Chickens, like people, seem to be big fans of berries and will often try to get at berry bushes with enthusiasm.
From strawberries to blueberries, there is hardly a type of berry that chickens don’t want to eat. But how about elderberries? Can chickens eat elderberries?
Yes, chickens may eat elderberries but they should only eat ripe berries in limited quantities or berries that have been thoroughly cooked in order to eliminate toxic compounds present in the berry. All other parts of the elder plant, including the flowers, contain dangerously high levels of the toxin.
It sounds like elderberries and the plants that they grow on might be more trouble and risk than they are worth, but that’s not really the case.
People and chickens alike have been enjoying elderberries safely pretty much forever, and they still can so long as you use a little bit of caution and common sense.
We will tell you everything you need to know in the rest of this article
Nutritional Profile of Elderberry
Elderberries are tart and juicy, but they have a surprisingly good nutritional profile, including many vitamins and quite a few minerals.
Like most berries, elderberries have a good compliment of carbohydrates in the form of sugars and fiber.
Concerning the vitamins, elderberries have a good amount of vitamin A equivalent, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, B3, B5, B6 and folate. They also have plenty of vitamin C.
|Total lipid (fat)
|Carbohydrate, by difference
|– Fiber, total dietary
|Vitamin A, RAE
|Vitamin A, IU
When looking at minerals, you will find that elderberries are an excellent source of iron, a good source of phosphorus and potassium, have a dependable amount of calcium and also a little bit of magnesium and zinc.
Elderberries are a juicy and hydrating berry, consisting of around 80% water by mass.
Health Benefits of Elderberries for Chickens
Elderberries are surprisingly nutritious and beneficial for chickens.
The vitamin A equivalent compounds present in these purple blackberries will prove highly beneficial for maintaining nervous system tissues and the eyes in particular.
The B complex vitamins are critical for all sorts of metabolic processes and for overall cellular health.
Vitamin C, the standout vitamin contained by elderberries, is unfortunately somewhat wasted on chickens because they can produce their own internally, but a little supplement definitely doesn’t hurt.
The minerals will also give your birds a big boost of nutrition, with phosphorus and calcium working together to improve bone health and healing along with the density and quality of egg shells in laying hens.
Iron is vital for the production of new red blood cells and also for the oxygenation of blood in the body.
Lastly, potassium plays an important part and maintaining a proper electrolyte balance, which together with the water content of elderberries is perfect for keeping your flock hydrated and healthy during hot, dry weather.
Can Chickens Eat Elderberries Raw?
one of the biggest points of contention when considering elderberries as a source of nutrition for chickens is whether or not they should eat the berries raw.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on this, but what is not up for debate is whether or not the berries themselves contain any of the toxins present in the rest of the plant.
The toxins in question are cyanogenic glycosides which create reactions in the body and break down to form cyanide.
You don’t need me to tell you how dangerous cyanide is in any quantity. The bottom line up front is that, yes, the berries of the elder plant do contain these toxins.
However, ripe berries from most elder species contain only a little, and most chickens seem more than happy to eat them raw.
But you must be cautious, because unripe berries contain a great amount of toxin and can prove to be fatal for your birds.
In short, ripe elderberries even in strict moderation when raw should not hurt your chickens, but it is best if you do not let them eat off the bushes themselves.
Can Chickens Eat Elderberry Leaves?
No, all other parts of elder plants contain dangerous levels of the glycoside toxins mentioned above, and far more than the berries do as a rule.
Can Chickens Eat Elderberry Flowers?
No, they cannot. The flowers, though they have a beautiful and delicate appearance, are actually highly concentrated sources of cyanogenic glycosides and will likely kill your chickens if they eat them.
Can Chickens Eat Elderberry Stems?
No, as the stems of the berries still contain too much toxin. Luckily, chickens seem to instinctively steer clear of other parts of the plant, but this is not something you can depend on if you are allowing your birds to free range and eat as they will.
Can Chickens Eat Elderberry Cooked?
Yes, they can, and cooking is one of the best, surest and safest ways to serve elderberries to your flock.
This is because the toxins present in the plant and in the berries are readily broken down by heat, unlike many other poisonous compounds present in other plants and berries.
Cooking at your elderberries for at least 15 minutes at a minimum of 300° is more than adequate to neutralize the toxins present in them.
Also, make sure you don’t use any green berries and take care not to rupture the seeds, since both have much higher concentrations of the toxin and the flesh of ripe, black berries.
Never Feed Elderberry to Chickens that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
Since we are on the subject of cooking elderberries in order to make them safe for serving to chickens, the temptation is to whip up a fancy recipe in the form of a jam, pie, syrup or some other sweet treat.
Elderberries are definitely well suited for such desserts, but that doesn’t mean you can feed them to your chickens just because you have neutralized the poison.
Chickens do not need any such ingredients as salt, sugar, butter, oils and things of that nature.
If you do feed them to your chickens in the form of a dessert or something else you might be changing out one hazard for another.
Weight gain and digestive upset is always a risk with harmful foods, but more serious conditions such as sodium poisoning, sour crop or fatty liver syndrome cannot be ruled out.
Making a simple syrup or mash from elderberries, or simply cooking them and allowing them to cool, is old that you should do if you are planning on serving them to your chickens.
How Often Can Chickens Have Elderberry?
Elderberries are generally healthy for chickens, but you’ll only want to allow them to eat them in strict moderation and following careful standards for preparation.
Generally speaking, chickens should only be allowed to eat a few berries at a time assuming they are ripe and raw.
It is possible that chickens will try to fill up on them and that could lead to a risk of poisoning.
If you are cooking elderberries, only serve them to chickens a couple of times a week as part of a nutritionally complete diet.
Can Baby Chicks Have Elderberry, Too?
Yes, baby chicks can have elderberries but you want to wait until they are older, around 6 weeks of age, and we would recommend only serving them carefully selected, ripe and cooked elderberries in order to prevent the possibility of poisoning.
Chicks do not have the body mass or well developed digestive system of adult chickens, and this means they are particularly vulnerable to being poisoned by the toxins present in elderberries and other parts of the plant.
Even a small nibble of an unripe berry could be enough to cause severe illness or death. If you have any doubts about the matter, discretion is advised.
There are so many other things you can give as a treat to a baby chick or to supplement their diet of starter feed it is probably just not worth taking the risk associated with elderberries, even if you are cooking them yourself.
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.