You may have seen information about apples being poisonous for chickens. Yet the apple is known for its high nutritional value.
So what's the truth? Can you let chickens loose in your orchard or should you put up the chicken wire?
There are plenty of articles about the effects of apples on humans and rats, but very few about their use in poultry feed. Nevertheless, there are some (referenced here).
This article covers five properly researched, proven benefits from those articles, alongside one word of caution.
Follow the links if you're particularly interested in a topic, or read the entire article for the whole picture.
Van Hieu et al are particularly strong in their findings of the importance of Vitamin 'C':
"The use of ascorbic acid to support poultry in adverse conditions, especially under heat stress conditions, is essential"(2).
If you've wondered whether chickens can eat apple peel (skin), the answer is "absolutely"! The peel contains higher levels of antioxidants than the flesh. Studies have also found that it can reduce the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in chickens, and increase the HDL (good) fats(3).
That's potentially important for the amount of cholesterol in your hens' eggs.
The 'pomace' or pulp of an apple – the solid remains after pressing or crushing apples – is a by-product of extracting apple juice. It's commonly thrown away, particularly in commercial production, but is now being studied as a powerfully beneficial source of antioxidants.
Also containing high amounts of fibre, it boosts bowel health in poultry by increasing the size and efficiency of the "villi", tiny hairs on the wall of the intestine which absorb nutrients(4).
Apples contain one of the richest sources of pectin, particularly in the pulp. Pectin is a source of fibre and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects in both humans and animals(5).
Fermented apples, for example in the form of apple cider vinegar, have multiple proven health benefits for chickens.
Fermentation reduces harmful bacteria, is effective in fighting salmonella, allows nutrients in the gut to increase and can help control coccidiosis.
I've written a very detailed article about apple cider vinegar benefits, including how to make it and where to source, it.
They may be ultra-good for our flocks, but do chickens actually like apples?
As with everything, the answer is that some do, some don't. Most do, but chickens can be picky. Mine tend to prefer watermelon and persimmon, when they're available.
The only way to find out is to offer them, and see what happens.
In any event, though, apples – as with any treat – should only make up a small proportion (around 10%) of a chicken's diet. Feeding more than that can cause malnutrition. Chickens need a balanced diet, and foraging for their own food is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding Sudden Chicken Death.
How to know what 10% is? It doesn't need to be exact. Make sure they have access to a good quality chicken feed first, and don't feed treats every day.
As with adults, baby chicks need a high quality chick feed to make sure their diet is balanced and provides all the nutrition a healthy, rapidly growing chick requires.
Apples are also very high in fibre. Too much fibre can cause diarrhea in such small bodies.
So yes, chicks can eat apples – but in great moderation.
They may have a lot of benefits, but are apples poisonous to chickens?
You'll see a lot of comments on websites and blogs saying that chickens should not have whole apples. The truth is that the seeds of apples contain a bitter compound called amygdaline which, when crushed, releases cyanogenic glycoside, which in turn forms cyanide(6, 7).
Interested in the mathematics of it? Apple seeds contain 1 to 4 milligrammes of amygdalin per gramme of seed. That can generate between 0.06 and 0.2 milligrammes of cyanide per gram of apple seeds(6).
To put it into perspective, a single apple seed weighs about half a gramme.
That's not a problem for people – you'd need to eat a lot of crushed apple seeds (at least 150) in one go to cause toxicity(6).
Chickens were found to have fatal amounts of cyanide at about 21 microgrammes per kilo of weight. They would need to eat a substantial number of crushed seeds before it became a problem – somewhere around a teaspoon(8).
Normally, a chicken eating windfalls will not eat enough seeds for them to become a problem – and apple seeds themselves are rich in protein and fibre(8). But is it worth risking your chickens' health, even if they would only eat a tiny amount of seeds?
Recipes you prepare for your flock should certainly remove the core and seeds. If your chickens are likely to eat windfalls from apple trees in your run, they're unlikely to peck their way through the peel and flesh to the seeds of more than one fruit.
So they shouldn't present a problem if, for example, you free range your flock, or if you have apple trees in your chicken run. If you're concerned, though, simply plan your land so that apple trees are grown away from your run.
However you offer apples to your chickens, remember this general advice:
If you like to spoil your flock, or you'd like to prepare a simple recipe for a special occasion, try making this simple, delicious stuffed apple recipe.
It's one way of adding the nutrition of the apple "pulp".
Make enough for your family with an extra one or two for your chickens. Everyone will love it!
Any apple will do for this recipe, but cooking apples tend to hold their shape better. Use one apple for each family member, and one for every three or four chickens.
The larger the apple, the more filling they can take!
There's no need to add more sugar, particularly if you use eating apples. The dried fruit will provide sweetness as they cook.
Please note: this recipe is very high in sugar – natural sugars, but sugar all the same. For that reason it's important only to make it as a chicken treat on very special occasions.
If your family prefer a sweeter taste, you'll need to prepare their apples separately and add some brown sugar. Adding more sugar for chickens is not a healthy option.
If you're making this only for your chickens, feel free to add chicken-friendly bits into the recipe. Mix and match according to what you have available.
Pre-heat the (fan) oven to 180ºC (350ºF; gas mark 6).
A lot of "facts" you'll find on the internet are often people's individual views, based on inaccurate information repeated from poor quality sources.
The information I provide in this article and others is based not just on my own experience, but on evidenced facts from scientific, peer-reviewed research and books from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Damerow.
Some of the trusted sources I have used in this article are these.
1. Hetzler, A: The Vitamin 'C' in Apples. Pub. Livestrong, 2022.
2. Van Hieu, T, et al: The application of ascorbic acid as a therapeutic feed additive to boost immunity and antioxidant activity of poultry in heat stress environment. Pub. Veterinary World, 2022.
3. Heidarisafar, Z: Apple peel waste as a natural antioxidant for heat-stressed broiler chickens. Pub. Journal of Tropical Animal Health and Production, 2016.
4. Erinle, T. J., and Adewole, D. I.: Fruit pomaces—their nutrient and bioactive components, effects on growth and health of poultry species, and possible optimization techniques. Pub. Journal of Animal Nutrition, 2022.
5. Ávila, G, et al: Anti-inflammatory activity of citrus pectin on chicken monocytes' immune response. Pub. Journal of Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 2021.
6. Bolarinwa, I, et al: Determination of amygdalin in apple seeds, fresh apples and processed apple juices. Pub. Journal of Food Chemistry, 2015.
7. Opid, P.M., et al: Nutritional and Health-Related Effects of a Diet Containing Apple Seed Meal in Rats: The Case of Amygdalin. Pub. Journal of Nutrients, 2017.
8. Wiemayer, S. N., et al: Acute oral toxicity of sodium cyanide in birds. Pub. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 1986.