Skip to Content

Do Chickens Know What Not to Eat?

When you keep free-range chickens it’s impossible to know exactly what they’re finding to eat around the area and unless you’re a plant expert, you can be forgiven for not knowing which are toxic and which aren’t.

As well as plants, there might be other hidden dangers such as poisonous mushrooms, berries and even insects or animals which could be dangerous.

With all these potential dangers around, can you trust that your chickens know what they should and shouldn’t eat or are they at constant risk of eating something toxic?

In general, chickens will instinctively know what’s natural food is good to eat and what isn’t, but there’s always a small riskthey could eat something toxic which could make them sick. Chickens are less likely to avoid potentially toxic human foods which the’re not used to.

Read on to find out more about how chickens can avoid natural foods which are bad for them along with information on what chickens can taste and why they don’t always know that junk food is bad for them.

Just to let you know before we start, we sometimes recommend products which we feel might be helpful for a particular topic. Chicken Pals may receive a small commission for the recommendation however we only link to quality products and where possible those we have tried – for more information please see our privacy policy.

Can You Trust Chickens Not to Eat Poisonous Foods?

When you watch a chicken grazing around plants in a garden you’ll probably notice that they’ll ignore most vegetation around them, choosing to pick at small shoots of grass or to scratch in the soil for worms.

On a whole, you can trust chickens not to eat natural foods which are poisonous, in fact, I have never had a chicken become sick by eating anything it shouldn’t (but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen).

If you’re a member of a chicken group then you’ll hear the odd story here and there, but these are definitely in the minority.

You don’t see wild birds dropping down all over the place because they’ve chosen to eat a plant they shouldn’t. This is because they instinctively know what’s good to eat and what isn’t.

The benefits of chickens being able to free-range and graze for natural foods far outweigh any small risk of them eating something they shouldn’t.

It does help to know which plants are toxic so you can identify any potential risks and make sure you don’t feed any to your flock by mistake.

For more information detailed information on foods that chickens shouldn’t eat, take a look at the following article:

What not to feed chickens – the ultimate guide

Chickens Eating Human Food

Although chickens mainly have the sense not to eat natural foods which are potentially dangerous, they don’t always have the same sense when it comes to human food.

It can be tempting to give chickens leftovers and to try them with different foods which we’d see as a treat, but sometimes this can do more harm than good.

A chicken’s digestive system is different to ours so there are some human foods that can be toxic for chickens such as chocolate, citrus fruits and foods which are high in fat or salt.

Other foods might not be toxic but they might be difficult for a chicken to digest or can become compacted in its crop (the pouch where food goes before it moved through the digestive system).

Foods which can cause digestion problems are bread, dried rice, raw pulses and beans.

Unlike natural food, a chicken is much more likely to eat human food which is bad for them because they don’t know any better and it’s not something they instinctively know about like they do with certain plants.

It’s up to us as chicken owners to make sure that we don’t give them any foods that could make them sick.

If in doubt, stick to complete chicken feeds along with grain or corn as a teat as well as vegetables and fruits which are on the safe list.

This way chickens will stay happy and healthy and will get all the nutrients they need along with a tasty worm here and there when they graze.

Can Chickens Taste if Food is Toxic?

Although chickens don’t have a sophisticated taste like us, they do have the ability to taste and to identify if something is bad to eat.

Chickens love food and finding food, but if it’s something they don’t really like then they’ll just ignore it.

Many plants that contain toxins taste bad and are often bitter. This is how a plant manages to survive and remain uneaten by animals and insects.

It also explains why everything wants to attack and eat your vegetable garden while other plants are left untouched.

A good example of how chickens instinctively know what tastes bad is edible peas and sweet peas, edible peas are sweet and as well as the peas the plant and its shoots taste good too.

On the other hand, sweet peas (although pretty) are inedible and said to contain potentially harmful toxins.

We grew both plant types last year and while the sweet peas remained untouched, the edible peas were completely eaten by our chickens and other garden birds within a short period of time.

Chickens Eating Animals and Insects

Chickens eating animals and insects is a little harder to control when they’re free-range, it also depends on the types of creatures you get where you live.

Here in the UK, most creatures are harmless, but you might live somewhere that has poisonous or toxic creatures lurking outdoors.

This article was first published on April 2, 2021 by Pentagon-Pets.

Chickens are often drawn to small things which move and see most creepy crawlies as food, especially if they look like worms.

They will even peck at and eat small mice, frogs and snakes if they find one, so caution is needed if you have anything dangerous around your backyard.

Again the benefits of free-ranging far outweigh any small risks of a chicken finding a snake or scorpion, so try not to worry about what they might find.

You Might Also Like

I hope this post has helped you to find out more about how chickens know what they shouldn’t eat, you might also like the following articles too:

What should chickens eat a complete guide

Pentagon Pet is the owner of this article that was first published on April 2, 2021.

What do chickens eat naturally when they graze?

How Many Times a Day Should You Feed Chickens?

Are chickens meat-eating carnivores?

Do Chickens Eat Grass?

Our recommended coop

Chicken coop for different flock sizes and different weather.

This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on April 2, 2021.

Click here to find out more about our recommended coop.