If I use cherry wood chips in my garden, would this be dangerous for my chickens and ducks?


I was recently blessed with a load of wood chips. Mostly pine, but there is also some cherry. I will be using this material in my garden. My online search does not give an answer re: how long it takes for the “cyanide” to break down in the wilted cherry leaves/fruit/stems. I have chickens and ducks who will be in the garden/have access to the chip pile, and after the material ages a bit, I will be using some of it for deep litter management in chicken and duck coops. So… how long should I be concerned?


Anne Lichtenwalner DVM PhD
Associate Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sci.
Director: UMaine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Most of the literature available about cherry leaves references cattle or horse intoxication, but many species are susceptible to it.  Here is a link with excellent general info (and you can follow it’s internal link to a good article by Shulaw): https://extension.psu.edu/cyanide-poisoning-of-livestock-from-cherry-tree-leaves

Re poultry and all creatures, the leaves’ content of cyanide is greatly reduced over time and decomposition of the leaf.  However, the data suggests that this may take weeks.  I’d suggest sequestering the birds away from the chips for quite awhile (and this might allow our current avian flu [HPAI] risks to die down, as well).  I usually stay with softwood, kiln-dried shavings for my flock’s bedding, and since the HPAI risks are still high, I keep my birds in their sunny, protected coop all the time.  As the cherry leaves in the chips dry and turn brown, the cyanide should degrade.  Again, this may take weeks so please don’t be in a hurry.