If there was one thing you can say about chickens, it is that they are prolific and adventurous eaters.
These hardy birds will eat pretty much anything, from meat and insects to fruit and veggies, and everything else in between.
You might be wondering if they can eat some of the more exciting foods that people enjoy, like hot peppers and other spicy things. So how about it? Can chickens eat spicy food?
Yes, chickens may eat spicy food so long as it is otherwise safe and nutritious for them. Things like hot chili peppers do not affect chickens in the same way that they do mammals, and many peppers are good sources of nutrition for chickens.
There you have it. Plenty of people are spicy food fanatics that enjoy the burn, but even if you don’t you needn’t to worry about your chickens getting lit up because they got into your nearby pepper patch.
Keep reading to learn more about chickens and spicy foods.
Chickens Won’t Feel the “Heat” the Same Way Mammals Will
Spicy foods are typically described as “hot” because of the presence of capsaicin, a chemical compound that causes a burning sensation in mammals.
This reaction is the result of capsaicin interacting with certain receptors in the body, stimulating and thereby “simulating” pain via intense heat. This compound is quite literally what makes hot foods hot!
Depending on the concentration of the capsaicin, the “heat” of a food can vary greatly.
For example, bell peppers have trace amounts of capsaicin while habanero peppers hold an awful, awful lot; the first isn’t spicy at all while the latter will make you feel like your teeth are melting.
All because this tricky chemical can fool the nervous system of mammals as a sort of defense mechanism against being eaten!
But chickens don’t have these receptors that mammals do. That means they can eat capsaicin-rich foods without feeling any of the “heat” that we do.
In fact, they do not taste the spiciness of the food at all! That means that chickens can eat hot peppers with no reservations.
Health Benefits of Spicy Food for Chickens
While the jury is still out on whether or not spicy food has any real benefits for humans, there is some evidence to suggest that capsaicin may have certain health benefits for chickens.
For example, one study found that feeding birds a diet supplemented with capsaicin helped to improve overall immune function.
This is likely due to the fact that capsaicin can kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.
It’s also possible that the compound helps to stimulate the immune system, making chickens better able to fight off infection.
Capsaicin may also help improve egg production in hens. One study found that hens that were fed a diet supplemented with capsaicin produced more eggs than those that were not.
The exact mechanism by which this occurs is not yet known, but it’s possible that the increased production is due to the fact that capsaicin helps improve blood circulation.
Of course, it’s important to remember that more research needs to be done in order to confirm these potential benefits.
In the meantime, many peppers are rich in vitamins and minerals, and these are all of great benefit to your chickens, so there is only an upside to letting your flock snack on peppers now and again.
Can Chickens Eat Spicy Foods Raw?
Yes, chickens may eat spicy foods like peppers, chilies and the like raw with no issues.
Caution: Most other parts of Pepper Plants are Harmful
Though peppers themselves aren’t harmful to chickens, the other parts of the plant they grown on can be, particularly the leaves, rooms, stems and calyx, or cap.
Most plants of this type are actually in the nightshade family, and all of these parts contain high levels of solanine, a toxin, which can cause illness or death if ingested.
So, it’s important to be sure that your chickens only have access to the peppers themselves, and not any other part of the plant.
If you grow peppers in your garden, make sure to keep your chickens away from the parts they shouldn’t eat.
Can Chickens Eat Spicy Food Cooked?
Yes, chickens may eat spicy foods that are cooked so long as they are otherwise healthy and wholesome.
Never Feed Chickens Spicy Food Made with or from Harmful Ingredients
On that note, you should never feed your chickens spicy food that is made with or from harmful ingredients.
For example, many commercial hot sauces and spices contain salt, sugar, garlic, onion or other ingredients that are toxic to chickens.
So, be sure to read labels carefully if you’re unsure whether or not a particular product is safe for your flock.
Even if the ingredients are not directly toxic, fattening things like sugar and salt are always bad for birds.
Weight gain in chickens can lead to all sorts of health problems, so it’s best to avoid feeding them these sorts of foods whenever possible.
Salt can lead to sodium poisoning, too, as chickens don’t need much in their diet.
Additionally, you should never feed your chickens spicy food that is moldy, spoiled or otherwise not fit for human consumption.
As with all other food, if it’s not good enough for you, it’s not good for your birds!
Beware of Pesticides on Grocery-bought Peppers, etc.
If you are purchasing peppers from the grocery store, beware that they may have been sprayed with pesticides.
These harmful chemicals can be dangerous to your chickens if ingested, so it’s best to avoid them if at all possible. Buy organic if you can, and always wash store-bought produce.
How Often Can Chickens Have Spicy Food?
There is no set rule for how often chickens may have spicy food, but moderation is always key. Too much of anything, even something as seemingly innocuous and healthy as peppers, can lead to health problems.
They are nutritious, not nutritionally complete, so it’s best to give your birds them and other foods in moderation as part of a balanced chicken diet.
Your birds should live mostly on chicken feed for 90% of their calories, with the remainder being made up of wholesome supplemental foods and the occasional treat.
Preparing Spicy Food for Your Flock
If you’re going to feed your chickens spicy food, it’s important to prepare it properly. First and foremost, as mentioned above, only give them the peppers themselves, and not any other part of the plant.
Secondly, wash the peppers thoroughly to remove any dirt, pesticides or other contaminants.
You can also cook the peppers before feeding them to your chickens, which may make them more digestible and less likely to cause gastrointestinal upset.
However, this isn’t strictly necessary, and your birds will probably be just fine if you feed them raw peppers.
If you do cook the peppers, be sure not to add any salt, sugar, garlic, onion or other ingredients that are harmful to chickens.
Can Baby Chicks Have Spicy Food, Too?
Yes, baby chicks can eat spicy food in the form of peppers, but they need to grow up a bit first.
Because they are so small and their bodies still developing they can’t handle novel foods and varied diets like adults can.
So, it’s best to wait until they’re at least 6 to 8 weeks old before giving them any peppers to eat.
As with all other foods, introduce peppers slowly and in moderation. Start by giving them just a few finely chopped bits at first.
Remember that chicks are quite vulnerable to crop impaction and choking in general, so keep an eye on them while they eat.
If they show any signs of trouble after eating peppers, stop there; they should be living almost entirely on their starter feed, anyway.
Always Clean Up After Feeding Your Chickens Peppers
One more thing to keep in mind when serving your chickens peppers or other spicy foods is that you should clean up when they are finished.
If you leave bits of peppers lying around, they will rot, attracting pests like rats and mice, which can be dangerous to your birds and their eggs.
Additionally, if the peppers are not properly cleaned up, your chickens may start pecking at them once they have spoiled, which can lead to illness.
Let your flock get their fill and then promptly clean up the mess!
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.