One of the most common marketing claims slapped onto poultry products today is “vegetarian fed”. This has proven to be a great way for both factory farm and pastured poultry producers to market themselves as a more natural choice. Companies from the likes of Eggland’s Best Eggs, to Empire Kosher and even KOL Foods, a pasture raised kosher meat company, use the slogan. The benefits of such feeding methods are dubious at best and new research is showing that chickens prefer and do better on an animal protein (AP) based diet. But not only is this fad proving to be a great advertising method for factory farmers, it’s also putting pressure on good poultry producers to adopt unhealthy practices for their birds.
Chicken’s wild ancestors and their modern day relatives survive mostly on small animals, bugs, scavenged kills and only supplement their diets with greens, grains & seeds. If you've ever raiser your own birds you'll know they go crazy for bugs, milk, meat and can even develop a taste for their own eggs. So it seems only fitting that today’s chicken would do best on a diet which includes at least some animal protein. In theJune edition of World Poultry Magazine this very issue is highlighted in a piece titled Chickens Prefer Animal Protein Diets. The article discusses the work of Australian researchers that compared the growth rate and feed intake of chickens fed an AP diet to those fed only vegetable based proteins. During the experiment subjects that consumed animal protein ate significantly more and enjoyed a better feed conversion rate. The findings in the article were corroborated by Frank Reese, a world renowned heritage poultry breeder that raises several large free range flocks at his Kansas farm. After showing me the article he explained that his father would often care for sick birds by putting out a side of pork for them to eat.
The most ironic piece of this issue is that feeding animal products to poultry is under attack by those very forces that are trying to help. Frank can’t feed his chickens and turkeys AP because the animal welfare certification agency he uses forbids it. The EU has created regulations forbidding the use of AP in poultry feed and in the U.S. organic poultry feed cannot contain animal protein, even if it comes from an organic source. The USDA’s stance on AP in organic feed is especially irksome, because even though some would like to use feed with animal protein in it, if they want that added protein to come from an organic source than this regulation makes it all but impossible for them find such a product. Frank actually refused an offer to produce goose meat for whole foods because they didn’t want the geese to be fed fish meal, which contains absolutely vital nutrients for these aquatic birds.
Much of this anti AP attitude started after the mad cow disease outbreak. The epidemic occurred because cows, strictly herbivorous animals, were being fed other cows. But this episode had nothing to do with poultry and such diseases are not known to occur from feeding poultry animal protein. Not only that, cows today are still being fed animal byproducts from pork and poultry, they’re just not getting beef for breakfast anymore. How upside down can our world be when we are creating carnivorous cows and vegetarian chickens?
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.