If you’ve purchased new styrofoam panels to insulate your chicken coop, you might notice that some chickens might peck on it and eat it. This leaves you wondering “why do chickens eat styrofoam?”
Chickens eat styrofoam, not because it’s good for them. Instead, they are curious about it and are preprogrammed to eat pretty much anything. Styrofoam isn’t toxic, but it isn’t biodegradable and should NOT be fed to your flock.
It’s so important to know what your backyard flock can and cannot eat.
In today’s article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about chickens and styrofoam, including various reasons for eating it, and whether it’s good or bad for your chickens. Let’s hop in!
Why Do Chicken Eat Styrofoam?
There are many speculations and explanations of why a chicken would eat such a material. In the following list, we’ll discuss some of the factors that drive chicken to eat styrofoam.
They’re Programmed to Peck on Just About Anything
If you’ve had chickens in your coop for quite some time, you probably know that chickens aren’t the most intelligent animals around. While they may be smarter than a dog, they will still eat things they shouldn’t.
They’re one of the simplest birds with a tiny brain that’s simply programmed to eat, sleep, and lay eggs.
They might have a relatively decent memory, but they are not blessed with reasoning, especially when it comes to food.
These brains will perceive just about anything they can swallow as a potential source of food that they can just peck on as long as this thing holds still while they eat it.
They Do it Out of Curiosity
Another popular reason for chickens to peck on styrofoam is simply curiosity! For chickens, styrofoam is a crunchy and small-sized ball in bright white color, so it can possibly look like chicken treats!
This explains the chicken’s interest in the fluffy plasticized polymer. Also, keep in mind that styrofoam doesn’t have a smell, so a curious young chicken would have no way but pecking to get an idea of what the styrofoam tastes like.
They Mistake it for Grains
If not for curiosity, the fluffy structure of polystyrene and how easy it is to come apart into smaller pieces might trick your chickens into thinking that styrofoam is just food grains.
Keep in mind that this is not necessarily the case with all types of polystyrene foams. However, it’s exceptionally difficult for a chicken to avoid continuous pecking while eating.
So, it’s quite easy for little bits of styrofoam to slip through the bird’s feed while the chicken is munching on its meal, especially if you use styrofoam containers or insulations.
Styrofoam May Look Like Pebbles Used to Improve Digestion
Grains aren’t the only thing that your chickens might mistake styrofoam for. As you know, when chickens are foraging for food, they usually ingest tiny pieces of pebbles and gravel along with the food.
Since they don’t have molars, these small rocks will grind the grains, seeds, and bugs they eat the way molars do that job with our food.
These pebbles will be small enough to pass through their digestive system and come out with the feces.
The structure of styrofoam might look like pebbles enough that a chicken would purposely peck on it hoping for better food digestion.
Chickens Love the Salty Taste
Earlier, I’ve mentioned that the only way for chickens to inspect the odorless styrofoam is by giving it a taste.
As you probably know, salt is pretty essential for the poultry diet. That’s why chickens are likely to find salty tasting food items palatable. Since styrofoam has salty compounds, chickens might regard it as a salty treat.
There Are Some Claims that Styrofoam is Addictive for Chickens
Like many other chemical materials, styrofoam is made up of a wide variety of other complex compounds.
One of the materials used in the production of styrofoam is “isopentane”. This material is an easy-boiling blowing agent that is claimed to have an addictive effect on birds.
Although scientific research is yet to prove the truth of that claim, there are some farmers who believe that birds that consume isopentane will fall into some kind of a euphoric state.
Is it Dangerous to Eat Styrofoam?
Styrofoam contains a lot of microscopic air cavities inside their thin shells, making them remarkably high in terms of thermal and sound insulation. For that reason, styrofoam is used extensively as a material for building, soundproofing, as well as packing.
In other words, it’s easily found around us just about anywhere, so there’s a high chance that your chicken will come across it on some occasion, so should you be worried?
First, you should know that styrofoam is just a popular brand that makes what’s scientifically known as “extruded polystyrene foam”.
Contrary to what many people think, styrofoam itself is not a toxic material, as it’s actually used for packaging food products, such as vegetables, meats, and cheese that might be directly in contact with the polystyrene.
However, just because polystyrene itself isn’t poisonous doesn’t mean that it is actually okay to be eaten.
The real problem with ingesting polystyrene is that when it’s consumed or subjected to a slight increase in temperature, it’ll start to denature and release various chemicals.
In fact, increasing the temperature by just 20 to 30 degrees is enough to get these chemicals released.
Unfortunately, these released materials are highly toxic and are even known for being popular carcinogens. These toxic items include various forms of styrenes, formaldehyde, and phenols.
Based on this information, you can conclude that ingesting large amounts of styrofoam can be actually fatal for both chickens and humans.
Another reason for styrofoam to be dangerous is that it can easily bulk up in the small digestive tract of chickens, which causes blockage of the goiter and leads to obstruction of bowels.
What Can You Do if a Chicken Swallows Styrofoam?
As you now know, styrofoam is a pretty dangerous material to ingest due to the residual materials produced by it when it’s heated up in the chicken’s guts.
Despite that, since styrofoam is almost 90% air. In other words, the amount of released substances due to denaturation is noticeably low and might even not cause any harm to the chicken if it’s a one-time thing.
The first thing you should do if your chicken swallows styrofoam is to take away the styrofoam source and not panic.
In fact, there are various opinions about whether small amounts of styrofoam is as dangerous as large ones.
You’d be surprised by the number of coop owners who claimed that their chicken has eaten some styrofoam before and the chicken was pretty fine and didn’t even show signs of serious illness.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore your chicken’s behavior after accidentally ingesting styrofoam.
Instead, you should keep an eye on your chicken through the next few days and make sure that the styrofoam passes through its system safely.
Styrofoam isn’t biodegradable, which means that it will retain its shape and won’t be digested, so you’ll be able to spot it when it comes out from the other end.
If you notice that your chicken is acting strange and lost its appetite, this might be a sign that the styrofoam has bulked up and is clogging the digestive tract. Another sign of a problem is when that chicken is isolating itself from other chickens in the coop.
In that case, make sure that you take the lethargic chicken to an aviary vet to help your chicken as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Your Chicken from Eating Styrofoam?
You can simply prevent chickens from eating styrofoam by keeping it away from them by regularly getting rid of any polystyrene packaging you receive in a place where your chickens can’t reach.
Also, If you’re using it for insulation, make sure that you’re hiding it behind a tougher finishing material.
With that said, you now know why chickens are known for pecking on styrofoam. As you can see, there are various reasons for a chicken to pick up that habit.
Although the accidental ingestion of a small amount would probably cause no serious harm to the chicken, there might be a slight chance for the foam to clog up the digestive tract of the chickens.
That’s why you need to keep your eyes peeled for any potential signs of lethargy through the following days.