Corn for Chickens and Other Fowl Fallacies

Forget Old Wives’ Tales and Consult a Chicken Feeding Guide

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Have you heard that providing corn for chickens can make them overheat? Or that feeding cayenne increases egg production? Even experienced chicken owners still believe a few old wives’ tales. While some myths are harmless, others can be dangerous.

Myth: Hot pepper keeps chickens warm.

A dish of chili warms you on a January day, but it’s because the chili itself was heated up. Capsaicin, the plant compound giving peppers their Scoville units, feels warm on the tongue but doesn’t create any metabolic heat. Too much hot pepper will do the same thing to chickens that a five-alarm curry will do to you: stomach problems, diarrhea, and possible internal blistering. But it’s worse for chickens because their mouths don’t taste capsaicin, so they’ll keep eating it. Red peppers contain vitamin C but do chickens a favor: offer sweet bells instead.

Myth: Providing corn for chickens makes them overheat.

Can chickens eat corn on the cob? They love it!

Yes, corn is considered a “hot” food. But this “heat” is a caloric measure, not temperature. Eating high-calorie foods keeps chickens warm in the winter because it fuels their metabolisms, the same way that comfort food gives us energy to shovel snow. But providing corn for chickens in the summer doesn’t overheat them any more than cupcakes will overheat humans. Go ahead and make that recipe with frozen corn for chickens in muffin tins. They may not eat it until it thaws, but they will appreciate cold kernels on a hot day.

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Myth: Feeding old yogurt or hot pepper increases egg production.

The hot pepper myth claims that it makes chickens thirsty, and they drink more water, which makes more eggs. Do you see the fallacy here? Eggs aren’t just shells filled with water, and dangers of hot peppers are addressed above.

Egg production depends on several factors: age of the bird, amount of light/daylight, specific breed, overall health and stress level, and whether she consumes enough food and water to push that high-protein egg from her body. She won’t lay if she’s molting or broody. You can add supplementary light during short winter days or feed high-quality protein for an easier molt. But you cannot increase a chicken’s egg-laying abilities beyond her specific biology. You may have to wait until she’s back in season or replenish your flock with younger birds.

Yogurt is high in protein, but too much lactose can upset digestion in animals that did not evolve drinking milk. Provide corn for chickens instead, and save hot pepper for a good egg curry.

Chickens should be vegetarians and other food myths.

Vegetarian, really? Have you seen hens chase mice or gobble up earwigs? Chickens are predators that need protein. They love dandelion greens, but if you offer steak trimmings, they’ll trample each other to get a bite.

Feeding chickens scraps is okay if you remember a couple rules.

In general, chickens can eat what you can. Too much fat, salt, sugar, or empty carbohydrates will mess up your nutrition, just as it will with chickens. But they love it so much, right? So do children, if you let them choose between candy and broccoli. Save treats for special occasions.

Do you know what not to feed chickens? With the exceptions of chocolate and caffeine, which can harm their hearts, consider the same rules: what’s good for you is good for them. Don’t offer greens from plants that can also poison humans, such as tomatoes or rhubarb. Junk food is bad for you and them. So is moldy bread. Avocado pulp is fine, but not pits or peels.

Another myth claims chickens avoid what is bad for them. Perhaps that was true for ancestral red jungle fowl, which evolved before plastics and junk food, but they’ve evolved several thousand years since. Now we’re growing corn for chickens instead of expecting them to forage. Anyone who has performed an operation, to remove Styrofoam from a hen’s crop, knows to keep non-digestible or toxic materials out of reach.

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Myth: Chickens need sweaters.

Chickens evolved in Iceland and New England, before humans harnessed electricity. Provide a draft-free coop, ventilation, clean bedding, and proper food and water to support metabolic function, but nothing else is necessary. Sweaters can keep chickens from self-regulating body temperature, can harbor lice and mites, become strangulation hazards, and provide places for predators to grab.

Myth: Broilers are genetically modified and/or grown with hormones.

Currently, the only FDA-approved, genetically engineered meat product is a type of farm-raised salmon. Broilers are hybrid crosses of Cornish and Plymouth Rock, which creates heavy and fast-growing offspring. The breed has other issues, but being GMO isn’t one of them.

It has never been legal, in the United States, to raise anything but beef and mutton with hormones. At the same time the government legalized it for these animals, they outlawed it for poultry and pork. It’s also nearly impossible. Hormones in feed would just be metabolized and rendered ineffective. Administering via injection or subdermal pellet would make poultry more expensive to produce than consumers are willing to pay.

So why is “raised without hormones” printed on poultry packaging? Because consumers believe myths and pay more for the label.

Myth: European eggs don’t go bad because people don’t wash them.

Oh, the ongoing argument of whether you should refrigerate eggs. It is true that washing them removes a protective “bloom” of calcium crystals. But whether eggs will go bad isn’t that simple.

First: All food decomposes. That’s how you know it’s real food. Unwashed eggs will spoil with increased heat, time, and exposure to outside bacteria.

Second: These Internet articles rarely mention Europe’s fresh-food culture. Pizza is marketed by freshness, instead of how much cheese is dumped on. Cooks are embarrassed to serve day-old bread. From sanitary nests to eggs that reach market the next day, there aren’t as many chances for them to encounter dangerous bacteria. This fresh-food culture is certainly not mirrored in the United States unless you farm or purchase from farms.

Third: What happens between egg laying and consumption is what matters. An egg layed in a clean nest, which is soon gathered, doesn’t sit in temperatures above 70 degrees, and is eaten within a couple days, is less likely to harbor bacteria. Eggs layed in factory farms, washed with ammonia which strips away protective blooms, handled by multiple people, then allowed to sit a month or longer before reaching consumers? Refrigerate those.

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Myth: Blood spots mean eggs are fertile.

Blood spots mean capillaries broke when eggs were formed. It just happens, and it’s not dangerous to us or hens. You don’t see blood in commercial eggs because the screening process, which also separates grades A from B, isolates these eggs and assigns them to other culinary purposes.

Fertility can be determined by cracking the egg and looking at the blastoderm, which is a tiny white spot located on the yolk. If it’s fertile, this spot resembles a donut; if it’s infertile, it’s just a spot. Some vegetarians only eat eggs from coops without roosters, because there’s no way those can produce life. And even if they are fertilized, it takes time, temperature, and humidity for that blastoderm to become blood vessels capable of turning into a chick.

Myth: Darker yolks are healthier.

Foods containing more vitamin A tend to be darker yellow or orange. Eggs from backyard chickens can contain more nutrition because the birds’ diets are varied. But determining an egg’s healthiness, by color, can get tricky.

Yolks are yellow in the United States because factory farms provide yellow corn for chickens. But healthy African chickens, consuming sorghum, have off-white yolks. Some South American chickens eat annatto, making orange-red yolks. Commercial producers may add lutein to feed, to make yolks yellow, or marigold seeds for orange yolks, though their products are no more nutritious than competitors’ eggs.

The best way to determine if yolks are healthier is to know if the chickens’ diet is also healthy.

Myth: Chicken’s won’t eat their own eggs (or each other, or hurt chicks, mate with siblings, or eat your garden.)

Trust me, chickens have no moral code to tell them that eating their own eggs is bad. Eggs are delicious, and once they figure that out, they’re not going to stop just because “it’s wrong.” The same goes for roosters and hens with similar parentage: they don’t know they’re siblings, and no matter how often you remind them, they won’t listen.

Chickens have their own rules. Humans can either work with those or can gasp in horror when chickens behave like chickens.

If you place cooked chicken before them, they will eat it.

If you put tiny chicks with a hen which isn’t broody, she will kill them.

If you don’t provide enough space, a balanced diet, and something for the hens to do, they may kill and cannibalize each other. That’s why crowded commercial farms trim beaks.

Your garden is a buffet. Chickens eat garlic and onions if that’s the only greenery available. They will rip up carrot seedlings to access worms beneath soil. If you want chickens to eat bugs within your garden, either let them in when plants are mature, allow a few well-monitored hens at a time, or fence off vulnerable areas.

A flock may even decide when it’s time for one to go. They will gang up on her. If you don’t want this to happen, isolate the sick or old ones.

What chicken myths have you heard, crazy or believable? Whether it’s about providing corn for chickens in the summer, or dressing them in sweaters, do your own research to separate myths from facts.

Craziest Chicken Myths I’ve Heard:

You need a rooster to get eggs. Humans also ovulate without a male presence.
What they eat determines chick gender. Actually, it’s genetics.
Fertile eggs are healthier. Male + female doesn’t equal more vitamins.
Only roosters have spurs and big combs. Hens can have spurs and big combs. Hens can
crow. Roosters can sit on eggs.
Chickens are the closest relatives to T-rex. They’re only the closest relative out of 21 species tested.
White eggs are processed. …Really, I don’t know what to say to this.
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Comments
  • Great article….you sound like me….need to address these “old wives tales ” daily at Tractor Supply….considering I am a retired Biology teacher and long time Poultry man….how about this one….you can tell the sex of the chick before you incubate by the roundness of the pointed end of the egg….I have watched a man at an auction house hold a needle on a string over a baby Muscovy duckling to determine its sex…something about which way it pointed? I always have been troubled by Ag ignorance but I sadly feel we are loosing the war

    Reply
  • I find often that when someone addresses “myths in chicken keeping,” that often their research is biased. It is often incomplete or the writer takes off on a tangent on one aspect (often a misunderstanding of what actually has been said) to discredit it without considering the full story. It is further discrediting others who do not believe the same way by scoffing at even “the experienced chicken owners.” This puts a very bad taste in my mouth for this article when combined with the rest.
    Example, not from chicken keeping: “I cannot lie”. How do you read this? (Scoffing laugh) Everyone lies! OR “I am not a good liar.” Same comment, two different meanings.
    The hot pepper comment is one such comment. It does increase rate of lay. It is not from the capsaicin making them thirsty or whatever. It is about the increase of blood supply that it creates, therefore warming the chicken & improving it’s production. There has been a scientific study fine on it. It has been proven.
    Yes, some of the comments addressed are myths, but for others, I am afraid, this author needs to get off their high horse and do more research…from all angles, not just on their biased chosen angle.

    Reply
  • Good article but I agree with L.K. about the capsaicin. And I do believe it improves blood circulation and therefore can help prevent frostbite. Not all old wives tales are false – they are mostly based on truth, from people observing over the years. But there are some ridiculous things out there that don’t even make any common sense.

    Reply

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