. The rule of thumb is 90 percent of a chicken’s diet should consist of quality, well-balanced commercial feed. The remaining 10 percent can be filled with treats.

After you’ve got the quantity right, then the rule of thumb to remember is that if it’s good for you, it’s good for them. If the treat you’re considering passes those two tests, then it’s generally alright to give it to your birds. Although there are some exceptions to know when it comes to what not to feed your chickens.

What Not To Feed Chickens

What Not to Feed Your Chickens: General Guidelines

Some of the exceptions for what not to feed your chickens are obvious.

While alcohol and caffeine are coping substances for many people, chickens don’t need an extra boost of caffeine to get going in the morning and don’t need a toddy to relax before bed. So, save the caffeine and alcohol for human consumption only. This also goes for spent coffee grounds. Many people use them in their gardens for plant health. Remember, if your chickens have access to those same gardens, then they have access to caffeine.


Chocolate is another food to avoid feeding your chickens. Although, who would? Chocolate in my house doesn’t last long enough to make it to the chickens. Sometimes, it doesn’t even last long enough to make it to every human in the house either. But, if you’ve got extra around, don’t feed it to your birds. It contains Theobromine which is the compound that’s toxic to dogs and cats and thought to be toxic to chickens too.

Chickens are great recyclers of stale baked goods, overripe fruits, and veggies that are past their prime, but moldy foods top the list of what not to feed your chickens. You wouldn’t knowingly eat moldy foods and your chickens shouldn’t either.

It’s also important to think about the quality of the treats you’re giving your chickens. Make sure you’re not giving them foods that are sprayed with chemicals to prevent pests and diseases. Wash your produce before it goes to the chickens or make sure to buy organic only for your birds. Plus, don’t overdo it with salty, sweet or fried foods. They’re not good for us and they’re not good for your birds.

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What Not to Feed Your Chickens: Specifics

Beyond the general guidelines for what not to feed your chickens, there are some specific foods to avoid. In the chicken-keeping world; though, you will find people that feed these foods to their birds and their birds experience no problems. There are sometimes hot debates surrounding these foods. If your chickens free range, even part-time, you’ll find they get pretty good at “testing” what’s in their environment and are adept at avoiding potentially toxic foods. Chickens that are kept indoors exclusively and not able to forage on their own don’t have that advantage and are more apt to eat whatever is put in their environment.

Avocado – Whether the flesh, peel or pit, avocados contain a chemical called persin. It is known to be toxic to birds.


Citrus – Some people say chickens are sensitive to citrus, others say they’re not. It is also said to interfere with calcium absorption. On a personal note, my chickens won’t touch citrus if it’s offered. They’re normally pretty good judges!

Dried Beans – Beans that have been dried contain hemaglutin which is toxic to chickens. Cooked or sprouted beans are fine.

Onions – Although yummy to humans, Onions contain thiosulphate which can be toxic to chickens in large amounts. If some are included in leftover dishes, that’s ok as long as they are not the main ingredient.

Potato Skins – White or green potato skins contain solanine which can be poisonous to your chickens. You can cook your potatoes and give them to your chickens. Note: Sweet potatoes are perfectly fine to give to your chickens.

Rhubarb – The leaves are toxic to humans and animals alike.

Fun Facts About What Not to Feed your Chickens

Lots of questions surround feeding milk to chickens. The short answer to whether milk is on the list of what not to feed your chickens is no. Chickens are not lactose intolerant, but too much milk can cause diarrhea. You can feed small amounts of milk or its forms such as cottage cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, and whey. Just don’t overdo it.


Garlic also stirs up lots of questions. Does it make chicken eggs taste bad? Interestingly, many people say they prefer the taste of eggs from chickens that are fed garlic. They are said to have a more mild taste.

Luckily, the list of what not to feed your chickens isn’t long and the foods are pretty easy to avoid. The list of what to feed chickens is much longer. So, next time you’ve got some leftovers, head out to the chicken coop, both you and your birds will benefit.

Are you careful about what not to feed your chickens? Some say they are and others say they aren’t. We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.

  • Potato skins! I’ve been feeding them some for the past 20 years!!!

    • My family has over 100 years experience feeding raw potato peels to chickens with no ill-effects. I have read this printed in many different places and have had it explained to me by a veterinarian that if you were feeding large quantities of raw potato peels to your chickens it could be toxic but occasional kitchen scraps are almost never a problem. I don’t ever tell people they should feed potato peels to their chickens if they ask, but I explain that my family has been doing it for over a century and let them decide for themselves.

  • Not only are our 9 pet hens and 2 turkeys trained to eat scraps, all our friends know to pass any leftovers to me when we go out to eat. Our chickens only free range on grass 1-2 afternoons a week, and the varied diet they get from food scraps is not only good for their diet, but they love it. Even a handful of cooked rice, or salad, or a mishmash of everything is greeted with fervor. (don’t believe our hens when they rush up to you, claiming they haven’t eaten in months. They get a good brand of laying mash, mixed grains, and cracked corn — we buy 120 pounds at a time, and keep it dry til used. Our neighborhood kids, plus all our guests bring treats (mostly bread) for our hens — it’s a very miniature zoo.

  • Hmmm, you did not give the number one thing NOT to feed chickens from the kitchen… CHICKEN! Most people in the country view chickens as they do pigs, eat anything. What most people in the country do is clean off their plates into a bucket and throw it into the chicken pen. That’s all fine, unless you had chicken for dinner!
    One other thing that is not mentioned, egg shells, they are fine, if not one of the best, forms of calcium, BUT!! crush them up so they are indiscernible to the egg itself.

    • When a sitting hen has hatched her eggs, she eats them- she needs the calcium. So do all other hens in the vicinity, who will literally shove each other to get at them. My chooks get a commercial laying mash plus garden veggies, grass and the odd bit of cooked pumpkin seeds etc. I regularly give my layers their own eggshells back, crushed, and they will eat them before they eat anything else.

    • We put chicken bones in with the rest of the scraps and they pick them clean. We’ve never had a problem.

  • I have a question,I live in an area where we have juniper trees,are the juniper berries toxic to chickens

  • Agree with all the above. Also no apple seeds (contains arsenic and too many can build up to unsafe levels), tomato, potato, eggplant, or pepper plants (extremely toxic to humans and other animals).

    Also keep them away from poisonous landscaping plants. Look for a list online as they are too numerous to mention here.

  • Tomato? I get them cheap from the grocery store when they get soft. My hens love them.

    • Amanda G.

      It’s the plant of the tomato, potato, and pepper that is toxic, a variant on… ?nightshade? Not the fruit itself or we would all be done for as well! Tomatoes, on the plant that we’ve been waiting to ripen, are our chicken’s favorite, no matter what fence we put up!

  • Nabende A.

    How about rice and cassava, are they good or bad to chicken

  • My first set of chickens I fed bread to and they got really poopy butts. I then learned bread is NOT good for them. I save bread for the crows and squirrels!

  • I avoid the things on this list pretty well. I was confused by someone’s comment about not feeding chickens, chicken. Why not? Or am I misunderstanding the post? It’s basic meat protein and I give left-over chicken to my hens all the time. I probably avoid things that aren’t really bad for them because of articles I read when I first wanted to start raising chickens, things that they probably COULD eat if I bothered to give it to them. I actually give the chickens more left-over human food than I give to my dogs. 🙂

    • Friend O.

      Maybe the giving chicken is because they’re eating themselves which is gross. I never give my chickens chicken which is pretty easy because my son refuses to eat chicken so I rarely buy it.

  • I have found my chickens are a lot like Teenagers! They love leftover pizza and cheese noodles. Ha!


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