Many chicken owners use kitchen scraps as a part of their chickens’ diet in conjunction with a commercial chicken feed. There are lots of kitchen scraps that are safe for chickens to eat and that they like to eat, but there are some foods that may be questionable. Generally speaking, fruits and veggies that are safe for us are safe for chickens, but we also have very different nutritional needs than chickens. That means that even if something is safe for your chickens to eat, you still need to know how much they can safely have.
One food you may have wondered about is potatoes. Raw and cooked potatoes and potato skins are common scraps from many kitchens, so here’s what you need to know about feeding potatoes to your chickens, as it’s a complex answer as to whether they can actually eat them and depends on who you ask.
Can Chickens Eat Potatoes?
The answer to this question is a little more complex than a simple “yes” or “no”. It seems like the best answer is “it depends on who you ask”, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty of whether or not your chickens can eat potatoes.
Can your chickens eat potatoes? Yes. Should you feed potatoes to your chickens? That’s where things start getting questionable. You see, potatoes contain solanine, which is a naturally-occurring neurotoxin. It occurs in the largest concentrations in the green parts of potatoes as well as eyes and skins. The “meat” of the potato generally contains the lowest solanine levels, and these levels can be reduced significantly with cooking.
However, potatoes should be cooked at a high temperature, like with baking, to reduce solanine because solanine is a heat-resistant chemical, meaning it takes higher levels of heat to break it down. Boiling or blanching potatoes will remove very little solanine. This means that even if you feed cooked potatoes to your chickens, you’re risking solanine toxicity. By the way, solanine is present in all foods in the nightshade family, including eggplants and tomatoes.
Here’s the catch, though. Tossing a handful of cooked, or even raw, potato to your chickens is unlikely to do any damage since the concentration of solanine is so low. However, there isn’t really a set “amount” of potato that’s designated as safe or unsafe, which makes it really difficult to know how much of a risk you’re taking. Many people feed potatoes to their chickens as an occasional treat with no ill effects, but it is a risk.
Another big consideration with feeding potatoes to chickens, solanine aside, is that potatoes are high in starchy carbohydrates. Starches tend to be high in calories and low in nutrient density, making them a caloric treat with little in the way of nutritional value. The general recommendation is to avoid feeding starches to your chickens.
What’s a Better Option for My Chickens?
The good news is that there are tons of chicken-safe foods in your kitchen! Not just chicken-safe, but foods with high nutrient-density and little to no risk of ill health effects. For a potato-like treat for your chickens, you can offer sweet potatoes instead. You may not even realize it, but sweet potatoes aren’t from the same family of plants as potatoes, so they aren’t nightshades. All parts of the sweet potato should be safe for your chickens, whether cooked or raw, but cooked sweet potato will be easier for your chickens to eat and digest. Other than sweet potatoes, your chickens can have most veggies, including zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, spinach, beets, and winter squashes like butternut squash and pumpkin.
If all else fails, talk to your avian or agricultural veterinarian about what to feed your chickens as supplements to their diet. Your veterinarian will be able to give you science-backed advice to keep your chickens healthy and safe. Some people, including veterinarians, will give you the “ok” to offer potatoes to your chickens as a treat, but it never hurts to ask before you do it!
Feeding potatoes to your chickens may be a viable treat on occasion, but there are plenty of other, better options in your kitchen, garden, and even your yard that you can safely offer to your chickens. Your chickens will let you know if they don’t care for something you’ve offered to them. Like people, they have preferences with food, so one chicken may make a beeline for sweet potato chunks while another goes straight for the blueberries. A varied diet is healthy for your chickens and ensures they’re receiving all of the nutrients they need to stay healthy.