Vegetarian diets have been trendy in the human world for quite a while. People claim vegetarian diets bring lots of health benefits to humans. And so people have brought that mindset to animals, particularly chickens.
In the supermarket, people will often find lots of chicken products claiming the chickens from their product are “100% vegetarian-fed” chickens, so people assume that chickens are vegetarian. So are chickens vegetarian?
Are chickens vegetarian?
Chickens are not vegetarian by nature. They are omnivores, they can eat both plants and animals, and they will when they are free to roam outside looking for food.
Although chickens are not and will never be vegetarians, big industrial egg farmers and poultry producers still claim that their chickens are vegetarian fed as if it is something special or healthier than normally raised chickens.
In America, this represents quite well the issue of people having poor accessibility to healthy food as well as the correct info about them.
Even though there are many chicken products that are cage-free, non-GMO, or organic, they are still not natural, and not necessarily healthier than those from the normally-raised farms.
Chickens are omnivore animals
What are omnivore animals?
It is lucky for the chickens to be arguably the most ideal animal type in the group of herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. Omnivores are animals that can eat both plants and animal-based food, which are almost any living being on the planet.
This makes omnivores have a better chance of finding food in the wild than other types of animals since they can consume more things in their surroundings, whether there are just some plants on the ground or animals walking by.
As a result, omnivore creatures’ digestive systems have been adapted to break down, process, and consume plants and animal-based food properly.
Chickens are omnivores
Chickens can eat plants and animals with no problem. Their food range is quite large and somewhat similar to that of humans. If you ask farmers about chickens, they will tell you how much chickens love to eat everything in the sunshine.
Almost any small animal is food to chickens, whether it is a worm, frog, mouse, snake, or bug. If left in the backyard, they will forage for the food by digging up some dirt and use the claws to grab a worm or something they found.
Furthermore, cannibalism in chickens is a thing. The chickens’ pecking order within their respective flock can lead to injured chickens, or the worst case: death. Chickens can eat their dead fellows.
Chickens’ wide food range is beneficial to them since it can provide the chickens a variety of food and protein sources, which leads to chickens getting essential nutrients at a balanced rate.
Why are vegetarian-fed chickens a thing?
The story began when people slowly realized that the animals in industrial animal food producers were fed using feeds that have animal by-products. The animal byproducts were used mainly for providing protein.
By-products just mean products that are created incidentally from the production of one thing to create another thing.
For example, when you butcher a cow for meat, its meat and possibly its organs are what you want, but maybe not the blood. Therefore, the cow’s blood is the byproduct of butchering a cow for meat.
While the byproduct can contain nutrients, they are far from being the cleanest. The list of animal byproducts in many animals feeds includes but is not limited to: blood, feathers, same-species meat, euthanized dogs and cats,… which is gross for many people.
The animal byproduct can be highly unhygienic; and for cows, in particular, eating cow-based parts can result in the “mad cow disease” – or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Cows are herbivores, they aren’t meant to eat animals.
As a result, the laws and consumers started paying more attention to what was fed to the animals in the farms. So some producers started moving toward vegetarian diets for the animals, this could be great for cows though.
The vegetarian diet is way better than the animal byproduct diet, but never the best
Some egg producers claim their eggs are from chickens that are vegetarian-fed. They are not completely lying, their chickens are fed mostly corn or grains, and are free of animal byproduct, which is good.
The problem is they use the claim as if their products are more superior to many other products from traditionally fed chickens, which is not true at all. Vegetarian diets at this point have many problems.
The problems of vegetarian diets for chickens
Chickens are omnivores and active
Vegetarian diets are not chickens’ natural way of consuming food. They can eat both animals and plants and will do that if left in their natural habitat or in the backyard and free to move around.
It’s hard to control a chicken’s diet when it can freely move around
Vegetarian-fed chickens also may have been locked in a cage or not allowed to move around freely outside at all (which is cleverly labeled as cage-free), and forced to eat the all-vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian diets are not necessarily better than normal diets
This is obvious since the food range of normal diets is vast compared to vegetarian diets. Some studies even show that vegetarian diets often lack methionine, an important amino acid for chickens. This is no problem to free-range chickens that can eat many types of food freely.
Methionine deficiency can lead to chickens being aggressive to each other, which may cause cannibalism.
So, are chickens vegetarian? Just because a chicken is fed a vegetarian diet, it doesn’t mean chickens are vegetarian. They are omnivores, and they can eat both plants and animal-based food.
When you see a chicken product labeled as “vegetarian-fed chickens”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best product. It is certainly better than animal byproduct-fed chickens though.