So, Can Chickens Eat Acorns?

Most chicken owners already know that their chickens love all sorts of seeds and nuts.

If you have big, beautiful oak trees growing on your property, you have probably already thought about feeding those plentiful acorns to your flock.

broody hen and chickens inside small chicken run
broody hen and chickens inside small chicken run

But, like any good parent, you wanted to double-check first and here you are! So, can your chickens eat acorns?

No, chickens should not eat acorns, or at least acorns that have not been carefully treated. Acorns contain significant toxins called tannins, and they can easily cause digestive upset, liver damage and death in chickens and other animals. It is best to avoid feeding acorns to your flock.

That’s bad news if you have oak trees in the area where your chickens range and graze, or if you were planning on repurposing acorns for feed.

But before you give up the notion entirely, there is a way you can feed acorns safely to your chickens. Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know.

Acorns Contain Tannins, and are Highly Poisonous to Chickens

Tannins are a type of astringent, plant-based compound that can cause a condition known as quercus- acorn poisoning- if ingested.

Most animals are susceptible to quercus, including humans, dogs, cats and, yep, chickens.

The symptoms of quercus in chickens are gastrointestinal distress, extreme lethargy, vomiting, swelling of the kidneys and liver damage in chickens.

High doses or significant buildup over time can cause death outright. Chickens are particularly sensitive to tannins, so even a small amount can be toxic enough to cause significant harm.

Tannin Levels Vary Significantly in Acorns

The level of tannins in acorns varies depending on the species of oak tree from which they come. For example, white oaks generally have lower levels of tannins than black oaks.

This is why acorns from white oaks are not usually fatal when ingested in limited amounts, while acorns from black oaks may cause significant organ damage or death from a small portion.

You must not be lulled into a false sense of security if your chickens eat an acorn or two and seem to be fine; the next acorn might be significantly more harmful, and the effects of tannins are cumulative and can result in serious health problems down the road.

Keeping Your Chickens Out of Acorns

If you have oak trees on your property and want to keep your chickens safe, you will need to take measures to keep them away from the acorns.

This usually means fencing off the area around the tree or, obviously, abstaining from feeding them untreated acorns.

Chickens do not seem too attracted to acorns, as their large size and hard shells make them unappealing, and difficult to peck open.

However, if your chickens are particularly curious or have developed a taste for acorns, you may need to take more aggressive action.

Making Acorns Safe to Eat

It is possible to make acorns safe to eat- for chickens and humans! The tannins that are so harmful to your birds are removed from acorns by leaching them or boiling them in water.

Boiling speeds up the process, about 15 minutes at a time. You should repeat the process using fresh water and boiling until the soaked acorns stop tinting the water at all; you’ll know then that all the tannins are gone.

Remove the acorns and give them one final rinse with fresh water before letting them dry.

This process will eventually make the acorns safe for you chickens to eat. In fact, acorns that have been processed in this way are often used in dishes for people such as soups or porridges, and have been utilized by various cultures around the world.

Never mind that, though. If you care enough to treat the acorns so that they can be fed to your flock, what will they do for your chickens?

Nutritional Profile of Treated Acorns

With the tannins gone, acorns are actually quite nutritious for your chickens, and are a good source of protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

The exact composition will vary depending on the species of oak tree, but in general, acorns contain vitamins A, B, and C, as well as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium.

100g Acorn FlourAmount
Total lipid (fat)30.2g
Carbohydrate, by difference54.6g
Calcium, Ca43mg
Iron, Fe1.21mg
Magnesium, Mg110mg
Phosphorus, P103mg
Potassium, K712mg
Sodium, Na0mg
Zinc, Zn0.64mg
Copper, Cu0.611mg
Manganese, Mn1.74mg
Pantothenic acid0.931mg
Vitamin B-60.688mg
Folate, total114µg
Vitamin A, RAE3µg
Vitamin A, IU51IU
Fatty acids, total saturated3.92g
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated19.1g
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated5.81g
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Acorns are also a good source of energy for your chickens. This makes them especially useful as warming feed in the winter months when your chickens might need dense energy sources to help them stay warm.

Benefits of Chickens Get from Treated Acorns

The benefits that your chickens will get from acorns depend largely on their diet.

If they are getting a well-rounded and complete diet from you otherwise, then the primary benefit of adding acorns will be improved gut health and an abundance of antioxidants.

Acorns are rich in fiber and the right fats to bulk up your chickens’ stools and the antioxidants help prevent cellular damage and the onset of certain degenerative diseases.

They will also get extra energy from the calories. Take care, though: too many acorns can make your chickens gain weight, and they are likely to develop a taste for them!

How Often Should You Give Your Chickens Treated Acorns?

Acorns should not make up more than 10% of your chickens’ diet. Any more than that and you risk them becoming overweight or developing digestive issues.

When first introducing treated acorns to your chickens, start with a small amount and gradually increase it over time to give their guts a chance to adjust.

Of more concern to laying hens is that overconsumption of treated acorns in feed, around 30% of caloric intake, has severe effects on the rate and quality of egg production.

This study has all the details and is easy to understand, just hit the translate button on your browser.

Though not likely any issue for people who only give their birds acorns occasionally, you should be aware of it!

Acorns are a potential source of supplemental food or treats for your chickens, but you need to take care in feeding them to your flock.

Can Baby Chicks Have Treated Acorns?

Technically, yes. However, it is not recommended. Their delicate digestive systems are not yet equipped to handle the high fat and fiber content of acorns.

It is best to wait until they are at least 6 weeks old before giving them any treated acorns.

Also, exercise extreme caution: chicks are highly susceptible to becoming impacted, and the dense acorns can cause serious problems if they become lodged in their digestive tracts.

As mentioned above, chicks are also quite vulnerable to cyanide. Even a few bites of a raw acorn that got missed during leaching could be enough to kill them.

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