Why is my chicken eating charcoal?

A few days ago I went outside to find 2 of my chickens in the fire pit. They were picking through the cooled ash and eating stuff. We only burn wood, brush or paper in there, so I know they weren't finding food...but what were they eating? Charcoal. My chickens were eating charcoal!

I stood there and watched them just to be sure. Each chicken would dig through the ash until they found a small piece of charcoal and eat it. My chickens ate charcoal for like, 15 minutes.

A white chicken in a firepit eating charcoal

Weird, but I've seen chickens eat styrofoam so weird chicken stuff is not uncommon around here! I was really interested in why they would do such a thing though, so I looked into it.

We all know that in humans, activated charcoal is administered in certain poison situations. We also know that animals tend to know what they need, like when laying hens eat oyster shell for calcium but roosters don't. I just needed to figure out how these 2 facts fit together in this situation.

It's not uncommon for wild animals to search out recently burned areas to consume charcoal. In fact, it's quite common in monkeys in Zanzibar that consume a diet high in toxins to eat charcoal regularly. 

Research suggests that they instinctively consume charcoal because it's binds to ingested toxins to help remove them safely. Or they could have just realized that it makes them feel better when their tummy is upset. Either way, it just makes sense that chickens would do the same thing.


Feeding charcoal to your chickens has quite a few health benefits. In fact, they even make activated charcoal for chickens. Of course the stuff out of the fire pit isn't activated. So, what's the difference? 

According to DoItYourself.comWe often think that charcoal is just charcoal, but there's a difference between charcoal and activated charcoal. Both are derived from carbon. Activated charcoal is much more porous than charcoal. Because of its larger surface area, activated charcoal has the ability to filter out more than charcoal can. 

Basically, they're the same but activated charcoal works much better. This is really important if you are choosing to feed charcoal to treat a certain situation.

Benefits of feeding charcoal to chickens:

Charcoal may help prevent coccidiosis in chicks and increase laying rate in hens.

Charcoal can help move worms and worm eggs out of the body.

According to a University of Georgia studyif chickens eat a bit of charcoal it helps lower the amount of ammonia in their manure. A better smelling coop is always a good thing! 

Their are also lots of 'first hand accounts' of charcoal helping prevent soft shell eggs, increasing lifespan of hens and a longer laying period after adding charcoal to the chickens feed. 

Charcoal for feeding chickens

How to feed charcoal to chickens

You can buy charcoal for chickens on Amazon or in some feed stores. Offer it in a small container similar to how you offer oyster shell. 

You can make charcoal by burning wood slowly until it is all charred up, then extinguishing it and scraping off the charcoal when cool. Some chicken keepers just leave the whole log of charred wood in the chicken coop and let the chickens pick it as they wish.

If you provide your chickens with wood ash in their dust bathing areas, then they probably have all the small pieces of charcoal that they need. Which now explains why you might see they pecking at their dust bath area as they're bathing! They're picking out tiny pieces of charcoal....or grit.

I don't recommend mixing charcoal into chicken feed as some chickens will not eat it unless they feel they need to. This could lead to them not eating their feed. Oh, and don't be surprised if the chickens poop is suddenly very black after adding charcoal to their diet. 

That's completely normal!


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I am not a veterinarian or other animal care professional nor do I claim to be. I am simply passing on information that has worked for me and my flock. This information is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please see a vet if your chicken is ill. Click for my full disclaimer.

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  1. Thank you, this explains my chickens going through the burn pile, where we burn brush !

    1. yup...they're picking at the charcoal! Isn't it crazy how animals just know what they need?