Plants that are TOXIC to chickens

plants toxic to chickens

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
ARALIA ERGOT MTN. LAUREL
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)
BANEBERRY FIG (WEEPING) OAK
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 LAUREL GLOTTIDIUM PERIWINKLE
BLACK LOCUST GOLDEN CHAIN PHILODENDRONS: (SPLIT LEAF, SWISS CHEESE, HEART-LEAF)
BLEEDING HEART OR DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES GRASS: (JOHNSON, SORGHUM, SUDAN & BROOM CORN) PIGWEED
BLOODROOT GROUND CHERRY POINCIANA
BLUEBONNET HEATHS: (KALMIA, LEUCOTHO, PEIRES, RHODODENDRON, MTN. LAUREL, POINSETTIA
BLUEGREEN ALGAE BLACK LAUREL, ANDROMEDA & AZALEA) POISON IVY
BOXWOOD HELIOTROPE POISON HEMLOCK
BRACKEN FERN HEMLOCK: (POISON & WATER) POISON OAK: (WESTERN & EASTERN)
BUCKTHORN HENBANE POKEWEED
BULB FLOWERS: (AMARYLLIS, DAFFODIL, NARCISSUS, HYACINTH & IRIS) HOLLY POTATO SHOOTS
BURDOCK HONEYSUCKLE POTHOS
BUTTERCUP HORSE CHESTNUT PRIVET
CACAO HORSE TAIL PYRACANTHA
CAMEL BUSH HOYA RAIN TREE
CASTOR BEAN HYACINTH RANUNCULUS, BUTTERCUP
CALADIUM HYDRANGEA RAPE
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
COCKLEBUR LARKSPUR SORREL (DOCK)
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
COWSLIP LUPINE TOBACCO
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
DEVIL’S IVY MISTLETOE WISTERIA
DIEFFENBACHIA (DUMB CANE) MOCK ORANGE YEWS
ELDERBERRY MONKSHOOD YELLOW JASMIN

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).

plants toxic to chickens
My hens as juveniles late last spring. Notice the broad leaf plant near the bottom? That’s lamb’s quarters, which is “supposedly” toxic, but has been consumed repeatedly by my hens.
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Chickens of the Mist

misting chickens
Chickens of the Mist, or: How I Learned to Make an Evaporative Cooler on a Hot June Day

In Ferndale/Detroit, yesterday and today are hitting temperatures in the high 90’s with around 70% humidity.  The heat is oppressive, to say the least.  I’ve been staying indoors in the cool air conditioned climate as much as possible, but the chickens don’t have that luxury.  The temperature sensor in the coop read a whopping 100 degrees at noon yesterday, and the ladies were hanging out below it, panting hard and keeping their wings away from their bodies.  Buff orpingtons like these were bred in England, and are cold hardy- which means they’re absolutely not designed for this sort of stifling weather.  Luckily, this should be the last day like this for a while, but if we continue to encounter temps like this, I have a plan.

chicken mister setup
I’ve been filling large bottles with water and freezing them solid; we placed one in front of the box fan and angled my hose set to “mist” so that the water hits the frozen jug and the cooled vapor gets blown at the coop run.

We made a simple evaporative cooler for the girls that seems to have helped in a major way.  I’ve been filling large bottles and jugs with water and freezing them solid- it makes your freezer run more efficiently to have them in there, and I’ve got them on hand to place in the coop run for the chickens to hang out nearby (not that they do, but even having it in the vicinity seems to help).  To make it, we place a box fan a short distance away from the run, placed the frozen jug in front of it, and angled my hose set to ‘mist’ so that the water hits the frozen jug and gets blown toward the run.  The cooled vapor travels into the shadey area under the coop, where the chickens like to hang out- I can FEEL that it’s cooler down there than it is in the surrounding yard.

chicken mist setup
another shot showing the mist created by the evaporative cooler

Best of all, the chickens don’t seem to notice it too much, and just hang out under the coop as they usually do.  Yesterday, during intial setup, we discovered that they would NOT hang out in the shade under the coop with the fan directly against the runs fencing- it was just too new and scarey for them, and despite the heat they were standing in direct sunlight away from the fan.  Once we moved it away and behind some plant life, they went right back into the shade.   Care also needs to be taken to not spray too much water into the area you want them to hang out in- they’ll avoid having the water hit them.

In addition to the evaportive cooler, I added some “Sav-a-chick” to a giant metal waterer and placed it down in the run (rather than inside the coop itself).  It’s basically gatorade for chickens, helping to keep them hydrated while they’re panting and losing water through their heavy breathing (this is primarily how they cool down).  They each drink roughly .5 liters of water in the summer; you want to keep them stocked with water at all times, and keep the water cool (ie. not out in the sun).  Drinking cool water will decrease their core body temperature, and having the “chicken koolaid” mix in there will reduce their need to drink, avoiding any potential “water toxicity” issues (unlikely to happen, but possible).

I also put out a shallow dish of water that they could stomp around in, but they’re avoiding it like the plague.

We’re also being mindful of what they eat right now- greens and cool fruit are a better choice, and care should be taken to avoid cracked corn and corn products, as those will raise their core body temperature (so keep it handy for winter!).

In the event that they show signs of not being able to handle the heat even with these precautions, I’ve got a tent set up in my basement that I’ll move them into.  I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that, since I’m sure the change of scenery would stress them out only slightly less than the extreme heat.

Chicken Coop Site Map & Structural Plan

As part of our ordinance, we had to submit a site map and structural drawing for the chicken coop.  Ben put his engineering background to good use and put together these:

Site Map/ Site Plan

Click for full size version. Site map/site plan: shows property lines and positions of all permanent structures. Basically a copy of my “platt map”, which I received when I purchased my home- you can get a copy from the city offices. Obviously we had to add the location/dimensions of the coop.

Structural Drawing

Click for full size version. Structural drawing: shows the dimensions of the coop from overhead, the side, and the front. Also a detailed drawing of the footer we used, and materials listing. Everything must be drawing to scale.

Please be aware that everything must be to scale when submitting to the city of Ferndale, just like you’d have with a building plan for a home or garage.  It’s not too difficult, but is certainly intimidating if you’ve never done it before.

MYTH: Chickens stink!

they may give you the stink eye, but they don’t actually stink

The fear of odor problems caused by backyard chickens is unwarranted. Chickens themselves do not smell- only their feces that have the potential to stink, which is also true of feces from dogs, cats, or any other animal that leaves waste in the yard. But unlike dogs and cats, who leave waste on the lawns of their neighbors or in public places, chicken waste in an urban setting is confined to the coop & run, due to ordinances disallowing them to free range.

It’s also important to realize that the maximum number of chickens a city allows is just four. Four small hens weigh less than 20 pounds collectively, and generate less waste than one average dog.  (In Ferndale, we currently only allow 3 hens.)

Furthermore, chicken manure is a highly valued fertilizer that can be used in the garden, whereas waste from dogs and cats cannot because of the parasites and human diseases it can harbor. According to Dr. Hermes, OSU Extension Poultry Specialist, “Once added to the compost or tilled into the soil, the odor-causing compounds are no longer able to cause objectionable odors.” This statement is an exact quote taken from his letter in support of chickens in Salem, OR. http://www.salemchickens.com/

The reason people fear an odor problem is because their only experience with chickens (if they have any at all), is a farm or commercial poultry operation. In these situations, chickens are viewed as a commodity and are raised with the intention of profit from meat or egg production. Under those circumstances, hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens are often kept in crowded conditions with poor ventilation or regular cleaning. As a result, ammonia can build up and these facilities can stink. In contrast, people who want to raise hens as pets in the city are not looking to make a profit: they want eggs laid by healthy, happy chickens that they treat like pets. A few small birds housed at least 10’ from adjacent dwellings and in close proximity to the owner’s home, are extremely unlikely to create an odor problem for neighbors.

Composting chicken manure is a wonderful bonus to keeping chickens- the high nitrogen content of their manure breaks down high carbon items quickly and efficiently (sometimes almost too quickly, see blog: http://backyardfeast.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/composting-chicken-manure-watch-the-heat/)  Adding the manure to compost eliminates any smell associated with the manure.

Additionally, there are steps urban chicken keepers can take to reduce the chances of odors even further:  use a deep litter method of bedding, or use sand.  I prefer the sand method in my run, where the chickens spend most of their day- it wicks moisture away, eliminating odor and the attraction of flies, drying out the manure in the same way cat litter does.  I clean the run and coop once per day, throwing the waste into my composter; the only thing you can smell in my chicken run is their pine bedding and the flowers in the surrounding garden.  With proper practices, no small scale chicken coop should EVER smell strongly enough that neighbors would notice.

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer.

I’ve been worrying about this for a while- it seems silly right?  Worrying about chickens getting too hot in Michigan.  I get asked a ton of questions about keeping chickens through our cold winters, but nobody ever thinks to ask if they’ll be ok in 90+ degree weather with high humidity.  Chickens’ bodies perform best below about 75 degrees F; over 90F they can start to have real problems, especially heavier breeds.  They can suffer heat stress and stop laying eggs, and on the extreme end of the scale they can die. We had an incident when the chicks had only been here for a week- it was early March, they were tiny and living in a brooder box under a heat lamp, and our weird Michigan weather zoomed up to the high 80’s.  I came home from work and found the little chicks panting and laying down in the brooder box, wings outspread.  I’m pretty sure that scarred me, and I’ve been paranoid about temperature extremes ever since.

Luckily, the blog I linked to above has some great tips for keeping chickens cool in the summer heat.  I’ve reprinted their tips below in bold, with my take on how it’ll work for me:

  1. Provide shade: the girls like to hang out under their coop even now, digging shallow holes and taking dust baths.  In the summer, I’m assuming this will be where they spend a lot of their time- if I feel like they’re not getting enough shade, I may just throw a tarp over the top of the run to provide a little extra protection from the sun.
  2. Keep them supplied with cold water: it should be pretty easy to toss a few ice cubes into their waterer, and since I usually keep it in the coop it’ll be shaded.
  3. Provide dirt bath areas: the girls have already created some good spots for dust bathing, in the shadow of their coop.  I have a hard time imagining any scenario where a chicken didn’t have a place for dust bathing, unless they had a wire or concrete floor in their run.
  4. Add electrolytes to their water: I picked up several packs of these from Tractor Supply when I was getting supplies before getting the chicks- we still haven’t used them, so when it gets hot I’ll definitely add them to the water.
  5. Turn off lights in the coop: no problem here, since we don’t have a light in the coop.
  6. Increase the ventilation in the coop: we have two vents in the ceiling with adjustable vent flaps that can direct air in or keep it out, and a large screened back window.  In the summer, we’ll definitely keep the back window shutter open, adjust the vent flaps to direct air in, and there’s the possibility of leaving the front leaded glass doors open (I don’t like that idea, because even though we’re confident that the run is predator proof, I’d rather not take any chances).
  7. Place reflective foil on the roof of the coop in the morning: kinda the premise behind those car dashboard visors.  We likely won’t use this due to the green roof, but it’s a smart tip to keep in mind with other coops.
  8. Give them a shallow pan of water: like a bird bath! In general I want to keep these chickens completely dry, but if they opt to splash around in some water, I won’t stop them.
  9. Install a fan in the coop: I’ve been considering this, but with my set up I’m not sure how I could make it work.  The fans would need to be on the side of the coop, and I certainly wouldn’t want them there in the winter; I’d need to install them and then board them up when it got too cold out.  If there’s a way I can do this without destroying the aesthetic of the coop and/or compromising the structures ability to keep them warm and dry in the winter, I’ll consider it.
  10. Give them cold/frozen fruits and vegetables: watermelon seems like it would be a great choice for this.  I’ll definitely be doing this one.
  11. Don’t feed them cracked corn: I’ll save the cracked corn for cold weather, since it brings up their body temp.
  12. Dig a shallow pit and lightly mist it with water: I can see doing this in extreme situations, making the hole deeper than it would normally be from their dust bathing.
  13. Freeze water bottles or milk jugs with ice: kinda like air conditioning for the chickens! I bet they’d wind up scared of it, like they are of most new things. Still, in an extreme situation, this seems like it would help immensely.
  14. Leave them alone: keeping their stress levels low is the name of the game, and something I try to do regularly anyway.  The only time these girls really get ruffled up is when my bf’s dog circles the coop run, breathing heavily.
  15. Put sprinklers on the coop roof: I can’t do this with my setup, but I do wonder if watering the green roof wil help.
  16. Decrease the litter in the coop: we only have maybe an inch and a half of pine shavings in the coop at present, and the litter gets cleaned daily, so this may not help much.  The theory is that deep litter acts like a compost pile, generating heat- so, if you’re a deep litter coop, you’ll want to take this advice to keep the heat level down.
  17. Mist them with cool water: I’m pretty sure the chickens would freak out if I did this, so chances are I won’t.

Armed with these tips, I’m hoping I won’t have a repeat of our “too hot” incident- I’ll still keep my eyes peeled for signs of heat stress throughout summer.

SIGNS OF HEAT STRESS:

-panting, with beak open

-laying around with wings outstretched

-no interest in eating

-slow to respond to stimuli, unresponsive

Chilling.

We’re legal!

Yesterday, the city inspector walked into the backyard saying “This should only take about 2 seconds, I’ve seen the paperwork you submitted”.

who wouldn’t approve this thing?

Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound.  He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.

The chickens aren’t very impressed with this latest turn of events, but they did run off with the building inspection sticker we received.

very exciting!
if it’s in my hands, it might be food, right?
see that beak? somebody snatched the approved sticker from my hand a second later.

After all is said and done, the chickens are happy, I’m happy, and my neighbors are happy.  Everyone seems to like the coop, and they get a kick out of the girls antics- or lack thereof, since the ladies have been lounging a lot in their beachy coop.

The 3 stooges.

The countdown begins.

Just over 24 hours until the coop gets inspected!  I’m nervous and excited.

We put some finishing touches on the coop over the weekend- lots of paint, installing the brackets for the polycarbonate roof, installing a door handle, etc.  There are still some more things I’d like to do, but I’ll wait until after we get approval from the city inspector.

The coop is ready for inspection!

The green roof is prepped with dirt, and waiting for strawberries to be planted.  Can you believe I haven’t been able to find strawberries at any of the nurseries this year?  I had to break down and order some online.

Nice mix of garden and potting soil

We also put a latch on the inside of the run door, after in incident where the chickens were spooked and bumped into the door.  The door only stayed open for a second, but that’s long enough that if there was a dog running around the coop, they might have the opportunity to race inside.  Obviously I can’t let that happen, so my failsafe is now installed, for use when I’m in the run.

latch on the inside of the run door

We put some hanging planters from Ikea in the run, just for a decorative touch.  I absolutely love it- the hint of extra greenery really adds to the overall appearance.

the chickens don’t really care about hanging planters

We painted everything to match the house and garage, so the coop seems to “belong” there.

the coop and the garage look good together
another view of the garage and coop

The lever for the chicken door is on the outside- in the future, we’re hoping to install an automated or remoted controlled door.

the rod sticking out with the black handle is the push/pull door control

Door hardware matches on the run door and the nesting box lid.  We also added a magnet to the window cover on the back of the coop, so that the window can stay open.

black handle and hinges on the door
black handle on the nesting box, magnet keeping the window cover open

All in all, it was a ton of work this weekend.  Painting the trim in the places where the 1/2 hardware cloth is attached was a pain, and took a long time to get all the nooks and cranies filled.  I also went over all the “vulnerable points” after hearing something walking around the garage one night when I went to close the girls in- we used horseshoe nails to ensure that the hardware cloth is attached in every place that a predator might seek access, mainly as reinforcement to the staples we had previously used.  The pavers seen around the coop are in their position temporaily, as I’ll be leveling them and making some paths through the garden in the future.  At the end of the day Sunday, we were exhausted and ready to just sit down and admire the finished product.

Hurley likes to think she helped.
Hurley helps by watching the chickens enjoy their pretty new coop. Good job Hurley!

To all the people who said they wouldn’t want to live next to someone with backyard hens- is this what you pictured?

What a hard life!

The girls are enjoying a nice warm day, perched on the edge of their coop window.  I’m pretty jealous of them.

Like big globs of honey.

Today is the big day- we’re turning in the building permit and fees associated for the coop license.  Keep you fingers crossed- I’m hoping the inspector will be able to come out in the next few days to check it out and give his blessing.

 

Chicks dig dirt.

The chicks are enjoying a nice dust bath in the shade on this steamy spring day.

These girls are the fat orange cats of the chicken world, and as such are already getting a little spoiled.  They come running at the sight of me in the backyard, not out of affection, but because I usually have a delicious treat.  Lately it’s been dandelion greens, broccoli leaves, strawberries, and a tiny piece of ham.  I think they nearly lost their little chicken minds over that piece of ham.

 

Curious.
Snagging a bite.
Once Big Bossy gets a bite, everyone moves in for some, now that they know it’s safe.

The girls are getting bigger every day, and looking more and more like real chickens.  I think I may have even heard a cluck last night as I was closing them into their coop.

Looking proper.
Big Bossy eyes the camera.
Green eyed dinosaurs.
Chickens have inscrutable faces- the only way to tell if they’re angry is body language, since their faces have a permanent frown.

A whole pack of paperwork: getting things permitted.

Paperwork was picked up from the city offices this morning, and after a brief glance everything seems pretty straightforward.  We’re in compliance with all the rules, now we just need to draw up the dimensions and submit the application along with the $35 license fee.

The girls are strolling around their run during the daytime, and being brought inside like spoiled pets at night.  What?  it’s getting down into the low 30’s at night right now, and I’d be a hot mess if I inadvertently harmed them by leaving them out in the cold while they’re still so young.  The good news is that the chicks are learning that the cat carrier is their best friend, and they walk right in with a little shooing when I come out at dusk.

Little Girl still has some of her head fluff hanging on, despite looking like a mini adult everywhere else. So cute!  I love that she looks like a painting in this picture below.  Part of me will miss having these little girls in the house, despite being relieved that I won’t have to clean up the wood shavings they kick out of their brooder box.

Image