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Alternatives to Soy

Written in March, 2005

More and more people are becoming uneasy about the heavy use of soy in our food supply. (If interested in exploring this subject, see Soy Alert! to get you started.) Many question the use of soybeans and soy byproducts even in animal feeds. Certainly this concern is justified with reference to feeding ruminants—soy feeds have serious deleterious effects in the rumen, for example—though I am less certain about problems of feeding soy to avian species. Nevertheless, many small producers are getting inquiries from their customers about getting soy-free eggs and dressed poultry. How can producers meet the demands of such a market?

The question is a tough one. At one time, of course, farmers grew a variety of feed legumes. But the cultivation of soybeans in present American agriculture has become so widespread that it has replaced virtually all previous alternatives.

As of a year or so ago, I have used no soybean at all in my feeds, since I’ve been able to get “Austrian” or “winter” peas instead (Pisum arvense, a feed pea relative of Pisum sativum, the common garden pea). However, it is my understanding that the supply of Austrian peas is very tight and that it is not easy to find a source. Producers should seek out local farmers willing to grow them, or other feed legumes. If small producers of broilers or eggs for market band together, they can present to a farmer a significant guaranteed market for such a crop. There may be opportunities to expand such arrangements into local production of other feed crops as well, superior in quality to the run-of-the-mill alternatives, perhaps organically certified and non-genetically-engineered.

Two more points about use of soy should be stressed:

Do not ever feed raw soybeans to any sort of livestock! Raw soybeans contain growth inhibitors which can seriously compromise normal growth, among other problems. Roasting or otherwise heat-treating the beans will largely (though some would argue, not entirely) neutralize the growth-inhibiting compounds.

Soybean meal, a common ingredient in commercial feeds, is sometimes available at one’s local feed supply. Be aware that such meal is almost certain to be a byproduct of the extraction of soybean oil. If the oil was extracted using high-pressure expeller presses, it is more acceptable as a feed. More commonly, however, the oil has been extracted using hexane as a solvent; and the resulting meal is likely contaminated with residues of hexane. Unless you know the meal offered was expeller pressed rather than solvent extracted, soybean meal is best avoided.

Jeff Mattocks, a livestock nutritionist who works with Fertrell Company, recently responded to a question about formulating non-soy feeds. I pass on his three suggestions, together with his caveat both with regard to the “recipes” and to ease of finding the necessary ingredients.

Here are a few that I have formulated for others who have requested NO Soy rations for chickens. I do not stand behind the quality of these rations. They merely fill in the squares required to raise broilers. NO guarantees as to how well your chickens grow and live. If you thought getting Roasted Soybeans was difficult wait till you try and fill this list.—Good Luck, Jeff


Broiler Starter Grower:
19.4% Protein
Ingredient Amount
Corn 500
Winter Peas 525
Crab Meal 150
Sunflower Meal 400
Wheat 280
Vegetable Oil 75
Poultry NB 60
Calcium 10
Total: 2000 lbs


Broiler Starter Grower:
19.8% Protein:
Ingredient Amount
Corn 600
Winter Peas 500
Sunflower Meal 350
Wheat 250
Crab Meal 100
Fish Meal 75
Vegetable Oil 50
Poultry NB 60
Calcium 15
Total: 2000 lbs


Broiler Starter Grower:
19.7% Protein:
Ingredient Amount
Corn 515
Winter Peas 600
Sunflower Meal 500
Wheat 250
Vegetable Oil 50
Poultry NB 60
Calcium 25
Total: 2000 lbs


Note: “Poultry NB” is Fertrell’s “Poultry Nutri-Balancer,” a mineral/vitamin supplement, now available in a certied-organic formulation. I have never myself used sunflower meal and know nothing about its quality as a feed ingredient. I have never used vegetable oil as a feed ingredient—the whole seeds and grains I feed provide sufficient fat in my feeding program.