There’s a lot that chickens can eat alongside processed feed: meat, grains, tiny insects, etc. Most backyard farmers love to feed kitchen scraps, fruits, and vegetables to their backyard chickens too. That’s great, but it also leads to questions like, “Is this safe for my flock?”
One of the most common variations of this question is: “Can Chickens Eat Rhubarb?” And if you, like many others, have been looking for an answer to this question, you’re in the right place. Here, I will answer all your queries about the relationship between chickens and rhubarbs!
What is a Rhubarb?
If you heard someone say “feed Rhubarbs to your chickens,” without a clue of what Rhubarbs are— let’s help with that first. Rhubarbs are vegetables with large green leaves and fleshy reddish-pink stems. It grows all year round and contains only a few calories, but a high nutritional value.
Almost anyone can grow Rhubarbs, even newbies. It is usually harvested in the summer and is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. However, like with almost every food, the nutritional content of Rhubarbs differs based on how it’s prepared and cooked.
They taste extremely sour and have a sharp but refreshing smell. When raw, they’re crunchy like celery. When cooked, they soften, and the sour taste mellows down a bit, too. To further counteract the sour taste, most Rhubarb recipes include sugar as an essential ingredient.
Can Chickens Eat Rhubarb?
Now, to answer the big question: Yes and No— It’s complicated. Can chickens eat it? Yes. Is it toxic? Also yes. Rhubarbs contain oxalic acid, a toxin that can be poisonous to chickens. It is found in high quantities in Rhubarb leaves and can potentially kill your chickens.
Resultantly, the leaves of this vegetable are a no-go for the chickens. But, aside from the leaves, rhubarb stalks are safe for consumption. Still, practicing moderation is imperative because the stems do contain oxalic acid, even if it’s in minute quantities.
That is another reason why you should not allow consistent exposure to Rhubarbs— even in little amounts, it can be detrimental to chickens. Furthermore, Rhubarbs also cause severe calcium deficiency in chickens because oxalic acid binds to the calcium in the bird’s body.
Calcium deficiency, in turn, leads to other health issues like poor eggshell quality, brittle bones, and even paralysis! Unfortunately, it doesn’t end here. Too much Rhubarb may also irritate your feathery friend’s stomach and eventually cause dehydration and diarrhea.
Death, calcium deficiency and resultant disease, and digestive issues— all of these can happen as a result of consuming high concentrations of oxalic acid. So, the bottom line is that Rhubarb leaves may immediately kill your chicken, but the stems are OK if given in moderation.
Also, note that chickens don’t have the quality like other pets to stay away from food that’s not good for them. So, there’s no guarantee that they will not eat the vegetable if they come across it while free ranging. As the owner, it is your duty to ensure that they do not have access to any source of toxic substances.
I suggest you keep away from this vegetable altogether. If you must, you can give Rhubarbs as a treat once or twice or experiment with how your flock likes it. In any case, always be aware of how to check if your chicken has had too much Rhubarb.
Symptoms of Rhubarb Intoxication in Chickens
If your chicken accidentally wanders into a Rhubarb patch or if you give it to them intentionally, being aware of potential consequences is important so you can take necessary measures on time.
Depending on the quantity ingested, symptoms of Rhubarb Toxicity may vary. However, they will most likely start showing after a few hours of consumption. Symptoms include lethargy and weakness. If you notice decreased activity and stamina, do not take it lightly!
Secondly, check for digestive issues like diarrhea and vomiting. The toxin also attacks a chicken’s kidney in some cases, leading to kidney stones or even kidney failure. So, always be on the lookout for decreased urine production, anorexia, back pain, and weight loss.
Other symptoms include:
- Muscle tremors,
- Lack of responsiveness,
- Excess saliva,
- Seizures and convulsions,
- Blisters all over the mouth.
If any of these symptoms occur, your chicken has consumed large amounts of Rhubarbs. In smaller quantities, the symptoms will be a lot less severe. For example, your chicken may experience muscle tremors or other health conditions like jaundice.
How to Treat Rhubarb Poisoning in Chickens
If you notice severe symptoms, rush your chicken to the vet instantly. If that is not immediately possible, try some remedies at home.
The very first thing that you must do is remove the rhubarbs from around your chicken and ensure that it no longer has access to the vegetable. Clean their coop and remove all traces of Rhubarb.
Then, provide your chicken with fresh water, and make sure that it drinks enough to avoid dehydration. Next, provide a nutritious meal to boost the chicken’s immune system. It should consist of fruits or vegetables and should be protein-rich. Also, provide calcium supplements to combat calcium deficiency.
Lastly, give the chicken a solution of activated charcoal powder and water. Activated charcoal can remove toxins from the digestive systems of chickens. But, be careful and read dosage instructions. Also, consult your vet before you give the charcoal solution to your chicken.
Apart from activated charcoal, another one of the most effective remedies is making your chicken drink a poison flush. But be warned, you may have to force the bird! There are two poison flushes you can try: Epsom Salt Flush and Molasses Flush.
The use of Epsom salt dates way back to ancient times, when people used Epsom salt to treat many diseases, including digestive problems. To prepare an Epsom salt flush, take a cup of warm water and dissolve one spoonful of Epsom salt in it. Then, using a syringe or dropper, slowly inject the solution into the chicken’s mouth (through the beak).
Repeat this process every 4-6 hours until the symptoms go away. Epson baths also work wonders for chickens who get lethargic or stop eating. Watch this YouTube video to see how Epsom salt baths work:
If you have doubts about Epsom salt, you can also try the Molasses flush. The only con is, that the Molasses flush is only effective if given within the first 8 hours of poisoning. It works the same as the Epsom salt flush: Add 1 tablespoon of Molasses to 1 cup of warm water. After that, use a syringe or a dropper to make your chicken drink it.
What To Feed Your Chickens Instead of Rhubarb
A healthy snack is important for your flock, I understand. So, if not Rhubarb, what else?
There are many perfectly safe and readily available food items in your kitchen or farm that you can feed your chickens instead of Rhubarbs. You can give these as treats, or add them to your chicken’s diet as snacks!
Here’s a list of healthy alternatives to Rhubarb:
- Berries— strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, etc. All berries are safe and rich sources of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.
- Dark, leafy Green Vegetables— kale, spinach, and cabbage. Vegetables like these are excellent sources of calcium, which is essential for strong bones and egg production.
- Vegetables— cucumbers, peas, and carrots. Apart from dark, leafy vegetables, other vegetables like these are also safe and healthy. They have low-calorie content but good nutritional value.
- Seeds— sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds. These are all excellent sources of protein, healthy fats, and minerals.
- Insects— Mealworms and crickets. You may not find these in your kitchen, but surely on your farm! These provide a plentiful supply of protein and other necessary nutrients.
Rhubarb contains oxalic acid, which is poisonous to chickens. If a chicken consumes the leaves, it is fatal. As for the stem, chickens can eat that in moderate amounts, but it will still pose a risk of health problems. So, avoid Rhubarbs at all costs.
In case your chicken accidentally ingests it and starts showing symptoms of rhubarb intoxication, here’s what to do:
- Check and remove all sources of Rhubarbs
- Make sure the chicken stays hydrated
- Provide healthy calcium and protein-rich diet
- Give activated charcoal solution
- Try Epsom Salt flushes and Molasses flushes.
- Consult a vet.
With that said, make sure you take measures to keep your chickens away from all sources of Rhubarbs to avoid fatal accidents. For example, if you grow them, add a fence, or if they’re in the compost pile, cover them.
Have you ever had someone tell you Rhubarbs are good for your chickens? Let me know in the comments!