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Dealing With Nightshade And Chickens

There is quite a bit of confusion about nightshade and whether it is poisonous to chickens. Part of the confusion is that there are thousands of species of nightshade, including some that have edible fruit. Many chicken owners wonder if it is safe even having any variety of nightshade around their home. Others wonder if it's safe to feed their chickens nightshade fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant.

What are nightshades?

Nightshades are a diverse family of flowering plants from all over the world. While they are diverse in appearance, they have characteristics in common. Their leaves tend to be simple and staggered and their flower petals are usually fused together. Most of the flowers tend to be bell-shaped and all varieties produce a type of fruit, though not all fruits are edible. The only edible nightshade vegetable is the potato.

What is safe for chickens to eat?

Chickens are able to eat a variety of nightshade fruits and potatoes under specific circumstances. They can eat ripe or cooked fruit of the same varieties that are safe for humans. One exception is that all potatoes must be cooked, no matter how ripe. Never feed a chicken green potatoes or green potato peelings, even if cooked. Other examples of safe nightshade fruits include tomatoes, eggplant and peppers that are either ripe or cooked. Never feed leaves or stems to chickens under any circumstances.

What are the problems with nightshades?

All varieties of nightshade, including those that produce edible fruits, have toxic leaves, stems and flowers. Some varieties have fruit that is toxic, especially if unripened. Chickens can be poisoned and possibly die if they eat enough of the plant or unripe fruit. Some birds, especially young ones, may want to try them. Fortunately, most nightshade plants have a bitter taste, and it is unlikely that a chicken will try it again after they take a small nibble. Some chickens are able to tolerate the ripe fruit of some of the more toxic varieties, but it is risky letting them do so. 

What should be done if a chicken gets poisoned by a nightshade plant?

Common signs of nightshade poisoning include lethargy, blood in the stool, trouble breathing, salivation and vomiting. These are serious symptoms regardless of whether your chicken ate toxic nightshade or not. Any bird showing these symptoms needs immediate veterinary attention. If attended to soon enough, sick birds may recover.

Dealing with nightshade and chickens doesn't have to be a problem. Best practices include ripening and cooking all fruits and potatoes and keeping nightshade plants out of reach of chickens and other pets. If you are unsure if you have any nightshade plants in your garden, contact a nursery for more information. If you think your chicken has consumed anything toxic, nightshade or not, immediately take the bird to see a veterinarian. Check out the site for more information on veterinarians.