Chickens can get drunk!
With chickens being omnivores, they will consume both plant and animal matter. This means that if they were to consume fermented plant matter, then it is very possible for the chicken to become inebriated by any alcohol content present.
But how do chickens get their beaks on fermented plant matter?
Generally this occurs with fruit.
Any fruit that has dried on the vine/branch is a potential source of alcohol for your flock. This is because, fruits generally have a high amount of sugar. Bacteria, that exists naturally in the environment, will act upon this source of sugar and convert it into alcohol – thus leaving a ‘party package’ hanging on the vine/branch for animals to consume.
And chickens are not the only animals that can get drunk.
The National Geographic has a great article on the subject, showing examples of birds, mammals and even insects consuming intoxicating substances. It’s a good read, that I recommend – found here.
As a teen, I personally witnessed a squirrel that was humorously staggering/scampering about a cherry orchard one late the spring. Some of the previous falls’ produce hadn’t fallen to the ground and the ‘party squirrel’ had managed to fill his fuzzy cheeks with it.
At first I though perhaps the animal was seriously sick as it took 3 jumps to reach a branch that was barely off of the ground.
In all fairness, the little mammal’s aim was good enough as he succeeded to knocked the branch all around, but he just kept falling off.
Eventually, the squirrel gave up on the branch and tried for the trunk. I say ‘tried’ because even when attached to the trunk, the squirrel would periodically lean way to one side, his tail making wide circles.
How Does Alcohol Affect A Chicken?
Alcohol affects a chicken the same way it does with any animal; it blocks the signals occurring in the brain.
These chemical signals that occur between brain cells allow for good cognitive behavior, as well as, muscle reflexes. When these signals are disrupted, then a whole range of results can be easily observed.
In a chicken, these could include balance – as chickens are naturally top heavy to begin with – sluggishness, strange sounding squawks and a head that sort of leans to one side.
While this may be humorous to observe, careful attention should be given to the bird as intoxication is not the only reason for this behavior.
Marek’s Disease is somewhat similar in its symptoms, but horribly different in its final result. If you observe drunken like behavior in your flock for more than a few hours, then an immediate investigation would be warranted.
Is It Bad For Chickens To Eat Fermented Fruit?
While I would never knowingly give my flock fermented fruit, the occasional foraged berry isn’t likely to cause any lasting damage to the chicken’s brain.
Just like with humans, the effects from this alcohol will wear off with time. So long as you provide them with good fluids and a place to rest in safety, your bird should be back to normal in short order.
### Important Note ###
If your flock is free range, then you would be wise to monitor the flock’s progress as any potential predator will see this drunken behavior as an invitation to prey upon your bird.