Chickens As Pets?

Forgive me but I must have a little rant. Ok I know, I do rant quite frequently in the columns I write for, but the clocks spring forward this weekend so the safety valve of sodding off outside and cutting logs when something gets up my nose will beat ‘blogging off’ on here

Are chickens pets? Yes they can be, but if you eat the eggs they produce then you must NEVER forget they are livestock and a farmed animal.

So why the rant? It’s spurred on by a blissful ignorance I keep seeing exhibited, and in fact almost lauded by some chicken owners.  It is the ignorance which seems to side step the very basic premise that if a hen produces an egg ,which you then introduce into the food chain, means you have to be careful what you put into the hen as its feed. It is that ignorance which declares because they are ‘my pets’ such rules surrounding their feed doesn’t matter, and to hell with the stupidity of those who make up the rules. Granted blanket unconditional bans tend to be introduced in order to eliminate risk, and somebody with a modicum of intelligence can usually apply a bit of logic and work out a way around it, however it would appear such intellect is lost in the case of the great dried mealworm debate….

Whether your flock is free ranging, living in a fixed run, or even restricted to some level of indoor penning, you wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall, or one buzzing by for that matter. Chickens by their very nature are excellent foragers, and intelligent enough to work out there is frequently food value to be had from any small passer-by. Sit and watch your flock on summers evening when the midges are low, and you see the hens actively pecking and plucking at the air around them. Insects are a natural part of the omnivorous chickens diet, and in fact a part of many a wild birds diet too (hence the reason you can buy insect products to put on the bird table).

Products such as dried mealworms however are deemed unsuitable for feeding to chickens. Yes, you read that correctly, you would be breaching current legislation if you were to feed dried mealworms to your flock.

I looked into the reasoning and primarily it is down to the fact that dried crustaceans and dried terrestrial invertebrates (eg mealworms) when imported to the UK fall under with regulations of EU 142/2011. Within this document  it states the “the competent authority may authorise the importation of certain materials for purposes other than feeding to farmed land animals (except for feeding to fur animals) provided there is no unacceptable risk for the transmission of disease communicable to humans or animals”.

Given my previously published opinions on the feeding of kitchen scraps then it would be fair to assume that my view would be “obviously another example of EU madness” and that “I would be compelled to agree with the e-petition and campaign to have the ban be lifted” as one email to me stated. Well I don’t.

Why? Two reasons immediately spring to mind. Firstly the basis of the argument to have the ban lifted seemed to be that poultry kept in the back garden are not farm animals but domestic animals, in other words not livestock but pets. Wrong. If you keep chickens and those chickens lay eggs and you eat those eggs then they are farm animals.

This doesn’t mean you can’t care for them as pets, but it does mean you need to be very aware that the eggs you eat will be influenced by what you feed your ‘pets’. Which leads me into my second reason.

I keep chickens because I get a level of confidence in knowing where at least some of the food my family eats comes from. So why would I feed imported dried mealworms that are produced using an unregulated process, where I have no confidence (or come-back) that they are dried using a treatment sufficient to destroy pathogenic organisms such as salmonella? I wouldn’t.

In fact when you consider the lack of control around the manufacture of such “feeds” it does beg the question as why it’s ok to feed them to wild birds when quite frequently ‘said wild birds’ will come into contact with domestic poultry (but there lies another tale!).

Just in case you are sitting there thinking “he’s off on one making much ado about nothing” then consider this; in the next 12 months it is distinctly probable the EU will authorise the use of insect protein for use as feed for pigs and chickens. Research and Development funds have already been diverted towards this as a possible viable alternative to importing soya.

Should the result of this research mean that a clean, pathogen free protein source becomes available as a poultry feed then I’ll look into it further. Until then you won’t find me buying and feeding unregulated, and risk laden products to my chickens.

To those who do, heed this.  If  your poor feeding techniques and arrogance towards the basic concepts of growing food results in the poultry equivalent of a ‘mad cow disease’ then you are no better than those who created that particular problem. This time though there would be far more flocks than herds at risk, and a significantly higher number of stock owners baying for blood, and my voice would be one of them.


9 Replies to “Chickens As Pets?”

  1. Arguably, insects are the most successful animals on the planet (based on numbers and biomass), BUT they are also amongst the most specialised. Many rely on a very specific range of environmental factors to thrive. Lets see how well they do once humans start messing around with them.

    We are already facing trouble with the bee population and that seems to be a result of just living next door to us lot. I am just glad I am alive now, I dread to think what we will be eating in a few decades… Meanwhile, I’m off to eat my breakfast egg laid by a chook fed on common sense (amongst other more nutritious stuff 😉 ) Have a great weekend guys…

  2. I only fed mine mealworms when I could afford it as they are so expensive to buy. I had never thought about how they were produced thanks for making think a bit deeper on this.

    1. You’re welcome. It can be easy to fall into the trap when you hear or read people commenting about how ‘silly’ something is when it comes to chickens but the biggest trap you can fall into is forgetting they are livestock and a part of the food chain

  3. Good rant, I have been giving my chickens mealworms without thinking about where they have come from and how they are processed . I shall stop!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this blog because I am interested in people keeping chickens. I have a shop that sells personalised signs and I’ve been amazed at how popular my personalised chicken coop/hen house sign is. I never knew so many people kept chickens. So it made me want to look into it and I discovered your blog. Are we becoming a nation of urban chicken keepers, I wonder?

  5. If chickens ever become a popular household pet, we will have people in Whole Foods next, protesting the use of chickens (our pets) as food. There goes another healthy source of food – bring on the insects!

  6. I’ve read a few rants on the interweb, but your article is just common sense. I don’t feed mealworms, but had never considered the potential issues, so thanks for the education.

  7. I farm my own mealworms at home, they are incredibly easy to keep and rear and don’t take up much space at all. The adult beetles can’t fly and they don’t have an unpleasant smell. There’s lots of advice online on how to successfully house & rear a mealworm colony. This way I can control exactly what my mealworms consume (mainly oats and pieces of carrot/apple). I originally started the colony to feed wild birds, I’ve only given them to the hens once or twice but they do love them!

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