Can chickens eat Citrus Fruits?

two chickens eating lemon slices

Can chickens eat Citrus Fruit?

Despite the myths you may have heard or come across on the internet, Citrus is just fine for chickens. The reality is that most chickens will avoid citrus. Most of mine seem not to be bothered even by Oranges! I would avoid giving them peel to eat as it may have toxic pesticides and waxes on the outside and citrus oils found in the peels are quite strong.

When asking about citrus fruits we usually mean lemons, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, pomelo and limes. Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, sugars, minerals and dietary fibre. Of these only the sugars are inherently bad for chickens.

Below: Two chickens eating lemons.

The standard rules about treats in small quantities apply. You know yourself a little citrus is good but too much makes you pull funny faces when you eat it.

I've never made it a point to provide citrus to my chickens, but never avoided it either. Some chickens don’t like citrus, especially tart fruits. Some chickens love any citrus.

As Citrus fruit is expensive in comparison to chicken feed I would never bother buying it specially for the birds.

Chickens thrive on a varied and balanced diet which should include some whole grains, sprouts, greens, natural proteins from insects, worms, seeds, and a healthy amount of fresh fruits as they might find foraging, i.e., fallen ripe fruits, berries.

Always provide plenty of clean water and a safe clean environment.

Why is citrus bad for chickens?

It is not bad for chickens. Citrus is safe for chickens in small amounts and not poisonous to chickens at all.

It is highly acidic and contains sugar but it can be given in limited quantities.

Once upon a time someone started a, now well circulated, rumour that citrus fruits will kill chickens. I had never, in 30 some odd years with chickens had heard that rumour.

I could find no genuine reports of chicken deaths attributed to citrus fruit, just a variety of chicken responses from loving citrus to hating and refusing to eat it.

There were some reports of feather plucking, poor egg production, obesity, and general high blood sugar issues, but this is the same with any fruit given in too high a quantity.

There are no known chicken toxins in organic citrus fruit. I found many testimonies from chicken keepers of no ill effects from feeding citrus as part of a well balanced diet.

Citrus fruit pulp and peels have been made into pellets for animal feed. This pulp is a by-product of juicing on the factory level. Citrus fruit rind and pulp can lower the bacteria content in the GI tract of poultry and livestock in a natural and beneficial way. We know that citrus juices and peels are a great source of vitamin C.

What is the nutritional value of Citrus Fruit to chickens?

The reality is there is nothing in Citrus fruits that chickens can not get from elsewhere in their diet or produce themselves. Chickens make their own Vitamin C so it's not an issue for them.

The best diet for the chicken is an ancient one, that has sustained chickens since their beginning and allowed them to flourish across the globe in new and varied breeds; the same diet truly Free Range Chickens enjoy. Free ranging chickens will eat a healthy balance of what nature provides.

When caged or with limited access to open areas, plenty of water is a must, oyster shell, greens, whole seeds like safflower, sunflower, and flax, sprouted grains and seeds. As with humans, the less food is processed, the better the nutrition and health benefits.

A few phrases come to mind when thinking about chickens and their diets:

All things in moderation (but not chemicals, avocado, chocolate, caffeine, spoiled, sugary or very salty foods – don't let them eat cake!).

Variety is the spice of life and if food is very cheap, easy or fast, it’s probably not very healthy. The best fast foods are ones that have no additives, can be picked ripe, and eaten immediately, including some citrus.

Are oranges safe for chickens?

Oranges are fine for chickens, Try giving frozen orange as a hot weather treat. Cut the Orange in half and freeze then give to the hens to peck at when it's hot. Refreshing in every way.

Below: A chicken eating an Orange.

Around half of my chickens like Oranges, Mandarins or Tangerines. They do however leave me the peels to pick up after.

Are lemons and limes OK for chickens?

There is some evidence to suggest that Chickens are better able to handle heat stress when given a few drops of lemon juice each in their water.

It seems to have something to do with both the Vitamin C and the small amounts of Ascorbic acid helping to provide calcium in the gut.

Too much acid has the opposite effect and can give shell-less eggs so never overdo it.

Can you feed chicken grapefruit?

So I did this as an experiment and none of my hens ate any grapefruit at all. I ended up chucking it on the compost heap.

Who knew Chickens had the sense to avoid grapefruit!

Can you feed citrus peel to chickens?

This is the one thing I would avoid. As a rule chickens won't eat the peel as it is very tough and can't be swallowed whole.

Citrus peel is likely to have pesticides on the surface, some of which are extremely toxic. Citrus fruit is also routinely waxed to preserve them for storage and these should not be consumed.

Citrus oils found in the skin of the fruit are quite strong and as you wouldn't eat the peel then don't feed it to the hens.

Can chickens eat candied or dried mixed peel?

No, its almost completely sugar and not good for chickens at all.

Marmalade and citrus jams?

Again these are often 65% sugar so do not be tempted to give marmalade or jams to chickens. Also these things tent to be spread on toast and bread is also not really very good for chickens.

For a A to Z list of all the foods chickens can and can't have.