Periodically, I try to review the sites that list our farm and keep them updated. Yesterday, I looked at our eatwellguide.org listing. I don't really like that one, because I can't edit it myself and it's just not user-friendly from a farmer's perspective. Oh well. I noticed that it still had our old RD Box address, so I clicked on it to update. Then I noticed what it said about our products...no veggies listed, but all the meats were there, even turkey. We didn't do turkey last year, but that's on our list of things to do this year, so I didn't see leaving it up as a problem. Then I read the descriptions. Pasture raised, no hormones, no antibiotics, organic methods...all were accurate. Except one. This listing advertised our poultry as being "100% vegetarian fed."
While chickens aren't meat-thirsty carnivores, they aren't strict vegetarians, either. We don't feed our chicks any animal byproducts, just high protein, corn based poultry feed. However, we do raise them on pasture. The pens they live in have no bottom, and are dragged to new grass each morning. This means that they not only have new grass to pick at and eat, they have lots of bugs to hunt and kill, which they do. I've even seen the egg hens chasing each other when one of them kills a frog...a prize each wants to claim. A chicken is designed by nature to hunt bugs as a part of its diet. If you watch a chicken in a true free range/pasture pen, its attention is always drawn to the small movements of insects. It just makes sense to me to let nature take its course and reap the benefits in the garden of having the chickens controlling the insect population.
So what is the big deal? My chickens eat bugs, who cares? The problem I have is the misleading advertising that is present in our food system. "100% vegetarian-fed" is just a buzzword to get you to buy a product. It's a lie if the chickens are truly raised in outdoor free range conditions. It also makes you think that animal welfare is important, but if the birds can't eat bugs, they must be raised in some pretty sterile, unnatural conditions. I've seen the phrase on plenty of egg cartons dropped off at the farm. An under-educated customer buys it, but are they getting what they think is being advertised? Maybe. I'll never advertise my chicken or eggs as vegetarian-fed, but unlike big industry, I would never feed them beef by-products just to up the protein content of the food. (Yes, this actually happens- it's standard procedure for factory farms.)
As a consumer, find a farmer and ask about the living conditions and type of feed used if it is something you want to know about. Small farmers make their living by being open and honest about what we do and how we do it. We welcome and encourage educated customers.
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