If you keep chickens, you likely already know that they will eat just about anything they can reach.
Of course, this includes the chicken feed that you so thoughtfully provide for them, but they’ll steal food from other animals and even your pets, nibble on grass and chow down on every other plant growing around your property or garden if they can get to it.
Luckily, most plants are safe for chickens and these clever birds generally avoid the ones that are dangerous, but not always.
How about catnip? Everyone knows what this flowering plant can do to felines, but is it safe for chickens to eat catnip?
Yes, catnip is completely safe for chickens, and no part of the plant is toxic for them. Catnip is reasonably nutritious, and anecdotal evidence suggests that it has a calming effect on chickens.
Plenty of cat lovers have taken to growing catnip themselves in their gardens for the enjoyment of their pets, but you can rest assured that these plants will be taken right down to the ground if your chickens can get at it.
They really do seem to love the stuff! Keep reading and learn everything you need to know about letting your chickens eat catnip.
What is Catnip, Exactly?
Catnip, as it turns out, is not some concocted drug that makes felines go a little nuts. Contrary to the conception of some people, catnip is entirely natural: It is actually a plant that belongs to the Lamiaceae family.
Originally native to Europe, it has since spread pretty much all around the world and become naturalized.
Also known as catwart or catmint, this herbaceous perennial plant can grow nearly 4 feet tall and just as wide, blooming for a significant part of the year and typically starting in spring.
Most notably, the plant produces drooping clusters of pink or off-white flowers that have purple or lavender spots on them.
It’s not uncommon to find catnip growing wild in areas where it is established, and it can be easily grown in a garden or elsewhere around your property.
Nutritional Profile of Catnip
Reliable, detailed nutritional info for catnip is not readily available, and what is probably not particularly trustworthy.
This is because catnip is not generally sold for humans to eat except, occasionally, as a component in herbal teas.
However, it’s safe to assume that catnip contains at least several of the nutrients that chickens need, including vitamins and minerals along with a little bit of protein and some carbohydrates.
At any rate, they definitely like the stuff, and will readily eat it if it is provided for them or if they can get to it while they are free-ranging.
Although it is probably not a super nutritious option for chickens, it is natural and wholesome, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with allowing your chickens to eat it so long as it doesn’t happen often.
Benefits of Catnip for Chickens
Although there are few scientific studies on the subject, there are many anecdotal reports from farmers and backyard Chicken keepers that feeding catnip to chickens produces an improvement in their overall mood.
Supposedly, catnip makes chickens calmer and less anxious overall.
Aside from serving as a nutritious and natural supplement to their usual diet, these benefits might improve the harmony in your flock and the overall well-being of your chickens.
Now, as is mentioned above and known by pretty much everyone, catnip does have stimulating or relaxing effects on the behavior of cats, or at least most cats because the effect is only noticed in felines with a certain hereditary gene.
However, this marked behavior brought on by catnip only affects cats in such a noticeable way, not chickens, so you don’t need to worry about your birds going crazy or getting depressed because they ate catnip.
Can Chickens Eat Fresh Catnip?
Yes, chickens can eat fresh catnip. In fact, this is the best way for them to eat it since it will contain the maximum possible amount of nutrition.
Can Chickens Eat Catnip Flowers?
Yes, they can. Catnip plants produce surprisingly pretty clusters of pink or pale white flowers with purple spots. Chickens can eat these with no worries.
Can Chickens Eat Catnip Stems?
Yes, they can. The stout stems of catnip plants might not be preferable to some chickens, but they are absolutely edible.
Larger catnip plants might resist being completely wiped out by chickens, but they will often eat the younger plants right down to the ground, stem and all.
Can Chickens Eat Catnip Roots?
Yes. They typically won’t try to dig them up, but if a young plant is pulled up and given to chickens they might eat the roots along with the rest of the plant. That’s okay, they aren’t toxic.
Can Chickens Eat Catnip Cooked?
Yes, although it is hard to think of any circumstances for catnip to be cooked…
Can Chickens Eat Dried Catnip?
Yes. Dried catnip gives up many of the vitamins and minerals that it has to offer, as with most other herbs, but it is still edible by chickens.
Never Feed Catnip to Chickens that Was Combined with Harmful Ingredients
Since we’re on the subject of dried catnip, now is a good time to caution keepers against giving catnip to their chickens if it has been taken out of anything like a cat toy or sold in bulk for the purposes of refilling cat toys.
Catnip, the plant, is indeed entirely natural and safe for chickens, but it’s hard to say if the one being sold in or as part of a cat toy has any additives that might not be safe for chickens.
Even in the best case scenario, assuming that it is, there might be particles or other contaminants from the material of the toy itself that could harm your birds.
It’s best not to risk it, and if you want to give your chickens catnip either let them eat from a fresh plant or source a plant yourself and then prepare it for them.
Beware of Pesticides on Wild or Nursery-bought Catnip?
There’s one more thing to be concerned about if you’re feeding catnip to chickens, and that is the presence of pesticides on any wild plants sourced from an unknown location or on plants purchased from a nursery or greenhouse.
There’re all kinds of pesticides used both on plants to be sold commercially in order to keep them healthy and fresh looking prior to sale, and also over every plant in a general area by certain property owners who are trying to reduce the numbers of insect pests that might harm protected plants elsewhere on their property.
This means you must be cautious prior to feeding any catnip that you have not grown yourself to your chickens.
Even if washed, residues of these pesticides that remain in the plant tissues could prove harmful over time, slowly building up in the body of your chickens and potentially resulting in serious health effects.
How Often Can Chickens Have Catnip?
Chickens can eat catnip regularly, but it should not be a primary component in their diet. If you are gathering catnip for them to eat, you can give it to them once or twice a week as part of a complete, varied diet.
If you let your flock free range, they can eat catnip when they come across it, whether you are growing it for them or it is growing wild on your property.
Just try to make sure they’re eating a varied diet of bugs and other plants to ensure they get all of the nutrition they need.
Preparing Catnip for Your Flock
To serve catnip to your flock, assuming you’re not letting them serve themselves when free ranging, all you need to do is pull stalks off the plant, or pull up entire young plants and hand them over. Your chickens will do the rest.
If you would prefer to serve it to your chickens as part of a mixture with other plants or other whole foods then you can roughly chop the catnip, flowers and all, into a sort of salad and mix it with the other food.
Can Baby Chicks Have Catnip, Too?
Yes, chicks can also have catnip the same as adults, although you’ll want to wait for them to reach at least 6 weeks of age before allowing them to have any for the first time.
Chicks are incredibly delicate, and they have very strict nutritional requirements which should be met by their starter feed for the earliest part of their life.
Catnip doesn’t have all of the nutrients that chicks need, so let them grow up a bit before you allow them to try it for the first time as a treat.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.