Chicken are natural foragers, spending a good portion of their time outdoors scratching, pecking, and nibbling at plants and insects. The downside, however, is that not everything that grows naturally in your yard is good for them in large quantities. Acorns happen to be one of the things chicken owners should be wary of when it comes to excessive consumption, as they have the potential to both positively and negatively impact your chicken’s gut health.
Can Chickens Eat Acorns?
Acorns are in high abundance come fall months, prompting many chicken owners to question whether it’s safe for their chickens to peck away at their tough outer exteriors.
With a quick Google search, you’ll find that there is a lot of mixed information and opinions out there when it comes to whether acorns are safe for chickens to eat. This is because raw acorns contain a molecule called tannins that can potentially become toxic to your chicken when eaten in excessive amounts.
Despite its potential to be toxic in large amounts, feeding your chicken acorns isn’t exactly against their natural, wild diet. Like the greater prairie chicken, wild chickens have been found to eat white oak acorns as part of their diet.
Although acorns don’t make up the bulk of their meals, the occasional nibble can provide your chicken with essential nutrients and promote gut health even in wild settings. (source)
Are There Any Nutritional Benefits of Feeding Your Chicken Acorns?
Before we get into how acorns can be harmful to your chicken, let’s take a look at the nutritional benefits they get from them.
Keep in mind that there are different types of oak trees that produce acorns, and the information below on the nutritional value of acorns will vary in amount depending on the type of tree it comes from.
Below is a table of the different types of trees that produce acorns and the tannic level of each.
|Medium to high
|Medium to high
|Low to medium
Use the table above, if you’re planning on planting some trees and your chickens and other wildlife forage in your yard.
What Does Your Chicken Get from Acorns?
Acorns are loaded with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It is a good source of carbohydrates, crude fats, protein, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, potassium, niacin, phosphorous, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, and zinc.
It also provides your chicken with tannins, which are natural phytogenic molecules that draw the most concern from chicken owners when eaten raw.
Are There Health Benefits to Feeding Chickens Acorns?
Acorns are a great source of nutrition, but they also contain the much worried about tannin molecules that can be toxic to your chicken. When acorns are given in moderation, it can have a positive effect on broiler chicken immunity.
The addition of tannin to their diet has been found to promote gut health in chickens by increasing helpful bacteria in the intestines.
Some chicken feeds will contain additives of tannin to help promote your chicken’s gut health. So, if you are wondering whether it is safe to let your chicken snack on some fallen acorns, you should consider what their feed already provides them.
How is Acorns Toxic to Your Chicken?
As mentioned, the most concerning part about letting your chicken munch on fallen acorns are the intake of tannins. Some acorns contain more of this molecule than others, like red oak acorns, and when eaten excessively, they can build up to harmful levels.
When tannin intake is high, your chicken’s daily feed intake and weight will decrease. It will also have the opposite effect on your chicken’s gut health.
Your chicken can develop the following health issues: diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, damaged renal tubules, kidney failure, and death.
How Much and How Often is it Safe to Feed Your Chickens Acorns?
There is no real set amount as to how much is safe for your chicken to eat or how often they can be given as a snack.
This is because of the differences in tannin levels from one acorn type to the other. If you live in an area with many red oak trees, you will want to monitor how often they pick on them while out foraging in your yard.
On the other hand, white oak acorns have a relatively low tannin level, meaning they can eat more of this type of acorn than red oak acorns.
This is probably a good thing, as white oak acorns are also a preferred food for the wild greater prairie chickens mentioned earlier and are quite tasty to many bird species.
You should also consider how much your flock of chickens are getting from their chicken feed as well as other food sources.
If they are getting everything they need from their feed, then adding more to their diet can tip the scales in the wrong direction and see adverse health effects arise.
For this reason, many chicken owners will forego letting their chicken eat acorns altogether. When weighing the potential risks of feeding it to them against the benefits, being safer rather than sorry certainly is not the wrong answer.
Adding more of it to their diet can be a risky balancing act.
How Do You Feed Your Chickens Acorns Safely?
If you decide to feed your chicken acorns, you can take a couple of steps to make it safer for them to consume.
- First and foremost, speak to your chicken’s veterinarian about any dietary changes and what worrying signs to look out for after consumption. You can also get a better understanding of what a safe amount would be for your chicken, as their size, breed, and the local knowledge of your veterinarian can help determine serving size, frequency, and safety.
- Always monitor your chicken. When acorns seemingly drop from the sky every few seconds during the fall, the abundance of acorns can become problematic. If you notice your chicken taking too much of a liking to them, you will want to remove the acorns from the area for better quantity control.
- Soak the acorns. Soaking the acorns before letting your chicken peck at them will remove the tannin along with any major concerns on your end. If the tannins aren’t there to build up in their system, then the potential health concerns will no longer cause worry.
Other Foods Chickens Can Eat
If you don’t feel safe feeding your chickens acorns. Consider some of these other foods that are proven to be beneficial for your flock.
Chickens can eat acorns, but different acorns have different levels of tannins, which can be harmful to your flock. Many chicken feeds already have some tannin levels, and adding more to their diet can cause adverse effects.
If you live in an area where acorns are abundant. You will want to remove the acorns in the areas your chickens are allowed to forage. It will prevent them from getting too many tannins in their system.