Chickens in the grass — these Alaskans also get the sort of feed that Chicken Lady recommends for fat and egg-full hens.
Dear Chicken Lady, I’ve been getting grass fed beef from a friend and it is wonderful. In our local Rural King the other day, while I was munching on my free popcorn, I saw to my great delight a chicken lawn house big enough for 4 chickens. It’s got a little enclosed area for them to lay their eggs and sleep in at night and then a screen porch kind of where they can go out and eat grass and scratch in the dirt. So I am excited about grass fed chickens and want to know if they need a certain kind of grass or is my regular yard okay? Won’t their eggs taste delicious with all those fresh greens? Sincerely, Green Acres Is The Place For Me
Dear Green Acres, I saw those little chicken paradises. You can move them around so the birds don’t kill all the grass in the spot where they are and they will be perfect for the small back yard. The reality is that the grass will probably not last too long even if you move them daily for 4 scratching hens move a lot of dirt. Yes, your chickens will eat grass or many kinds of weeds, especially dandelions, but they cannot live on grass alone. Our chickens that are running loose in the yard spend far more time scratching around in the dead leaves or the manure piles than they do out nibbling on delicate green shoots of grass. Throw handfuls of grass into the pens of your birds that don’t roam free and they will devour it with great gusto. Do that several days in a row, and pretty soon they may take a nibble or two but will ignore most of it. They like a varied diet of a good bug or grub plus grains as well as grass to thrive.
You are what you eat is how the saying goes and that applies to your chickens. In the spring when the first greens are the dead nettle and other mints the chickens will prune them for you but the eggs will have a strange smell and taste as odd. A good balanced broiler or layer feed should be your basic feed and then let the birds supplement with what bugs and greens they find tasty.
A few melon rinds for treats.
I got to wondering how much of what the bird eats ends up affecting us. Our dogs eat bird food, bird poop, bird eggs and their own dog food made of what else but poultry by products. We cook up old eggs, extra eggs, incubator eggs that weren’t fertile to feed to the birds for a bit of extra protein and I gave lots of eggs to the dogs as well. All those poultry products caused one poor dog to scratch non-stop and so to put an end to it I looked for a food for dogs with sensitive skin. After a bit of research, I read that she should eat food with no grain or grain-fed meats in it (which also cuts out venison as our wild deer get much of their sustenance from corn left in the fields after harvest). Even rice and oats are out which left us with a food made from sweet potatoes and fish, which worked. The itching has stopped and the fact that she still sneaks some bird food and droppings every now and then seems to be all right.
If grain-fed meat affects dogs with grain allergies would it not have the same effect on humans? Surely there would be some research to study that and so I set out on Google scholar, searching for a scholarly paper that was understandable and covered such issues. Not only could I not find much, but some of the authors I found couldn’t find much either. There are lots of forums and blogs discussing food allergies in people with accounts of how wonderful the victims of such allergies felt when they cut out grain fed beef and ate only grass fed beef. Or how they felt better after eating only free range chicken eggs and no more store bought eggs. Some people were allergic to chicken but found a source of free range chicken they could eat. Soy is an allergen for some people who felt they could eat chicken only if it was on a soy-free diet. There are reports that children allergic to corn products are also allergic to corn-fed meat. I could find no studies that showed what the chicken ate would affect people, only that thorough cooking was important and that contamination or components of chicken feed could be a possible source of problems for the consumer.
Chickens need protein in their diet and there are a variety of sources for it. A few years back we looked into finding a mill that would custom mix our feed. We couldn’t find one close enough but learned that the feedmills can’t have meat scraps sitting around anymore to use as a feed additive because of mad cow disease. Fishmeal was a recommended protein but there no are affordable sources for it around here. To up the protein of the feed, soy has been substituted for the meat proteins so chickens now consume a lot of soy. That is still not the best for the chickens and the loss of the meat proteins in feed has been suspected as a reason for lower fertility in breeder’s flocks.
Fishmeal as a protein supplement in chicken feed is available to the Spanish chicken lover and a study was done to look at problems with allergies to chicken meat. Fish can be contaminated with a nematode parasite that ends up in the protein providing fishmeal. After blood tests for the specific allergen, the allergic reaction to chicken might have been due to allergens from nematodes in the fishmeal making it through the digestive barrier of the bird and surviving the cooking process, reminding us of the problems with the mad cow prions, proteins we could eat that are not destroyed by cooking either.
Perhaps studies being done on genetically modified foods will help us understand more about how what our future dinner eats affects us. The controversy over genetically modified food products has no clear results that one can point to and say they are good or bad. Genetically modified chicken eggs are being worked on now because on a global scale, egg allergies are second only to allergies to cow’s milk. Produce a hypoallergenic egg and you can hatch out chickens who will lay more hypoallergenic eggs to use not only as food but in the production of vaccines. “We are not producing genetically modified chickens as part of this research, we are simply modifying the proteins within the egg whites to produce chickens which lay allergy-free eggs,” claims one of the researchers, Adjunct Professor Tim Doran. In the world of the genetically modified, the egg will clearly come before the chicken.
We here at Locust Lane envision a future where we will customize your chicken to your food allergies. Chickens fed on blueberries and worms only? Give us 10 weeks or so and your order will be ready. Soy-free chicken fed on garlic mustard and ant eggs for the locavore fanatic’s dinner? No problem. Of course, they might be pretty scrawny chickens but oh, they will be tasty. While you are waiting for those genetically modified chicken eggs to become available, try our duck eggs. We have friends who love them; they can’t eat chicken eggs but duck eggs are quite digestible. Sincerely, Chicken Lady