Wednesday, March 7, 2012
My Chickens are NOT Vegetarians
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.