I may be a bit ahead of the curve with this post – by about two years – given that the United Nations has declared 2023 to be the International Year of Millets. Most North Americans are familiar with the grain as bird food: those seed filled sprays sold in pet stores for budgies and parakeets or as part of a wild bird food mix.
Millets comprise over 500 varieties in the Poaceae family, differing in color, appearance and species, and are classified into two categories — major and minor millets.
They are small, round grains mostly grown in Asia, Africa and South America. Considered an ancient grain, it’s drought and pest resistant, able to survive in harsh environments with less fertile soil or water, and no fertilizers or pesticides.
It’s a whole grain, meaning it contains the entire kernel: the bran, or the seed’s outer skin, which is a good source of fibre; the germ, which is the nutrient-dense embryo of the seed, full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and essential fatty acids; and the endosperm, the germ’s food supply and primary source of starchy carbohydrates.
Most of the grains we eat have an inedible hull, which is difficult to remove without taking away some or all of the bran and germ with it. Whole grains are healthier because 100% of the bran, germ, and endosperm are retained throughout the hulling process.
Millets come in various forms and are prepared like rice, but expand proportionately more than rice.
Some folks grow a small patch of grains – wheat, rye or barley – for their flock. It might be fun to plant some millets for a treat, either given raw or cooked, straight or added to chicken feed.
Benefits of Feeding Millets To Chickens
- Nutrient-dense and rich in plant-based nutrients (phytonutrients).
- High in phosphorus; magnesium; folate (B12); iron.
- Pearl millets are rich in insoluble fibre and aid in better digestion.
- Foxtail millets are rich in magnesium, iron and calcium and help boost the immune system.
- Provide more essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) than most other cereals.
- Finger millet has the highest calcium content of all cereal grains. Calcium is necessary to ensure bone health, blood vessel and muscular contractions, proper nerve function and the production of eggshells.
- Feeding ground pearl millet to laying hens increases fatty acids in their eggs: higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in omega-6 than eggs from hens receiving a corn-based diet.
- Pearl millet grown in the USA appears to be resistant to Aspergillus flavus infection, reducing concerns about mycotoxins, but can be vulnerable to low level toxins in Fusarium fungi.
- Studies have shown the energy content of pearl millet varieties was similar to, or slightly better than, corn.
Credits: Bob’s Red Mill; Healthline; India Today; Science Direct; Vogue. Featured photo: Backyard Chickens