The growth of the organic chicken feed market will likely soar as the potential for organic poultry continues to grow in the United States. The market share of certified organic poultry increased over 200 percent from 2005 to 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organic poultry products made up 1.47 percent of the market share in 2008, up from 0.69 percent in 2005.
Importance of Organic Feed
Organic feed is essential for the organic poultry market. According to the National Organic Program (NOP), an organic livestock operation must adhere to the national standards. For the organic chicken farmer, this means agricultural feed must be 100 percent organic. This includes:
- Use of only accepted pesticides and fertilizers on crops
- Feed cannot be derived from genetically modified crops
- Organic standards apply to farmers and processors of organic feed
Organic chicken feed, therefore, is the end product of food raised and produced following the NOP rule. The entire production process is regulated to ensure adherence.
To put organic feed in perspective, a review of the statistics of the poultry market is necessary. In 2008, the USDA estimates that there were over 9 billion certified organic chickens in the United States. Of that number, 4 percent were layer hens.
The USDA reports that organic farming grew about 15 percent from 2002 to 2008, with livestock showing the strongest gains. Livestock and livestock products make up over one-third of the organic sales. The growth of the organic farming industry bodes well for the products like organic feed which support it.
Raising Certified Organic Poultry
The organic feed for chickens varies with the type of bird. Feed for layer hens, for example, may include extra protein and calcium for stronger eggshells. Broiler chicken feed may consist of a highly nutritious blend for quick growth and harvest. In either case, feed can also contain approved vitamin and mineral supplements.
You will likely find organic feed that contains whole grains rather than ground because of the higher nutritional value. It will contain a variety of grains, depending upon the use. Typically, you will find whole wheat, corn, and oats in many blends. They will also carry plant-based protein sources such as alfalfa or kelp.
Because chickens have no teeth, the birds grind their food in their gizzards with the help of some type of grit. Ground granite or limestone are common sources. It is usually offered free feed to birds and not necessarily a part of the feed itself. While oyster shells or bone meal perform a similar function, organic feed will not contain animal-based ingredients.
The feed will also contain a protein source for proper development. A mix of protein sources is often included to ensure intake of all the necessary amino acids. Common sources include seed germs and nuts such as flax seeds or sunflower seeds.
As with added grit, non-animal protein sources are preferred. Plant-based proteins like nuts are classified as incomplete proteins because they lack at least one essential amino acid. Animal-based proteins, on the other hand, are complete proteins. Therefore, a blend is necessary to ensure adequate intake.
Additives such as enzyme supplements are often added to organic feeds to aid digestion and prevent gastrointestinal issues. Since they live in close proximity, disease can spread rapidly. Addition of antibiotics is prohibited by NOP standards, making preventive measures such as enzyme supplementation beneficial for the health of the birds.
You can sometimes purchase organic feed at the local feed store but more often you will have to have it special ordered. Feed is also available online, however, high shipping costs may preclude this as a viable option. For the small organic farm, you can also make your own blend using certified organic nuts and grains from a health food store or food co-op. Some recipe sources include:
Organic chicken feed is just one segment of raising certified organic poultry. A healthy blend will offer the best nutritional value while ensuring a mix which is 100 percent organic. As the organic poultry market grows, the importance of organic feed will continue to rise.