While browsing through Whole Foods awhile back, I came across a package of eggs from “vegetarian fed chickens”. That got me thinking. What did they have to do to force their chickens to be vegetarians? Chickens are not vegetarian by nature. I know, I’ve raised chickens my whole life. I never found any vegetarian chickens.
One activity we liked to do as kids was grab some bugs or worms and throw them into the chicken yard. Then stand back and watch as the chickens chased them around and ate them. The moment a chicken sees a bug moving, it zeroes in for the kill. This is a natural response. Chickens have been doing this for thousands of years. Wild chickens didn’t have a feeder stocked full of corn, they had to find their own food.
According to Wikipedia: “In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards, small snakes or young mice.” Eating insects is not vegetarian. Eating lizards, snakes, and mice is certainly not vegetarian.
Turkeys are even more voracious hunters. From as young as a week old, baby turkeys will stalk and attempt to eat any fly that lands nearby. This is instinct, they didn’t learn it from us, they didn’t learn it from their mother. In the brooder, they only have each other to learn from.
Vegetarian Fed Means Kept Indoors
When I see “vegetarian fed” on a carton of eggs, or a package of chicken, I feel bad for those chickens. They’re clearly not living their lives out in the pasture. If they were, you couldn’t call them vegetarians. The only way to ensure that a chicken only eats what you want, is to lock them in a building. Controlling their environment ensures that they don’t eat any of those nasty bugs or worms.
The word ‘fed’ in vegetarian fed sounds like a weasel word. Chickens, even ones in buildings, may still be able to find bugs to eat. Bugs that crawled or flew in. Manure attracts bugs. That said, there’s no bugs or animal products in the feed. Hence, vegetarian fed.
“Eww! Chickens eat bugs! That’s gross.”. No, it’s not gross, it’s natural. What isn’t natural is forcing chickens to eat only what you consider fit for consumption. I find it rather amusing that someone wanting to eat meat would want to force that meat to be vegetarian. I have no idea where this idea even came from. Surely not from vegetarians, they don’t eat meat. Are that many consumers grossed out about chickens eating bugs?
Bugs are the most nutrient dense things a chicken can eat. When a chicken eats bugs and other non vegetarian things it turns the pale yellow yolk of an industrial chicken into the healthy orange yolk of a pasture raised egg.
When you deprive chickens of their natural diet of bugs and grass, you have to replace it with vitamin supplements. Man made vitamin packs and mineral supplements are never going to be as good as simply letting a chicken eat their natural diet. Not to mention, locking thousands of chickens in a building is not healthy, nor humane.
Why are store bought egg yolks a pale yellow? Because 10,000 hens locked in a barn with a small yard have nothing to eat except the same premixed chicken feed. There are no bugs to be found and any grass in the yard is quickly eaten and scratched down to dirt. There’s very little nutrition in a dirt yard. In my article, Pastured Raised Eggs, I explain why raising chickens on pasture makes for healthier eggs.
Sustainable farms raise chickens out on pasture, where they’re meant to be. This makes for happier chickens and healthier eggs. Raising chickens in the pasture is more work, but they don’t mind. Seeing those happy hens everyday makes it worth it. I hope you agree.