You might think that there's no way soy, in any form, whether it be soybean or soymeal can be bad for your birds. After all, it is in almost every single conventional feed formula. But think about why it is part of every single formula. Yes, it does provide a lot of protein, and therefore is supposed to cover most of the nutritional requirements for your pets or livestock. However, there's another, perhaps more important reason why it is in almost every single feed formula, and it's the fact that it is the cheapest form of protein you can find on the market. No other protein beats soy in terms of price. And that is what allows for soy to be part of most animal feeds, whether it be for birds or other pets (livestock as well).
And we are not even bringing up raw soybeans, which under no circumstance should be fed to poultry or any birds. This is because soybean seeds contain a trypsin inhibitor, which, to put it simply, makes it difficult for the ingested protein to be broken down and absorbed. And if something can't be broken down and absorbed it means that it may lead to a host of digestive problems. Staying far from raw soybeans is a smart choice for this reason.
Now back to heat treated soy, which is part of most feed formulas. While some people may be for or against GMO, it is worth pointing out that most of the soy in the US is GMO. And even chickens which are certified organic are fed soybeans or soymeal, again simply because it's cheap. Organic soy is no better, since soy in general is known to be a common allergen and these allergens will transfer to the meat or eggs produced from the chickens that are fed soy-based feeds. Soy is simply not a natural or a healthy source of protein for chickens regardless of it's GMO/Non-GMO or Organic/Non-Organic status. Chickens are known to eat everything but even as non-picky eaters, they wouldn't touch soy seeds if you were to put them in a soy field.
Although from a macro-nutritional standpoint soy is perfect, with a high ratio of proteins, good fats and complex carbohydrates, it's the micronutrients that present a problem. A feed that is heavily reliant on soy can cause iron, zinc, manganese, calcium, vitamin E and other deficiencies and a lot of it is due to the fact that soy is very high in phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. This will result in health issues, a compromised immune system and problems with bone & cartilage formation, egg production, growth and susceptibility to diseases. Aside from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and even though it is one of the rare vegetable sources of protein with a complete amino acid profile, it still lacks methionine and cysteine, which are very important to enable healthy growth in chickens and recovery.
The last on the list of negative influences of soy is that soy contains micronutrients called phytoestrogens which mimic the hormone estrogen, and as such can negatively impact bird's endocrine system. Any introduction of hormones is bound to cause problems for the birds, just like it does for humans, unless it is addressing a deficiency and is carefully supervised by specialists.
While we are no enemies of soy, in minimal quantities, here's our view of soy as a feed ingredients in bird formulas.
Positive aspects of soy in feed formulas:
- Price. World's cheapest form of protein.
- Macro-nutritional profile. Defatted version can have up to 50% of protein, and about a 30% of carbohydrates.
Negative aspects of soy in feed formulas:
- Anti-nutritional properties. Raw soy prevents protein breakdown and absorption. Heat treated soy prevents uptake of essential minerals and vitamins such as calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and vitamin E.
- Lack of essential amino acids. Soy is low in methionine and cysteine, both promoters of growth and feathering.
- Soy is not a natural choice for chickens. Chickens would never go after soy seeds even if they were on a soy field.
- Most soy on the market is GMO and especially the one used in feed formulas.
To conclude, we hope to have given you something to think about when you are choosing your next feed. In times to come, we are certain that the ingredient which will replace soy in commercial formulas is going to become insect-based protein such as the one from black soldier fly larvae and/or mealworms.