Grapes, chocolate and chickens

Earlier this week I was discussing chickens with a friend of mine and foods that chickens can't eat came up. Chocolate was mentioned and she said 'Oh just like dogs?' and then I said "Yes but unlike dogs, chickens can have grapes". Which led to quite the in-depth conversation about: Why?

Chicken eating grapes

It seems rather weird that some things that we know are poisonous to dogs and cats, like grapes and raisins, are not poisonous to chickens. Other things that are poisonous to dogs, like chocolate, are poisonous to chickens.

So I thought I'd break it down for you exactly how that works and why?

Can chickens eat grapes & chocolate?

As mentioned earlier yes, they can have grapes but not chocolate. It's not just that same chemical in chocolate that makes dogs sick though. It's also the caffeine that chickens can't eat!

Can chickens eat grapes? 

In dogs and cats ingesting grapes or raisins can cause kidney issues. They haven't been able to pinpoint exactly what it is in the grapes that causes the problem in our four-legged friends but there's definitely a link between eating grapes and kidney issues.

Fortunately for chickens, grapes have absolutely no effect on their kidney function. I personally have not noticed any effects in the chickens from feeding them grapes, which I do often in summer. 

They also steal grapes off my grapevines when they can reach them. They've even eaten rotten grapes that have fallen to the ground under the grapevines and have been fine...though you obviously want to remove these when you see them. 

I get it, those chickens are fast when it comes to treats!

The only problem I have had with feeding chickens grapes is that some chickens try to swallow them whole which can be a problem. You might want to cut the grapes into smaller pieces before giving them to the chickens.

In summary, yes chickens absolutely can have grapes as a treat.

Can chickens eat chocolate?

No. Chocolate is bad for chickens for two reasons. Not only does it contain the theobromine that causes poisoning, but it also contains caffeine which chickens cannot have.

chicken with chocolate cake

The problem is that domestic animals metabolize theobromine much slower than humans do. So it's easier for them to eat enough to get to a toxic dose than it is for people. Not only that but since chickens only weigh a few pounds, it doesn't take much at all to get to the toxic dose.

Theobromine content is higher the darker the chocolate is. So dark chocolate has a much higher content than white chocolate, though they both contain some. You have to be really careful not to give a chicken something that you think might be vanilla but is actually white a pudding, cake or other dessert.

Of course we don't want to be giving our chickens a ton of sugar either, I talk about that more in Feeding chickens your holiday leftovers.

Chickens can't tolerate caffeine

The other problem with chocolate is that it contains caffeine. This isn't something that would normally be found in a chicken's diet so they're not really designed to handle it. 

Caffeine can cause increased heartbeat, seizures and damage to the kidneys of chickens. Because of this they should not be given anything with coffee, tea or chocolate in it.

In summary No chickens absolutely cannot have chocolate in any amount.

What else can't chickens eat?

There are a few other items all poultry should not eat like apple seeds, uncooked beans, green potato skins, avocado peels and pits, citrus peels, large amounts of onion and anything soaked in alcohol, moldy, rotten or spoiled. 

Of course most of those aren't really things people eat either, so pretty much assume if you can't eat it, the chickens shouldn't either! 

I do want to point out that layer feed is the best diet for your chickens since it is balanced to contain all the proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals your chickens need to stay healthy. Treats should not be fed as the majority of their diet, but rather as an addition to their diet. 

Also, chicks should have less treats than adult chickens because they are still growing and developing.

Want to learn more about feeding chickens and even growing some of their feed? Check out this collection of articles: Feeding the chickens frugally.


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