Beans are one of those foods that are a staple of homestead life. Easy to store, pretty easy to prepare, calorie-dense, and nutritious (not to mention filling), kidney beans in particular are a wonderful way to stay prepared for tough times.
It stands to reason that some homesteaders have probably wondered if they can feed kidney beans to their chickens. Can chickens eat kidney beans?
Chickens may only eat kidney beans that have been thoroughly cooked. Raw and undercooked kidney beans contain lethal levels of the toxin phytohaemagglutinin, a lectin. Kidney beans that have been properly prepared are safe, and indeed are a nutritious addition to a chicken’s supplementary diet.
Sounds like high stakes over a simple bean! But it is true: undercooked and raw kidney beans will kill your precious birds double-quick, and can even make people severely ill.
You don’t have to shy away from feeding your birds kidney beans but you must know what you are doing. Keep reading to get the whole story.
Why Can’t Chickens Eat Kidney Beans Raw?
Because they will kill them. No joke. Kidney beans and most other raw beans contain a particularly harmful type of lectin called phytohaemagglutinin.
Kidney beans are actually one of the most concentrated naturally occurring sources of phytohaemagglutinin known, so any amount of raw kidney beans will probably kill your poor bird.
Lectins are a type of protein that can bind to cell membranes, and phytohaemagglutinin in particular is notorious for being resistant to stomach acids. This means that it can pass through the digestive system intact and bind to red blood cells.
When this happens, the body views the red blood cells as foreign invaders and will start to destroy them. This can lead to anemia, which in turn will cause weakness and death. In short: phytohaemagglutinin is very, very bad news for chickens (and people).
But Chickens Can Eat Kidney Beans Cooked?
The good news is that properly cooking kidney beans will neutralize these dangerous lectins. Once done the beans are safe to eat by chickens and other animals.
Proper preparation involves a long soak in water, for 5 hours, before removing and adding the beans to new, fresh water for a sustained hard boil of 30 minutes or more. This has been proven in repeated laboratory testing to destroy all of the lectins in kidney beans.
An alternate method is to cook them in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes at 15 PSI with no pre-soak needed in that case.
Proper Preparation of Dry Beans is Critical for Food Safety!
It is imperative that kidney beans be properly prepared according to the above directions for safety.
If not soaked long enough or not boiled at a high enough temp for a long enough time, the beans will still retain enough lectins to be extremely dangerous- to your chickens, at least!
Warning: Never Cook Kidney Beans in a Slow Cooker!
Again, follow the above instructions to the letter. There are no shortcuts outside of the two described methods.
Several people and plenty of animals have met their end due to kidney beans being erroneously cooked in a slow cooker.
Slow cookers do not get hot enough, for long enough to properly destroy all of the lectins in kidney beans. Do not make this mistake, or you may well regret it.
Cooking kidney beans is a bit of a production, but once you’ve done it once or twice it will become second nature. And the peace of mind that comes with knowing your animals are safe is well worth the effort.
Can Chickens Have Canned Kidney Beans?
One question that pops up on this topic is about canned, store-bought kidney beans. The short answer is no, you should not feed your chickens canned kidney beans. But the longer answer is maybe, if you had to.
Canned kidney beans have been properly cooked before canning. That’s why you can open up a can and eat them cold without keeling over yourself.
Your chickens will likewise be able to eat them without being truly poisoned.
The problem is, like with most canned goods, you still have to content with tons of added salt, preservatives, and other stuff you still don’t want your chickens to eat. So it’s best to just cook your own beans from scratch.
If you have to feed them canned beans, make sure to rinse them really well under running water first to remove as much of the added stuff as possible.
Never Feed Kidney Beans to Chickens that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
It should be mentioned for completeness that though properly cooking kidney beans makes them safe for chickens to eat, you should not prepare them with any other ingredients that chickens cannot have, e.g. salt, sugar, grease, oils etc.
Doing so would defeat the purpose of making them safe in the first place, and could still make your chickens sick.
Nutritional Profile of Cooked Kidney Beans
Assuming you have properly prepared kidney beans, they do offer a good selection of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and K, folate, manganese, iron, phosphorus, copper, and fiber.
They are also a good source of protein, containing about 15 grams per cup. So if you do choose to feed cooked kidney beans to your chickens, they’ll be getting plenty of good nutrition from them.
Health Benefits of Cooked Kidney Beans for Chickens
There are a few potential health benefits of cooked kidney beans for chickens. Cooked kidney beans are a good source of fiber, which can help with digestion.
They are also a great source of protein, which is essential for growth and repair.
Folate is another nutrient found in cooked kidney beans, and it is important for cell growth and DNA production.
Manganese is vital for metabolism and bone health.
Iron is needed for oxygen transport and red blood cell production.
Copper is used for the development of connective tissue and a host of other functions in the body.
All in all, kidney beans, though a bit scary to prepare, are a great nutritional supplement for chickens in limited quantities.
How Often Can Chickens Have Kidney Beans?
Now that we know chickens can eat kidney beans, the next question is how often? Generally, you only want to serve kidney beans to your flock a couple of times a week as part of a balanced diet.
Around 90% of a chicken’s diet should be chicken feed, with the remaining 10% composed of a variety of wholesome, nutritious, supplemental foods, kidney beans included.
Preparing Kidney Beans for Your Flock
The following assumes you have properly cooked the kidney beans as detailed above.
Once they are cooked, the best way to serve kidney beans to your birds is in a bowl or tray so they stay out of the dirt and, hopefully, your birds won’t step on them and squish them.
Can Baby Chicks Have Kidney Beans, Too?
Chicks can have cooked kidney beans, but as you might imagine their delicate constitutions are even more vulnerable than adult birds, so it’s best to wait until they are at least 8 weeks old and start them slowly.
Chicks are vulnerable to crop impaction and digestive issues, and it should go without saying that even a little bit of phytohaemagglutinin will kill them. If you are in doubt at all, just don’t give kidney beans to chicks and adolescent birds.
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.