So, Can Chickens Eat Ivy and Ivy Berries?

Chickens are well known for eating all sorts of plant matter when they are allowed to forage. Sometimes they eat things that we would prefer them not to, and other times they eat plants that, seemingly, nothing else wants to eat.

a hen eating poison ivy
a hen eating poison ivy

How about ivy and ivy berries, for instance? Can chickens eat them?

Yes, generally chickens can eat most true species of ivy and their berries. Most true ivy plants, including poison ivy, are safe for chickens and other birds to eat, though only the berries are particularly attractive to them.

Ivy berries contain abundant vitamins and minerals and a host of antioxidants that can improve the health of your chickens.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Ivy and ivy berries are safe for chickens to eat, and they’ll even get a good shot of nutrition in the bargain while they prune back nuisance plants that you might not want around.

However, as always there is plenty more to know, so keep reading to learn everything important about letting your chickens eat ivy.

Caution: Many Imposter “Ivy” Plants are Not Safe for Chickens!

Before we go further, we need to clear something up because there is a ton of misinformation out there on the net regarding chickens, and birds generally, eating ivy plants.

Doing a quick search will show that most publications and blogs have ivy, generally, and poison ivy sometimes specifically listed as a toxic plant for chickens or birds. 

This can get extremely confusing, because many such lists have simply lifted various true ivys from lists of plants that are dangerous for livestock generally and other mammals when they might not be dangerous for chickens or other birds.

For instance, it is completely safe for chickens to eat poison ivy. It’s not a great source of nutrition from them, but they can eat it with absolutely no issues assuming it’s not the only thing they’re eating all the time.

But, where problems arise is when chickens find and eat or are given to eat false or imposter ivy plants.

There are lots of plants out in the world that aren’t true ivy plants, but they are called ivy as shorthand because of the way they grow or look, or because they have a common name that has the word ivy in it. 

One great example is mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia. This plant has no less than four common names, including spoonwood, kalmia, laurel ivy and ivybush.

This plant produces large and showy flowers, and it is also devastatingly poisonous, because it contains grayanotoxins and sodium channel activators that can result in severe diarrhea, depression, loss of coordination, paralysis and eventually death if ingested by chickens.

It is in fact one of the most toxic plants that a chicken can encounter, and even though it has ivy in the name sometimes it isn’t a true ivy and not safe for chickens to eat.

It is up to you too assess and positively identify any plans that your chickens might eat before you allow them to do so.

Benefits of Ivy and Ivy Berries for Chickens

Ivy and ivy berries are actually quite nutritious for chickens and can provide them with a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Ivy, and ivy berries, are a good source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as folic acid. They also contain several essential minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.

Vitamin A is important for chickens because it helps to keep their eyesight sharp and their immune system functioning properly.

Vitamin C is important for wound healing, tissue repair, and keeping the immune system strong. Chickens don’t really need much vitamin C in their diet, though, since they make their own internally.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that can help to protect cells from damage, and folic acid is important for cell growth and development.

Calcium is always needed in a chicken’s diet for healthy bones and eggshells, phosphorous is used in the body for energy storage and cell growth, potassium is involved in muscle contraction and nerve function, and iron is needed for red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body.

Ivy and ivy berries are also rich in antioxidants. These nutrients scavenge harmful toxins known as free radicals from the body cells of your chickens. This helps to protect their cells from damage and keep them healthy.

Free radicals have been linked to many chronic diseases in humans, such as heart disease and cancer, so it stands to reason that they can do the same for chickens. Though more research is needed, the current studies show promise.

Can Chickens Eat Ivy Raw?

Yes, and this is likely how your chickens will both encounter and eat it. Chickens are foragers by nature and will peck at just about anything in their quest for food. This means that they will likely eat ivy raw, leaves, and all.

The good news is that ivy is perfectly safe for chickens to eat raw and most nutritious this way.

Can Chickens Eat Ivy Berries?

Yes. The appealing berries that grow on many ivy species, the ones so dangerous to mammals, are totally safe and tasty for chickens.

These little berries are chock full of nutrients that your chickens need, and they will love eating them.

Can Chickens Eat Ivy Leaves?

Yes, but with some reservations. Broad, glossy, sturdy leaves are common causes of choking and crop impaction in chickens, so you will want to keep an eye on young and infirm birds while your chickens have access to them.

If you have any birds in your flock that are known for choking and other issues eating, don’t let them eat the leaves. As a precaution, you can harvest and chop the leaves up into fine pieces to minimize risk.

Can Chickens Eat Poison Ivy?

Yes, surprisingly, but there is a big catch: though chickens will not be affected by the hazardous oil found in poison ivy (urushiol) the substance will get on their beaks, feathers, and anything else they touch.

It can then be transferred to you, your pets, and other objects where it can persist for a long time.

So, your chickens can eat poison ivy safely, but it will likely make life for you and other creatures on the farm or homestead a nightmare. Think twice before unleashing your birds on a problematic patch of the stuff!

Is English Ivy Safe or Dangerous for Chickens?

English ivy (Hedera helix) is thought to be safe for chickens, even though there are many publications that say it is poisonous for birds. Once again, I believe this is due to misinformation and misconception being reproduced over and over and over again on the internet.

English ivy is toxic for mammals, both of the leaves and the berries, but there are many birds that particularly seek out the berries in nature, including blackbirds, many thrushes, redwings and woodpigeons.

What’s more, there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence reporting chicken owners allowing their birds to eat English ivy, and their chickens showing absolutely no ill effects.

It’s especially likely to happen if other edible plants are growing near the English ivy. Otherwise, most chickens seem to leave it alone because it tends to be tough and not very palatable.

If you are in doubt, don’t let your chickens eat it but they will probably be just fine if they take a bite or two or eat a berry.

Can Chickens Eat Ivy Cooked?

Yes, but there is really no reason to go through the trouble of cooking it for them. Cooking will make it more tender, but it will also deplete some of the nutrients. If you do cook it, steam or sauté it lightly to preserve as many nutrients as possible.

Beware of Pesticides and Herbicides on Unknown or Wild Ivy

One thing you’ll need to be highly aware of if allowing your chickens to eat any wild or foraged ivy is the potential presence of herbicide or pesticide chemicals. These substances can pose a serious health risk for chickens.

The trick with ivy is that it is, at turns, a nuisance or an ornamental plant depending on who you ask.

That means any plants that you find that aren’t under your direct control could have been sprayed with herbicide (to eliminate it) or pesticide (to protect them from pests). Neither is good for your birds.

Both substances can cause long-term health issues, and even worse tend to build up in tissues over time, slowly, with repeated ingestion.

Don’t take any chances with ivy or ivy berries that you think might be contaminated with either!

How Often Can Chickens Have Ivy and Ivy Berries?

Ivy and ivy berries are generally healthy and nutritious options for your chickens, but as with anything outside their usual feed you only want to allow it in moderation.

A good rule of thumb is to offer your chickens a small amount of ivy or ivy berries once or twice a week at most. This will give them the chance to enjoy interesting food and the benefits without overdoing it.

Remember that 90% of a chicken’s calorie intake should be coming from their primary feed, with the remainder being made up of a variety of healthy supplemental foods, ivy included.

Preparing Ivy and Ivy Berries for Your Flock

The best way to serve ivy and ivy berries to your birds is to simply allow them to graze on them while they roam, assuming they can reach them.

If the leaves might pose a risk to your birds, it is best to harvest and chop them up into smaller pieces before offering them.

Alternately, you can pull the ivy down before chopping it up and scattering it in their enclosure to graze on as they would.

Can Baby Chicks Have Ivy and Ivy Berries, Too?

Yes, but with restrictions.

First, wait until chicks are at least 6 weeks old before you allow them to have ivy stalks or berries. This will give them time to develop properly before you start to introduce new foods.

Second, you are advised to avoid giving them the leaves at all. Chicks are prone to both choking and crop impaction, and those large, glossy leaves of ivy can pose a risk. The stalks and berries are much safer for them to eat.

If you do give your chicks any ivy, start with just a small amount to see how they react before offering more.

Be Sure You Clean Up After Serving Ivy Berries to Your Chickens

If you give your chickens ivy berries, especially in quantity, make sure you take the time to clean up after they are done.

Berries will decay quickly and can make your birds sick if they eat them after they are all moldy, and furthermore, the berries can potentially attract insects and other pests you don’t want around your flock.

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