Yesterday the CE stopped off at Ralph’s and brought home a carton of eggs that were not only labeled “cage free” but also “vegetarian fed”. The phrase was printed in bold red letters like some sort of declaration. Like a parade banner, if you will. I began to imagine hens lining the street and cheering, but only briefly, because it occurred to me that my girls would be mighty unhappy to be “vegetarian fed”. I would not want to be the one to tell them they’d seen their last meal worm. Or that their days of foraging for bugs in the pen and garden were over. In truth, chickens in their natural free-ranging state are omnivores, not herbivores.
Every book I’ve read about chickens emphasizes the importance of the nutritional balance of their diet, to the point of discouraging too many “treats” since this can affect how much of their regular food they eat. According to the Alabama Cooperative Education Extension, laying hens (starting at about 20 weeks of age) should have a minimum of 15% to 19% of crude protein in their diet. Commercial chicken feed includes animal proteins in the form of meat and bone meal, dried whey and fish meal, according to www.poultryone.com. While protein is also available in the form of legumes and soybeans in chicken feed, PoultryOne.com states plainly that “an all-vegetarian diet is not natural for (chickens) ~ they need animal protein”, and that “strictly vegetarian-fed chickens are potentially undernourished.”
As for the girls of Chez Poulet, this morning they were deeply troubled when I entered their pen with the Swiss chard we bought yesterday. As has now become their tradition, they high-tailed it into the coop until they were convinced the sky was not falling, then tiptoed out to circle the strange new stalks and leaves I had left behind. When I returned an hour later, they had completely polished it off and were looking for a chaser. I dutifully peeled an apple for them, which did not strike quite the terror into their little hearts that it did yesterday. Meal worms rounded out the menu this evening to entice them into the coop. Tomorrow we may go a bit easier on the treat schedule now that I am reminded of the importance of their commercial feed balance.
And for anyone concerned about “additives”, the feed we purchase is unmedicated, which is not to say medicated feed is necessarily a bad thing. And, according to www.plamondon.com (Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Pages) fear of hormones being added to commercial chicken feed is unfounded. According to Plamondon, “hormones had a brief burst of popularity in the late Forties and early Fifties. By the time the once-popular hormone DES was banned in 1959, it had fallen into disuse. Anyway, it wasn’t used in the feed, but was in the form of a little time-release pellet that was injected under the skin.” In his words, hormones in chicken feed is “ancient history”.
It’s just about dinner time. I’m not too interested in sharing the same menu as Amelia, Autumn, Hope and Lily, but I may have a hard time eating as healthy as they do. Bon appetit!