Can I feed onions to my chicken?

Yes! Like pigs, chickens eat almost everything from vegetables and fruits to grains and even meat.

Every chicken owner wants the best for his (or her) flock. So, it’s natural to wonder if certain foods are safe for their feathered friends.

Onions are one plant-based food that most poultry keepers are unsure about. This is due to the fact that onions are toxic to pets, like cats and dogs.

However, research shows that onions and related plants, like garlic, chives, shallots, and leeks contain vitamins, minerals, and antibiotics, required by chickens.

These plants can improve your flock’s health and reduce the risk of infections and diseases.

But before we explore whether you can add onions to your chicken’s feed, let’s first understand the dietary needs of your flock.

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Nutritional Needs of Chickens

To offer your chickens the best possible care, you must meet all their dietary needs. Chickens require a well-balanced diet to execute necessary life functions, grow, and produce eggs and meat for human consumption. The table below breaks down dietary requirements for chickens, check it out!

Nutrient Roles In Chicken’s Body
Protein A good source of protein promotes muscle growth and overall growth. For laying hens, proteins increase egg production, boost immunity and maintain body weight.
Carbohydrates Carbohydrates from grains, like millet, corn, barley, and wheat make the biggest component of chicken feed.  Carbs provide a quick source of energy required to fuel all chemical reactions. Indigestible carbohydrates or crude fiber help to improve the hen’s gut health.
Vitamins Chickens require vitamin A for proper eyesight and reproductive health. Vitamin D helps in facilitates calcium metabolism (eggshell formation) and bone development. Vitamin E acts as a natural antioxidant and vitamin K promotes blood clotting. Chickens naturally produce vitamin C, so you don’t need to add it to their diet.
Fats Whether saturated (vegetable oils) or unsaturated (animal fats), chickens need fats to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K
Minerals Chickens require both macro and microminerals, including calcium, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and copper.  These minerals help in bone development, blood cell formation, enzyme activations, energy metabolism, and blood clotting.
Water Water is a vital nutrient for chickens because it helps to regulate body temperature, digest food and eliminate waste materials.

Is Onion Healthy for Chicken?

Dogs and cats cannot eat onions because they contain a toxic substance called N-propyl. This chemical binds to the pet’s red blood cells, weakening the membrane and causing the cells to burst. As a result, the pet develops a condition called hemolytic anemia or Heinz body anemia, which is fatal.

As mentioned earlier, chicken can eat almost anything. That’s why they can feed scraps and treats found on the ground without falling sick. But what about onions?

You can feed onions to your chickens without any worries. Of course, in moderation, because too much of something can prove disastrous.

For many years, poultry farmers have included additives like antibiotics in chicken feeds as growth promoters. But lately, there’s been some concerns regarding antibiotics residues in chicken products and bacterial resistance in the birds and human body.

In response, scientists are working to find better alternatives for these additives. One herb that shows great promise is the onion plant.  Research shows that extracts from onions and related plants have the potential to boost the health and performance of chickens.

1. Influence on Blood Constitutes

In one study, scientists discovered that onion and antibiotics have a similar mode of action. When onion extract is added to chicken feed it increases antibiotic production in the animal’s blood serum. Onion also shows some positive effects on the performance and immune systems of egg-laying hens.

As for broilers, diets containing onion bulbs can drastically reduce triglycerides and cholesterol levels in their blood serum.  This positively impacts the health of the consumer because it reduces the risk of hypercholesterolemia.

Onions also contain many helpful bioactive compounds, including:

  • Polyphenols:  These plant compounds come with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which support the animal’s immune system while promoting growth.
  • Saponins:  Saponins are sugar-based compounds with anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory characteristics. They help lower cholesterol levels and prevent muscle spasms in the gut of chickens.
  • Fructans: Chicken-eating onions also receive fructans, which have antiviral and probiotic properties.  These compounds help boost the immune system and monitor the gut environment.

Working together, these biochemical compounds ensure your flock stays healthy.

2. Influence on Gut Ecosystem

Influence on Gut Ecosystem
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The chicken’s gut is home to hundreds if not thousands of microorganisms, including Streptococcus, E. Coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Lactobacillus. Studies show supplementing your flock’s diet with onion helps to reduce E. Colli bacteria, a common source of bacterial infections.

Onions and garlic or a mixture of their extracts increase the amount of Lactobacillus, a natural probiotic often found in yogurt.  An increase in healthy bacteria in the bird’s body directly relates to increased nutrient absorption, growth, and an improved immune system.

3. Influence on Body Weight, Feed Intake, and Feed Conversation Ratio

Another research showed that onion and garlic extracts have a significant influence on the chicken’s body weight and feeding cost. According to the study, birds that received 100mg of onion showed increased body weight compared to control birds.

The onion extract also increased their food and water intake throughout the trial period, increasing overall feeding costs. The increase in water intake directly corresponds to the increase in food intake.

At 25 mg and 50 mg doses, the onion and garlic extracts had little influence on the food intake of the chickens. However, these doses reduced the feeding costs of the treated birds at the end of the 21-study period.

In addition, the treated flock showed an improved food conversation ratio and appeared healthier compared to the control birds.

4. Influence of Onion on Egg Production

A 2019 study published by the Bulletin of the National Research Center discovered a mixture of onions and garlic improve egg production in laying hens.

In small amounts, these plant extracts also increase the egg quality. Eggs from hens that eat vegetables in the allium family have more yolk and high-quality albumen (the white part of the egg).

Another research conducted by Czech scientists in 2019 showed that onion extract supplementation in drinking water resulted in a significant increase in egg weight. But they also notice it delayed egg production. Some people also reported they tasted the signature taste of onions – Sulfur – in eggs produced by birds fed with onions.

Chickens that eat onions and garlic show improvement in general health, egg production (including egg quality), and food absorption rate. The birds also have low cholesterol levels.

Other Benefits of Onions on Chickens

Other Benefits of Onions on Chickens
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Besides antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, onions come packed with carbs to provide chicken energy.

The flavonoids and quercetin in onions, plus fructans help in improving colon health and digestion of food. They also assist in making short-chain fatty acids, which boost gut health and reduce inflammation along the gut.

At the same time, onions contain vitamins C, B6, and B11, among other vitamins that make a great source of Potassium. This mineral plays a vital role in regulating cells and maintaining the nervous system and muscle function.

Here’s something you didn’t know:

Onions bring to the table an interesting plate of micronutrients, like manganese and folate without adding too many calories.

Potential Risks of Feeding Onions to Chickens

Based on the information above every chicken owner should give their flock some onions, but in small amounts.  Why?

Well, remember how we said onions are toxic to cats and dogs? We might have forgotten to mention, this plant is also toxic to chickens in large doses. Let’s expound on this.

Anything dose above 0.5 % is toxic to chickens because onions contain sulfides and sulfoxides (more specifically- S-alk(en)yl-L- Cysteine sulfoxides), which can trigger hemolytic anemia. As described earlier, these toxic compounds bind to the red blood cell, damaging its membrane, and eventually causing it to bust.

When this happens, the bird gets deprived of oxygen. And if the condition prolongs for several days, you might observe a few symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • General weakness
  • Increased thirst
  • Heavy and rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale comb and wattle
  • Irregular heartbeat and palpitation

If you observe these symptoms, remove onion from the chicken’s diet. In response, the bird’s body will return to homeostasis and your feathered friend will recover.  But if there’s no sign of recovery, contact your local vet for treatment suggestions.

Effective Ways to Feed Onion to Chickens

Effective Ways to Feed Onion to Chickens
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Some chickens devour every part of the onion plant, including the flowers, green leaves, and bulbs. But some will only eat the bulbs and the white part that sticks out from the soil, while others will not even come near the onion.

While you can’t force your chickens to eat onions, you can make the onions safe and attractive to your birds. The best way to achieve this is to slice the onions into rings and cook them.

By slicing the onions into rings or small pieces, you can transform the toxic sulfur compounds into antibacterial agents with antioxidant properties.  Cooking helps to eliminate the pungent smell and dissolve harmful ingredients in the onion flesh.

However, avoid giving your chicken kitchen scraps with onion peels. Since they don’t have teeth, they cannot break down the peels for easy digestion. Furthermore, the peels have no taste.

With that in mind, here are a few ways you can prepare onions for your chickens without harming their health.

1. Roast The Onions

Keep your chickens entertained by providing roasted onion. Simply take a few onions and toss them in the oven or on the grill and let them roast until they are soft. Give the onions some to cool, then tie a string around it. Hang the onion in the chicken coop, where the birds can peck on it with ease.

2. Boil Onions in Water

Half cook the onions in water without oil until they become tender. Next, let the onions cool down, then mix them in your hens’ meal.

This method is safe because it eliminates all the toxic substances and the strong smell and taste of onion. Take things a notch higher by mixing their meal with other treats, like bugs.

3. Scrap Mash

A scrap mash refers to a mixture of cooked onions mashed together with kitchen scraps, like carrots, apples (without seeds), and others in a bowl. Your chickens have a good time eating this mash because it’s not only sweet but nutritious.

FAQ

FAQ
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1. Are Onions Safe for Chicks?

No! Although chickens can consume onions in small amounts, chicks are sensitive to toxic sulfoxides in these plants. That means they are more likely to suffer health consequences if they consume the various part of an onion.

If your baby chickens are less than three years, avoid tossing them kitchen scarps with onions because they can develop anemia and die. Simply provide them with a balanced diet, and they will grow up healthy. From three years and above, you can give them onions but in moderation.

2. Are There Any Alternatives to Feeding Onions to Chickens?

If you wish to avoid any health issues, feed your chickens with nutritious alternatives to onions. Examples include:

  • Fruits – Apples, melons, bananas, and berries
  • Vegetables – Cucumbers, carrots, peas, etc.
  • Grains – wheat, sorghum, oats, and corn
  • Leafy green – kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, and cabbage

You can incorporate these foods into your flock’s regular diet.

Bottom Line

As you can see, onions provide chickens with many health benefits. But we recommend you only feed your flock with small amounts of onions because they contain toxic compounds, like sulfoxides.  Besides, they can cause hemolytic anemia and other health issues when consumed in large quantities.

Fortunately, there are a few effective ways your chickens can enjoy the nutritional and antibiotic benefits of onions. For example, you can roast the onions or boil them in water to remove the pungent smell and toxic compounds.

In addition to onions, provide your flocks with a balanced diet consisting of vegetables, proteins, and grains to meet their dietary needs.

We hope the article has answered your question. If you have more queries or concerns, leave us a comment below.

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