What Happens If Chickens Eat Fertilizer?

When you have chickens, you are trying to raise, you already know they are amazingly capable of getting into things they should get into…and eating things they shouldn’t eat. Most chicken owners already know to keep certain things away from them, but fertilizer seems to be a grey area.

What happens if chickens eat fertilizer? It all depends on how much fertilizer the chickens eat and what the fertilizer contains. Small amounts of fertilizer should not be a problem, as long as there are not any dangerous chemicals in it. Very large amounts, however, can hurt them.

Having chickens get into a bag of fertilizer doesn’t seem like a big issue at first, but it is important to take care of the situation when it arises. Here is what you need to know about your birds and your fertilizer.

What Happens If Chickens Eat Fertilizer?

For the most part, not much will happen. Most chickens won’t enjoy the taste of fertilizer, which means they won’t eat much. In small amounts, chickens will be able to digest fertilizer components without issue.

Large amounts of fertilizer, however, can cause a problem. If your fertilizer has high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, or other similar ingredients, your chickens could get sick. If you aren’t sure about the quantity your chickens ate, watch out for signs of fertilizer poisoning.

Are Lawn Chemicals Toxic to Birds?

It depends on the chemical, but the answer is often yes. Fertilizers contain lawn chemicals like pesticides that can emit toxic vapors, cause digestive issues, or even damage chickens’ nervous systems. 

Even if your fertilizer is organic, the amount of nitrates and phosphorous found in the soil can be enough to cause problems in certain birds. Even hardy chickens are at risk of poisoning if they eat organic fertilizer in large quantities.

What To Do If Your Chickens Have Fertilizer Poisoning

With most animals, the smartest thing you could do is to try to induce vomiting in them. The problem is that chickens cannot vomit. Administering something that could be used as an emetic in other animals will simply worsen the issue. 

Knowing this, you should not try to give your chickens anything that could make them vomit. It could potentially kill a chicken that would otherwise survive fertilizer poisoning with ease. 

If your chicken has eaten enough fertilizer to get sick from it, the only real option you have is to call your local animal poison control center or veterinarian. They will be able to offer advice or treat your chickens, if it is possible.

How To Tell If Your Chickens Have Fertilizer Poisoning

Most animals that eat large quantities of fertilizer will start displaying health problems fairly quickly. The most common symptoms of fertilizer poisoning include:

  • Shortness of breath. If your chickens start breathing strangely, that’s a bad sign.
  • Diarrhea. While chickens cannot vomit, they will have diarrhea if they get poisoned.
  • Strange posture due to abdominal pain. Do your chickens look lethargic or hunched over? This could be a sign of poisoning.

Why Would Chickens Eat Fertilizer?

We love to think of chickens as intelligent animals, but when it comes to food, they aren’t bright. Chickens will peck at anything that has a remote resemblance to seeds or scratch. At times, they may even develop a taste for fertilizer!

If you were hoping to train your chickens to avoid eating fertilizer, you are out of luck. Chickens have been known to eat metal balls, ant poison, and even styrofoam—all because they just do not seem to understand what is meant to be edible. 

Can You Eat Eggs from Chickens That Ate Fertilizer?

Generally speaking, you should not eat anything from animals that recently ingested something poisonous—milk, meat, or eggs. Chickens are no exception to that rule, even if the fertilizer itself doesn’t seem too bad in terms of toxic stuff.

If you spotted your chickens eating fertilizer, now is not a time to try to eat their eggs. Some slow-release fertilizers will completely release their compounds over a matter of days or weeks, so you are going to have to deal with store-bought eggs for quite a while. 

A good rule of thumb to follow is to wait for at least two weeks before you try to eat eggs from chickens that ingested fertilizer without weed killer. Waiting four weeks, though, is a better option for people with sensitive stomachs. It is better to be safe than sorry. 

How Long Should You Wait If Your Chickens Ate Fertilizer with Weedkiller?

When fertilizer contains weed killer or potent pesticides, the entire situation changes dramatically. Chickens that eat weed killer often end up sickened as a result.  They may take several weeks to recover.

Weedkiller can stay in your bird’s system for a lot longer than most other fertilizer compounds. That’s why it is best to wait up to 60 days before you reach for one of your chicken’s eggs.

How To Keep Your Chickens Safe From Fertilizer Poisoning

If you are concerned about your chickens eating fertilizer or getting hurt from similar lawn chemicals, don’t worry. There are ways to make sure that your birds’ exposure to lawn chemicals is kept to a minimum. These tips below can help:

  • Do not keep fertilizer out in the open around your chickens. The best place to store bags of fertilizer is in a shed, secured by a lock, far away from your birds. Chickens are remarkably good at escaping from coops and getting into things, so the lock definitely comes in handy.
  • Avoid any fertilizers that contain pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. It is best to avoid chemical-laden fertilizer brands if you own chickens, especially if you intend on treating nearby grass with them. This limits the amount of chemicals they’ll be exposed to.
  • Remember that chickens are actually a great source of fertilizer. If you are using the fertilizer in question for your own yard, you might want to rethink your purchase. You do not need it. Chicken poop is a remarkably good fertilizer, and your feathery friends provide it for free.
  • Keep your chickens in a pen. Your chickens should have their own allocated area in your yard, complete with its own fence and coop. This is the easiest way to keep them from ingesting something they shouldn’t eat.

Professional Lawn Care and Chicken Health

If you do your own lawn work, you have a lot more control over your chickens’ exposure. People who hire professionals need to exercise more caution. If you have a lawn care company that services your yard, ask them about their pesticide and fertilizer usage. 

You might discover that the chemicals they are using pose a risk to your poultry pals. Knowledge is power in this case. Should you learn that their chemicals are dangerous, it may be time to find another lawn company.

Bottom Line

If you own chickens and notice them eating fertilizer, the first thing you should do is get them away from the stuff. In small doses, your chickens will be alright, but that does not mean you shouldn’t watch them for warning signs of fertilizer poisoning.

You cannot expect your chickens to know what fertilizer will do to them. If you want to keep your birds alive and clucking, the best thing you can do is switch to the fertilizer they naturally create and keep them away from pesticides. It’s just that simple.

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