If you’re trying to lengthen your chicken’s treat list, you may consider sweet potatoes. After all, we know that these little orange spuds are full of nutritional benefits for us. But can chickens benefit from this starchy veggie as well?
They can absolutely delight in sweet potatoes and sweet potatoes can be a beneficial snack to occasionally offer your flock. We will get into all the details on preparing sweet potatoes for your hens and how often you should offer this menu item. Let’s get to it.
Chickens Can Eat Sweet Potatoes
We might have all heard about dreaded nightshade family plants and how we should keep our flock away at all costs. Since sweet potatoes are—well—potatoes, you might worry that the same issue goes for sweet potatoes.
Luckily, that’s not the case. Sweet potatoes, despite their name, belong in the morning glory family. So, all parts of the sweet potato plant—skin, roots, leaves, etc.—are perfectly safe for your flock regardless of whether they are cooked or not.
For easy eating, you might boil the potatoes to soften them slightly before serving. But otherwise, your girls can freely pluck at these potatoes on occasion without consequence.
White vs. Sweet Potato
So, we just told you that the white and sweet potatoes come from two separate families. Let’s get into that a little more because we feel like it’s an important distinction. White potatoes can be toxic to several animals, including chickens. But not sweet potatoes—so, what gives?
While they might look similar in composition, white and sweet potatoes come from different families. White potatoes are in the nightshade family. Nightshade is widely known to contain a toxin that can make both people and pets very sick.
Until they become ripe, white potatoes can be to people as well. So, we want to make it perfectly clear—white potatoes are completely safe (even raw) for chickens unless they are green or have stems. When they are green, they contain a compound called solanine, a toxic alkaloid in the plant itself.
After they ripen, they don’t have this issue. So, if you choose to feed your chickens white potatoes, make sure there are absolutely no green areas—and to be safe, you might want to cook them first.
Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 Medium Sweet Potato
Chickens are omnivorous creatures that require a medley of ingredients in their daily diets to stay healthy. Most of their nutrients come from natural foraging and commercial feed.
Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A absorption. It aids in amplifying vitamin A benefits regarding cellular health and vision.
Vitamin A helps protect your chickens from blindness and eye problems. It also supports bone health and the immune system. It is an excellent component in reproduction and egg production.
Fiber helps normal bowel function and also can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in your chickens. It helps them achieve suitable body weight and increases overall longevity.
Choline helps the nervous system with memory regulation, muscle control, and overall mood.
Vitamin E may help prevent oxidative damage of cells and help with vision and brain function.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, also protects against cellular oxidative damage and improves overall immune system functions.
Anthocyanin doesn’t get enough attention. This pigment may have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and antimicrobial properties, as well as be of benefit to the cardiovascular system.
As with any singular dietary item, too much of anything is a bad thing. Even though sweet potatoes are highly digestible and advantageous in your chicken’s diet, too much too often can have adverse effects.
High oxalates in sweet potatoes may be a cause for concern. If your chickens have too many oxalates in their system, it can keep their bodies from absorbing beneficial nutrients, binding to minerals like calcium. If your chickens cannot absorb the proper calcium levels, it can lead to poor egg production and various other health concerns.
Raw vs. Cooked
When it comes to sweet potatoes, it doesn’t matter whether they are raw or cooked for your chickens.
Cooked sweet potato is generally more straightforward for your chickens to eat and digests quicker. Ultimately, you can offer raw and cooked sweet potatoes into your chicken’s diet to see which they take to better.
If you feed your chickens all sweet potatoes, ensure that they are properly diced up into easy-to-digest pieces. You wouldn’t want your chickens to choke on a big hunk of sweet potato while they fight over their food.
Likewise, if you feed your chicken cooked sweet potatoes, ensure they are thoroughly cooled. Feeding your chickens sweet potatoes that are very hot can damage their esophagus and throat lining.
Sweet Potato History as Chicken Feed
You might think chickens require their standard commercial diets, and you would be partially correct. It is best to have a foundational commercial grain that covers all bases of nutrition so your flock isn’t lacking in any area.
However, in the 1950s, certain Asian nations used sweet potatoes as poultry feed. Their reason for doing so is that sweet potatoes contain up to 90% starch. Studies show that sweet potatoes serve as a very suitable daily diet for traditional egg layers. However, with broiler chickens, chicks did not gain as much weight as they did on commercial feed.
We are not recommending solely feeding your chickens sweet potatoes, but it is safe to feed them frequently. You can choose to cook or leave the sweet potato raw. Either way, it has health benefits for your chickens, permitting them to forage for other nutrients they need in their bodies.
So now you know that your chickens can gorge themselves on sweet potatoes quite often. Sweet potatoes are safe for your flock, from their vines to their roots. They provide a wonderful starch source to your chicken’s diet, creating a healthy carbohydrate that provides solid energy.
Just be careful not to overdo sweet potatoes in your chicken’s diet. Sweet potatoes contain oxalates, which combine with calcium in your chicken’s digestive tract, creating a lack of absorption. As with anything, feed your flock sweet potatoes in moderation.
Featured Image Credit: ivabalk, Pixabay