There are lots of foods we can share with our chickens as treats that can bring them a whole range of important health benefits – but what about potatoes? Some people say potatoes are ok while others will tell you they should be avoided. So what’s the truth?
To help you understand the answer to this question and to allow you to make a decision about feeding potatoes to your chickens yourself, in the post, we discuss the question, can chickens eat potatoes?
Can Chickens Eat Potatoes? The short answer
The question of whether chickens can eat potatoes is a little complicated, but we can still start with a simple answer.
Chickens can eat potatoes, both cooked and raw – but a very important proviso is that they should never eat potatoes if they are turning green, and they should never eat any other parts of the plant.
Now we’ve done the easy bit, let’s dive in and look at this question in more detail to see what chickens can and can’t eat – and why – when it comes to potatoes.
Are potatoes good for chickens?
Potatoes are an extremely versatile vegetable that is eaten around the globe. Potatoes can be used to make fries, a fast food staple the world over, and they can also be mashed, baked, boiled or prepared in innumerable other ways.
But more than this, they are also extremely nutritious, and they are packed with vitamins and nutrients that are vital to humans and chickens alike.
Potatoes are rich in vitamins C, B3 and B9, and they also contain minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium along with smaller amounts of iron, zinc and selenium.
Furthermore, they are an important source of carbs, they contain a good proportion of protein and they are also a source of dietary fiber, all important elements in a healthy, balanced diet.
This means that by feeding them to your chickens, you can ensure that your chickens are receiving these important nutritional elements in addition to the nutrients they receive from their regular feed.
Can chickens eat potatoes skins?
Indeed, the skins have even more concentrated levels of the vitamins and minerals found in the main part of the potato, so chickens should be encouraged to eat the skins.
The only problem with this is that some chickens might turn their beaks up at tough or waxy potato skins – but if you can get them to eat the skins, so much the better.
Let’s talk about potatoes green bits
So we’ve established that chickens can eat potatoes and that they contain lots of beneficial nutrients for chickens, but the one thing you need to watch out for is any green bits because these are poisonous to chickens.
Potatoes are members of the nightshade family of plants, which also includes tomatoes, eggplants and chilies – as well as the ominously named deadly nightshade, which we’re sure nobody would ever think of feeding to their chickens.
As a defense mechanism, plants in this family produce a toxin called solanine that can be fatal if chickens ingest it.
The potato tuber, the part we eat, grows underground, and they usually contain very little or no solanine. However, when they are exposed to solanine, it causes solanine to become concentrated in the tuber, and as a result, parts of the potato turn green.
This means when you see a potato with green bits, it has increased levels of solanine in it, which would poison your chickens if they ate it – so either you need to completely remove the affected portions or you just need to throw the potato out and not let your chickens eat it.
The same also goes for potatoes that are beginning to sprout – the sprouts are usually noticeably green and contain high levels of solanine, so they shouldn’t be eaten either.
Why some chicken keepers avoid potatoes altogether
While potatoes that haven’t turned green are generally considered safe for chickens, some chicken keepers still prefer to avoid feeding potatoes to their chickens at all.
This is because green spots are not always reliable indicators of the presence of solanine, and even a potato that isn’t green may still contain elevated levels of solanine.
If you feed a healthy-looking potato to your chickens, they may gobble it up and suffer no apparent ill effects.
However, you don’t know what damage the potato might be doing inside the bird, and feeding them potatoes over a longer period could damage your chickens’ health.
As a result, some keepers prefer not to risk it and instead prefer to simply keep potatoes off their chickens’ menus.
What about the rest of the plant?
As concerns the rest of the potato plant, it should be considered totally off-limits to your chickens.
The stalks and leaves of the potato plant contain high levels of solanine that can easily be fatal to a chicken, so under no circumstances should you feed other parts of potato plants to chickens.
How should you feed potatoes to chickens?
If you decide you want to feed potatoes to your chickens, there’s no special way to do it.
As long as the potatoes don’t have any green bits on them, you can give them to your chickens raw, or you can cook them first.
Whether raw or cooked, you might find it better to cut the potatoes into smaller pieces to make it easier for the chickens to eat them and to reduce the possibility of chickens fighting over their food.
A good idea would be to mix some pieces of potato with some other treat food and then scatter it on the floor in their run to encourage foraging behavior. Just make sure you clean up the leftovers after feeding time since pieces of food on the floor can attract pests.
However, you should avoid feeding chickens potatoes that have been cooked with any non-chicken-friendly ingredients that might harm them – for example, feeding them salted fries is the kind of thing that should never happen.
Can chickens eat sweet potatoes?
While potatoes belong to the nightshade family, sweet potatoes are a completely unrelated species that belongs to the morning glory family – and as such, are completely fine for chickens to eat.
More than this, the sweet potato plant doesn’t contain any solanine, so chickens can also eat all other parts of the sweet potato plant – and they should be encouraged to do so since both sweet potatoes and the plants they come from are extremely nutritious for chickens.
How much potato can chickens eat? – The 10% rule
An important part of feeding potatoes to chickens is knowing how much to feed them so what’s a good amount of potato to give your flock?
The key word here is moderation since a little potato from time to time can be highly beneficial to chickens – but feeding them too much potato, or too much of any other kind of treat, can be harmful to their health.
Chickens have very specific nutritional needs, and commercial chicken feed is formulated to provide everything they require.
However, if you give them too many treats, they will fill up on treats and ignore their regular food – much in the same way as children will refuse to eat their meal if they eat too many chips beforehand.
This means, to find the right balance, you should always follow the 10% rule that states that only 10% of chickens’ diet should consist of treats – and the other 90% should be made up of their regular feed.
This way, you will ensure that they are receiving all the essential nutrients they require from their main feed – and they will then receive additional beneficial nutrients from whatever other healthy treats you give them, including potatoes.
One thing to be aware of if you decide to feed potatoes to your chickens – and this goes for other types of fruit and veg too – is that regular potatoes bought from grocery stores are likely to have been sprayed with all kinds of chemical pesticides.
This means you should wash them thoroughly or peel them before giving them to your chickens to remove any toxins.
This is particularly important because even if they won’t simply drop dead as soon as they consume non-bio potatoes, the toxins will gradually build up in their bodies, and this will gradually affect their health – and you will be consuming the same toxins if you eat them too.
Much better is to buy organic potatoes with no pesticides on them – or even better than this is to grow potatoes yourself so you know exactly what has been used in their production.
Chickens can eat potatoes – as long as they’re not green
So as we’ve seen, chickens are generally safe eating potatoes, as long as they don’t contain any green bits – since those green bits contain elevated levels of solanine.
Some people may still prefer to avoid feeding their chickens potatoes altogether to eliminate any risk – and now, with this post, you have all the information you need to make up your own mind on whether to feed potatoes to your flock.