Poultry's unique, natural diet is one of the more interesting aspects I have learned while raising them. The avian species are very different physically than mammals. After all, we do not have wings (and therefore cannot fly!); we do not have gozzrds to grind out food, nor have beaks instead of teeth, nor even have feathers to help regulate our body temperature.
So a chicken's physiology has a lot to do with the natural diet they were built to consume. Their beaks are meant to graps certain kinds and shapes of foods, and their gizzards can grind fibrous plants and seeds with hard shells. To give them energy, or to just keep their body warm, demands high intensity of certain kinds of nutrients. Two important nutrients that rightly get addressed the most are the compound protein and the mineral calcium.
As new chicken owners we wade through the spectrum of poultry feed and we soon learn the importance of the role of protein. Protein is essential for growth and tissue repair, and the main component of feathers. Different protein percentage levels are created for different age groups, with the highest percent for the youngest chicks, tapering off to the lowest once chickens are adults and theoretically free ranging and supplementing with bugs, (however which does not address what we do during the winter).
I personally feel the commercial food industry has the adult percentage set too low. I mix my own feed, and my percentage protein is generally 4% higher. The protein in feed mainly comes from grains like barley, corn, wheat, and soy beans. With the advent of GMO foods, especially in a majority of soy beans and corn, many organic chicken keepers are looking for alternatives. And, even if we make our own feed, natural grains come with phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors that protect the seed for its own propagation, but those things are not so great for digestion. So nutrient absorption may be low as well with whole grains and seed unless you ferment the grain to counteract that.
Calcium too is also added to the layer feed when hens become mature enough to lay eggs. We are also advised to make calcium available free choice through oyster shell, egg shell, or limestone for the hens to forage on their own. Calcium is important for bones and eggs shell building for the hens. However, egg shells and limestone may move through the digestive system too quickly for good absorption.
So, are these they only choices we have to add protein and calcium to the diet? As a matter of fact we have some herbal options that can supplement protein and calcium quite nicely. Actually all plant foods offer some protein, but some herbs can really excel in this area. And we can apply them in a way to afford maximum absorption and utilization for our flock.
To talk about protein from meat products and plants, we have to understand complete and incomplete proteins. What this means is that the protein offered is rated by having all 9 essential amino acids available to build protein in the body. It is true that most plants are incomplete, which simply means some of the amino acids may be “less” than enough. But when digested with other good food, the body will draw from everything it is digesting to get what it needs. So I would recommend using plant proteins as a part of well-rounded diet, not a sole source. On the other hand, plant based calcium might be better absorbed and utilized than calcium from other sources. That is because a lot of herbs have magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin D also present, and with that combination, it helps the calcium to be readily absorbed and put directly into the bloodstream. I might also mention that meat proteins have amino acids that contain sulfur and that will affect PH balance, whereas plant proteins are more alkaline.
So, the PH balance affected will use calcium to neutralize the acid. In other words, to process meat protein, the body loses calcium. A balance of plant based protein and plant based calcium will actually work much better in tandem, because they do not make the same impact on the body when digested, and therefore more easily utilized.
An old-time, steadfast staple for protein has been alfalfa hay for many kinds of livestock, including poultry. When I started out raising poultry 17 years ago, I was taught by farmers to throw a bale of alfalfa hay in the coop for the flock to pick at, especially during winter when greens in Michigan are non-existent.
This was before I really began developing and using herbal protocols for my poultry. But, my ears perked up when I heard this because I knew alfalfa also had medicinal value. So, my work with alfalfa hay years ago began my herbal teaching in the poultry community, and since then I have only gained even more respect for its wonderful offerings both nutritionally and medicinally.
So let’s take a look at some of these herbs that have protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin D. Three herbs I will talk about will have them all, while I also offer another herb combination that rounds out the bill.
Comfrey & Horsetail
Protein and Calcium Tea
See Calcium + Protein Tea Link to make the herbal tea.
Sources:Original Article, Susan Burek.