“Do you feed your chickens grains?” That’s a question that gets asked a lot. Whether grains should be fed to an animal depends on what species is being fed that grain. Grass fed seems to be a buzzword that has been captured and blanketed over all species, as if all animals on the farm should all eat the same diet. Cattle, for example, were never meant to eat grains anymore than they are meant to eat meat. Even though in factory farmed cows and beeves are fed both. (yes, dead cows are fed to cows) This has been a culprit of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka, mad cow). And corn in the rumen of these animals has caused e coli outbreaks. So we can see where the term grass fed would be a good thing and gain some traction. But, don’t blanket this idea on all species. Herbivories are different from omnivores.
Let’s move to chickens. Chickens, like pigs, are omnivores. They feast on grass, sure, and giving them lots of grass is a great thing. However, grains should be part of this diet. That is a species appropriate diet. Historically, chickens were a food that only royalty, or the very wealthy, could afford. Grains were expensive to grow and often used for breads and other meals for us humans. So feeding that to a chicken rather than baking some bread was a practice that only the more wealthy would do. Fast forward to today where grains get heavily subsidized, chicken has become a very common food. Even though this species appropriate diet includes grain, and has throughout history, somehow we humans are going against the natural world and think it is healthy for chickens to go grain free. They even have an organ specifically evolved to handle grinding up grains and seeds called a gizzard.
Each species has their own appropriate diet. Think of a Lion who would never eat meat. They are just fed grass, leaves, even some carrots! Oh, and we love our lion, so we treat her with a pile of berries for dessert after she finishes her broccoli! How healthy do you think that lion would be? It would be deficient in so many vital nutrients and health problems would be right around the corner. Just like our lion, grass fed only chickens would be nutritionally deficient. They should have a mix of grasses, grains, bugs, grubs, worms and even small critters like field mice, snakes and moles. And let’s not forget the filet mignon of the chicken world; horse and cow patties! This is the appropriate diet for this specific species. This is an omnivore diet.
The real question you should be asking is, “What kind of grains are you feeding those chickens and how were they grown? What practices were used to grow them? What’s in the soil? Where are the seeds from?” These are the questions that should take the place of, “Do you feed your chickens grains?” Here on our farm, we can tell you the answer to all of those. No GMO’s, no chemicals ever, no pesticides, no herbicides, no fungicides. Just clean, local and organic grains harvested and ground by the same guy we shake hands with.
Simply put, we feed our chickens grains because we embrace the chickness of the chicken. But yes, they get an endless salad bar of grass too.