What Vegetables Can You Feed Backyard Chickens?

We’re back with more questions about what you can and cannot feed chickens from your garden, table, pantry, and fridge – including chicks just starting out on chicken feed. Most of these questions have come in the form of a text message from a fellow backyard chicken farmer, but I pulled in a couple more that came up as we harvested our garden and found a surplus of veggies and mint.

female farmer harvesting vegetables

Today’s post will focus on vegetables. If you have questions about fruits, grains, herbs, bugs, mint, general kitchen staples, or food you should NOT feed your chickens, check out one of our other posts on the subject. And let’s not forget protein. Just as important as treats, protein from sources like seeds, grains, meats and even bugs helps keep feathers shiny and chickens healthy.

Benefits of Supplementing a Chicken’s Diet with Vegetables

Just like humans, chickens – both adults and chicks – benefit from a diverse diet. Vegetables bring a new dimension of taste, texture, and nutrition to their meals in the coop. Different vegetables, and even treats you might not consider like mint, offer a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, helping to cover nutritional gaps in their regular chicken feed.

Improved Egg Quality: If you raise chickens for eggs, you’ll be pleased to know that feeding them certain vegetables can enhance the quality of their eggs and even the egg flavor. Vegetables like leafy greens and those high in beta-carotene can give egg yolks a richer, more vibrant color. Conversely, strong-tasting vegetables can change the flavor. We’ll talk more about that below.

Enhanced Health and Immunity: Many vegetables are rich in vitamins, particularly vitamin C and vitamin A, which support a chicken’s immune system and overall health. A nutritious diet, balanced with sufficient protein, can reduce the risk of diseases and infections in your flock within the coop.

Digestive Health: The fiber content in vegetables and even treats that aren’t usually considered, like mint, can aid in digestion. It can help prevent common digestive issues and promote regular bowel movements.

Mental Stimulation: Chickens enjoy pecking and foraging for food. Introducing vegetables into their diet provides mental stimulation and can prevent boredom inside the coop, reducing the likelihood of feather pecking or aggressive behavior among flock members – both adults and chicks.

Incorporating vegetables, and treats like mint, into your chickens’ diet should be done thoughtfully and in moderation. Keep reading for tips on introducing new foods to your hens. While vegetables and other treats offer numerous benefits, they should complement their regular chicken feed, not replace it entirely.

Forbidden Vegetables for Chickens

While many vegetables can be a healthy addition to your chickens’ diet, there are certain vegetables you should absolutely avoid feeding them, whether they’re adults or chicks. Some of these vegetables are toxic, while others can pose health risks to the feathered friends in your coop.

Here is a list of vegetables that should never be given to chickens:

Avocado: (Even though it’s a fruit, we thought some readers might come looking for avocado information on the veggie page so here you go.) Avocado contains a toxin called persin, which can be fatal to chickens. This toxin can cause heart and respiratory distress, leading to death.

avocados with afraid faces

Raw Potatoes: Raw potatoes and potato peels that have turned green contain solanine, a toxic substance that can cause digestive upset, neurological issues, and even death in chickens. Potatoes should always be cooked to eliminate solanine before feeding them to chickens.

female Scotch-Irish potato farmer

Tomato Leaves and Stems: While ripe tomatoes are generally safe for chickens (though green ones are not!), the leaves and stems contain solanine, similar to potatoes. Avoid feeding these parts of the tomato plant, as they can be harmful. There are many other options you can supplement into your chicken’s diet that are perfectly safe, like berries, peas, and even chicken treats.

tomatoes, leaves, and stems

(And yes, we know a tomato is technically a fruit. 😊)

Rhubarb: Rhubarb leaves and some parts of the stalk contain oxalic acid, which is toxic to chickens and can lead to kidney damage and other health problems.

female farmer holding rhubarb

Onions and Garlic: Onions and garlic contain compounds that can cause hemolytic anemia in chickens, leading to a breakdown of red blood cells. Chronic ingestion of these vegetables can be fatal. Instead, throw them leftover pea and carrot skins which are healthier choices.

female Filipino onion farmer

Nightshades: Vegetables in the nightshade family, such as eggplant, contain solanine and other alkaloids that can be harmful to chickens. It’s best to avoid feeding nightshades to your flock. But fret not, they can certainly enjoy some grass clippings!

farmer holding eggplants

Moldy or Spoiled Vegetables: Moldy or spoiled vegetables can contain mycotoxins, which are harmful to chickens. Always ensure that the vegetables and any other food scraps you offer are fresh and free of mold.

moldy vegetables

Raw Beans: Raw beans, including kidney beans and lima beans, contain lectins that can be toxic to chickens. Cooking beans thoroughly can eliminate these toxins, making them safe for consumption.

raw kidney beans

Uncooked Peanuts: Raw peanuts can contain a fungus called Aspergillus flavus, which produces aflatoxins that are harmful to chickens. Roasted peanuts are a safer option, or even better, offer them some chicken treats!

raw peanuts

Introducing New Vegetables Gradually

Introducing new vegetables along with other varied food items to your chickens’ diet should be done with care and attention to prevent digestive issues or dietary disturbances. Chickens, from baby chicks to adults, can be creatures of habit, with diets heavily based on layer feed and grass, and abrupt changes can lead to stress and digestive upset.

To ensure a smooth transition and keep your flock healthy, follow these steps when introducing new vegetables:

1. Start Slowly:

  • Begin by introducing small quantities of the new vegetable. This allows your chickens’ digestive systems to gradually adapt to the change.
  • Offer the new vegetable as a treat alongside their regular feed initially, rather than replacing a portion of their usual diet.

2. Observe Their Response:

  • Pay close attention to how your chickens react to the new vegetable. Some chickens may eagerly peck at it, while others might be more cautious.
  • Monitor their droppings for any signs of diarrhea or digestive distress, which can indicate that the new vegetable isn’t agreeing with them.

3. Increase Gradually:

  • If your chickens tolerate the new vegetable well and show no adverse effects, you can slowly increase the amount over several days or weeks.
  • Keep track of the quantity you’re introducing and any changes in their behavior or health.

4. Offer Variety:

  • To provide a balanced diet, rotate the types of vegetables you offer. This prevents your chickens from becoming too reliant on a single vegetable and ensures they receive a broader spectrum of nutrients.

5. Monitor for Allergies:

  • Just like humans, some chickens may have allergies or sensitivities to certain vegetables. If you notice any unusual symptoms, such as skin rashes or breathing difficulties, discontinue feeding that particular vegetable.

6. Maintain a Balanced Diet:

  • Remember that vegetables should complement, not replace, your chickens’ regular feed. Continue providing them with high-quality commercial poultry feed that meets their essential nutritional requirements.

7. Avoid Spoiled Vegetables:

  • Only offer fresh and clean vegetables to your chickens. Spoiled or moldy vegetables can lead to digestive issues and other health problems.

By following these gradual introduction guidelines, you can ensure that your chickens have a smooth transition when trying new foods. This approach minimizes the risk of digestive problems and allows your flock – from baby chicks to adults – to enjoy the nutritional benefits of a diverse diet. Be attentive to their individual preferences, as each chicken uses its beaks differently and needs as you introduce new foods to their diet.

Q&A: Can Chickens Eat…?

female chicken farmer sitting outside

Let’s get into specifics. Here’s a list of questions and answers about what chickens can and cannot eat.

Can chickens eat carrots? 

female Cuban carrot farmer

Yes, chickens can eat carrots. Carrots are a nutritious and safe vegetable to feed chickens. They are a good source of vitamins and can be provided raw or cooked. Chickens often enjoy pecking with their beaks at carrots for both the taste and the exercise.

Can chickens eat celery? 

celery on picnic table

Yes, chickens can eat celery. Celery is safe and can provide some extra crunch in their diet. 

Can chickens eat cucumbers? 

cucumbers on table with happy Salvadoran woman

Yes, chickens can eat cucumbers. Cucumbers are a hydrating and low-calorie treat for chickens. Just ensure that you don’t feed them excessively, as too many cucumbers can cause digestive issues. And remember, a varied diet that includes grass, layer feed, and healthy scraps keeps chickens happy and healthy.

Can chickens eat onions? 

No, chickens should not be given onions. Onions contain compounds that can lead to hemolytic anemia in chickens, resulting in the breakdown of red blood cells. 

Can chickens eat broccoli? 

female Arab broccoli farmer

Yes, chickens can eat broccoli. This healthful ingredient from the fields or directly from your garden finds its way to the chicken’s menu, providing the essential nutrients they need.

Can chickens eat mushrooms? 

Feeding the chickens mushrooms straight from the fields can be risky, as some wild mushrooms are toxic. As such, it’s best to avoid this menu item unless you can ensure they are safe and non-toxic varieties. An established agricultural practice among chicken keepers, many choose not to incorporate mushrooms into their chicken’s diet, preferring to stick to easier plants and vegetables.

Can chickens eat potatoes? 

No, chickens should not be given raw green potatoes or potato peels. Raw potatoes contain solanine, which is toxic to chickens. Cooking potatoes thoroughly can eliminate solanine, making them safe for consumption, but they should still be offered in moderation.

Can chickens eat carrots? 

carrots on picnic table

Yes, chickens can eat carrots, either raw or cooked. Chickens often enjoy pecking at carrots, and they can be a healthy treat.

Can chickens eat onions? 

No, chickens should not be given onions. Onions contain compounds that can lead to hemolytic anemia in chickens, which results in the breakdown of red blood cells. 

Can chickens eat bell peppers? 

female Dominican bell pepper farmer

Yes, chickens can eat bell peppers. Bell peppers are safe for chickens to consume and provide a source of vitamins and antioxidants. 

Can chickens eat cabbage? 

female Vietnamese cabbage farmer

Yes, chickens can eat cabbage. Cabbage can be a good source of nutrients and hydration. 

Can chickens eat asparagus? 

asparagus on picnic table

Yes, chickens can eat asparagus. 

Can chickens eat sweet potatoes? 

Welsh woman with sweet potatoes

Yes, chickens can eat sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamins and fiber. They can be given to chickens, either cooked or raw, as part of their diet.

Can chickens eat zucchini? 

female Guatemalan zucchini farmer

Yes, chickens can eat zucchini. Zucchini is a low-calorie vegetable that can be fed to chickens either raw or cooked.

Can chickens eat corn? 

corn on the cob on picnic table

Yes, chickens can eat corn. Corn is a common component of commercial poultry feed and is safe for chickens. 

Can chickens eat corn husks? 

While chickens can technically eat corn husks, it’s not an ideal choice. Corn husks are fibrous and less nutritious compared to the actual corn kernels. 

Chickens may have a hard time digesting the husks, so it’s best to focus on feeding them the kernels or other more nutritious vegetables.

Can chickens eat spinach? 

bunch of spinach on table with happy African American woman

Yes, chickens can eat spinach. 

Can chickens eat green beans? 

female Korean green bean farmer

Yes, chickens can eat green beans. 

Can chickens eat lettuce? 

lettuce on picnic table

Yes, chickens can eat lettuce. 

Can chickens eat radishes? 

female beet farmer

Yes, chickens can eat radishes. 

Can chickens eat beets? 

Fresh beets on old wooden box

Yes, chickens can eat beets. Beets can be fed to chickens either raw or cooked.

Can chickens eat squash leaves? 

squash leaves and flowers

Yes, chickens can eat squash leaves. Squash leaves are a source of green foliage and nutrients.

Can chickens eat Swiss chard? 

female swiss chard farmer

Yes, chickens can eat Swiss chard. 

Can chickens eat kale? 

female kale farmer

Yes, chickens can eat kale. 

Can chickens eat Brussels sprouts? 

brussels sprouts on table outside

Yes, chickens can eat Brussels sprouts. 

Can chickens eat cauliflower? 

Mestizo girl holding cauliflower

Yes, chickens can eat cauliflower. 

Can chickens eat artichokes? 

female Arab artichoke farmer

Yes, chickens can eat artichokes. 

Can chickens eat arugula? 

Fresh arugula leaves

Yes, chickens can eat arugula. 

I hope this helps you as you supplement your chickens’ diets this harvest and throughout the year. There are many foods that are safe for chickens and with a little research you’ll be on your way to giving them a diverse diet. Happy chicken keeping!

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