from my customers at farmers markets.
"Are your chickens cage-free?"
"Do you feed soy?"
"Are your eggs fertile?"
"Do you de-beak your chickens?"
"Do you poison or shoot predators?"
"Do you feed hormones or antibiotics?"
These are all valid and welcomed questions I
recognize from consumers concerned about the health
and integrity of the protein they eat and I do my
best to (repeatedly) answer the questions not just
about my own farming methods, but to why they are
important as well as to debunk many of the myths
and misunderstanding associated with each question.
Since I try to use as many as recycled cartons
as possible (yes, please bring your empty cartons
to the market and I'll gladly use them), I've
been noticing some disturbing marketing speak
on the labels from the upscale grocery stores and
Certified Organic producers and I knew it was only
a matter of time before I'd be faced with the question....
"Are your chickens fed a vegetarian diet?"
To which I have vehemently replied,
"ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! I refuse to unnaturally
feed my livestock to meet the flavor-of-the-week
marketing schtick beating customers into a frenzy
over the safety of their food.
Let's set the record straight--chickens are omnivores,
meaning they eat both plants and animals.
Ask any farmer with a flock of pastured poultry
how much their hens squawk in a frenzied delight
at the discovery of an errant mouse, lizard or snake.
A full-scale war of capture-the-flag breaks out in
the barnyard when a hen nabs a coveted live morsel.
Or worse yet, chickens are notorious cannibals,
pecking injured flockmates to death. This is one
of the reasons commercial chicken operations de-beak
their birds when they stuff them into cages
and buildings by the tens of thousands. Over the
years of raising poultry I've come across several
well-picked carcasses of a bird who became ensnared
in fencing or netting. My livestock is checked daily
and yes, it happens that fast. Check out this video of hens going after a mouse. Several years ago a non-farming friend was visiting
and asked where my compost pile was located so she
could dump the bucket in the kitchen with food scraps.
She was shocked when I told her to toss it all to the
hens as it would pass through one more iteration before
"But there are all those shrimp shells in there.
Will the chickens eat them?" she asked.
"They'll love them. Trust me." I replied and
with that she tossed the contents over the fence
to a feathered feeding frenzy.
Over the years my hens have dined on lobster
carcasses, intact oyster shells, what's left
after fileting fish, cleaning squid and butchering
livestock. They get garden detritus--both weeds and
vegetables and sometimes even flowers! By the way, that's a dirty little commercial laying hen trick to bump up the color of the yolks...adding dried marigold flowers to the feed. Looks good, means nothing.
Although I rarely get a chance to sit down in
front of the television, last night when I caught
a few minutes of the evening news I happened to see
that this idiocy has moved into the meat bird industry
as well when a Purdue Farms commercial emphasized their
chickens were fed an all-vegetarian diet. A vegetarian chicken is NOT an "All Natural Chicken", it is an abused and unhealthy chicken. While the marketing team that came up with promoting
vegetarian chickens and eggs needs to have the ever-loving
guano slapped out of them, there's a more sinister plot
involved with this whole vegetarian chicken thing.
Commercial chicken operations no longer feed their poultry
animal by-products so the litter (i.e. chicken manure) can
be fed to cows.
Ok, let's all exhale in a collective EEeeewwwwwWWWW!
Yes, that's right, the poop from vegetarian chickens
is being fed to cattle in both the beef and dairy
industries. Why? It's a cheap form of food. However,
the practice was prohibited with the advent of Mad Cow
disease. Turned out those pesky little prions that
could potentially pollute the animal by-products used
in poultry feed could survive being eaten by a chicken,
crapped out and then eaten by a cow where it would
infect said bovine with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) and potentially infect humans as well.
So under the guise of food safety, our chickens must
now be vegetarians.
Next time you see "all vegetarian feed" on your
poultry products (yes, even if you buy them at
Whole Foods or they are Certified Organic),
remember you are contributing to unnatural agricultural
practices implemented solely for bigger profits
in the industrial food production complex and not
to the benefit of the livestock or more importantly,
your health. This is "cage-free" and "free-roaming".
Sandra Kay Miller Farmer, Writer, Cook, Goddess "Life is too short to eat bad food." www.sandrakaymiller.com
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