We use local whole roasted soybeans in our rations, not to be confused with partial beans typically associated with the word “soy” or other derivatives like “soybean meal” or “extruded soy.” By using the whole bean, it is a whole food and not a partial grain.
The reason we use it is because we have not found an acceptable alternative. Most people are substituting menhaden fish meal, a byproduct of those horrific Japanese drift nets responsible for most species problems in oceans. To patronize that industry in the name of wholistic health seems grossly inconsistent.
Another alternative is Austrian winter peas. These are only available from more than 1,000 miles away, have their own production issues, and are astronomically expensive.
Of course, other alternatives exist:
earthworms–extremely messy and a huge undertaking to grow the volume we would need to grow. Can you imagine harvesting, mixing, and handling 2,000 pounds of earthworms a day and distributing it to chicken feeders?
genetic changes– much slower-growing chickens without a double breast, all dark meat, too old to fast cook, much harder to process, double the price in order to be economically viable. Are you prepared to give up plump breasts and tenders and white meat?
meat scraps–bringing back slaughter house waste is more running up and down the interstate, very hard to keep from spoiling (similar to earthworms from a logistical standpoint) and not acceptable to many people. Are you ready to come and watch chickens dragging cow intestines around the field?
All of these alternatives would make our chicken substantially more expensive, and while money isn’t everything, it is something. We tried offering a slower-growing standard-bred variety several years ago and could not sell them. We have been down this road, and it is unacceptable. We are not interested in going bankrupt for some altruistic fantasy.
Here are the three main points to consider before incriminating us or our decisions:
1. We use the whole soybean. We do not acidify it, extrude it, press it, or break it apart to separate pieces. The soybean as God gave it, unprocessed and unadulterated, is an acceptable food, in our opinion, just like any other whole foods. To equate the whole bean with the word “soy” is like equating the word wheat with “Wonder Bread.” So let’s be honest about the definitions. The research incriminating soy is not performed on whole beans any more than the research incriminating pasteurized milk is performed on whole raw milk.
2. Our animals receive a much more varied diet than factory farmed animals so the percentage of intake is substantially less than normal. We all intuitively understand the rightness of balance and ratios. Too much of anything can be bad. By offering grass, bugs, exercise, and fresh air and sunshine, our animals have an entirely different life than animals who can only ingest what is put before them in a confinement house. The variety creates its own checks and balances, and would undoubtedly reverse some research findings were a different protocol used.
3. We trust the chlorophyll in grass to remove whatever toxins may be contained in the grains and minerals we feed. Chlorophyll is nature’s number one detoxifier–that’s what it is sold for at health food stores. The truth is that practically nobody pasturing poultry gets their birds to ingest the amounts of chlorophyll that our birds do. We go to Herculean efforts to make sure that our birds eat as much chlorophyll as they are physiologically capable of ingesting: move before 8 a.m. while dew is on and grass is crisp; mow ahead with cows to keep the birds on shoots rather than long blades; move daily to fresh paddocks; fertilize with compost to raise brix levels (sugar) to make the forage more palatable; put gizzard rocks in the feeders once a week so the birds feel comfortable ingesting harder-to-grind forages. Polyface knows about lots of operations claiming “pastured” birds, but precious few actually duplicate anything close to this effort. We’ve subjected our birds to both conventional testing and esoteric testing (chromatography, pendulums, etc.) and they always test clean. In short, we trust the grass to do its miraculous work. Our responsibility is to make sure the birds eat as much of it as they can genetically consume.
We appreciate that this answer may not satisfy some people. That’s fine: it’s a big world. All we ask is two things: appreciate that we are open and honest and truly want to do the best thing even if we’re wrong; and secondly, make sure the birds you’re jumping to eat as much grass as ours. None of us has arrived; the joy is in the search and discovery. And we’re still journeying on.