Can chickens eat apples?

Is the nutrition an apple provides beneficial for your flock's health, or will it do more harm than good?

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.

A divider of apples.

Please note: This page is written as general information only. It is not intended as medical or veterinary advice and should not be taken as such.  

If you're worried about your or your chickens' health, you should always see your doctor or veterinarian.

Are apples good for chickens? 5 proven benefits.

1. Apples help chickens fight disease.

A good source of ascorbic acid (Vitamin 'C')(1), a powerful antioxidant, apples have been proven to increase chickens' ability to fight disease, particularly in times of heat or other stress(2)

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).

2. The peel reduces unhealthy fats.

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

A chicken in an apple orchard.

3. Apple pulp increases chickens' bowel health.

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)

4. Pectin increases the strength of the chickens' immune system.

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)

Studies carried out specifically with chickens(e.g. 3, 5) show a beneficial impact on the immune system which in turn can help prevent obesity, a known cause of Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome

5. Fermented apples have multiple health benefits.

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.

A divider of apples.

Do chickens like apples?

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.

A Red Star hen eating watermelon in an apple orchard.My chickens tend to prefer watermelon!
A divider of apples.

Can baby chicks eat apples?

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.

A divider of apples.

Can chickens have a whole apple?

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).

A single brown hen in an orchard with an apple tree.

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.

A divider of apples.

Where to source apples for chickens.

  • If it's your spring or autumn (fall) time, plant some trees of your own. That way, you're certain that no pesticides have been used which might harm your chickens.
  • Windfalls in the autumn are generally plentiful, and are often left on the ground to rot. Take a look around your neighbourhood. Are there friendly households who would allow you to bag up theirs before they become too far gone?
  • Remember: chickens love worms. Be careful giving mouldy apples, but don't discount a windfall because it has worm holes. Let your chickens have fun digging them out!
  • Of the three apples below, the one on the left has brown rot – see the mould on top. I would not feed this to my chickens. The one on the right looks partly rotten. I would probably feed this, but if the rot is too extensive I'd cut it out first.
Three apples on the ground in different stages of decomposition.
  • Ask at your local supermarket or greengrocer's whether they have any apples which are mis-shapen or past their sell by date which you could either have, or buy inexpensively. Be sure to wash them before feeding them to your flock – their trees are more than likely to have been sprayed with chemicals.
  • Watch out in hedgerows and woodland areas for apple trees which you can forage. We have an orchard, but are also fortunate to have apple trees in our shrubbery on the roadside. We're more than happy for passers-by to help themselves. Better that than leave them to go to waste.
A divider of apples.

How to prepare apples for chickens.

However you offer apples to your chickens, remember this general advice:

  • avoid the seeds
  • use the peel
  • pulp is an excellent source of nutrition
  • give any treat only after they have had access to their feed
  • don't give more than three or four apples per week, per flock of six chickens
  • clear up any left-overs before your chickens roost. Leaving scraps in the yard will attract vermin.

Simple, quick ways of preparing apple treats.

A hen in an orchard with red apples on the ground.
  • The simplest way to give your chickens apples whilst avoiding the seeds is to cut them into small pieces (leaving the peel on) and scatter on the ground.
  • Core an apple and hang from a piece of twine at chicken head height.
  • Core an apple. Fill the hole with a mix of coconut oil and wild bird food.
  • For a seasonal treat at Thanksgiving or Christmas, string apple pieces, cherry tomatoes, grapes, radishes, mozarella balls – whatever else you have available – onto twine or embroidery thread. Hang in your run for a festive look!
  • Add some apple cider vinegar to the flock's water supply. See this article for dosages.
A divider of apples.

The ultimate apple chicken treat recipe.

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!

Baked stuffed apple recipe.

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.

Apples on a market stall in Italy.Don't have your own apples? buy from a farmer's market when prices are low.

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.

Ingredients (this will fill 4 large apples).

  • 4 apples
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup currants or sultanas, or a mixture
  • ¼ cup dates, stoned and chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped unsalted nuts (almonds, walnuts or peanuts work well) 
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

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. 

Try sunflower seeds, mealworms, chopped rose hips, berries, even a spoonful of wild bird food.

Method.

Pre-heat the (fan) oven to 180ºC (350ºF; gas mark 6).

Four green apples, one being de-cored with a woman's hand.
  • Using an apple corer or a sharp knife, take out the top of the core, leaving about half an inch of apple at the bottom so the filling doesn't seep out.
  •  Using the corer, knife or a small spoon, remove more of the flesh until you have a hole about an inch wide.
  • Place the apples in a baking dish.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
  • Add the dry ingredients and the flesh (not the seeds) you took from the apple.
  • Spoon the mixture into the apples.
  • Add about half a cup of boiling water to the bottom of the dish.
  • Place in the oven and bake for between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on the apple size.
  • When done, the apples should be tender but not mushy.
  • When cool, feed to your chickens – standing back to avoid the stampede!
Baked, stuffed apples on a tray.
A divider of apples across the whole page.

More information about feeding your chickens healthily.

Treats for chickens: which are healthy? Link.
What should chickens eat? Link.
Which plants are good for chickens? Link.
Choosing weeds as chicken treats - link.
How to free range chickens - and whether you should. Link.
What treats can chicks eat? - link
Pumpkins for chickens - link.
Can chickens eat watermelon? Link to article.
Free range chicken gardens book review. Click for article.
A divider of apples across the whole page.

Sources.

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.

Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.