Thanksgiving Leftovers Your Chickens Can (& Can’t) Have

After you've enjoyed the Thanksgiving feast, you may think to toss your chickens the leftovers. But not all foods are poultry safe, so mind these rules to keep your flock healthy.

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by Ana HotalingNovember 24, 2021
PHOTO: Zosia Korcz/Unsplash

Don’t have enough space in your fridge to store your Thanksgiving leftovers? Perhaps you’re simply tired of eating turkey 20 different ways. Fear not: your backyard just so happens to harbor several voracious appetites. Those chickens will be more than eager to make mincemeat of your holiday leftovers.

Before you turn out your food storage containers in your chicken run, however, review these 12 traditional Thanksgiving foods to see if your leftover feast is fit for your flock.

Turkey

It may seem a little twisted to offer your chickens leftover turkey. After all, they’re practically related! Chickens, however, are omnivores and food opportunists, and will eat practically any of the leftovers you offer to them.

Leftover turkey is definitely something they’d happily devour.

Serve them your leftover turkey by the slice and shred any meat that is on the bone. Avoid giving your flock the leftover turkey carcass or meat on the bone, such as wings and drumsticks. Turkey bones may splinter, potentially harming any bird that ingests the fragments.

Stuffing

Some family recipes include ingredients such as chestnuts, bacon and chopped nuts. But most stuffings consist of bread, onion, celery, seasonings and salt.

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While chickens adore bread, you’ll want to avoid feeding them your stuffing leftovers.

Stuffing is typically highly salted, and chickens are particularly susceptible to salt poisoning. Even if your stuffing is low in sodium, it may still contain onions and seasonings, strong flavors that hens can pass along to the eggs they lay.

Corn

Corn is a huge favorite of chickens any time of the year. So of course Thanksgiving corn is going to be a huge hit.

Leave corn on the cob as is. Your birds will love plucking out the juicy kernels. And it’s always fun watching the chickens run off with the cob, trying to keep it for themselves.

If your corn leftovers consist of kernel corn, rinse the kernels with cold water to remove sodium before serving it up to your flock. Creamed corn can also be given to your chickens. But, as this is high in sodium, only offer these leftovers to chickens in small amounts.

Potatoes

Potatoes are a mainstay of many Thanksgiving meals. As much as Americans love potatoes, potatoes don’t necessarily love our poultry. A member of the nightshade family, potatoes contain solanine, a glycoalkaloid which can be toxic to poultry—and to humans, too.

Most of a potato’s solanine is found in the peel, so make sure raw potato peels are never fed to your flock. Green potatoes should also be avoided, as these can be high in solanine.

The vast majority of potatoes prepared for Thanksgiving are thoroughly cooked through, however. So as long as they are not highly salted (which can cause salt poisoning), you can feed your chickens small amounts of your potato leftovers.

Cranberry Relish/Sauce

Chickens adore cranberries. Fresh cranberries, dried cranberries—it doesn’t matter. They greedily gobble them down.

As long as your cranberry relish or sauce does not include rhubarb—which contains anthraquinones and oxalic acid, two chemical compounds that are dangerous to chickens—feel free to share your leftover cranberry side dish with your birds.


Read more: Supplement your flock’s food with fresh garden grub grown especially for them!


Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potatoes are one of the safest tubers to feed to your flock. Unlike potatoes, which are part of the nightshade family, sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family. All parts of the plant can be safely ingested by your chickens.

While the sweet potatoes themselves are very nutritious and high in vitamins, the marshmallows that top sweet potato casseroles have no nutritional value at all.

Filling up on marshmallows prevents your birds from eating the nutrient-rich foods they need. Their sticky nature also make marshmallows a choking hazard.

Because of this, remove the marshmallow topping from your sweet potato casserole leftovers before offering it to your chickens.

Green Bean Casserole

Raw and dried beans are one of the most toxic foods our chickens can ingest. Beans in this uncooked state are high in a type of protein called phytohaemagglutinin, which can disrupt red blood cells and cause severe gastrointestinal distress.

Thoroughly cooked green beans, however, can be safely ingested by chickens … but not when the beans are coated with salty cream of mushroom soup.

If you plan on feeding your flock your leftover green bean casserole, consider rinsing the soup off the beans. You’ll also want to remove the traditional the onion topping, which can cause your hens’ eggs to have a strong, unpleasant flavor.

Carrots

Like sweet potatoes, carrots are highly nutritious and can be fed to chickens either raw or cooked. Like other foods, make certain that the carrots are not highly salted or seasoned with such strong aromatics as garlic and onion.

Salad & Avocado

Salad greens are always a treat for chickens, who absolutely adore eating fresh greens. Not all salad ingredients are safe for our birds, however.

Avocado is frequently added to salads for texture and flavor, but it should never be offered to chickens or any avian species. All parts of the avocado—the fruit, the skin, and the pit—contain persin, which is highly toxic to birds.

The heart muscle can be damaged within 24 to 48 hours of eating avocado. Listlessness, difficulty breathing and death are all associated with ingesting the fruit.

Beans, onions, and croutons should also be removed from your salad prior to offering it to your flock.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are packed with nutrients, making them a very healthy snack for your chickens. As long as they are not swimming in sauce or overly salted or seasoned, Brussels sprout leftovers can be fed to your chickens.

However, since Brussels sprouts are strong in flavor, your hens’ ingesting them might result in strongly flavored eggs.

Spinach

Chickens are very fond of fresh spinach and will happily gobble up this dark leafy green. While spinach is highly nutritious, it also contains a chemical called oxalic acid. This can lead to soft eggshells when eaten regularly and in large amounts by hens.

A little spinach, however, is perfectly safe. Cooked spinach can also be offered, as long as it is not overly seasoned or salty.


Read more: Can chickens eat pumpkin? Yes! But be careful how you offer it.


Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkins have long been a flock favorite. Leave a wedge of pumpkin—or a Halloween jack-o’-lantern—in the run and, by nightfall, your birds will have gobbled up every last bit of pumpkin flesh.

Fresh pumpkin, however, is quite different from pumpkin pie, which contains eggs, milk, spices and sweetener as well as a crust. Since pumpkin pie is not overly sweet (compared to other traditional Thanksgiving pies such as pecan and custard), your chickens can enjoy a little holiday dessert in moderation … just like the rest of us!

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