Extension @ Your Service: Is your back yard chicken-proof?

Is your backyard chicken-proof?

Anyone with small children in their lives probably has taken steps to childproof their home and yards, but if you have a backyard flock, do you know what things should be removed or secured form your birds’ reach?

Extension @ Your Service by Richard Goforth

Extension @ Your Service
by Richard Goforth

Most people recognize the obvious things, like making sure birds cannot get into household chemicals like cleaning supplies, fuels and any pesticides stored around the home. Of course, you should always follow label directions when using any pesticide and it is always best to remove all animals and people from a treatment area at least until the application has dried or settled.  Pay special attention to any applications of products in small granular forms, such as many fire ant baits, as these are often very attractive to chickens.

Most people often are not aware of many other potential toxic plants and substances that can sicken or kill poultry. There are a number of common plants that are potentially toxic; sometimes it may just be a particular part of the plant such as the leaves or fruit and other times it may be a specific condition such as wilted leaves or frost damage that make the plant toxic.

By now you may be paranoid that your chickens are dying as you read this, but there are many factors that go into creating a toxic condition. First, just because a plant is listed as toxic does not mean it is common, and the amount that needs to be consumed may be very high. Often there will be noticeable symptoms in the birds before death and some may simply reduce egg production or growth.

Most chickens that have a ready source of quality feed and water available are not likely to consume a lethal dose of toxic plants, but you should be aware of some of the most common problem plants that occur in North Carolina:

— Black locust leaf

— Parsley plant

— Bladder pod seed

— Pokeberry fruit

— Cassava root

— Rapeseed seed

— Castor bean

— Sickle pod seed

— Corn cockle seed

— Sweet pea seed

— Hemlock seed

— Tannins; all

— Jimsonweed seed

— Tobacco leaf/stem

— Milkweed plant

— Velvet weed seed

— Nightshade fruit

— Vetch seed

— Oak leaf

— Yellow jasmine; all

— Oleander; all

— Yew; all

This is not a complete list of all plants that may be toxic in North Carolina, but it covers some of the most common ones we find particularly in the Piedmont/Sandhills area. I would encourage everyone to research your particular area and be familiar with the common problem plants around your home.

It is also worth spending a little time identifying any unknown plants in your landscape and pastures to avoid any potential issues with your backyard flock or whatever you may be growing.

In addition to the plants listed, there are some common foodstuffs that can be toxic to chickens as well. Avocados, green potatoes or peelings and chocolate can all have toxic effects on birds and should not be fed to a flock.

If you have questions about how best to care for your backyard flock or need help identifying plants in your range, contact the Richmond County Cooperative Extension Office at richmondces@ncsu.edu. For more tips and info on backyard poultry happenings, please “Like” my NC Cooperative Extension –Hen House page on Facebook.

Richard Goforth is poultry agent at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Richmond County office.

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