If you own chickens, you likely already know that’s only pretty much anything as they peck and scratch while foraging. Bugs, seeds, plants, pretty much everything is on the menu.
But how about leaves? Can chickens eat leaves?
Yes, chickens may generally eat leaves but the safety of doing so depends entirely on the plant in question. Some plant species are safe, healthy, and nutritious for chickens while others are the opposite and might prove to be deadly poisonous. As always, it is up to you to verify the safety of anything you serve your chickens or before letting them eat it.
There are certain types of leaves that chickens seem to greatly prefer, while others they won’t touch or only eat in desperation.
Chickens are pretty good about avoiding things that are bad for them, but you can always depend on them to stay out of things that could be harmful. This counts for leaves, too.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about feeding various leaves to chickens.
It Depends on the Plant in Question!
Broadly, yes, chickens can and will eat leaves from various plants.
But the first thing you need to understand is that not all leaves are okay for eating! Just like there are some plants with fruits or berries are safe for chickens to eat and others that aren’t, the same goes for the leaves of these plants.
Leaves from certain plants contain high levels of toxins that can be harmful or even fatal to chickens if ingested in large enough quantities.
Other leaves may contain compounds that can irritate a chicken’s digestive system, causing discomfort or illness. Neither is a good thing.
But there are leaves that are completely harmless and perfectly safe for chickens to eat on a regular basis, and many of them provide excellent nutrition.
These leaves can provide your chickens with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that help them stay healthy and happy.
Some Leaves are Quite Healthy
In the category of “healthy leaves” you have a wide variety of choices that are all perfectly safe for chickens to eat on a regular basis.
Some of the most popular leafy greens that chickens enjoy include kale, spinach, chard, dandelion greens, and similar veggies. The leaves of many perennial flowers are safe and healthy for chickens, too.
Others May be Deadly Poisonous
But on the other hand, there are some leaves that you absolutely must not let your chickens eat under any circumstances.
The most notable of these is the yew, a common hedge plant with spectacularly toxic leaves. Other poisonous plants include rhododendrons, azaleas, oleander, and foxgloves.
These leaves contain various compounds that are poisonous to chickens and other animals. Ingesting even a small amount can cause serious health problems or even death.
Beware of Lookalikes
Complicating matters is the fact that many plants with safe leaves have harmful lookalikes and vice versa.
So it’s always important to take a close look at any leaves before letting your chickens eat them, just to be sure.
If you’re ever in doubt about the safety of a particular plant, it’s best to keep your chickens away from it. There are plenty of other safe options for them to munch on.
Whether you have harvested them for feeding time or are allowing your flock to graze while they roam, it is always up to you to positively ID any plant they will feed on.
If you’re not sure whether a particular plant is safe for chickens or not, don’t risk it until you get expert identification.
Can Chickens Eat Leaves Raw?
Yes, chickens can eat most kinds of leaves raw. In fact, many chickens actually prefer their greens raw rather than cooked.
Of course, some leaves are more palatable raw than others. Kale, for example, is quite tough when raw but becomes much more tender and mild-tasting when cooked. Some picky birds might come around on a given leaf when it is cooked.
Can Chickens Eat Leaves Cooked?
Yes, they can. As mentioned, cooking also makes some tough or bitter-tasting leaves more palatable to chickens.
It should be noted, though, that cooking does reduce the nutrient content of leaves somewhat.
So if you have a choice, it’s generally best to feed your chickens raw leaves whenever possible.
But cooked leaves are still perfectly safe and nutritious, so don’t hesitate to cook some up if it will help your flock enjoy them.
Don’t Feed Spoiled or Molded Leaves or Greens to Chickens
As with any food, it’s important to make sure that the leaves you’re feeding your chickens are fresh and free of spoilage.
Moldy or spoiled leaves can cause illness in chickens and should be avoided. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your flock.
Never Feed Leaves to Chickens that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
On the subject of cooking, it’s important to mention that you should never feed leaves to chickens that have been prepared with harmful ingredients, such as salt, sugar, oils, butter, onions, or garlic.
These can make chickens gravely sick, so it’s best to avoid them entirely.
In the case of some common “salad” ingredients like onions or garlic, they can be toxic in their own right.
In the case of things like sugar, oils, and butter you might cause your chickens to gain weight, at best, and might cause serious disease at worst.
Diseases like fatty liver syndrome, sour crop, salt poisoning, and more can all be caused by common additives and toppings that people enjoy in greens and salads. These are fine for us, but not for chickens!
Beware of Pesticides and Herbicides on Wild Leaves
One thing owners must be wary of is the presence of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals on wild leaves.
These chemicals have a long history of causing health problems in various animals, and will undoubtedly do the same to your chickens if ingested in sufficient quantities.
Pesticides and herbicides can accumulate in the tissues of chickens, so even a small amount can be harmful over time.
If you’re not sure whether a particular plant has been treated, it’s best to play it safe and keep your chickens away from it or avoid serving it to them.
How Often Can Chickens Have Leaves?
Leaves, assuming they are safe and healthy, are nutritious for chickens but they shouldn’t be eating them all the time.
A varied diet is always best and too much of any one thing, even something as healthy as leafy greens, can cause problems.
As a general rule, leaves should make up no more than 10-20% of your chicken’s total calorie intake.
Most of their calories should come from chicken feed, with the remainder coming from a mix of other healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, bugs, and the occasional treat.
Preparing Leaves for Your Flock
You have two basic options for preparing leafy greens for serving to your flock (assuming they aren’t foraging on live plants): You can either chop them up into smaller pieces or leave them whole.
If you’re feeding kale or other tough greens, it’s generally best to chop them up into more manageable pieces.
This will make them easier for your chickens to eat and will also help them get more of the nutrients they need from the leaves.
If you’re feeding lettuce, spinach, or other more delicate greens, you can either leave them whole or chop them up at your discretion.
Again, it’s really up to you and what your chickens prefer. Some people find that their chickens like to eat leaves whole, while others have more success chopping them up into bite-sized pieces.
Can Baby Chicks Have Leaves, Too?
Yes, chicks can have leaves but you’ll want to let them grow up a bit before they have them for the first time.
As a general rule of thumb, you should wait until your chicks are at least 6 weeks old before giving them any greens. This will give them time to develop enough to properly digest leafy greens.
As always, start with a tiny amount and observe for problems. It’s better to introduce greens slowly so that your chicks can get used to them and their digestive systems can adjust.
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.