If you let your chickens out into the yard to forage, you may have questions about the mushrooms that pop up in the lawn. Can chickens eat mushrooms and are they safe? That patch of mushrooms in the yard may be okay for them to eat. As a rule, chickens can eat any kind of mushroom that is also deemed safe for human consumption, but that is where things get tricky. Some mushrooms that grow in the wild are incredibly toxic.
So should you give your chickens a handful of mushrooms? Let’s find out.
What is a Mushroom?
There are many kinds of mushrooms out there in the world, but what are they? Mushrooms are a kind of structure that is produced by fungus solely for reproduction. You can think of mushrooms as being similar to fruits, which carry the seeds needed to produce the next round of fruit-bearing plants. However, in place of the fruit is the mushroom and all of its gills or pores, housing millions of spores that are spread throughout the environment in a number of ways.
Mushrooms, interestingly, have their own classification kingdom. They are neither plants nor animals, and they have a unique way of gathering nutrients. Rather than gathering up sunlight through photosynthesis, mushrooms use mycelium (or their roots) to bring in nutrients by growing around a food source and digesting it.
Different Types of Edible Mushrooms
Here are the most common mushrooms you will find incorporated into human cuisine:
- White button
- Lion’s mane
- Chicken of the woods
- Black trumpet
- Black trumpet
Some mushrooms are cultivated — as in, grown by people — and others are wild.
Can Chickens Eat Mushrooms?
Yes, chickens can eat some mushrooms. Out of the 10,000 known species of mushrooms out in the world, about 20% of them are extremely poisonous. Therefore, chickens should only be given mushrooms that you can either grow yourself for consumption or purchase from the store. The reason the mushrooms in the store are safe to eat is because they are commercially grown in controlled environments.
In this video you can see how chickens peck mushrooms from grass:
Do Chickens Like Mushrooms?
Now, will your chickens naturally seek out some fungus to peck on? Probably not. Mushrooms are not their favorite food, and they treat mushrooms indifferently. Some birds will love mushrooms. Others will turn their beaks up at the fungi.
The texture of raw mushrooms is a turn off for most birds, including chickens. If you want to try feeding them mushrooms, you are going to have to cook the mushrooms to make them more appealing.
What About Wild Mushrooms?
Many people tend to observe chickens and think that they peck at whatever is in front of them, oblivious to any danger. However, chickens were once wild birds before humans domesticated them hundreds of years ago. Those chickens that are descended from those ancient breeds have instincts meant to keep them alive. Chickens usually know when something is bad for them.
There are many chickens that peck something as a test. If they leave a plant or mushroom alone, it usually means one of two things: either they don’t like it, or the food is not good for them.
Are you worried that your chickens pecking at something potentially harmful will hurt them? Don’t be. A peck or two to sample something is never enough to hurt your birds, especially in the case of mushrooms.
How Would Toxic Mushrooms Affect Chickens?
If 20% of the world’s mushrooms are poisonous, what are the chances of a toxic variety growing in your yard and a chicken eating it? Low. That does not mean it is impossible. Some chickens do not have the same survival instincts as other breeds, and they may accidentally consume a large poison of a toxic mushroom. Eating a poisonous mushroom will have an adverse effect, depending on the type.
Toxic mushrooms often cause kidney failure, neurological problems, and sometimes even death. Wild mushrooms may also contain parasites that add to the illness. Chickens may be hardy, but they will be in distress if they eat a whole poisonous mushroom.
How then do you identify a toxic mushroom before it is too late? Interestingly, many of the cultivated mushrooms you get in the store, which are edible, are visually like the ones you see in the yard. However, those light brown or white mushrooms in your yard are rarely ever edible. You should also avoid any mushroom that has rings, gills, or bulbous sacks on the stem. Also, avoid anything with a redcap. That is a telltale sign of toxicity.
So Cultivated Mushrooms Are Safe, But Are They Healthy?
Mushrooms are known to be incredibly rich in nutrients and vitamins while being low in fat and calories. That makes them perfect for chickens. In fact, scientific research has been conducted to determine whether chickens should have mushrooms as a supplement. One of the studies concluded that feeding mushrooms to chickens is beneficial. Overall, mushrooms improved a number of functions, including digestion and immunity. Additionally, researchers found that hens who ate mushrooms laid eggs of better quality than those birds that didn’t.
Mushrooms are excellent source of the following:
Aside from those nutrients, mushrooms are chock full of protein (2.2 grams in a single cup), fiber, and antioxidants. Research has also proven that mushrooms can also lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes. Mushrooms are one of the healthiest supplemental treats you can give your chickens.
How to Feed Chickens Mushrooms
As already mentioned, chickens are not fans of the rubbery texture of raw mushrooms. It is unusual for chickens to eat them uncooked. Cooking up the mushrooms not only makes them more flavorful, but it makes them easier for your chickens to consume and digest.
Here are some tips for preparing mushrooms for your feathered friends:
- Wash your mushrooms to remove any dirt or chemicals. Organic is recommended for this reason.
- Cut the mushrooms into bite-sized slivers or squares.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Use a nonstick pan, because you cannot use oil or butter to keep the mushrooms from sticking.
- Cook the mushrooms for about 5-10 minutes, depending on their thickness. Take the mushrooms off the heat once they are tender.
- Cool to room temperature before serving the mushrooms to your chickens. Any leftovers should be placed in the fridge for a maximum of 3 days.
Mushrooms may not be a favorite when served alone. One recommendation from other chicken keepers is to mix the mushrooms with other treats or with your chicken’s feed. For example, you can combine the mushrooms with layering pellets and slices of fruit or bits of cabbage or lettuce.
In this video you can see how a human prepares mushrooms for his chickens:
How Much Mushrooms and How Often?
Mushrooms are healthy, but they should never be considered a main food for your chickens. The only food that should be the main entree is a premium chicken feed. Do not give your chickens too many mushrooms in a single sitting. That means that mushrooms should not make up any more than 10% of their diet. Once or twice a week is more than enough mushrooms for your chickens to benefit from them.
The same is true for other snacks you may want to give your chickens. Cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, zucchini, and radishes are all excellent choices, but they need to be given in moderation.
How to Grow Mushrooms For Your Chickens
Are you interested in growing some mushrooms for your chickens? Then you are going to love this idea: mushroom logs. You can easily find all the tools you need in stores or online to grow edible mushrooms in your yard. The most essential part is called the mushroom spawn (or mushroom plug). Search for the kind of spawn you want. The other required materials include hardwood logs.
The bark must still intact on the hardwood logs. Choose the wood based on the mushroom plug you have selected. For example, shiitake mushrooms grow well on white oak.
Find a place in your yard with plenty of shade. Drill about 20 to 30 holes (each about 1.5 inches deep) into the hardwood, each hole about 4-5 inches apart. Insert the plugs into the holes using a hammer. The plugs must be driven into the wood so the mycelium can get into the wood and use it for nutrition.
Once you have every single plug embedded in the log, plug up the holes with wax. Candelilla wax is popular, because it also keeps away insects.
Your mushrooms will need some time to grow. Once they sprout, your chickens will be free to peck at the wood and the fungus growing from the log. It will be entertaining for them and you. Optionally, you can harvest those mushrooms and cook them up (for your family and the flock).
Final Thoughts on Mushrooms
Can chickens eat mushrooms? That would be a maybe. It depends on the mushroom and from where it came. Those wild mushrooms in the yard after a rainstorm are most likely not safe, but your chickens should leave them alone. Store-bought mushrooms, on the other hand, are a healthy and acceptable snack for your chickens to have once in a while. Though chickens do not always like mushrooms, there is no reason to not try giving your flock a couple of white buttons or cremini.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.