FAQ's: Do You Feed Your Animals Grain (Or Soy, Or Corn)?

When you sell at a farmers market, you get asked all kinds of questions.  One of the questions that I'm being asked more and more often is, "Do your chickens/turkeys/pigs eat ____________?"  Usually the blank is filled with either soy or grain, and less frequently, corn.  Yes, our animals absolutely eat grain, corn and soy.  While it’s certainly possible to raise some animals without corn, soy or grains (cows and pigs in particular), in the real world, without those ingredients we wouldn't have a viable business. Without those ingredients, it would require a lot of land per animal, specialized breeds and a whole lot of time.  All of those things add up to a much more expensive finished product.

I am learning that there is a myth out there that pastured animals don't eat grain.  With the exception of ruminant herbivores (cows, sheep, goats, lambs, etc), and whey-fed pigs, this simply isn't true.  I'm not exactly sure where this myth originated but I think it has something to do with the popularity and exposure grassfed beef has gotten in recent years.  As of this writing in 2018, we do not have any ruminant herbivores on our farm, nor do we have access to enough whey to keep our pigs healthy and growing without grain. Remember, omnivores cannot be 100% grassfed like a cow, because they don't have the specialized stomach that a cow has, which allows them to grow and thrive on nothing but grass in their diet.

First, let me tell you what our animals do eat...

Depending on which species you're talking about, the first thing that our animals eat is various feedstuff that they find in the pastures.  This can include bugs, worms, rodents, tree nuts and of course, grass.  Our animals can get anywhere from 20-50% of their dietary needs from pasture; chickens are on the lower end of that range while pigs and turkeys are at the higher end of that range.

In addition to their pasture diet, our animals get supplemented with non-GMO livestock feeds.  The feeds we use are a blend of corn, soy, wheat and/or oats, mixed with an all natural vitamin blend.  Even better is that our grains are sourced from a single farm in Darke County, Ohio and they're milled, blended and bagged in Darke County as well.

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What our animals don't eat...

What's just as important is what we don't feed our animals. Our feeds never contain any GMO's (they're certified GMO-free by AGW), animal byproducts, additives, preservatives, medications, drugs or antibiotics.  Our pastures don't contain any pesticides, herbicides or chemicals because we don't believe in using them.

A note about soy-free...

The reason soy is used in livestock feeds is that it's a cheap, widely-available protein source.  You can formulate livestock feeds without it, but the protein has to be replaced by something else and those other ingredients are more expensive than soy.  That's why when you find soy-free chicken or pork, it's usually quite expensive. 

The issues with soy in livestock feeds usually revolve around what's called soy meal.  Soybean meal is what's leftover after the oil has been extracted from the soybean.  For this reason, our feeds don't use soybean meal, instead they use the entire soybean, roasted and ground, which has shown to be a healthier alternative than soybean meal.

Conclusion...

At the end of the day, our farms goal is to provide a viable alternative to factory farmed meat for the average local family.  We aim to be affordable to most people and good quality livestock feeds help us do that by enabling us to be efficient in our production.  The more specialized we become (i.e. soy-free, grain-free, etc), the more expensive our products become and the less accessible we are to normal folks. We believe that good, local food should be accessible to everybody and that’s what we’re striving to produce!