As background, we own and operate our own ISO-accredited (17025) mass spec laboratory and conduct over 10,000 tests each year for heavy metals, aflatoxins, glyphosate, raw materials identity and microbiological contamination (e.coli, salmonella, etc.). To my knowledge, our lab conducts more food safety testing than any other non-governmental organization in the world. We routinely test all our raw materials and finished products that are offered at HealthRangerStore.com, where customers know they are purchasing clean, lab-tested and certified organic products for health and personal care.
As a public service, we decided to apply our laboratory infrastructure to the Tractor Supply chicken feed question. So we purchased six products at a Tractor Supply in Central Texas:
- Purina Layena Layer Crumbles
- Flock Party Egg Maker Pellets
- Nature's Best Organic Egg Layer Pellets
- (Tractor Supply brand) Producer's Pride 16% Layer Feed Mini Pellets - Lot#TE30169528
- DuMor 16% Egg Maxx Pellets
- DuMor Organic 16% Layer Crumble
Here's a closeup of the Producer's Pride label with the ingredients and lot number. Note the production date is January 16, 2023:
Keep in mind that because these are all agricultural products, the following test results are only a "snapshot" of an ever-changing mix of raw materials and inputs. We purchased just one bag of each product, so we only have one data point for each product. To really get a clearer picture of the composition of these products, it would be necessary to purchase dozens of bags from different retail locations, spread out over time.
Nevertheless, these results are intriguing.
Aflatoxins are highly toxic chemicals created by molds and fungi. They are known to be fatal to chickens, cows, horses and other animals if consumed in large enough quantities. Aflatoxins are very common in oats, wheat, corn, peanuts and various grains. They are likely the No. 1 contamination problem in agriculture today.
Aflatoxin limits in the USA for crops such as corn are 20 ppb. Anything under 20 ppb is considered "safe" by the FDA. Other countries have more strict limits. The EU, for many years, had a limit of 4 ppb for many agricultural products. That has been changed to 10 ppb for several products. Other countries have various limits, but most are in the range of 10 ppb - 50 ppb.
Notably, none of the chicken feed products we tested exceeded 5 ppb (which is good news). Interestingly, the Tractor Supply Producer's Pride product contained 2.9 ppb of aflatoxins, or about twice the level of the other brands we tested.
Here are the actual numbers our tests showed:
- Purina Layena Layer Crumbles: 1.5 ppb
- Flock Party Egg Maker Pellets: 1.4 ppb
- Nature's Best Organic Egg Layer Pellets: 1.8 ppb
- (Tractor Supply brand) Producer's Pride 16% Layer Feed Mini Pellets: 2.9 ppb
- DuMor 16% Egg Maxx Pellets: 1.1 ppb
- DuMor Organic 16% Layer Crumble: 1.9 ppb
Again, none of these numbers would be considered unsafe by US food regulators. As a food scientist, it seems doubtful to me that 2.9 ppb of aflatoxins could be responsible for chickens not laying eggs. However, I'm not an avian biologist, so I can't answer that question with certainty. It just seems unlikely to me that this could cause chickens to stop laying eggs.
Glyphosate is a weed killer chemical linked to various cancers and endocrine system disruption in humans and animals. It's often used as a desiccant and sprayed on crops to dry them more quickly before final harvest... even on non-GMO crops. This is why glyphosate often ends up in wheat, legumes, alfalfa and other crops that aren't even GMO.
Our mass spec testing on glyphosate concentrations in the chicken feed products shows that Tractor Supply Producer's Pride chicken feed contains about twice the level of glyphosate of other brands (at least in this one bad we tested), but even at 19.8 ppb, this level would not be considered unsafe by the FDA or USDA.
Here are the actual numbers we found:
- Purina Layena Layer Crumbles: 10.7 ppb
- Flock Party Egg Maker Pellets: 10.5 ppb
- Nature's Best Organic Egg Layer Pellets: 1.8 ppb
- (Tractor Supply brand) Producer's Pride 16% Layer Feed Mini Pellets: 19.8 ppb
- DuMor 16% Egg Maxx Pellets: 2.5 ppb
- DuMor Organic 16% Layer Crumble: 0 ppb
Note that the two organic brands showed the lowest levels of glyphosate, which is expected. The DuMor Organic brand showed zero glyphosate. Note that the practical limit of quantitation in our instrument is around 1 ppb for glyphosate, so technically this product could contain something like 0.5 ppb and we wouldn't be able to see it, thus our instrument tells us "zero."
Importantly, none of these levels of glyphosate set off any alarm bells in my mind. These are not high enough, in my opinion, to explain chickens being unable to lay eggs. The natural drive to lay eggs is very strong in chickens, and although I'm not an avian biologist, I strongly doubt that exposure to this level of glyphosate could, by itself, cause chickens to stop laying eggs.
It is noteworthy, however, that if you wish to avoid glyphosate, you should buy organic. The organic brands tested here showed the lowest levels.
We also tested all the brands for toxic elements and nutritive minerals. For the toxic elements, we look at Mercury (Hg), Arsenic (As), Cadmium (Cd) and Lead (Pb).
On the positive side, all the brands tested at zero mercury. This is expected, since mercury is "sticky" and very rarely finds its way into agricultural products unless plants are grown in a toxic mercury dump.
Here are the toxic element results we found. Note that even "organic" products can often contain higher levels of heavy metals. That's because the USDA organic program has no limits on heavy metals, and the USDA requires no testing for heavy metals in organic agriculture. (Hence one of the reasons why we test our own products so meticulously, since we can't trust any "organic" claim to mean the food is actually clean.)
All results in ppb (parts per billion)
|Purina Layena Layer Crumbles
|Flock Party Egg Maker Pellets
|Nature's Best Organic Egg Layer Pellets
|Producer's Pride 16% Layer Feed Mini Pellets
|DuMor 16% Egg Maxx Pellets
|DuMor Organic 16% Layer Crumble
Note that the highest metals were found in the DuMor Egg Maxx Pellets, and even DuMor's organic line contained a significant level of lead.
On my website LowHeavyMetalsVerified.com, I publish the in-house rating system that we use for rating agricultural products on their heavy metals content, from A+++ down to F.
Any product with lead over 250 ppb but less than 500 ppb earns a "B" rating. This isn't horrible, but it doesn't meet our in-house standards for clean products.
The conclusion on these metals is that all the products we tested would be considered "safe" by the FDA and USDA in terms of their heavy metals content, but some of the products do, indeed, contain much higher levels of toxic elements than other products. Interestingly, the Tractor Supply brand had the lowest level of cadmium, arsenic and lead of all the products we tested.
Thus, the Tractor Supply brand was the highest in glyphosate and aflatoxins, but the lowest in heavy metals.
Where do these heavy metals come from? Mostly from industrial pollution that has settled on crop lands over the last two centuries or so, combined with some of the lead-based pesticides that were routinely sprayed on crops until they were banned (such as lead arsenate). Lead and arsenic never "degrade" or magically vanish, which is why there's still lead in those same crop fields.
Finally, calcium sources added to chicken feed are very frequently contaminated with lead. That's because lead tends to replace calcium in nature, and calcium contamination of lead is extremely common. Even off-the-shelf, low-cost calcium supplements (calcium carbonate) sold for human consumption are almost always contaminated with lead. This is also why lead ends up in a lot of non-dairy "milk" products like almond milk, for example, because they add calcium carbonate to make the product look more white and milky. This introduces lead into the "milk." Nearly every grocery product made with calcium carbonate will contain some amount of lead in it.
In addition to testing for aflatoxins, glyphosate and heavy metals, we also test our products and raw materials for microbiology. This includes e.coli, salmonella, yeast and mold as well as total plate count.
We tested all six chicken feed products in the same way we test our own food, and we chose "oats" as the profile to test against, which means the pass/fail limits are the same as what we would use for oats.
The Tractor Supply Producer's Pride product passed all the tests with no red flags.
The Purina Layena Layer Crumbles product, however, failed the CFU test, which counts the total number of Colony Forming Units (CFU) per gram of product. The limit we use for oats is 10,000. Any final result over 10,000 is a "fail." Notice the FAIL in the resulting report, below, taken from the Purina Layena Layer Crumbles test results:
For the record, this result does not mean that every Purina chicken feed product is bad. Remember that this is a single bag snapshot. It's possible this bag could have been lost by the distributor for a while, sitting around too long on a shelf, or even potentially subjected to high humidity conditions that might have encouraged CFU growth. We can't know for sure unless we conduct far more widespread testing.
Furthermore, in a healthy animal, even failing this test doesn't make a product necessarily dangerous or fatal. The USDA's own limits may be much higher than what we use in our own tests for oats, as well. Understand that the only thing this test means is that this Purina product fails the Health Ranger Store test for CFU, not that it would fail the USDA tests or Purina's own tests, which are likely set at different levels.
The Flock Party Egg Maker Pellets product also failed this same test, while Tractor Supply Producer's Pride brand passed all the tests. Here are the test results from Tractor Supply Producer's Pride:
Our tests did not identify any obvious explanation for why some people are saying Producer's Pride was believed to be causing their chickens to fail to lay eggs. The limitations of our testing, however, are that we only tested one bag from one retailer. So it's only a snapshot, not a comprehensive test across their entire product supply. Also, there are thousands of other possible contaminants for which we did not test. (We don't currently test for dioxins, for example.)
Organic brands tended to be lower in glyphosate, as expected, but being USDA organic did not appear to confer any real benefit in terms of heavy metals / toxic elements concentrations. (This is also expected.)
Notably, all the products we tested contained some level of contamination of glyphosate, aflatoxins, bacteria or heavy metals. There is no "absolutely clean" chicken feed, given that we live in a polluted world where every farm on the planet is contaminated with various chemicals caused by fallout. (And with the East Palestine catastrophe, we are expecting to start seeing dioxins in more animals products beginning this summer.)
- Buy organic feed wherever possible, because organic is lower in glyphosate, but not necessarily heavy metals.
- Rotate your brands so that any exposure experienced from one brand has a chance to be eliminated by your flock when you switch to a different brand with a different profile.
- Make sure your flock has access to clean water, because water is critical to their detoxification success.
- Make sure your flock has free range access to grasses, weeds and bugs, and make sure you do not use glyphosate or other chemicals on your farm, because that will cause local cross-contamination.
- Consider growing sprouts to feed to your chickens (they like mung bean sprouts), or even supplementing chlorophyll-rich superfoods.
- Tractor Supply chicken feed test results released
- About twice the glyphosate and aflatoxins of other tested brands
- But still within ranges considered "safe" by FDA and USDA
- Other organic brands actually had HIGHER heavy metals like cadmium and lead
- EVERY brand tested contained some level of heavy metals, glyphosate or aflatoxins
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CORRECTION: The lot # for the Producer's Pride product is TE30169528. In the video below, I was incorrectly reading the product bar code number instead of the lot number:
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