If you’re anything like me, opening the refrigerator these days involves a sigh and a slight rearranging—or outright shove—of your Tupperware containers to access something that does not involve stuffing, cranberries or potatoes.
The winter holidays have come and gone, but you may not know that by looking at the leftovers that linger on. All those delicious side dishes your loved ones raved over just days ago now receive looks of disdain.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told my husband, Jae, and my sons that there are still plenty of roasted carrots/parsnips/sweet potatoes, just to see them make ramen or cheese sandwiches. I’ll admit it: There’s only so much rutabaga and sugar pie I can handle, too.
So I know that my chickens are about to get yet another fabulous meal of leftovers (they already got all the kitchen scraps from Christmas and New Year’s dinners). Not every extra is appropriate or healthful for your birds, however. Before offering up your storage-container contents, check these eight tips for sharing leftovers with your layers.
None of my children particularly like chocolate. It was a huge part of my Christmas as a kid, though, with Bûches de Noël, chocolate crackle cookies, chocolate Santas and a variety of chocolate pies enjoyed regularly during the holidays.
While we humans might consider chocolate heavenly, our chickens definitely don’t. Chocolate toxicosis can occur in birds, dogs and other companion and livestock animals. The specific culprits are the methylxanthines theobromine and caffeine, two substances found in everything from cocoa-bean hulls and dry cocoa powder to milk and dark chocolate.
Depending on the amount and type of chocolate consumed, an animal can experience excess urination (diuresis), excessive thirst (polydipsia), vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, seizures and tachycardia. Coma and death may soon follow.
While chocolate toxicosis typically stems from an animal ingesting excessive amounts of chocolate, lesser amounts of chocolate can be deadly to a smaller, lightweight animal such as a chicken. Just three ounces of semi-sweet chocolate can prove lethal to a 10-pound animal. If you find yourself overloaded with holiday chocolate, consider sharing it with neighbors and colleagues versus with your birds.
Read more: Avoid giving these toxic treats to your chickens!
Avocado may not be a part of many holiday traditions, but in many Latino households it’s a staple of the festivities. Because it oxidizes swiftly, avocado is one of the first things to spoil.
If your avocado dish—or your fresh or sliced avocado—starts to turn, don’t give it to your chickens! Avocado is one of the most toxic plants … and not just its flesh but its skin, seed and leaves as well. These are known to cause myocardial necrosis, cardiac failure and death to mammals and birds.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, parakeets fed 0.31 ounces of avocado flesh died within 48 hours. If you have a surplus of avocado-containing food, your best bet is to throw it away. Do not add it to your compost pile, as wild birds and animals—and foraging chickens—may come across it and succumb to toxicosis.
Potatoes tend to be plentiful during the holidays, gracing the dinner table mashed, roasted, fried, in pancake form and in many other preparations. I have yet to have a Christmas in which my fridge wasn’t filled with tubs of mashed and roasted potatoes.
Can chickens eat potato leftovers? Yes … and no.
Potato skins, especially green-tinged ones, contain a toxic alkaloid called solanine. Solanine affects both the nervous and digestive systems, causing vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, stupor and depression. Fortunately, we humans prefer our potatoes thoroughly cooked, so feel free to share your extras with your birds.
The centerpiece of many of our holiday menus is a roast turkey, goose or chicken. While many intrepid home cooks serve up leftover poultry in sandwiches and soups, there’s often still plenty left in the fridge as our taste buds grow tired.
Can chickens eat chicken leftovers (and other roasted birds)? The answer is yes. Chickens are not vegetarians.
Your hens are omnivores and will eat both plant- and animal-based foodstuffs. It may seem odd or wrong to offer your poultry remainders to your flock, but your birds do not know that they are eating is a fellow bird. So go ahead—feed your chickens your leftover poultry.
You can close your eyes if you have to.
My husband will be the first to tell you he prefers a spiral honey ham to roast turkey for the holidays. Since he is the only one who eats ham, we always end up with more than he can eat … and even he gets tired of ham sandwiches, diced ham and scrambled eggs, and ham croquettes.
You can guess who helps polish off the rest. Chickens adore ham leftovers.
The antics as one hen runs off with a chunk of ham, chased by the other birds, almost makes the price of a honey ham worth it. If you plan to share your leftover ham with your flock, I suggest you dice it first, then offer it in small amounts. Ham is extremely salty, and excessive salt consumption by chickens can lead to salt intoxication.
Read more: Chickens aren’t vegetarians, so go ahead and give them meat.
What are the holidays without sugar? Cakes, pies, cookies, tarts, trifles, you name it … sugar is everywhere!
My kids say it just isn’t Christmas unless I bake at least 12 different kinds of cookies. A couple of weeks later, we are all cookied out.
I already give our neighbors and friends cookie tins, and I’ve even sent some to relatives in other states. I hate waste, so I turn to our living garbage disposals out in their runs for help.
Bear in mind that, just like with humans, too much sugar is not a good thing for our birds. Instead of dumping an entire tub of gingerbread in front of your flock, offer perhaps one or two cookies per day, broken up into pieces. And make sure there is no chocolate!
Chickens also love sweet leftovers such as pecan pie and fruitcake (more than my family does, apparently). The nuts and dried fruits are a special treat for them, especially if they are all natural or organic.
While not usually served on their own, onions often add flavor to festive roasts and side dishes. My kids, however, are not fans. My son Jaeson bit into a pearl onion and asked why the potato was so watery and small.
You can imagine that I had a surplus of pearl onions left, untouched, at both Christmas and afterwards. Can chickens eat onions? Like potatoes, the answer is yes and no.
Eaten in small amounts, the most damage onions will do is give eggs an odd flavor. Eaten in excessive amounts, onions can cause anemia.
I chose to give the chickens a handful of pearl onions. Amusingly, they seemed to agree with Jaeson about their flavor and left them untouched.
Whichever leftovers you offer your chickens, be they vegetables, starches or proteins, bear in mind that moderation is the key. You may want to empty out your refrigerator, but your birds should not be given a giant smorgasbord upon which to feast. At the most, they should be given one or two handfuls of leftovers per day.
While they will happily gobble everything up (well, except for maybe pearl onions), it is vital that they continue to draw their main nutrition from their formulated chicken feed. This ration provides the right percentage of nutrients for their health and development.
Chickens that have gorged on human leftovers will not touch their feed. Several days of feasting can actually be detrimental to their health. Your best bet—and theirs—is to start offering your chickens small amounts of leftovers well before you get tired of seeing them in your fridge.