In 2011, I was thrilled to attend an all day session on backyard chickens, hosted by Harvey Ussery. When I left for the Weston A Price Foundation Annual Conference, my perspectives on food and medicine had already been seriously rocked, but this conference left me seeing everything from vaccines to agriculture in a whole new light. Having grown up in Northern California Big Ag, I was in for an intense few days of study.
We had recently discovered that my daughter was having allergic reactions to meat that was fed corn, soy or grain. If it didn’t come 100% grass fed, she couldn’t eat it. This took some significant investigating, since the amount of research on allergens in meat was slim to none. Only now, a couple years later, is it starting to make it to the surface of media thanks to things like the Non-GMO movement. It took some leg work, but we were able to source several types of meat that were 100% grassfed, and we were also blessed many times over with hunters who donated wild game to further her healing.
Yet the one thing that was impossible to find was a grain-free chicken.
Farmer, to farmer, to farmer I went. I received everything from ‘thats not possible’ to ‘let me know what you find out’. Some filled my ear with how cruel it was to deprive chickens of grain, some told me stories of how their gizzards meant that they were designed to have it, and others wished me good luck. Most often I received discouragement and advice not to waste my time. Some farmers even gave me horror stories of massive sized flocks they had attempted to raise soy free, only to have them all die within weeks.
Luckily, being told it’s not possible is often just enough to get my feisty-self moving towards proving someone wrong. And when it came to my children, I didn’t need much more motivation to dive in head first. It took me a matter of 3 months to get my next set of research on, get some eggs hatched, and convert part of our suburban backyard into a chicken run. My daughter needed eggs for healing, and we were going to have them grain free. Period.
In August of 2011 we successfully hatched 18 out of 24 eggs. By completely divine orchestration, I met a farmer who knew a lady who had a family member who was starting a feed company out of Washington. It wasn’t in the stores in California yet, and it was barely going in Washington, but this local family member was a distributor and through her I could get my hands on it. Low and behold, it was not grain free, but it was corn and soy free, and that was better than anything I could dig up at the time. Our first set of backyard chickens were started off by what now is the awesomely well-known, Non-GMO verified, 100% organic, Scratch and Peck Feed.
Our chicks were three months old when I sat in an all day class gleaning every little bit of chicken information I could from Mr. Ussery. At the end of the day I hung around to have him sign my book, and chat with him a little further. I explained my situation and said to him point blank: Do you think it is possible to raise a grain free chicken?
He thought for a minute, and then said: You mean raise a chicken based on a diet that would avoid whatever allergens a child could not eat?
I said: Yes.
He said: Well, why not?
I said: Because everyone in the industry says it can’t be done. That grain free, can.not.be.done.
And he said: Why? Because you need a big feed company to tell you exactly what nutrients your chickens won’t be getting and that you need their feed? You think that your chickens are not smart enough to eat what they are supposed to eat if you raise them properly? (my paraphrase)
And I realized that was exactly the box I was thinking in.
He encouraged me to go for it. And so we did.
Our first round of grain free chickens are almost 2 years old now. We have grain free laying hens, and have quite successfully raised grain free meat birds. It’s certainly possible.
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