Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chickens Are NOT Vegetarians!

These egg producers should be charged with animal abuse for improperly feeding their birds.
I get a lot of questions about my agricultural practices from my customers at farmers markets.

"Are your chickens cage-free?" 
"Do you feed soy?"
"Are your eggs fertile?"
"Do you de-beak your chickens?"
"Do you poison or shoot predators?"
"Do you feed hormones or antibiotics?"

 These are all valid and welcomed questions I recognize from consumers concerned about the health and integrity of the protein they eat and I do my best to (repeatedly) answer the questions not just about my own farming methods, but to why they are important as well as to debunk many of the myths and misunderstanding associated with each question.

Since I try to use as many as recycled cartons as possible (yes, please bring your empty cartons to the market and I'll gladly use them), I've been noticing some disturbing marketing speak on the labels from the upscale grocery stores and Certified Organic producers and I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd be faced with the question....

"Are your chickens fed a vegetarian diet?"

To which I have vehemently replied, "ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! I refuse to unnaturally feed my livestock to meet the flavor-of-the-week marketing schtick beating customers into a frenzy over the safety of their food.

Let's set the record straight--chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Ask any farmer with a flock of pastured poultry how much their hens squawk in a frenzied delight at the discovery of an errant mouse, lizard or snake. A full-scale war of capture-the-flag breaks out in the barnyard when a hen nabs a coveted live morsel. Or worse yet, chickens are notorious cannibals, pecking injured flockmates to death. This is one of the reasons commercial chicken operations de-beak their birds when they stuff them into cages and buildings by the tens of thousands. Over the years of raising poultry I've come across several well-picked carcasses of a bird who became ensnared in fencing or netting. My livestock is checked daily and yes, it happens that fast.
Check out this video of hens going after a mouse.

Several years ago a non-farming friend was visiting and asked where my compost pile was located so she could dump the bucket in the kitchen with food scraps. She was shocked when I told her to toss it all to the hens as it would pass through one more iteration before becoming compost.

"But there are all those shrimp shells in there. Will the chickens eat them?" she asked.

"They'll love them. Trust me." I replied and with that she tossed the contents over the fence to a feathered feeding frenzy.

Over the years my hens have dined on lobster carcasses, intact oyster shells, what's left after fileting fish, cleaning squid and butchering livestock. They get garden detritus--both weeds and vegetables and sometimes even flowers! By the way, that's a dirty little commercial laying hen trick to bump up the color of the yolks...adding dried marigold flowers to the feed. Looks good, means nothing.

Although I rarely get a chance to sit down in front of the television, last night when I caught a few minutes of the evening news I happened to see that this idiocy has moved into the meat bird industry as well when a Purdue Farms commercial emphasized their chickens were fed an all-vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian chicken is NOT an "All Natural Chicken", it is an abused and unhealthy chicken. 
While the marketing team that came up with promoting vegetarian chickens and eggs needs to have the ever-loving guano slapped out of them, there's a more sinister plot involved with this whole vegetarian chicken thing. Commercial chicken operations no longer feed their poultry animal by-products so the litter (i.e. chicken manure) can be fed to cows. Ok, let's all exhale in a collective EEeeewwwwwWWWW!

Yes, that's right, the poop from vegetarian chickens is being fed to cattle in both the beef and dairy industries. Why? It's a cheap form of food. However, the practice was prohibited with the advent of Mad Cow disease. Turned out those pesky little prions that could potentially pollute the animal by-products used in poultry feed could survive being eaten by a chicken, crapped out and then eaten by a cow where it would infect said bovine with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and potentially infect humans as well. So under the guise of food safety, our chickens must now be vegetarians.

So next time you see "all vegetarian feed"  on your poultry products (yes, even if you buy them at Whole Foods or they are Certified Organic), remember you are contributing to unnatural agricultural practices implemented solely for bigger profits in the industrial food production complex and not to the benefit of the livestock or more importantly, your health.  
This is "cage-free" and "free-roaming".