I know the go-to for lots of folks regarding their own health issues and that of their birds is a pharmaceutic solution, which often includes the use of antibiotics. I’ve written before on how the overuse and misuse of those drugs has contributed to antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens. Many chicken keepers are looking for more natural ways to bolster their birds’ immune systems in order to keep microbial pathogens in check.
Broccoli just might fit the bill as a superfood for chickens. It’s one of a number of vegetables in the brassica family, which also include bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard greens and turnip greens. Purple cauliflower is actually a broccoli.
I can’t say that broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables, but it turns out it contains antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that may make them a viable alternative to using conventional drugs on our birds.
- Broccoli contains high amounts of vitamins A and C, zinc, manganese, selenium and phytonutrients.
- The stems and leaves contain specific carotenoids that are anti-allergenic and anti-carcinogenic.
- The florets contain relatively high protein (20%-40%) content compared to most grains.
- Stalks are high in fibre content.
- The most abundant amino acids are tyrosine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, proline and valine.
- Studies have shown that the populations of Campylobacter, E. coli, and gram negative bacteria in the caeca were decreased by fermented broccoli by 5%- 10% and Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens by 10%.
- Potentially harmful bacteria may be significantly reduced by the organic acids, probiotics, flavonoids and vitamins in fermented broccoli.
- The stalks and florets contain natural antibiotics that are effective in combating E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
- Supplementing manufactured feed with organic acids or probiotics can also lead to a reduction of intestinal Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.
- Antioxidants are chemicals produced by the body or found in fruits, vegetables and grains that help to find and neutralize free radicals that cause cell damage.
- Broccoli stems and leaves improve antioxidant capability.
- The highest concentrations are found in broccoli sprouts.
- Dried broccoli florets added at 3%-6% to feed improves the growth of meat birds and broilers.
- Growth performance was improved in birds compromised by C. perfringens that were fed broccoli residues fermented with probiotics.
- Dried broccoli florets added to feed helps to reduce costs.
- Due to its antibacterial, antioxidant and probiotic properties dietary fermented broccoli might be a potential alternative to the use of antibiotics in animal feed.
I’m fortunate in that I’m part of a food recovery program in which I receive a variety of unsold produce from our local grocery store. Last year I was the recipient of 383 boxes, which included loads of broccoli: florets, stems and sprouts. I find that my birds don’t eat the tough stalks unless they are boiled or shredded. Good thing for them I also get lots of packaged salad and stir fry mixes that contain slivered broccoli. My dog, Lola, is happy to eat the broccoli stalks as is.
Including broccoli in chicken feed has been shown to improve growth performance and meat quality, while reducing the effects of harmful pathogens. Most folks eat the broccoli florets and discard the coarse stems and leaves to their compost or garbage, which are parts of the plant that contain valuable nutrients for our birds. Studies in layer hens have shown that feeding broccoli stems and leaves can enhance the nutrients in eggs and deepen the colour of yolks.
If you’re looking to give your birds some treats skip the human foods that contain salt, sugar or fats which can cause fatty liver disease. Instead offer them anything in the brassica family, which are rich in nutrients and help to build their immune systems naturally. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and broccoli might just be the ticket in helping to keep your flock healthy.
Credits: Matthew Wedzerai (Poultry World); Live Science; World’s Healthiest Foods All Photos: Bitchin’ Chickens