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 and 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 that which seems to ignore the very basic premise if a hen produces an egg which you then introduce into the food chain it means you have to be careful what you put into the hen as feed. It is that 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 such intellect gets 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 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 though you won’t find me buying and feeding unregulated and risk laden products to my chickens, but 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 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.