Should Chickens Eat Soy?

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by brenda on July 5, 2013

When we first moved to our farm, I had a vision: that we were not going to feed our chickens soy or corn (more on the corn part another day). At first we found a a soy-free feed that wasn’t corn-free, and we went with it. Then we had the feed store make a soy-free, corn-free feed for us, but it was a little pricy. Then we found a feed company that made an organic, soy-free, corn-free feed, and we were stoked. It’s still expensive. It costs a lot of money to feed chickens right. When we’ve looked at the cost of the conventional, GMO-soy-filled feeds, we’ve been tempted…ok, my husband has been tempted ;) to buy the cheap stuff. We’d make more $ that way….but like I said, we want to do this farming thing the right way….So why don’t we feed our chickens soy?

It’s cheap

Wait, wait, wait….don’t we want cheap food? Nope. Not any more than I want another flimsy keychain that was made in China. When the products that go into our food are driven by money, there’s always a conflict of interest involved. The desire to make cheap food (and higher profits) is what brought us high fructose corn syrup-laden foods. It’s not about what’s better, nutritionally–it’s about money, and that’s it. Soy isn’t a nutritionally better food for chickens, it’s just cheap. It’s a byproduct of the vegetable oil industry, and it would be garbage if it weren’t for the fact that they’re turning it into animal feed.

Soy feed isn’t something chickens would eat in the wild

Joel Salatin talks about letting the chickens express their “chickenness.” Well, folks, feeding chickens soy just ain’t normal. The part of the soybean that is fed to chickens is the fiber. First the soybeans are processed for oil (an unhealthy but cheap cooking oil), and then the fiber that is leftover is toasted and then fed to chickens. I guarantee you that no chicken would harvest soy beans, pick off the fiber and toast it. I found one blog post about a farmer who let their chickens roam freely in the soy fields, eating bugs–and the chickens didn’t touch the soy plants. I would love to hear from other soy farmers if this is true–do chickens avoid soy if it’s readily available to them? Raw soy is a poisonous plant and is listed in the FDA’s Poisonous Plant Database.

Humans have to process and cook soy in order for chickens to eat it and digest it. Raw soy retards the growth of chickens, contains enzyme inhibitors and causes nutritional deficiencies in chickens.

Soy is not the healthiest food choice for chickens

Chickens who eat a soy and corn based diet do not absorb manganese well.

Chickens that are fed isolated soybean protein will have iron deficiencies and need to be given iron supplements. Isolated soy protein causes a Vitamin E deficiency and higher mortality rates than feeding casein to chickens.

Soy and corn based feeds are selenium deficient and lead to pancreatic atrophy in chickens unless they are supplemented with selenium.

Soy-based chicken feeds create a zinc deficiency in chickens, leading to leg problems and abnormally formed bones.

Chickens who are fed soy have such tremendous zinc and calcium deficiencies (because the soy depletes these minerals from their bodies) that if they did not supplement the feed with zinc and calcium, the chickens would be more likely to die, less likely to produce eggs, less likely to hatch, etc.

Most Soy is Genetically Modified

At least 85% of all soy produced in the United States is genetically modified. Genetically modified foods contain Antibiotic Resistant Markers. There is no scientific proof (yet) that these ARMs will create any significant issues for humans (or the superbugs that we face), however, this is because we lack the scientific ability to really understand what these ARMs might do to humans.

Soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, which end up in their eggs and meat

There are phytoestrogens that occur naturally in many foods, including eggs, cheese, and soy. The levels of phytoestrogens in soy are significantly higher than any other food, though. Chickens who free range have much lower levels of phytoestrogens than chickens who are caged up and fed a soy-based feed.

Chickens that are fed a soy-based diet have phytoestrogens in their tissues and eggs.

Soy’s phytoestrogens cause many health issues for humans

I shared about 4 of these health issues in my post, 4 Reasons to Avoid Soy.

Soy costs more than its sticker price

Soy is one of the main crops in the United States that is government subsidized. If a farmer does not sell all of his soy beans, it doesn’t matter–the government will pay him anyways. The reason soy animal feed (and processed foods for humans that contain soy) are so cheap is because about 70% of the true cost of growing soy is getting paid for by the government. So, soy is artificially cheap. You don’t pay for it at the feed store or in the grocery store, but you do pay for it in your taxes. Everyone does, whether they want to or not.We’re all paying for soy to be produced.

Soy is bad for the environment

“Soybeans are arguably the most environmentally offensive agricultural crop in the world.” -Small Footprint Family  About 20% of the Amazon rain forest has been cleared, mostly to grow GM soy. GM soy was created so that the soy plant itself would not be damaged by toxic pesticides and herbicides. These toxins leach into the soil and water and impact the vegetation and animal life in the area. In days past, soy was grown as a “green manure crop” only, and then tilled into the ground for soil fertility. Now days, GM soy is grown for human and animal consumption and it is destroying the biology of the soil. Because of GM soy, there are now “super weeds” that are resistant to strong chemicals like Round Up.

So after all of this, what do you think? Should chickens eat soy?



photo credit

photo credit


-The Proteolytic Inhibiting Substance in the Extract from Unheated Soy Bean Meal and It’s Effect upon Growth in Chicks

-Efficiency of Manganese Absorption in Chicks Fed Corn-Soy and Casein Diets

-Iron Deficiency Studies in Chicks Using Treated Isolated Soybean Protein Diets

-Anti-vitamin E activity of isolated soy protein for the chick

-Uncomplicated selenium deficiency produced in chicks fed a corn-soy based diet

-Effect of Dietary Amino Acid Source on the Zinc-deficiency Syndrome in the Chick

-Effects of Zinc Deficiency in the Diets of Hens

-GMO Compass

-Human safety and genetically modified plants: a review of antibiotic resistance markers and future transformation selection technologies

-Phytoestrogens found in animal-sourced foods

-Quantification of Soy Isoflavones in Commercial Eggs and Their Transfer from Poultry Feed into Eggs and Tissues

-Transfer of soy isoflavone into the egg yolk of chickens

-Biotransformation of soy isoflavone-glycosides in laying hens: intestinal absorption and preferential accumulation into egg yolk of equal, a more estrogenic metabolite of daidzein

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  • Danica

    May I ask, what do you feed them? I’ve been wanting to make our own feed. Not sure what to do

  • Carrie

    We raised chickens for a number of years, starting in 2000. We raised layers and broilers and we raised them free-range with certified organic feed. We got the feed [and any nutritient additives] directly from local certified organic farmers. And the feed ALL had soy in it. All of it certified organic. None of it a byproduct of any other processing. The thing with soy, is that it isn’t digestible for chickens unless it is heated first. The organic farmer that we got our feed from, raised his own organic soy, and did his own preliminary prep of heating and extruding [that’s the best way I can explain it] and it wasn’t all that complicated. The feed rations for a healthy flock have VERY high protein requirements. None of our chickens had frail bones [except the one batch of ready-to-lay pullets we got from organic Amish farmers in Iowa that were raised indoors with 10,000 of their closest friends, with a tightly and well regulated feed supply and nipple drinkers – stupidest and most fragile birds I’ve ever seen].

    Now I’m not going to argue that I think soy is great, or necessary in feed. What I will say is that it is an available protein source, which does require a bit of front end prep to become digestible but is not necessarily GMO or heavily processed. Chickens that do not get enough protein in their diet will become canabalistic – they will go for tail feather of other chickens [another form of protein] and if they draw blood they will peck that bird to death [they love blood] and eat it.

    For as long as I’ve been looking into feed rations, Fertrell had the most responsible and knowledgeable information on feed rations for poultry. Not affiliated with them, but if you connect with pasture-poultry-producers [I forget how many letters their org has now] they were all using Fertrell rations when we were raising chickens. [We will again, but we want to raise our own feed crops.]

    I am NOT a fan of vegetarian diets for chickens. They should be out and about in the sun and fresh air. They should have access to GREEN pasture of some sort, and bugs, and rocks, and whatever. But if left entirely free to roam [we raised ours in large hooped pens that were mobile], they will take out your flower beds, your perennial beds, your gardens… they love tomatoes and watermelon, cabbages, you name it… they will eat whatever they find, including other chickens if their protein needs are not being met somewhere, but they do not eshew plant materials and go only for bugs.

    In my experience, the only reason that soy is used in chicken feeds is to raise the protein content that healthy chickens require. Are there more expensive sources of protein that chickens would like? I’m sure. But if you raise your own chickens, you have to find what is AVAILABLE to feed them healthy diets. I don’t think soy is an evil plot, it simply is as easy a solution as anything else. And it is NOT cheap if it’s certified organic. We haven’t been able to afford organic chicken feed and stopped raising them for that reason – there’s no way anyone could afford to buy our chickens or eggs.

    BTW we also raise corn and soybeans – conventional soybeans have been selling for upwards of $15/bushel… I haven’t checked the certified prices of late, but this is already about $8-$9 over what the avg cost per conventional bushel was 5 years ago. Soy is not cheap any more. And we raise non-GMO soy too… and the premium on that is minor any more. The seed is difficult to access [not a lot of non-GMO seedstock out there unless it’s organic, and let’s not go there today].

  • cynthia

    Thank you for the info. I was all happy when I found some”all natural” chicken at the grocery store only to find out it was fed corn and soy! I cant afford all organic and am trying to do the best I can. Too bad I cant raise my own birds!

  • Guest

    Sounds like you are trying to make a lot of excuses for why you have settled for a soy based feed to me.

  • Guest

    The “organic” eggs are from hens fed organic soy and corn and its just as bad for our health to eat animals fed the organic version. I wish people would wake up. I’m tired of lazy farmers using this type of feed!

  • Leslie

    I am also interested in knowing the ingredients in the feed you are using. What is the source of protein in the feed? And what are the other ingredients?

  • Thomas Olson

    What if you fermented the soy with natto? Eggs have some vitamin k2 in it, but more is always better.

  • Jassius

    Sorry to say that my opinion of this “blog” is that it is mostly crap. To break it down point by point: 1) “it’s cheap” yes it is and so are many other crops that people use to substitute soybeans. In general lentils are cheap: crowder peas, limas, black beans, pinto beans, etc. – even peanuts to some degree. Why do soybeans get singled out here? This crop has been grown in Asia for 5000 years and has sustained that culture pretty darn well.
    2) “Soybeans are not something that chickens would eat in the wild”. This is just an idiotic statement all around. First of all, most breeds of chickens are entirely domesticated from over thousands of years of breeding and dependence on humans for food and water. What constitutes their diet is what they select from whatever humans feed to them. The key words in that sentence are, “what they SELECT from what HUMANS feed them”. If you feed your chickens a selection of corn, beans, wood chips, and wheat; you can expect to find the wood chips still laying around after they eat. WHY? Because chickens know what their bodies need to survive! They are not like humans; when we humans eat many of us readily pick out foods that KILL US! Why do you think that there is such a problem with obesity in our country? There is a problem however – in thinking that chickens share this same behavior. Chickens eat the foods that contain the nutrients that they need – to some degree and here is another reason why your statement is so way off base. There are ALOT of different types of chickens. Some modern breeds do not even have the characteristics to know how to forage if they were to ever see real dirt and ample space. Heritage breeds however, which is what I am primarily talking about, DO know how to find their own food while free-ranging and when selecting from what humans provide them.
    “Allow chickens to express their chickeness” – No problem with this Joel Salatin statement but chickens are diverse – not only in the different breeds but between individuals EVEN WITHIN the same breed and even within the same flock!!! But I promise you that if your chickens were offered a feeder of soybean-based feed and a feeder of whatever substitute you have come up with – most would hang out at the soybean-based feed. I have done the trials and I only raise heritage breeds. They do crave that higher protein.
    “I guarantee you that no chicken would harvest soy beans, pick off the fiber and toast it.” A statement by someone with absolutely zero grasp on raising chickens, which are (again) a domesticated animal dependent on humans for food and have been for thousands of years. Do you feed your chickens wheat? Well I can guarantee you that no chicken has ever scythed, threshed nor winnowed any wheat whatsoever. I promise you! Do you feed them oats? Same thing. Millet? Same. Milo? Same. Beans? yadda-yadda.
    So you want to know why a chicken will graze freely in a field of soybeans and not eat them and then later admit that you already know that soybeans have to be cooked before they are safe (which I agree with, but that does not make them a net negative). Somehow I think that was kind of a set-up.
    So it is correct and I agree – do not use soybeans raw either for human food or livestock feed. Does this alone make this naturally growing ancient Asian lentil an enemy of mankind? Not hardly. Are there any other foods that must be cooked before that are actually considered fit for consumption? And that are on the FDA’s list of poisonous plants? Why YES THERE ARE and some of them are quite common. Potatoes come to mind first. I hope no one reading this eats potato chips, french fries or mashed potatoes. Yikes that would be just horrible. No it wouldn’t. We are smart enough of a society to realize that potatoes are actually good food to eat, and helped the Irish stave off starvation, IF YOU COOK THEM FIRST. Does the fact that you have to cook potatoes mean that they are evil – or in some way not good for consumption? NO! Just cook them first! Why is that so hard? Some food must be cooked before it is fit for consumption. Some greens are another good example! Collards, Turnip greens, etc. What the heck, MEAT needs to be cooked before it can be eaten.
    After that point you get into a few things that I do not totally disagree with, but you make many claims that sound to me like you need a large amount of scientific research to back-up but you do not link any such research. From the time that you make the claim that a soy and corn based diet, “do not absorb manganese well”. From that point on you fail to cite any studies supporting this conclusion. What I can say is that even if some of your conclusions were even half correct – most people who feed their chickens a diet that includes soybean – ALSO FEED THEM OTHER THINGS that include the nutrients that soybeans do not include.
    The fact that most soybeans are GMO is no secret, but you make zero allowance for NON-GMO soybeans which are actually very easily available. I agree that I do not want GMO food for either me or my livestock, but I am not ready to post a blog condemning it. Why? Because I have not done the complex scientific test to prove my suspicious and I am damn-sure not going to post a stupid blog based on suspicion.
    Phytoestrogen. A very interesting subject on which again you post zero citations for. I will not refute your assumptions because I do not have facts in front of me – but then again neither do you. And you are making the claim.
    You make this claim: “Soy is bad for the environment” and then you list nothing to support that claim. You mention that people are destroying the rainforest in order to plant it, but that does not equate to soybeans destroy the environment. You state the GMO foods are raised to withstand pesticide applications and cite that as a reason, but it still does not mean that soybeans are in anyway destroying the environment.

    Your blog is so terrible that it reminds me of a commercial that aired probably 10 years ago. It was a State Farm commercial about the “French Model” seen here
    The problem is that so many people are so misinformed by dumb people posting ill-informed blogs. This qualifies.

  • Eva Nyman

    Love this article! Thank you for providing all of this information that I will now consider. I will be looking for a quality farmer in my area because of your efforts.

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