Hemp Seed Nutrition for Poultry

by | Jan 25, 2021

Written by Deborah Agboola

For centuries, hemp has been cultivated and harvested for various reasons due to its numerous benefits. With the hemp plant, there is no disputing the statement “nothing is to be wasted” because of the essentiality of every part of it; from the flowers to the stem, the seeds, and other components; every inch is invaluable, especially to the manufacturing and production industry.

Fondly appreciated for its durable fiber, the hemp plant is gaining popularity in the food industry because of its seeds, and soon, hemp seed may be a common part of livestock feed. “It’s currently not allowed now for chickens to eat hemp, but it will be within the next 6-18 months. Recent feeding trials with chickens have confirmed that hemp seed is an excellent source of nutrition for laying hens,” David Abernathy, VP of Arcview Research and Arcview Consulting mentioned in an email.

Hemp Seeds

In human nutrition, these highly nutritious, smallish brown nuts have been the perfect alternative for any individual looking to live a vegan lifestyle while retaining a healthy daily protein intake, as each nut contains a ton of this nutrient. Hemp seeds are also known for their pleasant nutty flavor, easy meal incorporation due to their potential for easy assimilation both as seeds and oil; hence, making them versatile and very savory. 

In medical therapy, they are considered safe and effective for oral and topical applications, and for many years, have been used in treating and preventing several health issues. Now, with cannabis research going forward, more knowledge has been gotten on the family, and hemp seeds are now considered a potential supplement to animal feed, specifically poultry feeds.

Been a great source of iron, protein, B-vitamins, zinc, omega-3, and omega-6 essential fatty acids; amongst others, hemp seeds are the classic substitute to some supplements added to the current standard chicken feed. However, this is only as long as certification assures the proper assimilation of its nutrients into the poultry’s system. 

Poultry Nutrition

Nutrition – one of the basic requirements of every living organism -, is desired by all to be met optimally for proper growth and development. So, even as the physiology of every organism is different, their nutritional requirement is similar. Hence, knowing what nutrient is essential for each organism and understanding their metabolism is vital.

Veterinary science has studied and observed that, of all livestock, poultry convert feed into food products more quickly and more efficiently than others, leaving a relatively low impact on the environment. Due to its high productivity rate, this category of livestock has a comparatively high nutritional requirement, requiring at least 38 dietary nutrients in the right concentrations and perfect balance for their feed.

Several factors are prime determinants in creating the perfect balance in the feed mix. Some of these factors include but are not limited to feed efficiency, quality of output, age, and breed. Thus, with this in mind, standards have been apportioned to ensure consistency in circulated poultry feeds.

Regular Chicken Feeds

A standard chicken diet is usually composed of and combined into a mixture of several feedstuffs, such as soybean meal, fats, vitamins, animal by-product meals, and mineral premixes. The addition of water into this mix strengthens its efficiency by providing the energy and nutrients necessary for the bird’s metabolism, productivity, and growth. The diet could also contain supplementary additions, such as xanthophylls for pigmentation of feed, “unidentified growth factors,” and antimicrobial agents.

However, one of the significant challenges with standard poultry feeds is their protein source – usually soy protein or the lesser-used fish meal. Stemming from the hazards associated with the chemicals applied during cultivation: fertilizers and pesticides, the use of products farmed in this manner, holds a high potential of transmitting these chemicals to the poultry feed; thereby, limiting the desire and organic quality of the final product.

Aside from the previously mentioned, there is the acknowledgment and consideration of the fast-growing industry, plus the high cost of procuring these protein supplements. The rapidly growing industry has heightened the need to produce more standard chicken feeds. However, this is often not obtainable due to the lack of readily available commercial-grade protein sources, which results in a dip in the production rate curve.  

As a result of the several limitations now associated with the current feed protein sources, agriculturists and researchers now desire and are sourcing alternatives to replace these; hence, the idea of hemp seeds in poultry diets.

Hemp Seeds and Poultry Diet

Asides from being a great reservoir of protein, hemp seeds are also rich in omega-fats and are an excellent substitute to the flax seeds and chia seeds often used in this reach. These seeds, which are a component of the fast-growing hemp plant – a desirable factor in raw material sourcing, also require little to zero application of chemicals during cultivation, ensuring the preservation and production of an organic output.

After a study conducted by scientists at the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health to determine the feasibility of hemp as an alternative feed supplement, it was observed and confirmed that hemp can be safely given to chickens and bolsters the possibility of enriched yolk fats in poultry eggs.

Similar results conducted further supported this finding as egg yolks from hemp-fed hens were observed to be richer in omega-3 fats than those obtained from hens fed with rapeseed.

Coming Soon to Farms Everywhere

Unfortunately, the use of hemp in livestock feeds is restricted by the laws on related matters, with even major hemp producers like Canada yet to approve its use, probably due to a lack of research on its safety. Similarly, even the United States, despite the passing and approval of the 2018 Farm Bill, is yet to approve the use of Hemp products for animal feed. 

Thankfully, it appears all these are soon to change with the Hemp Feed Coalition working towards receiving the authorization for the use of hemp feeds in the U.S.While in Canada, according to Alberta Farmer Express, more research on this matter is underway.