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Phytic acid in chicken feed

Phytic acidI'm thinking about feeding our chickens more homegrown seeds this year, so I decided I'd better look into the one safety issue --- phytic acid (aka phytates).  The Weston Price Foundation sums up the issue in a nutshell:

"Phytic acid is present in beans, seeds, nuts, grains—especially in the bran or outer hull; phytates are also found in tubers, and trace amounts occur in certain fruits and vegetables like berries and green beans. Up to 80 percent of the phosphorus—a vital mineral for bones and health—present in grains is locked into an unusable form as phytate. When a diet including more than small amounts of phytate is consumed, the body will bind calcium to phytic acid and form insoluble phytate complexes. The net result is you lose calcium, and don’t absorb phosphorus. Further, research suggests that we will absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent magnesium from our food when phytate is absent."

So, feeding your chickens (or yourselves) lots of raw beans, seeds, nuts, and grains can make them malnourished since they won't be able to get the phosphorus, calcium, zinc, and magnesium they need.  Luckily, there are several possible solutions.
  • Soaking legumes reduces phytic acidSoak the seeds.  Especially with legumes, soaking the seeds at warm temperatures (140 degrees Fahrenheit is most effective) for up to 36 hours can reduce the phytic acid content enough to double the nutrition you get from the seeds.  Just soaking for 18 hours at room temperature removed half to two thirds of the phytic acid from three kinds of beans.  This is much more effective than sprouting the seeds or cooking them.  See this blog for more information.
  • Remove the seed coat.  Most of the phytic acid is found in the seed coat, so white flours and similar products are much safer in this respect.  Unfortunately, most of the nutrition in seeds is also found in the seed coat, so you should use this technique with caution.
  • Grind seeds and soak the mash.  Traditionally, farmers used to grind grains and legumes into a mash which they soaked before feeding it to pigs and chickens.  (Ruminants don't have as much trouble with phytic acid, so this wasn't necessary when feeding cows, etc.)  This technique activates a protein called phytase, which is already found in the seeds (especially in rye) and which breaks down the troublesome phytic acid.  This is also part of the theory behind making sourdough bread.
  • Phytate content in foodsChoose seeds lower in phytic acid.  Unfortunately, the best sources of protein also seem to be the worst phytic acid offenders.  Soybeans, peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds have up to three times as much phytic acid as cowpeas (which seem to be one of the safer seeds.)  Grains tend to fall somewhere in the  middle.
  • Grow our own seeds.  Phytic acid content within the same type of seed varies drastically depending on how the seeds were grown.  Some studies suggest that raising your seeds with compost instead of chemical fertilizer (especially high phosphate fertilizer) will reduce the phytic acid content.  Fresher seeds will also help since these seeds have more phytase to counteract the phytic acid.
  • Increase vitamin C in the diet.  Ascorbic acid in the diet has been shown to counteract the effects of phytic acid, at least with regard to iron absorption.  So, if you feed your chickens a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables at all times rather than making seeds the entirety of their diets, the phytic acid won't be as much of a problem.  In general, the more well-rounded your chickens' diet is, the less difference a bit of phytic acid will make in their lives.
Does that sound complicated enough to send you scurrying away from trying to make your own chicken feed?  I hope not --- after all, I suspect the big feed companies don't pay that much attention to phytic acid when they mix their feeds.  Some scientists suggest that the high phosphorus levels in chicken manure are the direct result of feeding chickens food high in phytic acid which they can't digest.  Surely we can do better.

Although chicken feed is complicated, their water is simple.  Clean water means healthy hens.  Keep your chickens' water clean with our homemade chicken waterer.

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