Elderberries are small dark-colored fruits that are slightly bitter and tart and taste. So much so that they are often used to make jams and other preserves. But are they safe to feed to chickens? Do you have some spare dried that you want to feed your birds or even a tree that overhangs your yard/garden and drops into the reach of the coop? I spent some time researching their suitability in a chicken’s diet. I will be sharing my findings with you here today,
So, can chickens eat elderberries? Chickens can eat the fruits of elderberries, but must not eat any of the plants or leaves as these parts are toxic. Elderberry fruits can be offered both dried or raw and directly from the tree and chickens typically enjoy eating both options. Despite their reported health benefits and nutrition, elderberries should be offered in moderation and as a treat to chickens due to their naturally high sugar content.
Humans have been eating elderberries for centuries; mostly due to the fact that is rich in nutrients and has a range of other compounds which are cited as beneficial for health.
Thankfully, chickens can also consume the fruits which will come as great news to those of you reading who have elderberry trees/bushes on your property.
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Let us now take a closer look at these interesting fruits and their suitability for chickens. We will be looking over the nutrition they can provide and how you can look to feed them if you decide to do so.
So, be sure to continue reading to ensure you get all the information you need!
Are Elderberries Healthy For Chickens?
Elderberries can be consumed by chickens and can help to provide a range of additional nutrients. So long as only the fruits are eaten, and in small and infrequent servings, they can be a very healthy treat for your birds.
That being said, you do need to be careful; especially if your flock has access to an elderberry tree or bush. The stems, leaves, and roots are poisonous – to both us humans and your chickens.
They each contain a compound known as a glycoside, which even in small doses, can be toxic and even fatal for your birds.
Hopefully, your chickens should instinctively know not to each them. But as chicken keepers, we can never be too careful.
Reducing access, trimming back the tree/bush, or removing them entirely are advised.
Nevertheless, the fruits can be offered in a multitude of ways and these birds do generally enjoy eating them.
There are many reports of chicken keepers stating that their flock have consumed all the fruits from their trees; in sheer amazement and questioning if it is safe for their flock.
Let us now take a closer look at the specific vitamins and minerals found in the elderberry fruits to see why they can serve a place in the diet:
Nutritional Content of Elderberries
|of which sugars||3.2 g|
|Vitamin C||10.1 mg|
|Vitamin A||168 IU|
As you can see, even in a small serving (28g), there are several different vitamins and minerals that can support the health of your birds.
Vitamin C is one of note. Elderberries are high in this nutrient which plays a key role in healthy bone development, egg production, and eggshell quality.
We all know that calcium is also crucial to ensure high-quality eggs, and it should not be opposed by too much phosphorous in the diet.
Again, elderberries fair well in the sense that they provide a decent amount of calcium, without providing too much phosphorous all the while.
The ratio is pretty balanced at 1:1.
The fiber content can also help keep support your chickens’ digestive system and keep them regular.
Beyond this fiber provides a host of other benefits such as improved behavior (with less feather pecking), keeping weight within the healthy range, improving feed intake capacity, and helping birds with their feather cover.
Outside of the vitamins and minerals, elderberries are rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and other compounds which can have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects (source).
How Many Elderberries Can Chickens Eat?
Elderberries are best served sparingly, in moderation, and as a treat. A good rule of thumb is once per week and around 2/3 of a cup at a time (dried or fresh).
While they do have a range of nutrients, they do contain quite a lot of sugar that can add up. Especially if you are offering other fruits as treats/scraps.
Equally, you need to ensure that your chickens still consume their high-quality and nutritionally balanced poultry feed. Elderberries, or any other treats, should never be fed instead of or displaced as the mainstay of the diet.
Of course, this can be a challenge to those of you who have elderberry trees/bushes that are either nearby the coop or that your birds can have free access to when they roam.
However, it is important to keep an eye on your bird’s consumption of this food.
Not only to prevent them from eating the poisonous and harmful stems, leaves, and roots but also to stop them from overconsuming the fruits from the trees. Which they will do!
Too many of these berries will cause unfavorable changes in your chickens’ poop. In fact, it will likely lead to a lot of cleaning up!
This may mean moving the coop/run, or limiting your bird’s access to certain areas. Depending on how many trees/bushes you have, you may even need to remove some altogether.
How To Feed Elderberries To Chickens
Elderberries are versatile foods that can be offered quite easily to your birds.
Generally, you can offer them in three different ways:
Raw and Fresh
You can either pick these from the tree/bush yourselves or purchase them from your local store.
It’s also best to source organic if you can and if you opt for the latter. This should minimize the chances of them carrying pesticides and other potentially other harmful substances.
It’s also a good idea to wash them first to remove any dirt or debris.
From there, you can drop some of these berries on the ground, either in the coop or in the open space where your birds like to roam.
Otherwise, you can continue to let your birds eat them free from the tree/bush or ground where they drop. But as stated before, keep an eye on your chickens around this plant!
Again, you can look to purchase these online or in a store which is the easiest thing to do. Alternatively, you can look to dry your own elderberries either from the tree/bush or when purchased.
If you do decide to offer them dry, consider that they will be denser and you can inadvertently provide larger serving sizes without meaning too.
Additionally, berries are much sweeter when dry, so your birds are likely to be a lot more open to eating them or find it hard to stop when they start!
Try dropping a few of these dried fruits and see how your birds respond.
Mixed With Other Foods
The final way to offer elderberries is by mushing them and mixing them in with other foods. This could be other scraps, like oatmeal, or it could even be in with their regular poultry feed.
This can be a good way to mix up the diet, add variety, get your birds to eat more of a particular food, and supplement the diet with more nutrition.
Chickens can eat elderberries, but there is a catch…they can only eat the fruits! Never serve, or let your birds consume the stems, leaves, and/or roots, or your birds will be in danger.
In such a case, consulting a vet that specializes in chickens or poultry will be required, and the sooner you act, the higher the chances that they will be able to prevent any fatalities.
So if you have elderberry plants on your property and you know that your birds have been pecking at them; rest assured that as long as they only eat the fruits, your chickens will be fine.
In fact, it may even be somewhat preferable for them to do so.
Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my other chicken feeding guides below!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.