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 V.19 No.22 | June 3 - 9, 2010 

Ask Ari

Feeding Chickens Red Meat

Q: Cleaning out the freezer, I'm finding things like deer kidneys and elk livers that seemed like a good idea at the time, but I don't think I'll be getting to. Is it OK to feed meat scraps to my chickens? I've got turkeys and guinea fowl this year, too, and they're supposed to be getting more protein than the layers. Will meat taint the eggs and meat? Will the taste of blood make the kids go postal?

—Postal Hen Patrol

A: Chickens are naturally bug-eating, carcass-pecking, turd-gobbling foragers. Interestingly, there are commercially available eggs and chicken meat advertised as being from vegetarian birds, a claim that is most certainly false, and worse if it's true.

Chickens have the sharp eyes and quick reflexes to snap flies out of the air, and chickens will go after any bug they can. The only way to ensure they're truly vegetarian is to keep them in a completely regulated environment, aka a sterile box.

Before anyone runs out to boycott vegetarian chicken products, what these claims often mean is that animal byproducts—the stuff they scrape off the meat packing plant floor—were not added to the chicken feed. Some scrutiny of the packaging is in order.

But in a home scenario, the short answer to your question is, "Yes." Home-generated animal byproducts are fine for chickens. Just don't feed them chicken or other bird meat, because cannibalism has been linked to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) in some species. And even though mad chicken disease has yet to be discovered, feeding chicken meat to chicken just seems wrong. Doesn't it?

Something else to keep in mind is that putting meat in your chicken yard could attract unwanted animals like raccoons, bears, coyotes, skunks, etc. I would put out your meat a little at a time, cut into chicken bite-sized portions.

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