You could say that chickens are feathered garbage disposals, as there are plenty of foods out there for them to consume. Yet, being that you are a responsible chicken keeper, you know the importance of researching which foods are safe. Can chickens eat onions? In small quantities, onions have been proven to be safe and even beneficial to the flock.
Let’s look at the research involved, as well as the best ways to feed your chickens onion.
Can Chickens Eat Onions?
In the chicken raising community, there is a myth that onions are unsafe and should be avoided. This may be connected to the fact that other animals, such as dogs and cats, can become horribly poisoned by onions. However, to say that chickens cannot have onions is false. When fed in moderation, onions are a healthy addition to any chicken’s diet, because they contain vitamins and nutrients that are not typically present in chicken feed.
Of course, chickens may not always like onions — and that’s okay, too.
The Edible Parts of an Onion
Onions are not just the white, yellow, or red bulb that you eat. The bulb is the main source of nutrition for the onion plant, and it is connected directly to the root system. Above ground, there is the stalk, which consists of stringy green leaves to help capture sunlight. If you leave an onion alone, the stalks will soon sprout flowers.
While the bulb is safe for your chickens to consume both raw and cooked, the stalks are not good for them. Chickens do not have teeth, so attempting to eat and swallow the stalks could lead to choking. For that reason, chickens tend to leave the green parts of onions alone.
Similarly, they may not take to even raw or cooked onions alone. The strong scent and flavor of onion may turn off some chickens. That said, hungry chickens are curious chickens, and they will peck at onions experimentally.
If you want your chickens to eat onions, you are going to need to prepare them carefully and mix them with other foods.
Can Chickens Eat Onion Peels?
The flaky outer peel of the onion is edible and causes no reported adverse effects in chickens. However, the peels are often ignored. Chickens are not enticed by onion peels. Besides, there is very little nutritional benefit to them doing so, as the peel contains next to nothing in terms of calories, minerals, and vitamins.
That said, if you chop up raw onion and leave the peel on, your chickens will have no problem eating around it. Otherwise, remove the peel and give your chickens the naked bulb to peck and eat.
Research On Chickens Eating Onions
Since onions, like the flesh of an avocado or green peppers, is considered a potential danger to chickens, it may be reassuring to know that research has been done on this subject.
To begin, in 2001, a study was conducted to see how onions affect the flavor of eggs. Researchers fed the chickens a diet that consisted of feed, onions, and cabbage to see if an onion-like taste would be imparted on the yolk. Turns out, there was a change. The more onions a chicken ate, the less desirable the flavor of the egg. Unless, of course, you happen to love onions.
Next, a study from 2004 looked at how onions affect our feathered friends. Since goose eggs are also popular for consumption, the researchers fed geese a copious amount of green onions. The result? The geese that ate the green onions ended up with poor liver function and anemia. In short, avoid over-stuffing your chickens with onions!
Two studies from 2017 did overturn the misconception that even small amounts of onion are poisonous. First, there was a study that looked into purposefully letting chickens forage through onion crops to see if their excrement could help germinate onion seeds. Turns out that chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer for onions. And no, those chickens saw no adverse effects.
The second study from 2017 looked at onion extract and the effect on broiler chickens. When added to their feed, the chickens gained more weight, and their meat was tastier.
There is also some anecdotal evidence from chicken owners about giving their chickens small portions of onion. Not only do these chickens have boosted immune systems and a healthier weight, but they also are more sated.
The Benefits of Giving Your Chickens Onions
Onions are about 84% water, contain protein, calcium, and phosphorus. In other words, onions can help chickens stay hydrated, full, and healthy. The antioxidants present in onions are also beneficial to chickens, as they work to protect the bones and immune system. Plus, onions are anti-inflammatory and keep blood sugar levels in check.
Onions also have a decent amount of healthy carbohydrates, giving your chicken enough energy to be productive throughout the day. The fiber in onions is a probiotic, giving fuel to your chicken’s gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome is essential to healthier digestion and colon.
Did you know that onions are also a source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, and folate? Each of these benefit chickens by boosting their energy, metabolism, and immune system. At the same time, your chickens will lay higher quality eggs that also taste scrumptious.
Are There Any Dangers to Feeding Chickens Onion?
Yes, there are some dangers to giving your chickens onions. There is a reason the suggested amount is about a teaspoon or less per chicken. Onions, when consumed in vast quantities, can be dangerous.
One of the reasons you want to limit how much onion your flock eats is hemolytic anemia, also known as Heinz anemia. This is what people are concerned about when their dog snatches something with onions in it. When Heinz antibodies become over abundant in the body, there are consequences. Hemolytic anemia means that the red blood cells in the body start to collapse upon themselves.
Physical symptoms in chickens include listlessness, weakness in the legs, and an ill or otherwise unkempt appearance.
Also, as one of the previously mentioned studies disclosed, onions (like asparagus) can give eggs an off-putting flavor. While a dash or two of onions per week should have a minimal effect on eggs, there is always the chance that onions are too much for your hens. Sample a few eggs before you begin routinely giving your chickens onions, so you can see if there is any negative impact on the flavor. If so, it may be wise to stop giving your chickens onions.
Preparing Onions For Your Chickens
Looking for fun ways to give your chickens a dose of onions? Generally, chickens will avoid the stalks and peels when foraging and go straight for the bulb. Even then, raw onions are not as favorable as cooked onions. Keep in mind that you should never deep fry the onions or cook them in too much oil. That means no onion rings for your chickens! The saturated fats from the oil, as well as the breading, can be too much for your chickens to digest.
Here are the best ways for chickens to eat onions:
Do you have a lot of table scraps that you think your chickens will love? Toss in some sauteed or pan-seared onions and mix everything together. It’s a great way to conceal the smell of onions and make them more palatable for your chickens. You can also take all those scraps, boiling them together to make the mash. Other healthy veggies that chickens love include zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, yellow or red bell peppers, asparagus, and squash.
Just remember to dice up any pieces of vegetables that could be too large for a chicken to swallow. You don’t want your feathered friends to choke.
Stringed Roasted Onions
Take your onions and remove the peel. Cut them in half or in quarters. Place them on a baking tray with just a small amount of olive oil. Roast the onions until they are slightly golden brown. Let them cool before threading the pieces through with some string.
From there, hang the string of roasted onions from the fence or the coop and watch your chickens have a blast. Not only does this method provide mental stimulation for your flock, it also gives them a delicious snack to eat throughout the day.
Onion Trail Mix
Making trail mix for your chickens involves a couple of tasty ingredients, including dried insects, such as mealworms, pelleted food, and some dried fruits and vegetables. You can saute the onions before mixing them in with the other ingredients. However, avoid using too much butter or oil to cook the onions, as it will make the onions harder to digest.
Blend everything together then scatter the trail mix around the yard or put it in a shallow pan for your chickens.
Raw Onion Cubes
While raw onions aren’t going to be the favorite, it is the easiest way to give your chickens onion. All you have to do is chop up your leftover onions. Avoid giving your chickens any with mold on them — mold is not safe! Then scatter the small pieces around the yard or toss the raw cubes together with their chicken feed.
Can chickens eat onions? Onions may be unsafe for cats and dogs, but they are perfectly fine for chickens to eat. Therefore, you should definitely add onions to your flock’s list of healthy snacks. Onions have numerous health benefits that are not obtained through chicken feed. Just remember that too much of a good thing — onions included — can lead to negative results, so feed your chickens onions sparingly.
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.