Perhaps you’re enjoying a nice salad on the deck under the mid-morning sun. Suddenly, your hens start clucking, and you remember you have to feed them. Finished with the salad, you’re wondering if you can feed the left-over lettuce to your chickens. Can a chicken eat lettuce? Yes, but only in moderation.
Some types of lettuce are low in nutritional content and are likely to upset your chickens’ stomachs. If you plan to serve lettuce to your chickens, it’s a wise idea to feed a small amount to them and to observe over the course of a few days if it upsets their stomachs. Many chickens can happily snack on lettuce, but some may be upset by it.
Iceberg lettuce is perhaps the biggest offender. Iceberg lettuce is a common, light green lettuce that is often used as a topping for sandwiches and burgers and as a base for salads. This type of lettuce is low in nutritional content and high in water content (which may contribute to diarrhea). It’s best to avoid feeding your chickens too much iceberg lettuce.
That being said, the Iceberg lettuce isn’t poisonous to most chickens. Of course, just like humans, some chickens may have allergies to certain foods. Still, if you happen to drop your salad on the ground and the hens end up eating some iceberg lettuce, they’ll likely be fine.
Generally, the worst-case scenario will be an upset stomach and perhaps some diarrhea. Unpleasant, sure, but not life-threatening.
Will Lettuce Affect Eggs?
Lettuce doesn’t seem to affect the taste of eggs. Some vegetables, like onions, are known for changing the flavor of eggs. Onions may also cause anemia, affecting blood flow among chickens. While lettuce may not be the best daily meal for your chickens, it’s not known for causing serious problems like these.
When it comes to feeding your chickens, there are many better options than iceberg lettuce, including more nutritious types of lettuce. Darker leafed lettuce is often more nutritious. Be careful; however, dark leaves does not mean good.
Darker Lettuce is Better, but Not All Dark Leafy Plants Are Good for Your Chickens
Generally, darker, leafy green lettuces are better for your chickens than iceberg lettuce. Butterhead, romaine, and crisphead lettuces feature darker, more nutritious leaves. Still, even with dark lettuce, it’s a wise idea to start by feeding your chickens small amounts of lettuce.
Also, not all dark, leafy plants are good for chickens. While dark lettuce may be recommended, leaves from tomato plants, peppers, and potatoes should not be fed to your chickens. These plants, among others, belong to the nightshade group, which is a large group of plants that hail from the capsicum and the solanum families.
Does the word “nightshade” give you the creeps? It should as the leaves on these plants are dangerous to many animals and humans as well. In a worst-case scenario, the leaves from a nightshade plant could kill you or injure your chicken. Yet the fruit and vegetables on these plants, including tomatoes, may be perfectly healthy.
Before feeding your chickens any leafy vegetables, make sure that the leaves aren’t from a nightshade plant. You might think you’re holding a handful of romaine lettuce, but in fact, they could be leaves from a dangerous plant. Also, while the leaves from a nightshade plant are dangerous, the fruit or vegetables may be safe for your chickens to eat. For example, chickens can generally eat common tomatoes. That said, keep your chickens away from tomato plants because they might nibble on the leaves.
What Else Should I Know About Feeding Lettuce to My Chickens?
Chickens have relatively sensitive stomachs. While some farm animals, such as pigs or goats, can eat just about anything, you should be careful when feeding chickens. A good rule of thumb is to feed your chickens, only food you yourself would eat.
If you have a bag of lettuce that’s still fresh but you know you won’t eat it in the next few days, chopping it up and feeding it to your chickens is probably okay. On the other hand, if you find an old bag of lettuce in the fridge that is starting to rot and mold is growing on it, toss the lettuce. Mold can kill chickens, as can bacteria and other microbes.
Unfortunately, lettuce is among the worst offenders when it comes to mold, bacteria, and other microbes. It’s not uncommon to hear that a rash of food poisoning incidents was linked to lettuce at a certain restaurant. E. Coli, salmonella and other dangerous microbes thrive on lettuce.
The Proper and Safe Way to Store and Eat Lettuce
Lettuce isn’t an inherently dangerous food, but some smart safety tips could prevent both your chickens and your family from falling ill. First off, it’s smart to eat lettuce quickly. Storing lettuce in the fridge will preserve it longer than leaving it out on the counter. Moist lettuce is less likely to wilt, so wrapping a head of lettuce in a damp (but not soaking wet) paper towel is smart.
It’s wise to wash lettuce once you get home from the store. Sometimes, dirt and other contaminants may be on your lettuce. Pesticides are especially worrisome and could injure your chickens. So a thorough rinse is in order. You should also wash your lettuce again before feeding it to your chickens. After washing the lettuce, let it dry before putting it in the fridge.
If you’re storing a head of lettuce, wrapping it in plastic cling wrap is smart. If you’re storing leaves, an airtight container is a good idea. You can also use a large ziplock bag. Generally speaking, airtight containers or bags can add a day or two to the lifespan of your lettuce.
Typically, lettuce is only good for about a week, maybe ten days. After that, it’s best to toss your lettuce. Feeding old or rotting lettuce to your chickens is a bad idea. You’re better off throwing it in the garbage.
A Quick Look at the Digestive System of Chickens
Ever wonder how chickens are able to eat seeds without teeth? Part of the answer lies in the chicken’s efficient and effective digestive system. We’re going to take a quick peek at the chicken’s digestive system, so you understand the journey lettuce or other vegetables will be taking.
Chickens, like many other birds, take food in with their beak. This beak is great for pecking. Once the chicken swallows the food, it’s sent to the “crop,” which is a storage area at the base of the next. That’s right, your lettuce is typically first going into storage before being sent to the stomach. From the crop, the lettuce is slowly sent into the stomach, small bits at a time. It may take 12 hours or more for a full crop to be emptied.
In the stomach, the gizzard is used for crushing up food, including lettuce and seeds. The gizzard is a very strong muscle that can pulverize food. While lettuce may not need much pulverizing, seeds certainly do. The gizzard is why chickens and other birds don’t really need teeth. They can do the chewing, so to speak, in their stomach.
From the stomach, the lettuce and other food will pass into the small intestine. Here, the digestive system will absorb nutrients. The food will also enter the ceca, a part of the small intestine where bacteria reside and assist with digestion. After that, the food passes to the large intestine, where water is squeezed out, and the food is dried. Finally, what remains is mixed with urine and excreted from the body.
Ultimately, your chickens have a very powerful, efficient digestive system. However, you’re not putting this digestive system to the best use if you feed your chicken low nutrient foods, like iceberg lettuce. That’s why lettuce is okay as an occasional treat, but you generally want to stick to more nutritious foods.
By the way, did you know that chicken manure is a good fertilizer? If you have a garden where you grow lettuce or other vegetables, consider using the manure to help grow your plants!
Dietary Considerations When Feeding Chickens
You already know that lettuce is safe to feed your chickens but typically only in moderation. What else should you know about chickens and their diet? A healthy diet can lead to healthy chickens. So make sure you take the time to craft a feeding plan that will provide your hens and roosters with all the nutrients they need!
Generally speaking, you don’t want to feed your chickens anything with caffeine in it. Caffeine can injure animals, including chickens, dogs, and more. Lettuce isn’t the only food you should offer in moderation. When feeding your chickens or other pets, anything sweet, such as grapes, uses restraint. Too much sugar can be bad for them.
The feed should contain a good mix of protein (around 20 percent). Feeding your chickens some insects, such as mealworms, is a good idea but make sure you don’t overdo it.
Food, including lettuce and feed, should be spread around the yard as well. If you dump all the feed or lettuce in one place, it can lead to aggression and fighting. Some of your hens could end up seriously injured.
During the winter, try to provide your chickens with extra carbs. This will help the chickens stay warm as they’ll have more energy to burn. Iceberg lettuce and other low nutrition foods are probably best avoided during the colder months. Instead, stick with more nutritious foods, such as grains.
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