Are Chickens Fed Grain?

Does a pastured chicken eat grain?

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“Does a pastured chicken eat grain” is one of our most frequently asked questions. Some people think they’ve been hoodwinked if they learn that a pastured chicken eats grain. Let’s scratch into this question.

Chickens are omnivores, not herbivores.  Chickens do not have a stomach; they don’t even pee (it comes out in their manure).  Like all birds, they eat bugs, worms, and seeds. Lots and lots of seeds.  In the wild, their ability to fly enables birds to cover large mounts of land looking for bugs (protein) and seeds (starch).  Even migration puts birds proximate to food sources.  Birds cannot live on grass and other forages like herbivores; they have a completely different digestion and metabolic system.

Enter the lowly chicken, domestic fowl, dependent on feed from the farmer.  While half a dozen chickens can find enough bugs and seeds on 100 acres (100 football fields), commercial flocks, with much higher concentrations,  cannot.  They must be supplemented.  Rather than the bird flying to its feed (seeds and bugs), the farmer/caretaker brings the feed to the bird.

When Polyface says pastured chicken, it refers to the fact that the birds have fresh green salad bars, or pastures.  That requires portable shelters and water systems … and supplemental bugs and seeds (grains).  Birds certainly enjoy grass and other forages, but they are a tonic, like a vitamin pill dietarily.  Just because the salad is a small part of their diet, however, doesn’t diminish its importance.  A small nutritional supplement can have a big effect on your health.

Furthermore, the fresh pasture gives the birds clean air, clean bedding, and lots of exercise, which are as important to health as diet.  Polyface uses local grains that are NOT genetically modified.  In addition, the chickens receive seaweed, vitamins, and minerals that in nature they would fly long distances to find.  The paddock shift (you can see aerial views of this on the website chickenshift) creates a landscape mosaic that is the defining characteristic of authentic pasture-based poultry operations.

Bottom line:  grain feeding is completely normal for birds.  In the wild, they fly to the grain. In commercial domestic production, we bring the grain to them.  While this takes human effort, it utilizes human ingenuity and  labor to create efficiencies for community-based production.  In a similar way, we could say that hunter- gatherers roamed far and wide to find food; now we mostly live in cities that require sustenance from outside, grown by farmers.  Same principles, different contexts.

We hope this clears up any confusion you may have had and that you will patronize authentic Polyface pastured chicken as much and as often as your body needs.  Thank you.

Joel Salatin

Polyface Farm