Chickens will eat just about anything, and that includes all kinds of plant matter. They will eat leaves, flowers, stems, roots, and all.
But not all plants are healthy for chickens, or even safe, and knowing enough to keep your birds away from harmful plants is crucial. How about ferns? Can chickens eat ferns?
Yes, true ferns may be safely eaten by chickens. Though hardly nutritious, the majority of ferns are safe for chickens to consume. However, some “false” ferns or plants that only have fern in the name can be dangerous or even deadly for chickens. It is paramount that all owners know the exact taxonomy of any fern they allow their chickens to eat.
Ferns are not usually going to the first, second, or even third choice of your chickens if there is anything else around to eat, but they will eat them.
Luckily, most chickens are smart enough to avoid the ones that are actually dangerous but not always, and you’ll need to be on guard.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about feeding ferns to your chickens.
Health Benefits of Ferns for Chickens
There is hardly any nutritional information regarding ferns to be found, but we do know that they are not going to be harmful in moderation and that they contain some vitamins and minerals.
Chickens need a well-rounded diet for optimal health, and while ferns are not going to be the cornerstone of a good diet, not even close, they can certainly help round things out or just serve as an interesting snack.
Only “True” Ferns are Safe for Chickens to Eat
There are several types of ferns that are commonly kept as houseplants, and unfortunately, not all of them are safe for chickens.
Boston ferns, for example, are one of the most popular ornamental “true” ferns, and are completely safe for animals, including chickens.
Maidenhair and staghorn are other types of true ferns that are non-toxic, or at least safe for periodic consumption by chickens.
However, there are many “false” ferns or plants that simply have the word fern in their name that are the exact opposite!
“False” Ferns May be Harmful or Deadly
There are many plants that have fern in the name, but they are not actually ferns. The Asparagus fern is one example, and it is poisonous to chickens (and many other animals).
The Emerald Feather or Plumosa fern is another popular houseplant that goes by several names, including asparagus fern, feather fern, and lace fern.
It is not a true fern, however, and can be harmful if consumed by chickens in large quantities.
The point is, it is crucially important that you know exactly what kind of plant you are dealing with before you serve it to your chickens or allow them to eat it. Failing to do so might have lethal consequences for your flock.
Can Chickens Eat Ferns Raw?
Yes, assuming it is a safe fern. This is the most likely way they will encounter and eat them.
Ferns are soft and pliable enough that chickens won’t have any trouble tearing off pieces to swallow.
Can Chickens Eat Ferns Cooked?
Yes, but there is no reason to cook them. Cooking ferns may make them more palatable to your chickens, depending on the type of fern, but it will deplete whatever meager nutrition they contain.
Caution: Cooking dangerous false ferns is unlikely to degrade toxic compounds enough to make them safe. Dangerous fern types should never be fed to chickens under any circumstances.
Beware of Pesticides or Herbicides on Unknown or Wild Ferns
Anytime you are sourcing or allowing your chickens to eat wild-growing ferns, or any fern taken from a property you don’t control, you could be exposing them to harmful chemicals.
Ferns may be treated with a variety of chemicals depending on their location and purpose, but none of them are good for your chickens.
Herbicides may be deployed on nuisance ferns that people want to kill off, while pesticides would be used to protect decorative ferns from insect pests.
Both types of chemicals can cause serious health problems, and of greater concern can build up in body tissues over time with repeated ingestion, slowly poisoning the bird.
Take care when harvesting any unknown ferns for giving to your chickens.
How Often Can Chickens Have Ferns?
True ferns will not harm chickens, but that does not mean they should have them all the time. A varied diet is still the best way to ensure your chickens are getting all the nutrients they need.
Ferns can be given to chickens as an occasional treat, and not much else.
They are not nutritionally complete, and chickens can also fill up on them, missing out on the needed nutrients in other, better foods.
Always keep in mind that 90% of a chicken’s diet should consist of good quality chicken feed, and the remaining 10% can be supplemental foods or treats, including ferns.
Preparing Ferns for Your Flock
There is not much to do if you want to serve ferns to your chickens.
Simply pluck them from their pot or wherever they are growing, and give them a quick wash under cool water to remove any dirt, debris, or pesticides that might be clinging to the leaves.
You can then offer them whole to your chickens, or chop them up into smaller pieces if you prefer.
Alternately, if the fern is growing where the chickens forage you can simply let them have at it. They will snip off small pieces to swallow until they have had their fill or lose interest.
Can Baby Chicks Have Ferns, Too?
Yes, but there is no good reason to feed them to chicks. Ferns offer very little nutrition to a developing chick, and can even cause problems if they eat too much.
Chicks are often vulnerable to crop impaction, choking, and other digestive issues, issues that can be exacerbated by leafy greens.
It is best to wait until your chicks are at least 6 to 8 weeks old before you start offering them any type of leafy green treat or supplemental food, including ferns.
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.