About the same time as when Fern Farm Plants was born almost 10 years ago, we got ourselves a flock of chickens, ducks, geese and 2 dogs. The property was on five acres with a large dam and it was a great life for all the animals we have had there. Chickens alone had half acre for 15 birds and they were loving it.
Occasionally I would let them all out to hoover the slugs, snails and other bugs around the nursery and in our huge greenhouses, which they did a great job of. They also did a great job of decimating my veg garden and to my surprise some of the succulents! The cheeky buggers. But can chickens eat succulents?
Chickens do and can eat succulents. There are some succulents that are considered healthy for chickens. However some varieties can potentially make a chicken sick. It's always best to check first.
I used to love my chooks (Australian slang for chickens) and often watched them forage (they are now in chicken heaven after dying of old age/being killed by a fox). They were very picky about what they would eat and kind of knew what is tasty and what is not good for them. The property came with a few plants that could be poisonous for chooks but it didn’t matter as they just left them be.
There were oleanders, daffodils and tulips in spring, wisteria, ivy, jasmine and others. I can’t vouch for all the other chickens in the world, but ours seem to have a built in system which told them what not to touch. It may also have been that they had lots of space and their tasty food around. But what would happen if they were in a confined space with not a blade of grass and a nice green jasmine poking in? Would they eat it despite it being poisonous? I suppose I will never know.
So which succulents are ok for chickens to eat? The below list is based on our experience and a bit of info found around the internet, though we cold not find many references to succulents and chickens.
Our chooks absolutely loved this plant! Along with the local possums, who can eat a massive patch to the ground overnight. I have also found out that this plant can be eaten by humans.
This is a superb succulent as it is very easy to grow and extremely fast. It can be quite invasive and spreads through anything. Before you plant this in your garden check your local government website for noxious weeds.
The leaves are dark green and small, pink, daisy-like flowers cover this plant almost all year round.
It is a ground-cover and can be used to cover walls or unsightly bits of the garden. You will soon find that it needs to be controlled if planted in the garden but the great thing is that the trimmed bits can all go to the chooks.
When we moved from 5 acres to a much smaller property the poor chickens did not have as much space and so to supplement their grass, I have planted the Aptenia in one of their runs (we moved their pen around so they have fresh grass all the time). They would eat a quite an advanced, sprawled plant in about 3 days.
Aptenia Cordifolia is a great plant to put in with the chickens as once properly established, the roots are very strong and the chickens won’t be able to dig it out.
It was always a bit upsetting to find all the gorgeous sedums trimmed right down by the chooks. They especially loved Little Missy, Little Mr, Acre, Green Mound, Gold Mound, Dasyphyllum and Pallidum. They loved Sedums as much as they did the Aptenia and would always run to the nearest one.
While Sedums are quite fast to grow, they are not as fast as the Aptenia and so any plants can be decimated very quickly. The root system is not very strong and the chickens can pull the whole plant out quite easily.
If you are trimming sedums, chickens should eat them quite happily.
Graptopetalum and Echeveria
Although, not their favourite types of succulent, our chooks were seen having a bit of Graptopetalum and even Echeverias. But not if there was any Aptenia or Sedum around.
Echeveria and Graptopetalum genera have no reported toxicity and so should be safe for chickens to nibble on.
Succulents That Could Make Chickens Sick
While we could not find a lot of research, we found some reference to the below plants and toxic reaction in animals, so it is best they are not given to chickens, if they are keen to eat them. Our personal experience is that the chooks never touched these plants, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and it is hard to say whether all the chickens in the world are the same.
We came across a study that linked Aloe Vera and cancer in rodents, if eaten untreated. Not quite sure about chickens, but a few blog websites (very hard to find out whether the information provided in these blogs is actually based on any scientific evidence) singled out Aloes as dangerous to some animals if eaten.
Our chickens loved the Aloe patch because it was a favourite slug and snail hideaway but they never pecked at the actual plant.
The sap in Euphorbias is well documented as quite toxic and in people can cause some nasty reactions on the skin and has even been linked to cancer. It can even cause blindness, if the sap gets into the eyes and is left untreated.
Studies have not been conducted in regards to chickens, but we think it’s best never to expose chooks to Euphorbias as the plant can release the white sap when it is injured or rubbed against. While the chances are probably low, the sap could get into the chickens eyes as they scratch around or drip on the more tasty plants below that chickens like to eat.
Again very limited information, but Kalanchoe are mentioned as toxic to pets and so it MAY be possible it could make your chickens ill.
Same as with the Kalanchoes, the String of Pearls is said to be poisonous to pets so might be a good idea to keep away from the chooks too.
In conclusion this article is pretty much based on anecdotal evidence of our late flock of chickens, some forum and blog information. There is very little scientific evidence when it comes to chickens eating succulents probably because there are more important studies to be done than looking at which succulents chickens can or cannot eat.
We are pretty sure your chooks will be safe eating Aptenia Cordifolia and Sedums mentioned above as we have heard a few other backyard chicken owners reporting the same experience with these plants. We are also quite certain it is probably for the best that chickens are not exposed to Euphorbias and their sap.