We have our little coop of backyard chickens that are ex-battery hens. They live happily free ranging, but we are cautious with these plants that are toxic to chickens.
In general chickens will avoid foods and plants that are poisonous to them and nature gives us all a clue with their bitter taste. That said it is always advisable to remove any risk and certainly take these plants out of their free ranging area.
Many of these plants are common to British gardens as well as North America.
Plants That Are Toxic To Chickens
I don’t want to just give you a list of names but a brief description of what the plants look like alongside an image. This can be helpful as you may not have needed to look too closely at the plants growing in your backyard before. Just bear in mind that some of these plants have various flower colors and therefore foliage can be just as important.
This has been as a result of days of research and consultation with other homesteaders and farmers. As we are moving our small holding to a new site and wanted to make sure no harm would come to our chickens from their new free ranging area.
How To Identify Toxic Bloodroot
Bloodroot is from the poppy family and grow close to the ground in woodland or dappled shade area. Native to Eastern America but they have been colonized to the UK and mainland Europe. When the flowers open they have between 8-12 petals. Early spring blooms reminds me of anemones, but the red sap is where they get their name Sanguinaria Canadensis from. Such a shame to take these out but they do transplant well and as our girls like to free range in woodland it is one to check for.
Bull Nettle Identification And Spread
If you think that the Texas bull nettle (Cnidoscolus texanus) will give you sting similar to that of a nettle you are mistaken. Yes, they both have those spiky hairs that cause irritation but the bull nettle has been likened to a fire any bite or a scorpion sting. The bull nettle will need to be removed, including the long taproot. Chickens are susceptible to this sting and will have a very bad reaction which would require a vet immediately. Commonly found in Texas, Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Arkansas and Kansas. Growing to between 1-3feet in height with 2-4 inch long spiked leaves. typically 5-7 sepals which look a lot like petals in white with the yellow-orange stamen inside. The hairs are irritants to the skin, but the milky sap is also toxic.
Bracken And Fern
Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) will be found in woodland and is highly toxic to horses and chickens. A type of fern that will produce large leaves and then turn brown in Winter. Chickens like to search and dig around them for their ability to harbor moisture and therefore slugs and snails and other tasty bugs. Bracken contains large concentrates of carcinogens linked to throat and stomach cancers. Toxic to humans and livestock.
How To Identify Toxic Bryony
White bryony (Bryonia dioica) is a climber that works it’s way through hedgerows in the UK and is known to have poisoned cattle and livestock. Growing to around 4 feet in height it displays white/yellow/greenish flowers with five petals and a yellow stamen. The roots are of particular interest to chickens when they are digging and can be eaten by mistake, in spite of their bitter taste. Bryony produces red berries in Winter.
Careless Weed Amaranthus palmeri Identification and Toxic Properties
Carelessweed will grow to 2 meters in height but a spread of around 60cm the good news is that it is an annual and can therefore be removed before it sets to seed. Now this is edible to humans but toxic to livestock due to the high concentrates of nitrogen and oxalic acid (oxalic acid is found in sorrel and gives it that tart flavor). So limiting your chickens access to this plant can be a good idea.
Castor Bean Or Castor Oil Or Ricinus Communis
The castor bean plant is toxic to humans and livestock with the beans and the leaves containing ricin (glycoprotein). If eaten by our chickens there will be fatalities as the seed is ground inside their stomachs where it can release the ricin and be absorbed. An annual in the UK and Cooler climates but a perennial in warmer zones. Castor bean plants can grow to be a small tree with red palm shaped leaves with five fat fingers. The fruit is spiky and red as well. Fully remove chickens and livestock from any area that has had this plant as you will not be able to remove all seeds and beans that may have fallen in one year. Only return after the following year if eradication has been guaranteed.
How To Identify Poisonous Cocklebur
Xanthium (cocklebur) is native to Northern America and Europe. From the sunflower family they are highly poisonous to humans, livestock, dogs and chickens. Causing seizures, stomach cramps and sickness. It is a summer annual that grows to be between 2-4 feet in height. It looks a little spindly with a central spine and leaves coming off at intervals on single stalks. Wide leaves with an almost furlike softness to them. The spiky seed pods stick to animals coats and are transferred in this manner.
Potentially Toxic Curly Dock Or Curled Dock Identification
From the dock family this broad leaved plant grows close to water or marsh land. This dock differs from your usual by having broader eaves and tall flower spikes with clusters of vibrant flowers. It is the oxalic acid concentrates which make curled dock poisonous to chickens and horses are known to suffer similarly. Although rarely fatal.
How To Identify & Avoid Toxic Delphinium Larkspur
Delphinium are truly spectacular in your garden but are poisonous to humans and chickens and all livestock. This is why we always advise to grow your edibles separate to your other plants. Flowers grow on spike up to 6 feet (2 meters) in height and are traditionally true blue, however newer versions are pinks and whites too.
See bracken above.
Toxic Foxglove Digitalis Pupurea
Foxglove contains poisons that will induce heart failure. The foliage is often mistaken for comfrey and can be found growing wild in the UK and mainland Europe. Spikes of tubular flowers growing to heights of up to 5 feet. Chickens and livestock are more prone to eat the leaves and suffer as a result, but chickens tend to leaves them alone, however due to their high risk make sure to transplant them to a new site.
How To Identify Toxic Ground Ivy Glechoma Hederacea
Is from the mint family and therefore very hard to kill of completely. It is an evergreen perennial that covers the ground. Chickens tend to avoid the bitter taste, however it can be found in hay and for this reason horses have been poisoned in the past.It looks a little like mint but will hug the ground and clump. Producing vibrant purple and pink flowers in small clusters.
Identification of Toxic Hemlock Conium Maculatum
Seriously deadly and very easy to confuse with other plants like cumin, hemlock is to be removed with care and all livestock and children kept away. Stems have reddish or purple spots or streaks and the leaves are fern like in shape and bright green. They have an odor when you crush them that is musty like unwashed gym kit kept in the bag for a few weeks. The small white flowers are arranged in clusters that resemble an umbrella that has been blown inside out. Native and naturalized to all of the States and Europe as well as some parts of Asia.
Why Horse Chestnut Tree Aesculus Hippocastanum Is Toxic
This flowering tree is native to Europe and has made it across to Northern America. The presence of esculin in the leaves, seeds and bark mean it should not be ingested and woodland containing horse chestnut may be unsafe for chickens and livestock to free range. So Conker’s are toxic to dogs, humans, livestock and chickens.
Horse Radish Armoracia rusticana
Horseradish is grown for it’s root and we grow ours in a penned off area from our chickens. Eating too much horseradish can irritate the stomach and the throat, leading to some nasty side effects. The leaves look very similar to dock and the height of the overall plant is still under 1 foot. However the foliage makes for a great hiding place for slugs and snails, therefore chicken heaven.
Hyacinth & Tulips
Hyacinth are perennials that are grown from bulbs. Growing to around 1 feet in height they have long slender leaves with a stalk of brightly colored flowers in pink to blue and white. It is the bulbs that are poisonous and so it seems unlikely that chickens may ingest a large enough quantity, dogs or cats may be more susceptible. Care must be taken to separate hyacinths and ground feeding livestock.
Hydrangea or Hortensia
Hydrangea are a perennial shrub growing to heights of up to 10 feet in height and spread. Chickens will dig around the base to find slugs and bugs. Hydrangea leaves are broad and heart shaped with deep veins, around the size of your hand. The flowers are on umbrella clusters and can be as big as a toddlers head! All parts of the plant contain cyanogenic glycoside and are therefore poisonous to humans, dogs, cats, chickens and horses. Rarely fatal but it can seriously upset stomachs and digestive systems.
Once you’ve got Ivy you’ve got ivy. It is an evergreen climber that requires little to no care or support. Producing vines that will cling on to trees, walls or creep across the ground. Ivy has small heart shaped leaves that can be dark green or variegated with lighter greens and yellows to white. The plant is not poisonous as such more the oil it releases. So ingesting is not required but rather any form of contact. So livestock can brush against it to become infected and resulting in a rash.
The laburnum tree is majestic and will grow to be up to 7 meters high and 6 meters in spread. You can identify a laburnum tree by the long golden chains of flowers. All parts of the tree are toxic due to their concentration of alkaloid toxin cytisine., but especially the seeds. This is the difficulty with free ranging chickens as they can accidentally eat the seeds whilst foraging for other food.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley grows from pips or bulbs that produce plants with flower stems to around 8-9 inches in height. The bell shaped white flowers are offset from one another and usually there are around 8 on a stem. All parts of the plant are poisonous including the red berries it produces after flowering. The solution is to remove them from the grazing area of livestock, especially chickens who will dig them up all year round.
Deadly Nightshade Atropa Belladonna
Deadly nightshade is a perennial and it has oval shaped leaves that come from stems from a stalk. Spindly looking with dark bell shaped flowers. Ingesting large quantities can lead to a coma like state that can ultimately be fatal. Remove any signs from teh area that you are allowing your chickens to free range.
Rhododendron & Azalea
Rhododendron are medium to large evergreen shrubs growing in woodlands or the edges of gardens. Azalea are similar but tend to be smaller. Cattle, sheep, horses, goats, humans and chickens are all susceptible to the toxic nature of these shrubs.
St. Johns Wort
St John’s Wort is a bush perennial that has bright yellow flowers with five petals and vibrant stamen. Growing to up to 1.5 meters in height and spread. St John’s Wort is poisonous to animals when they have eaten a large enough quantity. Unfortunately chickens eat a large amount in terms of percentage of body weight each day and this can result in more severe cases of poisoning.
What Next & Further Reading
- Growing Calendula From Harvested Seeds is a beneficial herb for chickens, so I wanted to include some positive news after all of the toxic and poisonous plants above!
- How Long Does Lavender Take to Grow – Seeds Vs Cuttings our girls love to eat the very new shoots from our lavender shrubs. Very annoying when I am trying to grow a lavender pathway, but nice to see they are so discerning.