What Do Chicken Feed Labels Mean?
In Unscrambling the Egg (Carton) post, we covered why eggs are nutritious, how with big ranching production follow questionable and inhumane practices. We went over the difference between conventional/battery cage, cage free, free range and pasture raised eggs. We covered what kind of eggs pack the most nutrients and least amount of inflammatory properties (because of how they are raised).
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of the kind of feeds that chickens consume, what is the best kind and how to find out from your rancher if they practice humanely and sustainably.
Chickens are omnivores. They were designed by nature to eat bugs, worms, and insects. Sometimes they will even consume mice and snakes. It is best if their diet is mainly from foraging their food eating all the above and cereal grasses. Foraging this way allows the chickens to have more omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, B12, A, folate than their caged and stressed out counterparts. Because of exposure to natural outdoor sunlight, they have higher level of vitamin D. Pastured eggs are higher in the anti-oxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which helps in prevention of macular degeneration.
If given grains, it should only be in supplemental form and amount.
Pasture raised chicken that is free to pasture and roam and consume its native food will have a 3:1 ratio of omega 6 and 3. Most people are consuming far too many omega-6 fats compared to omega-3 fats. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:1. And the typical Western diet is between 1:20 and 1:50 ratio. This kind of ratio causes inflammatory reactions in our bodies.
Most grains are loaded with omega-6 fats that disrupt the omega 3:6 ratio. Our diet is unbalanced in its ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids because of the abundance of soy and corn in our diets today.
If label states “vegetarian” most likely the chickens are not pasture raised.
The Omega 3 Fatty Acids like Flaxseeds
Omega-3s are so good for you because of their anti-inflammatory properties, especially the omega-3s from animal sources.
The end of the fatty acid chain, opposite the acid end, is the “omega end.” The location of the first double bond from the omega end dictates whether a fatty acid is an omega-3, omega-6, omega-9 (oleic acid), or another member of the “omega family.” Both omega-3s and omega-6s come in both short-and long-chain varieties.
“Essential fatty acids” (EFAs) is a term referring to the PUFAs your body needs but cannot produce (or convert from other fats), so they must be obtained from your diet.
According to Dr. Mercola, traditionally, only two fats were considered “essential”—ALA (an omega-3 fat) and LA (an omega-6 fat). However, we now know it’s the long-chain derivatives—arachidonic acid, DHA, and EPA—that your body needs the most.Omega-3 Fats.
Plant Based: The shorter-chain form of omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the only omega-3 found in plants (except for some algae). Foods rich in ALA include flaxseed oil (53 percent), canola oil (11 percent), English walnuts (9 percent), and soybean oil (7 percent). ALA is considered essential because your body can’t make it, so you need it in your diet—or its long-chain derivatives.
Animal Based: The longer-chain forms of omega-3 are found mostly in animals and they are eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA) and are highly unsaturated, mainly found in fish, shellfish and krill. DHA is the primary structural component of your brain and retina, and EPA is its precursor.
Why Omega 3 (essential fatty acid) enhanced label may not mean much?
Your body can make some EPA and DHA from short-chain ALA, but does so inefficiently. Recent studies suggest less than one percent of ALA is converted, if you are consuming the typical Western diet. DHA is found in cod liver oil, fatty fish, and in smaller concentrations in the organs and fats of land animals.
Some ranchers understanding how this works, feed their chickens high quality fish meal and crab meal that come from clean sources. This fish source contains almost twice as much of Omega 3 fatty acids as organic “Omega 3” eggs that derive their Omega 3 fatty acids from flax seeds.
If certified organic by the USDA’s national organic program, the birds are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet, free of antibiotics and pesticides and GMOs. Most likely their feed will include soy and/or corn.
Why not Corn and Soy?
Furthermore, if given supplements, I seek ranchers who avoid soy and corn for the following reasons:
Doing this contributes towards a healthier balance of Omega 6 and 3 ratios. This eliminates a major source of Omega 6 fatty acids that are contained in soy and corn.
Because corn and soy have been genetically modified for a couple of decades, it has had plenty of time to cross contaminate the organic kinds. Additionally, most soybeans are grown on farms that use toxic pesticides and herbicides. Some companies stopped using corn because they actually found alarmingly high amounts of GMOs and glyphosate in the corn that was included in the poultry feed.
Soy and corn being one of the most common food allergens, many people may be sensitive to consuming eggs where chickens were fed soy and corn.
Some undesirable products contained in soy are:
- Goitrogens:Unfermented soy whether it’s organic or not, are substances that block the synthesis of thyroid hormones and interfere with iodine metabolism,thereby interfering with your thyroid function.
- Phytoestrogens (isoflavones) is a plant compound resembling human estrogen which mimic and sometimes block the hormone estrogen. There is evidence it may disturb endocrine function, cause infertility, and promote breast cancer
- Phytates (phytic acid) binds to metal ions, preventing the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iton and zinc. It block the body’s uptake of minerals
- Enzyme Inhibitors, which hinder protein digestion
- “anti-nutrients” — Soy also contains other anti-nutritional factors such as saponins, soyatoxin, protease inhibitors, and oxalates. Some of these factors interfere with the enzymes you need to digest protein.
- Haemaggluttin, a clot-promoting substance that causes your red blood cells to clump together inhibiting oxygen absobtion and distribution to your tissues.
- pesticides and herbicides, and GMO
Studies have shown unfermented soy may:
- Increase the risk of breast cancer in women, brain damage in both men and women, and abnormalities in infants
- Contribute to thyroid disorders, especially in women
- Promote kidney stones
- Weaken the immune system
- Cause severe, potentially fatal food allergies
- Impaired fertility
- Danger during pregnancy and nursing
Some research is showing that the soy isoflavones from chickens fed diet concentrated with soy feed are transferred into the yolks of chicken eggs.
Professor M. Monica Giusti of The Ohio State University has done research on soy isoflavones appearing in commercial egg yolks. In 2009 one of her graduate students conducted some research on soy protein in egg yolks for a thesis, and Tropical Traditions supplied some of their Cocofeed for the study. Their research found: “Egg yolks of hens provided with the soy free diet, showed a rapid decrease of isoflavone concentration. From an initial isoflavone content of 52µg ± 0.73/100g it quickly diminished until at day 7, the concentration reached individual aglycone undetectable levels.”
High concentrations of estrogen mimicking hormones may end up in the yolks causing disruption in human fertility by upsetting the delicate hormonal balance. It may cause irregularities in sexual development.
Have your chicken and eat your eggs.
Here are great reasons to have your own backyard chickens.
It was the best decision we made when the kids were younger. Unfortunately our HOA is not tolerant and understanding of the value that it brings. I live in the suburbs and the community follows rules even if it doesn’t serve them anymore.
If your community is open minded and open hearted about it, I highly recommend it.
BareFood Angel’s Bottom Line
When buying eggs, choose:
- Pasture Raised
- Meet Sustainable Standards (no pesticides, herbicides, GMOs)
- Preferably Soy Free *
- Preferably Corn Free *
*usually if it is certified organic, it will include corn and soy. Best option is to purchase soy and corn free eggs that are pasture raised. In this case usually the rancher has developed their own feed that is GMO free. Second best option is to Pasture Raised Organic eggs.
Some questions to ask your egg rancher:
- Get to know the rancher. Visit the farm if possible.
- Contact the rancher through website if you can’t visit the farm.
- Make sure chickens have free access to sunshine
- Chickens have ability to forage for bugs and cereal grasses
- Rotated to new grass periodically
- Supplemented diet with leftover greens
- Applied natural bug repellents like Diatomaceous Earth and garlic in their water
- Humanely treated without beak or toe clipping
- “Certified Humane” label is helpful
- Organic is important but not a sole criteria
- Ask if rancher has developed their own feed that is GMO free.
- “Animal Welfare Approved” is a good label
- “No Antibiotics” label is important and regulated. Sometimes organic is not enough
Marketing plows to watch for:
- “Cage free”, “free range” and even “pasture raised” are mainly just buzz words and not regulated
- Flax feed or plant based feed used to create ”high omega-3″ is not efficient since the EPA and DHA cannot adequately be converted by humans
- Vegetarian Fed (chickens are not vegetarians)
- Organic may include a large amount of corn and soy which is not ideal
- Organic chickens can still be overcrowded and have inhumane conditions
- Pictures of barns and farms on cartons are just marketing propaganda
- “No hormones” is not helpful since hormones are not allowed to be used on chickens by the USDA
- “No antibiotics” is a helpful label and is regulated by USDA
- USDA Organic can be used if a product is only 95% organic
- “Pesticide free” has no regulation
- “Natural” also has no regulation
Sources and References:
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