Do you remember when all the nutritionists said that butter was bad for us and that the whipped margarine stuff was so much better? Well, I do. I ate that whipped crap for my entire childhood, only to learn as an adult that the nutritionists were wrong.
“Oops,” they said.
And this was neither the first nor the last time we would be led astray by the experts and nutritionists telling us that something humans had been eating for thousands of years was bad for us.
If you’ve read anything written by Michael Pollan, you know that you have to be very careful of nutritional fads and trends. It seems the wisest way to eat is to remember to look to our human culture and history and be careful of fads and trends.
A few weeks ago, much to my surprise, I read in a blog post that oatmeal is bad for my chickens, even though I had read so many experts recommend it. The post started a kind of panic in chicken circles, and we now call the incidence “oatmealgate.”
I read the piece with great intent to try to learn what I was doing wrong and why oatmeal was so harmful when so many people, including some multi-generational farmers, use it as snacks for their chickens. I give my chickens oatmeal with blueberries as a special treat every couple of weeks in the winter, usually on the worst days, the days of the “deep freeze” here in Maine.
After reading through the post that included testimony from a nutritionist from a pet food company, I felt much better about my decision to feed oatmeal with blueberries as a treat in the winter treat. I would never want to contradict anyone’s beliefs about chicken raising, as I have learned over the years that there is very little reliable research out there on chickens and that the experts disagree ALL THE TIME.
If you’re like me, this can leave you feeling a little lost, stuck, and confused. But I’ve been studying writing and rhetoric longer than I’ve studied chickens (I have a PhD in Rhetoric), and I do know a few things we should all be aware of when it comes to discerning reliability and credibility in the “chicken literature” that’s out there on the web.
Here are some tips for you to consider any time you’re reading articles, blog posts, and the like:
1. Be wary of people who use click-bait-like headlines or titles. As bloggers, we all have to try to write engaging headlines that get your attention. We want you to read our stuff. But, if you feel like a headline or title is sensationalistic, it should be a red flag.
2. Be careful of experts who have strong bias one way or another. Experts who are being paid by companies may be letting business bias them; in fact, history has taught us that this is most likely the case. We all have biases, but some are bigger and more obvious–and should give us pause.
3. Read carefully. Sometimes, writers will mislead readers with headlines and opening paragraphs but then address things more honestly quickly, kind of in the fine print. After reading about the dangers of oatmeal carefully, I realized that I don’t know a single chicken keeper who is using oatmeal for entire meals.
Everyone I know uses oatmeal as a treat, and that seems to be the best bet with anything and everything that is a treat. You have to give it in moderation. So how relevant is this expert information anyway? How many chicken farmers are actually using oatmeal as a big part of their chickens’ diets? Probably not many.
In the end, I like to go back to the basics of our culture. Humans domesticated chickens 8,000 years ago. They didn’t have layer pellets back then. My great grandmother kept chickens for decades, and her chickens ate scraps and free ranged. She didn’t buy feed in a bag.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to buy feed in a bag. I do it myself and that’s what my chickens eat as their main food supply; however, I’m skeptical of any company that tells me I don’t need to use anything but their products. That’s just a big worry to me.
So, when all the dust had settled today, and I read through more information, including tips from Lisa Steele at Fresh Eggs Daily, a fifth-generation chicken keeper here in Maine, as well as the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, I realized that I’m probably just fine using oatmeal as an occasional treat in the winter. The University of Maine site actually lists oatmeal as an acceptable treat.
Now, of course, no one is saying you want to run out and feed your chickens oatmeal for their meals every day. But as long as you’re maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, treats are acceptable–at least according to most experts.
I think the best bet in situations like this to remember that everything should be taken in moderation, including research from “experts” who work for a company that will benefit from said research.