Mike the Chicken Vet: Facts about Antibiotics, Steroids and HormonesAnimal Welfare
If I had a quarter for every time I was asked what we put into laying hens to make them lay so many eggs .... I would NOT have been setting my alarm early so I could shovel my driveway out 4 times a week this winter. The amount of misinformation on the internet is staggering. I'm sure it's true when I do a quick search on nuclear energy, or free trade coffee, or Beyoncé's plastic surgery history (not that I would .... honest).
The difference is, in this case, I KNOW how much is misinformation....on other subjects, I can be convinced by a smooth argument and repetition.
I KNOW how much medication I use. I use antibiotics if a flock needs them to fight off a disease, but that is rare ....I used antibiotics less than 20 times last year in the more than 300 flocks I am in charge of.
Disease prevention and vaccination programs
Professional laying hen farmers spend a lot of time, effort and money in PREVENTION of disease. This includes extensive vaccine programs when the hens are young, strict biosecurity programs, excellent control of the environment the hens are in, clean barns, high quality feed and water, and protection from wild animals (this is especially important right now, when waterfowl are shedding Avian Influenza in many areas of North America). That and the fact that laying hens are mostly in cages, separated from their manure, means that it is uncommon for laying hens to get diseases that require treatment with antibiotics.
Hormones and steroids
As for hormones, the last time I saw commercial laying hens given hormones, they were administered by a unicorn, and brought onto the farm by one of the giant alligators from the sewers. It's an urban myth and, in reality:
It. Doesn't. Happen. ......... Ever. Hormones and steroids are illegal for laying hens, and no farmer would want them. Genetic selection has given us hens who lay an egg almost every day. It’s almost impossible to feed a hen enough nutrients to allow her to produce more than that! Besides...many backyard hens lay close to an egg a day.....where are they getting their hormone supplements from?
Additives in hens feed
As for all the additives we use in laying hen feed, there is some truth to that. We add vitamins, lutein, Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrient enrichments that are passed on to the people who eat the eggs. We also add things to improve the health of the birds....electrolytes (think Gatorade, without the sugar), calcium for bone strength, probiotics (similar to yogurt, but not as gross), and organic acids (similar to vinegar), to help with digestion and keep the gut healthy (actually this is one of the more recent focuses of disease prevention ..... gut health)
At first glance, it might make sense for us to use a lot of drugs or even hormones. But once you look a little deeper, disease prevention and good management do more good than either of those strategies.
Thanks to our guest blogger - Mike Petrik
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