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?

 

chickenseatingbugs

photo credit

photo credit

Sources:

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

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Danica July 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

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

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Carrie July 5, 2013 at 7:42 pm

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].

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Guest September 25, 2013 at 10:30 am

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

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cynthia July 17, 2013 at 7:22 am

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!

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Guest September 25, 2013 at 10:32 am

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!

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Leslie March 19, 2014 at 9:44 am

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?

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Thomas Olson March 17, 2016 at 12:57 pm

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

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Eva Nyman December 19, 2017 at 7:22 pm

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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brenda March 22, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Eva, thank you for your comment! That’s GREAT! Yes, support a local farmer!! 🙂

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Timothy Susi March 6, 2018 at 4:53 am

Love your site. Trying all we can in Burton, Ohio to get everyone to understand the importance of Soy Free and Organic through our small farm and Feed and Seed store where we sell New Country Organics. Thank you for being an inspiration and educating people to stop the soy in our diets and our livestock.
Lorna Lewis
Legacy Farms

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brenda March 22, 2018 at 7:11 pm

Timothy, thank you for the kind comment! I wish you luck in your soy-free farming endeavor! 🙂

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Susan J June 6, 2019 at 10:24 am

Hi there. Great article. So glad I came across it. SOY makes my eyes swell and itch horribly (for two years now). The phytoestrogens have been a long-term issue for me because it makes the Endometriosis pain flare up. It is very distressing to see that in 2019 soy is literally being put in everything now. I’m not in the farming industry and didn’t realize till now that soy is so prevalent in meat and poultry feeds. I thought I was doing the right thing by buying “organic” meat and poultry, but after reading your article I see I can’t even rely on that being soy free. There are so many health websites/groups where people are complaining of soy allergies. People with severe allergies to SOY are literally being starved. It’s really frustrating. My food selections have become severely restricted. On top of this I can’t eat a plant based diet due to salicylate & oxalate intolerances. I also have intolerances to dairy (casein). Who knew the process of feeding yourself healthily could be so challenging.

Thanks again for putting this info out there.

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Cat Funk December 11, 2019 at 11:55 am

I disagree. We can buy non gmo, organic soy & corn seed. We can plant that seed in our home gardens. Soy is a great nitrogen fixer legume, as a green manure it enriches the soil with many nutrients. As a full plant chickens love it. Hard and dried they are not as crazy about it. Soy has natural female hormones in it that help you hens lay more eggs.
I fed my pullets corn on the cob this past summer along with lots of other garden vegetables, & whole grains and they loved it and are very healthy.
The best rule is variety & everything in moderation.
If older chickens stop laying they need more nutrients & more protein. Feeding only one type of store bought layer feed is not enough for healthy happy chickens.
I give my chickens lots of different healthy treats, they love sunflower seed, kitchen vegetable scrapes, blueberries, corn on the cob, flax seed, (no it does not change the taste of the eggs)
They love going thru my compost piles and they eat lots of bugs, worms, and sprouts. I got chickens again after many years to help with my organic vegetable garden that I am expanding to a much larger scale.
I do not buy meal worms or fly larve because they gross me out. I make sure they have lots of protein from other sources.
Soy & corn can keep your chickens laying longer and its helps them stay warmer in the winter months.
Non gmo & organic is the way to go.

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