There seems to be a lot of controversy regarding certain foods being fed to chickens. Some keepers swear that no harm comes to their birds, while others, including veterinarians, warn of potentially dire consequences.
Leeks are one such food, and relatives to onions. So what’s the final word? Can chickens eat leeks?
No, chickens should not eat leeks. Although not overtly toxic to humans, leeks and other onions are hazardous to chickens, and when ingested in quantity will begin to damage red blood cells and eventually result in anemia. Don’t feed or let your chickens eat leeks, wild or cultivated.
And that’s the bottom line. Although plenty of owners seem to report that their chickens eat and even enjoy onions, garlic and other related veggies the science definitely seems to be settled in this case.
If you care about the health of your birds you shouldn’t let them eat leeks. We’ll talk more about the hazards associated with this below.
Ingesting Leeks will Harm Chickens
It really is that simple. Chickens should not eat leeks, garlic, shallots or onions as they contain compounds, n-propyl disulfides, that will eventually begin to damage the red blood cells in the body, and when enough of the harmful compounds are ingested the result will be anemia.
Several authoritative studies suggest that eating just half a percent of a chicken’s body weight in leeks could be enough to cause serious harm.
Now, I know that lots of people let their chickens nibble on onions or garlic, and furthermore that most chickens seem to have a very good way with not eating things that are bad for them.
That being said, most chickens will eat things that are presented to them by their owners as food, particularly when mixed in with other things that they do like.
If you grow leeks or if they are growing wild on your property, you should take care of that your chickens cannot get at them and aren’t allowed to eat them.
Symptoms of Leek Poisoning
The precursors associated with anemia are definitely ugly, but this is what your chickens will be facing if you allow them to eat leeks or other onions.
Symptoms you should be on the lookout for are a sudden loss of appetite, rapid breathing, difficulty breathing, overall weakness or lethargy, diarrhea, general depression and pale colored combs and wattles.
If you notice any such symptoms in your chickens, you must act quickly to save them. Anemia might kill more slowly as a consequence of ingesting certain toxins, but it is still a sure killer of chickens.
If your chickens have eaten leeks contact your veterinarian right away and follow their advice.
How Much of Leeks Can Chickens Have Before Ill-effects are Experienced?
Very little. Some studies suggest that ingesting even one-half of 1% of a chicken’s body weight in leeks, onions or similar vegetables containing the hazardous compounds is enough to cause serious side effects.
This is not very much at all, especially when you are dealing with a hungry bird or a small one.
Consider also that some species of leek or onion might have more or less of the harmful compounds present and the stage could be set for serious illness or death.
Don’t listen to the people that say they give their birds onions or garlic all the time with no ill effects. It might be true, or it might not be.
If you want to be safe rather than sorry, don’t let your flock eat any of the above.
Can Chickens Eat Leeks Raw?
No, eating leeks raw is a sure way for them to be poisoned. Cultivated leeks and wild leeks are hardy, widespread plants that occur in most biomes all around the world.
This means chances are good that they’ll be present in your neck of the woods, one way or another.
Your chickens might avoid them, or they might not, depending on how curious or hungry they get. Whatever kind of leek is in your area, don’t let your chickens eat it.
Can Chickens Eat Leeks Cooked?
No. Cooking leeks might serve to break down the compounds that cause harm to a degree, but they will still be present in the finished product and can make chickens gravely sick.
This is a particular concern considering how many people like to give their flock scraps from the table.
There are all sorts of things that people eat that chickens shouldn’t eat at all, but even well-intentioned and caring owners might serve their chickens wholesome, lightly cooked vegetables and other items with the expectation that it will be good for them.
Unfortunately, leeks are not one of these things, and even when present in a small quantity along with other produce, it can still make your chickens sick.
Never Feed Leeks to Baby Chicks
It is worth mentioning that baby chicks are especially vulnerable to poisoning from any source, and that includes leeks, onions and garlic.
Even a few small bites of any could be enough to sicken or kill a chick.
When whole and raw, leeks are tough enough that chicks shouldn’t be able to take a bite out of them, but if you serve your flock chopped greens or have taken the time to harvest and process leeks they might try to eat a few bites and that might mean the end of your chick.
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.