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Do chickens eat pasture and grass or is it just a 'myth'?

John Dunn CEO of Egg Farmers Australia, has been quoted as saying "Hens don't eat grass, it causes compaction which leads to disease and death."

We would like to give Mr Dunn the benefit of the doubt and assume he has been misquoted or his full explanation for this comment was not included in this recent news article entitled "Egg farmers hit back at what they call myths about their industry".  Sadly though, it is not the first time that opponents of pastured egg and pork production have made these fool hardy claims.

We would like to invite Mr Dunn to openly discuss this issue.  Perhaps we could start the conversation with a simple question in relation to his claim;  If eating grass causes compaction [of the gizzard] leading to disease and death, and hens don't eat grass; how did the grass get into the gizzard in the first place?

We are not denying that gizzard compaction happens, it certainly does but for many reasons.  The most common reason is that people new to the industry do not understand pasture species, their make up or their food value.  Often they don't understand the digestive processes of chickens and how grazing needs to be managed. 

This is what you may find in a healthy hen gizzard, pebbles and course grit that will be used in conjunction with the powerful muscular action of this organ, to grind food the bird eats.

There are reasons why the gizzard would not be able to carry out this function effectively and they all relate to poor management of the birds and pasture.

  • Don't graze birds on rank, old grasses.  They have no nutritional value and will only cause problems such as compaction.
  • Keep pastures short and growing well.  Fresh new shoots will be much more digestible.
  • DO NOT expect your birds to survive on pasture alone.  If hens are hungry or the nutrition is inadequate, they will be forced to consume what ever they can to survive and this could lead to over consumption of dry old pastures leading to compaction problems.
  • Make sure you supply course shell grit adlib for your birds in the paddock so that they have easy access to something that will aid the grinding action in the gizzard. (even if you think your soils are adequate)

Nice, healthy gizzard of young birds demonstrating how the pasture has been ground up. You can see a mix of grass and grains.

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