Owning backyard chickens comes with a whole host of questions. Especially diet related. You may be wondering whether or not chickens can safely consume onions. Is it beneficial for them to do so and is it even safe? Needing to know the answer to this question for my own flock, I decided to conduct some research. I’d like to present this information here to you today.
So, can chickens eat onions? Yes, chickens can safely consume small quantities of onions. This includes white, red and spring onions. However, onions should not be fed too frequently nor in large amounts. Chickens may not even take a liking to onions, but if they are fed cooked and prepared in certain ways, your chickens may begin to consume them.
There exists a common myth in the community of chicken owners that onions are not safe to consume at all and should never be provided in the diet. This is not true and is in fact a myth.
That being said, onions can be fed in moderation and in small quantities at a time. Let us now take a closer look at the topic so that if you own a flock, you know what you can and should do.
Edible Parts Of An Onion
Onions are grown underground, and the main energy source and nutrition comes from the bulb. An onion starts small and grows out accordingly.
A green stalk begins to emerge above the surface of the soil and acquire the sunlight that the bulb needs to grow. If an onion continues to grow underground and is not picked, flowers will grow from the stalk in time.
It is the bulb which becomes the edible part and that is primarily used in the cuisine of human populations.
For chickens, this is very much the same.
Chickens should not be fed the tops of green onions/scallions, and in fact, it can be unhealthy for them to do so.
Either way, chickens are not generally very fond of onions when fed in their raw state and when fed exclusively on their own. They are strong in smell and taste, which is true of white and red onions.
That being said, if your chickens are hungry enough (and they are birds with a huge natural appetite) they will attempt to eat the bulb of the onion.
If you was to feed the stalk, you’d likely find that your chickens leave them behind. Without teeth and the inability to chew, these are difficult for them to consume and digest so they are usually neglected.
Chickens are far more likely to eat cooked onions, especially if they are mixed with other foods.
Can Chickens Eat Onion Peels?
Chickens can consume onion peels without detriment, however numerous owners report that these are usually neglected and ignored.
Chickens generally do not have a desire to eat onion peels and there is no inherent benefit of them doing so.
Even if the peels are provided with freshly chopped up onions, the peels are likely to be left.
To prevent unnecessary cleaning, it is therefore best to remove the peels before attempting to feed onions to your chickens.
Nutrition in Onions
Sometimes, you may see onions appearing on ‘toxic lists’; foods that are dangerous to birds. This is usually because onions cause symptoms in other mammals, most notably dogs.
However, having spoken to my Avian vet, I have been advised that onions have never been shown or reported to be toxic to chickens or any other birds. Having researched online further, this sentiment was also confirmed.
So, with this out the way, what would the benefit of feeding onions to your chickens be. Outside of course, getting rid of your no longer required scraps!
Let us now look at the nutritional content of both white and red onions. This way you can see why you may want to include them in the diet of your birds from time to time.
Onions Nutritional Content
Onions are actually considered as a very healthy food to consume for humans. They are relatively low in calories, low in carbohydrate and fat. Yet they are also packed full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as you will see in the table above.
The main ones are vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, and Potassium. Plus, there are also other plant compounds including anthocyanins, quercetin and sulfur-compounds.
Here are just some of the benefits associated with onion consumption:
- Reduction of blood sugar levels
- Improved bone strength and health
- Improved heart health and functioning
- Rich in cancer-fighting compounds
- Have antibacterial properties
- Reduce inflammation
Onions are mostly water, simple sugars and fiber.
The fiber in particular helps and support the digestion of food; by populating beneficial bacteria in your chicken’s digestive system(s) – supporting colon health and reducing areas of inflammation.
Bloating and gas poses a significant danger to chickens. Therefore the moderate and infrequent provision of onions can help to reduce the chances of this from occurring.
Dangers of Chickens Over-Consuming Onions
If you are feeding onions to chickens, you should do so infrequently and in limited amounts. Once per week should be enough to harvest the benefits without risk of dangerous side effects from arising.
Onions are like chives and garlic, and if fed in larger quantities or too regularly can pose issues.
The main one to be aware of is hemolytic anemia, aka: Heinz anemia, a blood condition that has been studied in other animals like dogs.
The negative consequences of onion consumption, and high levels of Heinz antibodies, occurred in the blood within one day of the study
While it is relatively unknown how many onions can, or would induce hemolytic anemia in chickens, its always best to stay on the side of caution.
Hemolytic anemia would display itself in chickens through the following symptoms: the development of weak legs, listlessness and a disheveled appearance.
Therefore, be sure to feed onions infrequently, and in small quantities at a time.
One other factor to consider is that feeding onions to your chickens may result in an undesirable taste to the eggs that your hens lay. So, if your hens are producing eggs for you to consume, and you are concerned with the taste and quality of their eggs, it may be best to exclude onions entirely.
How To Feed Onions To Your Chickens
When it comes to feeding onions to your chickens, you’ll generally find that they will not eat the peels, nor the stalks if provided.
Cutting them up finely and just providing plain raw and chopped onion does not usually go down so well either.
Cooked onions are another alternative, which can be safe if they are not deep fried in oil. You should also never provide any processed foods like onion rings either.
High fat processed foods are not healthy for chickens and can result in lower quality eggs and even limited production as they struggle to process the lipids.
However, if you do have some spare onions, want to give them to your chickens to try, or want them to benefit from some of the health properties outlined above, here are some of the ways to prepare them and things to try:
If you have a lot of leftover food, you can throw it all together and mix it up into a mash to feed to your chickens. Throw some onions and other vegetables in there, but be sure that there are no large chunks or pieces that could cause your chickens to choke and suffocate.
Simply providing onions in this way, conceals the smell and the flavor, and results in an increased chance and likelihood of consumption.
Onion Trail Mix
To prepare onion trail mix you are again going to need to mix the onions in with other forms of food. Pelleted feeds, insects or bugs like mealworms work particularly well. In fact, you can even buy a bag of dried mealworms from Amazon and mix a few onions in.
If you wanted to cook the onions in advance you can do that too. Just ensure you are not frying them in any oil, fat, or butter as this can cause issues with your chickens and may cause constipation.
Cooking onions will soften them up and makes them easier to mix in with other foods.
Onion on a String!
This is like an onion kebab for your chickens. All you need to do here is cut up some onions into small pieces and thread them through on a piece of string.
From there, you can simply hang the string from their coop/run for your chickens to peck at and enjoy.
This is great because it provides mental stimulation for your birds and they love to peck at things just like this.
If you find onions difficult to put onto the string, try frying them in water/grilling them ahead of time to soften them up.
Chickens can eat onions; both white and red onions, and there are many health benefits in them doing so. Onions are packed full of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, anti-oxidants and plant compounds that can benefit the health of your birds.
However, like most foods, less is more. While there are no significant studies suggestions onion consumption in any specific quantity can be harmful. it is in other animals and mammals such as dogs. Over-consuming onions can also lead to foul-tasting eggs too, so it is always best to feed a small amount of onions infrequently and in small servings at a time.
You can attempt to feed raw, or cooked onion (not fried and without fat). Some chickens will eat onions freely; others will ignore it if provided. Just make sure either way you do not leave uneaten scraps out for too long as this can invite rodents like rats and mice to come pay a visit.
So, if you have some onion scraps and had not considered feeding them to your flock until now, take a look at the ‘recipes’ above and give them a go!