Lemons are one of those contentious items when it comes to treating your chickens. Some old timers swear that citrus fruits are harmful to chickens, or will outright kill them.
Plenty of other keepers these days swear just the opposite. Time to get the straight answer: can you add lemons to your chickens’ diet?
Yes, chickens can safely eat lemons so long as they are a limited part of a balanced diet. Lemons are just fine for serving to your chickens as an occasional treat and they are a good source of vitamins. There is nothing in lemons that is inherently harmful to chickens, but excess consumption can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.
That’s the easy answer, but as you probably expected there’s a little more that diligent chicken owners will want to know before tossing their birds some lemons.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about feeding lemons to your flock.
Nutritional Profile of Lemons
Lemons are aggressively sour, and astringent, but nonetheless quite healthy. Lemons, like most citrus fruits, are packed with vitamins and also have a fair bit of healthy minerals to boot.
Lemons are abundant in vitamin C and have respectable amounts of vitamins B6, B5, and B1.
Other vitamins are found in trace amounts. Vitamins contain minerals, too, though not nearly as many as they do vitamins.
Most importantly, lemons will give your chickens a good shot of both iron and calcium, along with a little bit of potassium.
Health Benefits of Feeding Lemons to Chickens
Lemons can provide several nutritional benefits for chickens, including boosting of the immune system thanks to copious vitamin C.
Vitamin B6 found in lemons also helps with metabolism and energy levels. Vitamin B5 is useful in feather production and helps to keep the skin healthy.
B1 helps with digestion and blood cell production, and iron is essential for making hemoglobin, which oxygenates the blood.
Lemons also have plenty of citric acid, which can help to cleanse the digestive system, as well as act as an antibiotic. Meanwhile, calcium is essential for strong bones and eggshells.
Lemons are a great way to keep your chickens healthy and happy and are a great, natural supplement to their diet.
Can Chickens Eat Raw Lemons?
Yes, of course chickens can eat raw lemons. Serving your chickens raw is actually the best way to give them to them if you want to maximize their nutritional benefits.
Cooking lemons and other fruits starts to break down vitamins and minerals due to the high heat of the cooking process.
Can Chickens Eat Lemon Seeds?
Yes again. Contrary to popular belief lemon seeds do not contain anything that is overtly harmful to your chickens.
It is true that apples, peaches, pears, and other seeds contain cyanide, obviously harmful, but lemon seeds do not.
However, care should be taken when serving whole or sliced lemons to smaller birds because the seeds could potentially be a choking hazard.
Can Chickens Eat Lemon Peels?
Yes. Chickens can eat lemon peels and the rind beneath with absolutely no problems, though many birds seem to find the peels particularly unpleasant and will not eat them.
If your birds will eat them, let them, but if they don’t there is no need to force them.
Can Chickens Eat Cooked Lemons?
If, for whatever reason, you are cooking your lemons your chickens can still enjoy them cooked although, as mentioned above, some of the nutritional value will be lost.
Never Serve Lemons Cooked with Harmful Ingredients to Chickens
It is important to point out that chickens should never be served lemons which are cooked with or used as an ingredient in any foods that are harmful to them.
Salt, sugar, excess butter, and other toxic or highly caloric foods must not be served to chickens.
This means you definitely shouldn’t be giving them lemon jam or preserves, pies, or any other desserts. Save those for yourself and your family.
Beware of Pesticides on Store-bought Lemons
Chicken keepers are advised to be cautious of serving their chickens store-bought lemons that are not peeled or thoroughly washed.
Pretty much all commercial products, and citrus fruits in particular, are subjected to heavy regimens of pesticides and other chemicals in order to ensure they make it to market in one piece.
Many of these chemicals are dangerous for chickens and can build up in their systems over time.
Always make sure you thoroughly wash or peel entirely lemons before serving them to your chickens, and try to buy organic varieties when you can find them.
How Often Can Chickens Have Lemons?
Your chickens can have lemons once or twice a week when given in moderation as part of a well-rounded diet.
Most avian care experts recommend that anywhere from 10 to 20% of a chicken’s total calorie intake be in the form of healthful supplemental foods, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and meat and this includes lemons.
Your chickens should be subsisting primarily on a diet of nutritionally complete chicken feed with the rest of their nutritional requirements or treats being comprised of wholesome, healthy foods like lemons.
Harmful Effects of Excess Lemon Consumption
Though there is nothing that is overtly harmful for your chickens in lemons, excess consumption can still cause problems.
Feeding your chickens a diet that is comprised primarily of lemons or other fruit will lead to substantial nutritional imbalances.
Of most concern for laying hens, excessive lemon consumption can lead to nonviable eggs, soft eggshells, and other problems.
You definitely don’t want to deal with any of that or to subject your beloved birds to it, so make sure you give them lemons sparingly as detailed above.
Preparing Lemons for your Chickens
It doesn’t get much simpler than preparing lemons for your chickens. For large chickens, you might choose to give them whole lemons in order to give them a bit of a challenge and something interesting to peck on.
The rind of the lemon will not pose much of an obstacle for their sharp beaks.
However, if you want to make it easier for your flock to get at the nutritional flesh, simply slice the lemon in half or into quarters before giving it to them.
Can Baby Chicks Have Lemons?
Baby chicks may have lemons though you should wait until they’re at least 6 weeks old before feeding them to them for the first time.
Their digestive systems need time to develop, and the strong acids present in lemons and other citrus fruits might upset them.
As always, chicks in particular should eat primarily early-life feed with very little in the way of treats or supplemental foods given to them.
Make Sure You Clean Up After Giving Your Chickens Lemons
Like much fresh produce and other foods that you give to your chickens as a treat, make sure you clean up after them when they are done.
The fragrant smell of citrus fruits is highly likely to attract pest insects, insects which might result in infestations of coops and other problems.
Furthermore, molding produce, lemons included, might cause health problems if your chickens come back around and snack on them after they have begun to rot and spoil. Once your flock has had its fill, clean up any rinds and other bits left over.
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.