I originally made this a post, but I think it’s an important enough topic to have it’s own page as well.
Spring has sprung, and the chickens are getting much more outside time. With that in mind, while doing spring yard cleanup, it’s smart to pay extra attention to things that could potentially damage your foraging hens. The winter snow covers so much, and invariably I find things like screws, nails, candy wrappers, Styrofoam pieces & cigarette butts that somehow find their way into my yard. If I don’t clean those things up, the chickens WILL find them- and if they find them, they’ll try to eat them. They’re not always the smartest of birds.
Additionally, spring is a good time to review what sort of plants you have growing in and around your yard, to make sure you’re not exposing your chickeny charges to something dangerous. Below, I’ve pasted a list of toxic plants from chickenkeepingsecrets.com:
|ARUM LILY||ELEPHANT EAR (TARO)||MOONSEED|
|AMARYLLIS||ENGLISH IVY||MORNING GLORY|
|ARROWHEAD VINE||EUCALYPTUS (DRIED, DYED OR TREATED IN FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS)||MUSHROOMS, AMANITA|
|AUTUMN CROCUS||EUONYMUS (SPINDLE TREE)||MYRTLE|
|AUSTRALIAN FLAMETREE||EUPHORBIA CACTUS||NARCISSUS|
|AUSTRALIAN UMBRELLA TREE||FALSE HELLEBORE||NETTLES|
|AVOCADO||FLAME TREE||NIGHTSHADES: (DEADLY, BLACK, GARDEN, WOODY, BITTERSWEET,|
|AZALEA||FELT PLANT (MATERNITY, AIR & PANDA PLANTS)||EGGPLANT, JERUSALEM CHERRY)|
|BEANS: (CASTOR, HORSE, FAVA, BROAD, GLORY, SCARLET RUNNER,||FIRE THORN||OLEANDER|
|MESCAL, NAVY, PREGATORY)||FLAMINGO FLOWER||OXALIS|
|BIRD OF PARADISE||FOUR O’CLOCK||PARSLEY|
|BISHOP’S WEED||FOXGLOVE||PEACE LILY|
|BLACK LOCUST||GOLDEN CHAIN||PHILODENDRONS: (SPLIT LEAF, SWISS CHEESE, HEART-LEAF)|
|BLEEDING HEART OR DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES||GRASS: (JOHNSON, SORGHUM, SUDAN & BROOM CORN)||PIGWEED|
|BLUEBONNET||HEATHS: (KALMIA, LEUCOTHO, PEIRES, RHODODENDRON, MTN. LAUREL,||POINSETTIA|
|BLUEGREEN ALGAE||BLACK LAUREL, ANDROMEDA & AZALEA)||POISON IVY|
|BRACKEN FERN||HEMLOCK: (POISON & WATER)||POISON OAK: (WESTERN & EASTERN)|
|BULB FLOWERS: (AMARYLLIS, DAFFODIL, NARCISSUS, HYACINTH & IRIS)||HOLLY||POTATO SHOOTS|
|CAMEL BUSH||HOYA||RAIN TREE|
|CASTOR BEAN||HYACINTH||RANUNCULUS, BUTTERCUP|
|CANA LILY||IRIS IVY: (ENGLISH & OTHERS)||RATTLEBOX, CROTALARIA|
|CARDINAL FLOWER||JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT||RED MAPLE|
|CHALICE (TRUMPET VINE)||JASMINE (JESSAMINE)||RED SAGE (LANTANA)|
|CHERRY TREE||JERUSALEM CHERRY||RHUBARB LEAVES|
|CHINA BERRY TREE||JIMSONWEED||RHODODENDRONS|
|CHRISTMAS CANDLE||JUNIPER||ROSARY PEA SEEDS|
|CLEMATIS (VIRGINIA BOWER)||KY. COFFEE TREE||SAND BOX TREE|
|CLIVIA||LANTANA (RED SAGE)||SKUNK CABBAGE|
|COFFEE (SENNA)||LILY OF THE VALLEY||SNOW DROP|
|COFFEE BEAN (RATTLEBUSH, RATTLE BOX & COFFEEWEED)||LILY, ARUM||SPURGES: (PENCIL TREE, SNOW-ON-MTN, CANDELABRA, CROWN OF THORNS)|
|CORAL PLANT||LOBELIA||STAR OF BETHLEHEM|
|CORIANDER||LOCOWEED (MILK VETCH)||SWEET PEA|
|CORNCOCKLE||LOCUSTS, BLACK / HONEY||SWISS CHEESE PLANT (MONSTERA)|
|COYOTILLO||LORDS & LADIES (CUCKOOPINT)||TANSY RAGWORT|
|CUTLEAF PHILODENDRON||MALANGA||UMBRELLA PLANT|
|DAFFODIL||MARIJUANA (HEMP)||VETCH: HAIRY/COMMON|
|DAPHNE||MAYAPPLE (MANDRAKE)||VIRGINIA CREEPER|
|DATURA STRAMONIUM (ANGEL’S TRUMPET)||MEXICAN BREADFRUIT||WATTLE|
|DEATH CAMUS||MEXICAN POPPY||WEEPING FIG|
|DELPHINIUM||MILKWEED, COTTON BUSH||WHITE CEDAR, CHINA BERRY|
|DIEFFENBACHIA (DUMB CANE)||MOCK ORANGE||YEWS|
Is elderberry toxic to chickens?
According to PoultryDVM:
Caution – Potential Toxicity: Elderberry leaves, stems, roots and immature fruit are capable of producing large amounts of cyanide (a deadly toxin). Also, chickens should not be given large quantities of the berries to snack on either—as even when mature, S. nigra contains an assortment of active ingredients, which if ingested in large quantities, can be toxic to poultry.
Additionally, according to NormsFarms.com:
A common misperception is that the European Elder is the edible variety of Black Elderberry and that the American Elder is not edible, or does not contain the same constituents for which the European Black Elderberry is known. In fact, they are now considered to be different varieties of the same genus-species, and current research on the American Black Elderberry indicates that it may actually contain more of the anthocyanin’s and polyphenols thought to give elderberry its health benefits. The seeds, stems, leaves and roots of the Black Elder are all poisonous to humans. They contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside. Eating a sufficient quantity of these cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body and make you quite ill. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even coma. Most people recover quickly, although hospitalization may be required. The fruit of the elderberry is a tiny berry, about 1/8 to ¼ inch in diameter, and about 50% of the berry is seed. Cooking the berries destroys the glycosides present in the seeds, making the berries with their seeds safe to eat. As such, the fruit of the Black Elderberry should always be cooked before consumption. Interestingly, research indicates that exposing elderberry to heat actually concentrates the polyphenols and anthocyanin’s.
Verdict: Proceed with caution. Chickens don’t appear to really love eating the plant parts, but love the fruits. It might made sense to place chicken wire around the plant prior to fruit ripening.
This is in no ways definitive, and there are other lists floating around out there. For instance, this list on poultryhelp.com cites several plants that aren’t on the list above, such as lamb’s quarters, a common backyard weed in Michigan. I’ve found nothing that indicates lamb’s quarters are toxic for chickens- in fact, my chickens have eaten them since last year, and I regularly eat them in salads and spinach pie. Likewise, that list also cites alfalfa, which many chicken keepers give directly to their hens. Do your homework with plants you may have around, watch what your chickens go after, and be cautious. For instance, from the above list I have quite a few toxic plants, like daffodils, burdock, wisteria, and lily of the valley. I noticed a few days ago that my daffodils are starting to poke through the ground, and one curious hen grabbed a bit of green in her beak. Before I could chase her off, she let go and walked away- on some of the more toxic plants, they’ll leave them alone of their own accord. Does that mean I trust the chickens to 100% never eat anything dangerous, or that I could leave them in their chicken tractor parked over a bed of daffodils. Nope. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and to limit their access to poisonous plants in ways that make sense. Most of the things naturally growing in your yard will be fine for your chickens to peck and eat- keep them away from tomato plants & potato plants (nightshades), ornamental plants, and seedpods (especially wisteria).