Feeding Strawberries to Chickens… Hydrogen Cyanide, Anyone?

Chickens have a surprisingly varied diet and will gulp down the most disgusting-looking insects and worms just as happily as they will their normal chicken feed.

As chickens enjoy a wide range of different foods, you can easily find tasty treats for them.

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Admittedly, mine get little more than a few comfrey leaves in the morning, but I do sprout and ferment seeds for their evening meals.

They also get to forage freely throughout the day, eating whatever takes their fancy – from undigested oats in my horses’ poop to termites and other grubs. 

Some homesteaders are more committed to spoiling their hens than me, however, and spend their time sourcing a diverse array of fruits and vegetables to supplement their flock’s diet.

In that mix, some even include the occasional fresh strawberry.

Personally, if I find a fresh strawberry that the wild birds haven’t already devoured, I’m going to eat it myself, but I do understand that the less than perfect strawberries make great treats for a flock of chickens.

How Strawberries Benefit Your Chickens 

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Not all chickens are particularly fond of strawberries, but perhaps if they knew the benefits, they’d be more willing to try them out. 

Throwing a few fresh strawberries to your chickens brings out the natural forager in them, while frozen berries are the perfect bite-sized snack on a hot summer day. 

Fed in moderation with their tops cut off, strawberries are:

  • a good source of protein,
  • have a high vitamin C content, and
  • contain vitamin B9 that promotes healthy tissue growth.

How to Leaf Out the Nasty Parts of Strawberries

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Chickens aren’t the brightest creatures on our or anyone else’s homestead and may well eat things that aren’t particularly good for them.

Rotten food and even a moldy strawberry can disrupt their egg-laying routine, cause a loss of appetite, and, potentially, severe immunosuppression. 

While strawberries themselves are safe for chickens to eat, the little green hat or calyx on top is another matter altogether. 

Can Chickens Eat Strawberry Tops?

Both the calyx and the green stems of the strawberry plant are toxic – and not just to chickens.

Although not as dangerous as apple seeds which contain “0.6 mg of hydrogen cyanide per gram,” strawberries nevertheless contain that same toxin, which they use “as a deterrent to pests.”

When a strawberry is picked, it releases hydrogen cyanide into the stem and leaves as a form of defense. As a result, a freshly picked strawberry will still contain some hydrogen cyanide, particularly in the strawberry top and stem.

Although not enough to kill a chicken, it’s sufficient to make them feel a little queasy and negatively impact both their digestive systems and egg production.

The poison concentration drops off over time, so dried strawberry leaves are perfectly safe – both for your backyard chickens and as a health-boosting brew for you.

The strawberry’s soft, juicy flesh is one of the things we love about it, but it also means it needs to be handled with care.

As a result, strawberries are usually picked by hand and not washed as thoroughly as other fresh produce. As a result, “strawberries have been the culprit in foodborne outbreaks of Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and E. coliO157:H7.”

Strawberries also contain high levels of residues from “potentially harmful chemical pesticides.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists it at the top of its Dirty Dozen list after tests revealed:

Non-organic strawberries tested by scientists at the Department of Agriculture in 2015 and 2016 contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.2 pesticides per sample for all other produce, according to EWG’s analysis. — EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides

Why Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Berry Bad

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Chickens need more than one food item on their menus, and the healthiest hens have access to a variety of food, including fruit, bugs, seeds, and greens.

As with many types of fruit, however, strawberries have a high sugar concentration that can impact your chickens’ metabolic ability. 

The chicken’s digestive system wasn’t designed to metabolize sugar, so too many strawberries could lead to obesity and heart problems, even though these fruits can decrease blood pressure in humans. 

Feeding strawberries as part of your chickens’ diet, or as an occasional treat, is fine, but overdoing it could have some berry bad effects on your chickens’ metabolism.

Rather than feeding your chickens strawberries exclusively, make up a mixture of fruits, combining your heart-shaped bursts of flavor with things like grapes, bananas, or even apples with their pips removed.

Giving your free-range chickens a fruity snack or two will not only keep them healthy but will also stimulate a bored chicken into a naturally more active lifestyle.

Although you will need to cut off the strawberry top and add it to your compost before feeding these fruits to your backyard flock, you don’t need to worry about chopping them up.

Hens will peck away at a soft strawberry, extracting small mouthfuls while seeming to relish the flavor. 

If you’re feeding store-bought strawberries to your chickens, organic sources are the best as they won’t contain any residual pesticides that could harm your backyard birds.

Strawberries for Chickens Are a Nice Treat… In Moderation

Chickens will enjoy juicy berry on a steaming summer day just as much as you will, especially if it’s one, like strawberries, that contains key nutrients and is a good source of protein, fiber, and vitamins. 

Strawberries act as a blood antioxidant, giving your happy flock a nice treat and a health boost, but only if fed in moderation. 

Although the actual strawberry is perfectly safe for your chickens to eat, giving them free rein in your strawberry patch isn’t a good idea.

The strawberry is a toxic plant, and its high sugar level can also disrupt your flocks’ metabolic activity, resulting in lower egg production.

Although removing the calyx and stem will transform the humble strawberry into a sugary snack for your feathered friends, you should stick to the 10% rule – giving your chickens just 10% fruity treats to 90% commercial feed

A few organic strawberries mixed in with your normal feed, other fruits, a leaf or two of swiss chard, and a handful of grit will give your flock the best chance of enjoying the health benefits of the strawberry without compromising their metabolism or exposing them to potentially dangerous pesticide residue.

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