Backyard Chickens and Arsenic Update

Hi all. Back from vacation and settling back into blogging routines.

I wanted to follow up on my two previous posts regarding the recent discovery of high arsenic levels in children from the eggs they were eating from their flock of backyard chickens. I reported previously that roxarsone is the ingredient in their backyard chicken feed that got into the eggs and ultimately into the kids' bodies.I spoke with a local sales representative from Purina and he had some helpful insights.

He mentioned that the feed with roxarsone is typically only used in the first couple months of a chicken's life as an antibiotic, specifically to treat and prevent coccidiosis, a common infection in animals caused by a parasite that can kill young chicks. When we started our backyard chicken flock we had a choice at the local feed supply store of medicated or non-medicated feed. We chose non-medicated and had no trouble with disease.

Layer feeds for chickens, the feeds designed to help chickens lay eggs, do not in general contain roxarsone. I checked the ingredient lists on our feeds that we've been using that they do not contain it. I'm guessing that with the family in Utah that ended up with high levels of arsenic in their kids were at fault. They were likely using a medicated feed intended for Pullets, and were mistakenly using it as a layer feed.

This brings up an important aspect of the rise in backyard chicken flocks. There are a lot of people out there who are getting chickens and are prone to making mistakes like the one the family in Utah made. With dogs, cats and fish the mistakes of novice owners are usually limited to the well being of the animals, but in the case of food providing chickens the mistakes can effect not only the health of the animals but the health of the family as well. I encourage new owners to get to know the folks at their local farm supply store and ask lots of questions.

My new friend from Purina mentioned that the news of the arsenic had created a huge stir in the animal feed world and he pointed the finger at blogs that hyped it up. I guess that would be me. If you Google "backyard chickens arsenic" my initial post is the top result. If I did unduly ring the alarm bells I want to moderate that a little. Like Gary Angel said, it's the responsibility of people to read the ingredients of what's in the feed. I had initially indicated I would move to organic feed but now that I've examined the ingredients in my feed I'll stick with it.

My Purina friend also mentioned that a common mistake of new chicken owners is to use white lights instead of red lights/heat lamps. Apparently the white lights can drive the chickens crazy, leading them to peck and cannibalize other chickens. He also mentioned that the next backyard farming trend that's gaining steam right now is goats. He said goats are huge right now. Hmmm. Not sure if the neighbors are ready for that yet, but it's something to think about. :)