Oak trees are common across the U.S. and most parts of the world. But, did you know that most species of oak trees (Quercus spp) are considered toxic to animals?
Can chickens eat acorns? Chickens should not eat acorns or leaves from an oak tree as they contain tannic acid. A toxin that is known to cause vomiting, stomach upset, diarrhea, and even death with prolonged exposure.
Are Acorns Toxic to Chickens?
Yes, raw acorns that have fallen from trees are toxic to chickens. As well as most other household pets, cattle, and livestock.
They are also toxic to humans. If you’ve ever tasted an acorn (I will admit, I haven’t) the more bitter it was the more tannins were present.
Unless you were lucky, you will have experienced some stomach pain, constipation, and other related symptoms.
You literally have to wash them a few times or soak them to remove all traces of this toxin. Acorns are safe to eat when they’ve been cleaned if you really want to try one or feed one to your flock.
Are Acorn Leaves Toxic Too?
The leaves are also toxic, yes.
Much like the acorns, in small quantities, a chicken might not experience any ill-effects. But the leaves do contain the same harmful toxins, so you should avoid any contact between your flock and oak leaves and seeds etc.
Acorn Poisoning (Oak Bud/Quercus Poisoning)
If a chicken or another animal consumes acorns or leaves from an oak tree, they may show the effects of acorn poisoning. This is also known as Quercus poisoning in the medical world.
Dogs are particularly susceptible as they are more likely to come across acorns when running in forested areas. Plus, as most dog owners are very aware of, dogs tend to taste and eat things first and worry about the consequences later.
Chickens aren’t much better either. I wouldn’t trust mine not to try a little foliage from an oak tree when they’re scratching around for grubs and other insects.
I’ll run through some of the symptoms below, but it’s a serious toxin and something you should make sure your flock and other pets are not exposed to.
It’s interesting because although it’s not commonly known (at least it came as a surprise to me), It’s something humans have been aware of for a long time.
Apparently acorns were a much sought after food for native Indians. They knew back then that they had to wash, dry, treat, and cook the acorns to rid any trace of the harmful and bitter tannins back then.
You can still find it as an ingredient in some dishes today as it’s not that hard to wash away and remove the toxins. It’s still an acquired taste though, you won’t see acorns on the menu very often.
Symptoms of Acorn (Quercus) Poisoning
If your chickens have eaten acorns or the leaves of an oak tree in small amounts, the possible symptoms include:
- Stomach pains
All the kinds of symptoms associated with some seriously painful and uncomfortable stomach issues.
I’d like to say they’d learn their lesson if they ate a small amount once or twice. But in my experience, most chickens do not!
If chickens are eating leaves and seeds containing tannic acid in larger amounts or over a prolonged period, the effects are much more serious.
It can cause swollen kidneys, liver damage, and will be fatal.
Should You Feed Acorns to Your Flock?
If you have a large oak tree in your yard or a surrounding area, it’s tempting to feed acorns to your flock. Or at the very least, not go out of your way to remove them.
Acorns are highly nutritious and make for an excellent treat to help provide some key nutrients. They are especially high in vitamins A and E, as well as iron, potassium, and a range of minerals.
As long as you know you are removing every last trace of the tannins, it's safe to add them to the menu for your flock.
From speaking to backyard flock owners that have fed them to their chickens they say they love them too.
In Summary - Can Chickens Eat Acorns?
While they may seem harmless, acorns are actually toxic and potentially very harmful to chickens.
Chickens can eat acorns if they’ve been properly washed and prepared. So don't panic if you see them listed as an ingredient in feed, as it sometimes is, that’s perfectly fine.
If you have an oak tree where your flock roams, it’s something to be aware of though.
Overview of Quercus Poisoning - MSD Manual