The importance of a balanced diet – or, soy-y seems to be hardest word.
While our girls are outside eating salad and croutons all day (that’s grass and critters to you and I), that’s not always enough to keep them laying these beautiful eggs. So while a lot of the goodness that these eggs are packed with (the vitamins, the beta carotene, and more) comes from what they find out on the pasture, there are some vital additional nutrients that we need to provide for them as well.
You see, although chickens are, by nature, omnivorous and have a voracious appetite (which means they’ll eat just about anything, and plenty of it!), the sort of domesticated breeds that we raise on our farms today have been bred to thrive on a different diet than their wild ancestors, and even from the sort of hens that you would have found on most country farms a century ago. Yard pickings alone are no longer enough, and modern breeds need modern feeds.
Because of this, we provide a supplemental feed that has been carefully mixed to provide the balance of carbohydrates (for energy) and the protein and amino acids that our girls absolutely need to keep laying. Without this they simply would not be able to lay as often as they do. We make it available to them all year round, but when the eating is good on the pastures, they may hardly touch it! Only the best is good enough for our girls, and this supplemental feed ensures that they stay happy, healthy and well fed!
These feeds comprise of 2 main parts – corn, for the carbohydrates that give the hens the energy they need, and unprocessed soybean meal, for the essential proteins and amino acids that they require to lay eggs as frequently as they do. They also include a number of trace vitamins and minerals to ensure that the feed is nutritionally balanced. This feed is sourced and certified according to the flock it’s for – USDA Certified Organic for the organic girls, NonGMO Project Verified for the nonGMO ladies, and just regular feed for the rest.
We do sometimes get asked about why we use soy – we know that there are some people who have their concerns, but, for now, soy simply provides the best protein and amino acid balance of any available and sustainably farmed vegetable.
The concerns about soy range from the way that it is farmed, to the possible effects it may have when ingested by people, blamed on a class of molecules called isoflavones. The science is still inconclusive, but, respecting people’s personal opinions, we embarked last year on a journey to see if we could replace soy in our feed. And it has not been easy.
For one thing, when we actually measured the isoflavone levels in our eggs, what we discovered surprised us. On average, one pasture-raised egg contained about 4µg of soy-derived isoflavones (many of the grasses that our hens eat also contain natural isoflavones, so we took that into account). If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s because it really isn’t. In fact it’s about the same amount as you’d find in 0.003ml of off-the-shelf-soy milk, or the equivalent of 2-4 pinheads worth. Not nothing, but not very much.
So what could we replace the soy-as-protein source with? Well, animal proteins are out, for a number of reasons; they may be from wild caught, and therefore unsustainable, sources, or, if farmed, have likely been raised on a higher concentration of soy than we feed our girls, so those isoflavones might be more concentrated in the resulting feed. That rules out things like fish-meal and crab-meal, but doubly so because organic certification also prohibits the use of these animal proteins sources.
Many plant based alternatives pose a number of problems too – some just taste bad to the hens, or make the eggs taste funny (flaxseed, for example, makes eggs taste fishy), some go rotten too quickly for us to send out to our farms across the country (copra, from coconuts, falls into this category), and some require such numerous combinations of seeds, grains and beans to meet the right protein and amino acid profile that they simply become unmanageable (for USDA Organic certification or nonGMO verification, every single ingredient needs to be traced back to source – easy enough for 2 ingredients, but much harder, and much more expensive, for the 10 or more ingredients that we’d be looking at).
That then leaves us with few viable alternatives – for the time being at least – but that in no way means that we have given up. Again, knowing as we do that it matters to a certain number of our customers means that it matters to us. We’re working with some of the smartest people in the business to find the right solution – one that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and deliciously edible (for the girls). When we find what that solution is, you can be sure you’ll hear all about it!