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Chickens and wildlife

Chickens and wildlife

Chickens, wildlife and cane toads

Chickens are omnivores. Although they mostly forage for greens and insects, if they come across a creature small enough to eat, they won’t hesitate! Unfortunately, this includes native wildlife.

In Australia, chickens eating wildlife is problematic for two main reasons:

  1. It can make your chickens sick
  2. It can harm vulnerable native species

Find out what you need to be aware of when keeping chickens in Australia. From wildlife to cane toads, we go through how to keep your chickens happy and healthy!

Is meat bad for chickens?

From an evolutionary perspective, meat is perfectly fine for chickens. But from the perspective of a backyard chicken keeper, meat can be harmful for your chickens.

Eating meat and animals is bad for chickens’ health because:

  • Wild animals carry parasites and diseases that can be passed on to your chickens
  • Even meat intended for human food can transmit diseases to chickens
  • Rodents and marsupials can survive after consuming small amounts of poison, which can affect your chickens
  • Decaying meat often contains the botulism toxic, which is fatal to chickens
  • A bite from a venomous snake, which can happen easily if a chicken is trying to eat one, can be fatal

Although you can’t control what your chickens eat while they are foraging, you should discourage meat eating as much as you can. We provide some tips in the next section.

It is important to note that in some states, such as Queensland, feeding “swill” to chickens is illegal. Swill is any feed that might be contaminated with meat, eggs, etc. This includes kitchen scraps and these rules are in place because of the risks outlined above.

Protecting native wildlife – responsible free-ranging

If you’ve ever watched your chickens in the garden, you will know how good they are at catching bugs. They are great hunters of larger prey too. We’ve seen our chickens eat frogs, lizards, rodents, marsupials and even small snakes!

But eating native wildlife can be bad for your chickens. And it also causes damage to native animal populations.

Uncontained chickens can easily wipe out all the frogs, lizards and other small native animals within a kilometre or more of their coop. Their scratching can damage delicate habitats. Even uncontained insect predation is a problem because your chickens will wipe out insect populations that native species rely on for survival. This is why dumping unwanted roosters is so bad.

The best thing that chicken keepers can do to protect wildlife is to use a fenced chicken run for free-ranging, at least most of the time. This is especially important on large blocks and near sensitive habitat such as rainforest, creeks and rivers.

While a run may not be as convenient as just letting your chickens out, it does have benefits. In addition to protecting native wildlife, a good chicken run will protect your birds from predators, and your gardens from chickens!

In Australia, we are lucky to have amazing wildlife even in relatively urban areas. As chicken keepers, let’s do our part to protect it!

Can chickens eat cane toads?

Many backyard chicken keepers worry about cane toads. ‘What happens if my chickens eat a cane toad?’ is a common question. Many people also believe that water a toad has swum in is poisonous.

Fortunately, although cane toads are poisonous to most animals, they don’t seem to affect chickens!

Studies have shown that chickens are actually immune to the deadly cane toad toxin. One chicken in a CSIRO study ate 45 small toads – that’s certainly enough to kill a dog or cat, but the chicken was completely fine! The idea of water being contaminated by toads has also been disproven.

While chickens aren’t effective cane toad control, because of the damage they would do to native species and habitats in the process, at least you can rest assured that if your chooks eat a toad while foraging it is nothing to worry about!

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia