Should Chickens Be Vegetarians?
Today, the supermarket is a maze of confusing food labels. Producers market everything from meat to eggs as “healthy,” “free range,” “pasture-raised,” “organic,” “antibiotic-free,” or something else. However, one of the most confusing labels is “vegetarian fed” - especially regarding chickens.
While vegetarian feed may sound like a good thing for poultry, it’s worth a second thought. Chickens are omnivores in the wild, so should they be vegetarians in domesticity? What’s in that vegetarian food, after all, and is it really as good for chickens as it sounds?
In this blog, we’ll look at vegetarian feed for chickens. We’ll also consider whether it’s the healthiest option for the poultry, the environment, and your family.
Let’s dive in.
The History of the Vegetarian Label
The trend of feeding chickens vegetarian food started good-naturedly enough:
It all began when consumers learned that many commercially-raised animals consumed highly processed feeds containing protein from animal by-products.
Those “animal byproducts” usually came from nasty sources, including blood, feathers, road kill, and same-species meat.
That’s offensive to most peoples’ common sense. It’s not good for the animals, either.
Chickens couldn’t process any of those protein sources, nor could the other commercially-produced animals. Before long, scientists discovered that cows consuming same-species meat in processed food could develop Mad Cow Disease, which became a massive problem.
Laws changed in response to that (and other) scares. Producers went to the opposite extreme: instead of conventional feeds, they purchased vegetarian feeds that did not contain animal by-products.
Consumers, meanwhile, wanted to support ethical farming practices. They started buying vegetarian-fed chicken. This created a booming poultry industry that isn’t nearly as chicken-friendly as those proud supermarket labels may suggest.
Should Chickens Eat a Vegetarian-Only Diet?
We don’t think so! Here’s why:
If you’ve ever watched a chicken scratch around in the dirt, you know that they eat all sorts of things. In fact, many of their favorite foods are not vegetarian.
Left to their own devices, chickens eat grubs, worms, ticks, and insects. If possible, they’ll also eat the occasional mouse or frog. Free-range chickens make a sport out of hunting and gain important exercise and protein from the process.
While feeding poultry vegetarian feed may seem innocent, it goes against the animal’s natural diet. It also means that the chicken didn’t get to lead a free-range lifestyle or eat all the delicious bugs it needed to thrive.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with feeding chickens grain. In fact, even free-range chickens usually receive supplemental feed to meet their protein, calcium, and phosphorous needs.
The catch, however, is the quality of the food. Small producers purchase high-quality chicken feed specifically formulated to support growing meat birds.
This chicken feed usually contains natural protein sources, like dried mealworms, insects, or seeds. Obviously, those are all protein sources chickens evolved to consume and digest.
3 Reasons Family Farms are the Best Source for Healthy Poultry
So, if vegetarian feeds aren’t ideal and highly processed, conventional poultry food isn’t a good choice, what’s the solution?
The answer is simple: buy your poultry from a family farm instead.
Here are a few reasons to make the switch:
Family farms take pride in their meat
Part of the problem with commercially-raised meat has to do with plumping.
Instead of creating a high-quality product, commercial meat producers have one focus. They want to get their animals as fat as possible in the shortest period possible.
This renders more profit for them as quickly as possible.
It also creates all sorts of unhealthy and unethical farming practices. Today, plumping efforts create problems like highly processed feeds and cramped, dirty feedlots.
On the other hand, family farms create quality products and take good care of their animals.
They raise fewer animals than commercial operations and have hands-on contact with them at every stage of their lifespans.
Even if a family farm doesn’t have a designation like “organic,” you can usually trust that the meat they raise is more sustainable, ethical, and delicious than commercial meat.
Family farms usually raise free-range chickens
Chickens don’t need to be vegetarians, but they do need to eat the protein they evolved to digest.
Instead of consuming blood meal and pulverized feathers, chickens should eat grubs, worms, and insects. These natural protein sources all contribute to healthy, nutritious meat and eggs.
Fortunately, most family farms raise free-range chickens. This means they consume high-quality forage and natural protein sources. It also means they lead happy lives outdoors, with plenty of fresh air, exercise, and sunshine. Because of that, free-range poultry is both delicious and ethical.
Free-range, non-vegetarian chicken also contains higher levels of protein and vitamins B, D, and A and is lower in fat than commercialized, conventionally-raised chicken.
Buying from family farms supports local agriculture
When you buy poultry from a family farm, you do more than purchase delicious meat. You also support local farmers and reinvest in your local economy.
This is a huge deal since family farms generate jobs, increase economic activity, ensure food security, and also work to protect the environment.
In fact, family farms that utilize regenerative farming practices sequester between 0.9 and 2.4 more tons of carbon dioxide per hectare, per year, than conventional farms. Family farmers also protect agricultural biodiversity and local ecosystems.
Buy Better Chicken and Support Your Local Farmers
Vegetarian chicken might sound like a good thing, but vegetarian poultry feeds are unnatural and highly processed.
If you want to purchase healthy, ethical chicken, buy from a family farm that focuses on free-range, pasture-raised chicken - like CT Ranch.
Here at CT Ranch, we’re proud to provide healthy farm products.
Our products include pastured pork, pasture-raised chicken, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and A2 raw milk and dairy products.
We offer our products to members all over North East Texas, with current pickup locations in Tyler, Dallas, Emory, Rockwall, and Terrell.
Are you ready to learn more about our family, products, or delicious, free-range chickens? Contact us today or click here to become a farm member today.