Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Chickens are NOT Vegetarians

It’s amazing what will get me riled up enough to take time out of my job and mommy duties to rant. This week it was the newest commercial from my favorite chicken company (that’s sarcasm by the way). I do have friends in chicken, so I won’t name them specifically, but I’m sure if you’ve been watching TV lately, you know who I’m talking about.

The latest marketing tactic is to tell us that their birds are fed an all vegetarian diet – no animal byproducts or bone meal. This is on top of their previously used tactics to tell me that their chickens will never be given hormones or steroids and they are raised cage-free, facts in which all chickens destined for meat can claim.

Why does this make me mad? Because chickens are not vegetarians, nor do I think they want to be! I know this because I watch my chickens on a regular basis. They scratch up any little critter that they can find and devour them lightning fast. While they share corn and greens, they fight over bugs and worms. They are also a bit on the cannibalistic side, having eaten on each other in their younger days. And you won’t believe the frenzy that ensues when one of their eggs crack. It is gobbled up lickety split. The last time I threw a cracked egg out of the coop, I saw one hen grab the shell, and the others chased her around the yard for at least 10 minutes. I wish I had my video camera.

I guess I’m having a hard time believing that a consumer of meat worries about whether or not the animal’s diet was vegetarian or not. I get that a vegetarian pet owner may want their dog to eat a meat-free meal, but a chicken?

I remember one of my first days at the University of Kentucky in Animal Science 101. Dr. Ely asked the class, “If a horse, a cow, a sheep, a pig, and a chicken were enclosed within an acre of land with no other food than what was provided on that land, which would survive the longest?” It was a pretty easy guess that it was the chicken. They can eat anything and everything. I expect that even the corpses of the other animals and the resulting insect banquet would be fair game. The chicken, like many other species that are easy “survivors” are opportunistic consumers. Much like us, they eat what they can find.

I have no problem with my food animals being supplemented with disease-free animal byproducts. In fact, I think it is a pretty good use of resources. I know for a fact that most any intensive animal operation looks at animal nutrition as a top priority, and if bone meal is a good way to add adequate calcium in diets, I think it should be used. I believe the same for protein and fat. In the real world, most animals let nothing go to waste. They eat the bones and the guts. Heck, my chickens even eat poop. This is definitely not a case of the chickens thinking animal byproducts taste bad.

The “what effect does this have on me” scenario in my opinion is not that we are getting “better” meat, but it’s going to cost you more because they need to find higher-priced nutritional supplements. So I say, “Let them eat guts.” I know they enjoy them.


  1. I'm not a fan of the animal by-products, but I share the same confusion over the promotion and marketing around a vegetarian diet for chickens. That's such a buzz word on packaging and it's not natural for them or a well designed system. They are meant to graze for those grubs! Oh, and a side note on something else you mentioned. I recently read an article that while a dog could survive on a vegetarian diet, a cat really couldn't nutritionally. Interesting stuff! :)

  2. I if only those gigantic farms were feeding the chickens grubs, I'd be more apt to trust them. I'm never quite sure which animal by-products they're getting and if they're actually disease-free. This is why I buy my chicken from local farmers. I know their chickens are NOT vegetarians, but I do know what food is going into those little stomachs!

  3. As a small family farmer and rancher, I say "Good For You!" Our chickens are not vegetarians either, and they will boldly express this fact with a good chase. One chicken gets a big, fat & juicy grub, mouse, worm, lizard etc.. and the others ensue in persuit, like there is no tomorrow. A chicken on a vegetarian diet, can not be a healthy bird, they require animal proteins for many aspects of their proper development. Thank you for a wonderful blog post. Chat soon.

  4. Great blog post: My chickens make better mousers then the ranch cats do, talk about a frenzy the whole flock will chase the chicken with the mouse...But then again my chickens are true Free Range out of the coop at fist light and in at dusk (and that's only so they don't end up as coyote bait).

    As an Independent grass fed livestock producer I have the same hair raising bitch with the way Add Agencies hired to promote several of the bigger ag industry products and how they are allowed to miss lead the consumer...Lets take a good look at the California Cheese commercials?

  5. Of course chickens will eat anything however food safety begins on the farm through feedstuffs. There is plenty of evidence to show that feeding poultry feeds of animal original increase risks of human food borne illness. I sell a line of poultry to my customers that is free of these by-products. It is not done for a gimmick. It is done because I feel it is my responsibility to do everything I can to reduce their risk of becoming sick from something I sold them. Not everything is a marketing gimmick. Not every label or company is looking for a marketing edge. Some of us truly care about our customers well being.

    Food for thought....

    1. *of animal origin not original. Darn autocorrect. :D

    2. Since I just shared this post with the company in question, I figured I better respond to your comment, Amy. (I think we discussed this on Twitter at the time). I wanted a farmer or a processor to explain that is was about food safety. I do not believe that the way I raise my chickens provides me a "safer" product. Thank you for knowing what is best for us, and caring for your animals is that manner!

  6. Chickens are omnivorous and feed on corn, greens, bugs and worms. The nutritional value of feed must also be checked. Poultry feeds are available as bulk or bagged mixes.


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