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There is no evidence that chicken feed is being sabotaged or impacting the number of eggs that backyard hens are laying, poultry science experts said.
Several feed suppliers, including Tractor Supply Co., say they haven’t changed their formulas.
Aside from a current outbreak of avian flu affecting commercial U.S. poultry populations, experts said reasons behind sudden drops in egg production in small flocks may include management mistakes, improper nutrition, parasite infection, disease and environmental stress.
Online posts suggest something nefarious has happened to chicken feed, but agriculture experts are calling, well, foul.
Reports by some backyard flock owners that their hens have stopped laying eggs, along with exorbitant egg prices, have led to a barrage of claims blaming the feed—and Bill Gates, too, of course.
The theory of something sinister going on with chicken feed picked up in January. We came across one particularly dubious claim that said RNA — a naturally occurring nucleic acid found in all living cells — was suddenly added to commercial feed and caused hens to stop laying. We rated that False.
Now, the claims have become broader and more conspiratorial, with people speculating that producers purposely tampered with feed formulas to halt backyard egg production and force people to buy eggs at high prices.
Natural News, an online outlet known for promoting conspiracy theories, claimed in a Jan. 26 article that, "the popular Tractor Supply chain of farm stores has reportedly reformulated its ‘Producer’s Pride’ chicken feed, causing hens that eat it to no longer produce eggs."
In one widely shared Jan. 31 Facebook reel featured on a page called "We Love Chickens," a man suggests the egg shortage is a government conspiracy to control the food supply: "Chickens aren't laying eggs anymore. When these farmers change the feed of these chickens, they notice the chickens start to lay eggs again."
He makes many other claims and mentions Bill Gates, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder and philanthropist, and mysterious fires at U.S. processing plants as evidence of a manufactured food shortage. He concludes with, "If you can control the food, you can control the people."
Fox News host Tucker Carlson used his platform to amplify similar claims, saying in a Jan. 30 segment that "strange disasters" have beset U.S. food processors and egg farms with no obvious cause and suggested a sinister plot is afoot. He then pivoted to chicken feed.
"Some chicken farmers have noticed something odd: their chickens aren't laying eggs. They don't appear sick with avian flu; they're not dying," Carlson said in the video, which was also shared on Facebook. "So, what's causing that? Clearly something is causing that. Some have concluded their chicken feed may be responsible."
The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.
There is no evidence that chicken feed is being sabotaged or affecting the number of eggs that backyard hens are laying, poultry science experts said. Many factors, including improper nutrition, infection and stress, can cause a drop in egg production.
Tractor Supply Co. and other major feed suppliers say that they haven’t changed their formulas.
PolitiFact has also found no evidence of any unexplained fires or accidents at American food-processing plants, and a review by Snopes found similar numbers of fires in earlier years. Other fact-checkers have debunked these claims, too.
"There is a commercial egg shortage, but that has nothing to do with feed. The national flock in the U.S. has lost tens of thousands of hens due to avian influenza, and it takes time to rebuild the population," said Richard Blatchford, poultry extension professor at the University of California, Davis.
"There is no current evidence that any feed producer for backyard flocks has changed their feed formulations," he added. "Certainly, there can be quality differences between feed brands, but all must meet the nutritional information listed on the bags, and this is regulated."
The current avian influenza epidemic has hit the U.S. hard. By the end December, the Department of Agriculture said that 43 million egg-laying hens had died because of the disease or depopulation since the outbreak began in February 2022.
"Most of the layers (chickens raised to produce eggs) have been humanely euthanized to prevent the avian flu from spreading. It is simply supply and demand," said Samuel Aggrey, the Richard B. Russell Professor at the University of Georgia’s poultry science department.
Tricia Whittemore, a Tractor Supply spokesperson, said suppliers confirmed that there’s been no formulation change in feed products.
"After careful review with (suppliers) and industry experts in animal health and poultry care, it is clear that recent online commentary regarding these products is false and unfounded," the company said in a statement to PolitiFact. "Our suppliers have confirmed that there has been no change to the nutritional profile for these products. All contain key ingredients like protein and amino acids that support egg production. Products are correctly labeled, and no changes have been made to the guaranteed nutrients."
A spokesperson for Land O’Lakes, the parent company of Purina Animal Nutrition, which has also been a target of the recent feed claims, told The Associated Press that its poultry feed products haven't change formulas, either.
For hens to lay eggs regularly, two things must happen, experts told us — they must reach a certain weight, and they must have at least 14 hours of light per day.
Commercial producers control both of these conditions for year-round egg production. Many backyard flocks are subject to the natural light cycle, although some people add light in the winter. But once daylight starts to decrease in the fall, many small flocks slow production or stop altogether. Most breeds also don’t lay every day, experts said, even under optimal conditions.
There’s another process that usually occurs in the fall called molt, where feathers are shed and new ones are grown. The process (which can take weeks or months to complete) requires a lot of energy, and hens often divert energy reserves away from reproduction to feather growth, experts said.
Other things can influence egg production.
Jacqueline Jacob, poultry extension project manager at the University of Kentucky, previously told PolitiFact that feed ingredients are heavily regulated and that flocks might experience sudden drops in eggs because of management practices, improper bird nutrition, parasite infection, disease and stress.
Because reproduction is not needed for survival, it’s often the first physiological system to be turned off if there's environmental stress, said Blatchford, the UC-Davis professor.
"From backyard flocks that I have dealt with, I suspect thermal stress is having a big effect on egg laying," Blatchford said. "Over the last year, the U.S. has experienced both extreme heat and cold, depending on where you live, and this stress seems to have a longer impact than previous short-term heat waves. Meaning it has taken longer for hens to rebound and start laying. I think all of these conditions together are what’s influencing egg production in backyard hens, not a particular feed brand."
Facebook posts claim that backyard flocks have stopped laying eggs and chicken feed is to blame.
There is no evidence that commercial feed is being sabotaged to negatively impact the number of eggs that backyard hens are laying, multiple experts said. Many things, including improper nutrition, infection and stress, can cause drops in egg production.
Tractor Supply and other major feed suppliers targeted by these claims confirmed that they haven’t changed their formulas.
A commercial egg shortage, meanwhile, has primarily been because of an avian influenza epidemic, which has killed millions of birds in the U.S., not feed.
We rate this False.
RELATED: Is RNA making chickens lay fewer eggs? No, improper nutrition, disease are likelier to blame, Jan. 25, 2023
Facebook reel, Jan. 31, 2023
Facebook post, Jan. 31, 2023
PolitiFact, Is RNA making chickens lay fewer eggs? No, improper nutrition, disease are likelier to blame, Jan. 25, 2023
PolitiFact, The Bill Gates egg shortage conspiracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Jan. 25, 2023
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Avian influenza outbreaks reduced egg production, driving prices to record highs in 2022, Updated Jan. 11, 2023
University of Kentucky, Why Have My Hens Stopped Laying?
Associated Press, FACT FOCUS: Egg shortage breeds chicken-feed conspiracies, Feb. 6, 2023
Email interview, Jacqueline Jacob poultry extension project manager at the University of Kentucky department of animal and food sciences, Jan. 23-24, 2023
Email interview, Samuel Aggrey, Richard B. Russell professor/chair at the the University of Georgia department of poultry science, Jan. 24, 2023
Email interview, Richard Blatchford, poultry extension professor at the University of California, Davis, Feb. 7, 2023
Email interview, Tricia Whittemore, spokesperson for Tractor Supply Co., Feb. 7, 2023
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