I’ve heard it so many times over the years, “Why do chickens eat styrofoam?”. It’s bizarre, but I’ve never met a chicken that could resist eating styrofoam given the chance. It’s not good for them though, you should avoid allowing them to get their beaks on any.
Why Do Chickens Eat Styrofoam?
Honestly, we can only speculate as to why chickens love styrofoam.
Obviously, there is no nutritional content in it and it doesn’t smell appealing as far as I know. Yet, ask any backyard chicken owner who has left some styrofoam packing out, and I’m sure they’ll all tell you the same thing; their chickens pecked it to bits.
If you need a reminder, here’s a short video of some hens pecking away at styrofoam while their feed is nearby:
The main reason I can think of is that styrofoam has a consistency and feel they like. I can understand it, it’s almost fun for me to pick bits apart.
Chickens are curious animals, I can imagine they would have a little peck to see what happens. Once they see little bits are breaking off, it (almost) makes sense that they would carry on pecking away.
Let’s be real here, chickens will eat or attempt to eat a lot of things they should do. It’s just that styro packaging is so easy to break up and eat in small pieces that we notice them working their way through a chunk of it.
Is It Bad for Chickens To Eat Styrofoam?
This will come as little surprise, but it’s not good for chickens to eat styrofoam. Or any kinds of foam insulation, packaging, and other general insulation and packaging materials for that matter.
In regards to being dangerous, toxic, poisonous, or hazardous, the risks are minimal. Don't panic if your chicks have eaten some of this material.
I mean, you should never allow your chickens to eat as much styrofoam as they’d like. But I’ve heard of a hungry flock of hens working their way through a large amount without any real issues.
Toxicity aside, the main issue would be a hen or a rooster blocking their crop or causing a blockage in their intestines.
This is unlikely though. As it breaks up into small little white balls, there is a good chance it will pass through their system. It’s not going to be the nicest sight or experience, and I’d like to say they’d learn their lesson - but we know they won’t.
Other Things Chickens Are Attracted To but Shouldn't Eat
Styrofoam isn’t the only “non-food” item chickens seem to be attracted to but shouldn’t be eating.
Some of the other materials in your yard that are probably not safe includes:
Caulk - This is the white stuff decorators use to seal up gaps and cracks. I know more than one chicken owner that has used caulk to seal up holes in their coop, only to find out the next day that it’s all been ripped up and eaten!
Staples/Nails - They are also attracted to small shiny things. Such as nails, screws, staples, and so on. These can be potentially very dangerous, however, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Loose Threads - Sometimes chickens are as bad as playful kittens. If they see a stray cord, piece of string, or thread dangling, they will probably pick it up and run off with it unraveling whatever it’s attached to.
Peeling Paint - This is another annoying habit that can accelerate how quickly their coop starts to look tatty. If paint or any other materials are peeling or coming away, hens will peck at it and make sure it comes off!
Keep an Eye Out for a Sick Chicken
As I mentioned, the risk of your chickens getting sick from eating styrofoam is small.
Even so, you should avoid letting them eat it, and look out for any signs they’re sick if they have just demolished a float, packing, coffee cup, egg carton, or anything else made of styrofoam.
Some signs to look out for that a chicken is feeling under the weather or maybe has a blocked crop due to eating too much packaging are:
Lethargic/”Off” Behavior - You know your chickens better than anyone, so it’ll be most obvious to you when they’re not acting right. When chickens are not acting right, it usually means they are not feeling well.
Not eating - When any animal isn’t eating, you know something is up. Chickens are notorious for grazing throughout the day, they’ll even eat plastics, polystyrene, and all sorts as we’re covering in this post.
Pale Wattle/Comb - A pale wattle or comb is often an indication of an unwell chicken. If you notice they’ve gone from a vibrant red to a dull or pale pinkish color, something is definitely wrong.
Not Laying Eggs - A blocked crop or intestinal issues will usually cause a pause on egg production. If you’re not finding eggs in their nesting box as regular, give your hen a check-up.
If you spot any of the above - or anything else out of the ordinary - get your chicken seen by an avian vet and explain that she ate a little more styrofoam than she should have!
Chickens are fun, generous with their eggs, rewarding… and sometimes a bit silly. As to why they eat styrofoam, it’s one of those weird things that we can’t quite understand.
The good news is, there isn’t much to worry about. You’re more likely to be annoyed about the damage and seeing little white balls floating around your yard than you are to be dealing with a sick hen.