There are a number of food items (and kitchen scraps) that can be harmful to chickens, and if you own chickens, it’s important to know what’s safe! Feeding your hens (or chickens), a complete and balanced diet is essential to making sure they stay happy and healthy. Layer hens are omnivores so can eat a wide variety of different foods.

Just like humans, although they are omnivores and eat literally anything you throw their way, they can be picky eaters, too. Sharing your kitchen scraps and leftovers with your flock is a great way to vary their diet, especially when winter has killed the grasses and bugs they usually forage upon. So that of course begs the question: What Can Chickens Eat? What’s Toxic or Poisonous – and What’s Safe?


Dried or Raw Beans

Beans contain toxins called phytohaemagglutinin and hemagglutinin which are almost always fatal to poultry. Illness can occur after eating as few as three or four beans and will progress very rapidly, killing in as short a time as an hour. Any beans you want to give your hens should be thoroughly cooked. Soaking alone is not enough, nor is cooking in a crockpot or slow cooker. They don’t reach high enough temperatures to deactivate the toxins.

You should not use dried beans for sprouting, either. Seeds such as sprouted lentils are healthy and carry no risk of poisoning. To make them safe for both humans and chickens, beans should be soaked in cold water for at least five hours — preferably longer. Then, discard the water, rinse the beans thoroughly and boil rapidly in fresh water for at least thirty minutes. Once cooked, they can be added to any recipe or given to your hens.

Green Potatoes (& Tomatoes)

Raw (green) potatoes and potato peels contain solanine and chaconine, which are both toxic to chickens. The highest concentration of solanine is in the peels, eyes, and any green parts of the potato. All nightshade vegetables contain this toxin. Surprisingly, sweet potatoes are completely safe to give to chickens, since they are not a part of the nightshade family. It should also be said that (green) tomatoes should also be avoided since they also contain solanine until they’ve ripened. Even when ripe, everything (including tomatoes) should always be given in moderation!

Apple Seeds and Cherry Pits

The fruit and peels of the apple are completely safe, but make sure not to feed your chickens the seeds. This same rule applies to cherries. Apple seeds and cherry pits contain cyanide. Cyanide cuts off oxygen to the cells, which can be fatal for your chickens. If your chickens have eaten apple seeds, they may develop a discolored comb (pale or bluish) and have trouble breathing. If this happens, taking them to the vet could be life-saving.


While feeding your chickens bread every once in a while isn’t a terrible thing (and by no means is bread toxic to chickens), the problem is that it can form a ball in the crop which can lead to catastrophic blockages. A chicken’s gizzard is simply not designed for large amounts of this kind of food. Additionally, bread has very little nutritional value and can cause sour crop.


Dogs and cats are not the only animals that should NOT eat chocolate. In fact, a number of other animals should also not ingest it, as it can be quite harmful — including chickens. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which is what makes it toxic to birds. This is bad for their digestive tracts and their hearts. Eating even a small amount of chocolate can cause cardiac arrest in birds. Dark chocolate is the most dangerous because it has the most cocoa, but all types of chocolate can be harmful.

Now, it’s right to say that eating a few pecks of chocolate or some leftover chocolate cake is probably not going to do your hens much harm – depending on how much chocolate that cake contains and how much they eat!

Fatty & Salty Foods

Just like us humans, chickens should eat unhealthy treats in moderation. And just like with humans, greasy, fatty, salty, and highly processed foods are hard for them to digest, too. This can lead to gastrointestinal problems and obesity. These foods aren’t necessarily toxic to them, however they certainly aren’t good for them! Don’t worry though; they can still have small amounts of these foods as a treat now and again. A french fry here and there is okay, but a whole container is definitely not!

Coffee Grounds

Chickens can’t eat coffee grounds because of the caffeine. Eating coffee grounds could cause caffeine toxicity which can negatively affect calcium absorption and the immune system, causing issues in the heart and lungs. Ingesting too much caffeine can cause restlessness, heart problems, seizures, and even death.

Avocado Skins and Pits

The pit and skin of avocados contain persin, which is a chemical that causes respiratory problems in chickens and can even lead to death. Because of this, it’s very important to keep the pit and skins away from your flock. The actual fruit of the avocado however, is perfectly safe, and chickens usually really enjoy it. Just be careful when scooping it out not go include any skin or chunks of pit.

Anything Rotten or Moldy

Chickens are ok to eat overripe fruits and vegetables, but they shouldn’t eat anything rotten or moldy. Mold is a fungus, so any amount is unsafe for chickens to consume. This is also something to watch out for with your chicken feed. If it gets a little wet it could get moldy, and then the bag would be unsafe for your chickens. Some, in particular aspergillus flavus, the mould which grows on nuts, corn and apples, produces a toxin called aflatoxin which is known to contribute to the development of liver cancer in both humans and animals.

Lawn Mower Clippings

This seems like an innocent treat for chickens — and you probably notice them eating grass all the time. And while it’s true that chickens do tend to love grass, foraging, and eating plants from the garden, eating lawnmower clippings can cause an impacted crop. An impacted crop is when long blades of grass bind with feed, causing a blockage. This stops any other food from passing through. If you would still like to give them grass as a treat, a finely mulched small handful shouldn’t cause any problems.

Raw Eggs

Eating eggs may not hurt your chickens – cooked eggs are actually very good for them, but giving them raw eggs can lead to behavior problems. Your chickens may start eating their own eggs, and then you won’t get any to eat. Once your chickens start eating their eggs, it is extremely difficult to get them to stop. There are online forums filled with ideas, but some people never have any luck. Even worse, if you add new hens to your flock, they often learn this behavior from the others.

Foods Toxic to Chickens