How to Ferment chicken feed.
Bigger eggs, healthier chickens.

I’m handing the reins, or in this case the coop, over to Leigh Edwards today. Leigh runs the blog Natural Chicken Keeping. It’s a really, REALLY great chicken keeping website with tons of  information. Leigh is one of the many who took my How to Turn your Blog into a Business course. I was so impressed with her site that when she asked if she could do a guest post on a topic I’ve been interested in for a while now, I said You BET chicken lady. 

Today Leigh is going to be talking about fermented chicken feed. You know how I fermented a bunch of cucumbers into pickles earlier in the fall? Well it’s the same thing, the only difference is you’re fermenting chicken feed.  Plus, I mean, you probably wouldn’t serve this at Thanksgiving dinner like I did with my pickles.

Take it away Leigh.

*********************************************************************

 

Fermenting your chickens’ feed can have huge health benefits for your flock, can lower your feed bill and can even make your chickens lay bigger eggs. Fermenting is also nowhere near as much of a pain in the butt as you might think!

So – Health Benefits:

Yes! Fermented chicken feed is actually quite a bit healthier for your chickens than regular ol’ dry feed for a couple reasons. The first reason is that fermented feed has naturally occurring probiotics. No more running to the store for those expensive, fruit-flavored yogurt drinks your flock craves! (What? You don’t do that?)

fermented-chicken-feed-2

Just like with humans, the gastro-intestinal tract is the foundation of a bird’s immune system. Probiotics balance that system and create a barrier against disease and illness. So basically, feeding fermented feed with naturally occurring probiotics is like setting loose an army of microscopic disease fighters inside your chickens… every time you feed them.

ferment-longpin

 

 

The second big health benefit of fermentation is that the fermentation process breaks down the antinutrients that are naturally present in grains. Grains and seeds have this funky protective barrier that can prevent them from being fully digested. This is a kind of wacked-out, mutant survival mechanism of the plant world. Having these antinutrients boosts the chances that, even if eaten, the grains can still grow once they have made their journey all the way through a critter. And wow! They’re already fertilized!

Ewww, right?

At any rate, fermenting these grains naturally strips them of antinutrients and helps break down the proteins so that your chickens can get the full nutritional benefits from them. (And you’ll be less likely to have all kinds of random grains sprouting up around your yard.)

Lowering your feed bill:

Because your chickens are getting higher nutritional benefits from their feed, after a week or so, they’ll start to eat less of it. Also – wet feed doesn’t fly nearly as far across your yard when lil’ Miss Henrietta decides to hop into the feeder and dig for gold!

And you know what happens when hens are really healthy? They start to lay bigger eggs with ginormous yolks. Hard to complain about that! They are also far less likely to succumb to diseases carried by the local wild birds.

The Art of Fermentation:

Fermented-chicken-feed-1

OK – so now that you’re ten-kinds of excited about having healthier chickens and lowering your monthly feed costs, let’s talk about HOW to properly ferment feed because the last thing you need is a yard full of drunk chickens!

There are two kinds of fermentation – Lacto-Fermentation and Alcohol Fermentation. The first kind is the really healthy kind and teh sekund kiind ish jusht rewey… wheeeeeeeeee!
(So please… ferment responsibly!)

There is a common misconception you’re likely to run across if you research fermented chicken feed online. Many people use unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (U-ACV) as a fermentation “starter.” U-ACV does have a lot of health benefits for your flock when you put it in their drinking water but for fermented feed… not so much!

Why? In short, the enzymes in U-ACV are PREbiotics and not PRObiotics. They can actually prevent the growth of good probiotics when put into the wet feed. I’m not going into a huge amount of detail (because this post is already going to be way long, but if you’re interested in more information you can see our ridiculously information-packed, long-winded article on the Natural Chicken Keeping blog). See ridiculously information-packed, long-winded article here.

Using vinegar to start the fermentation process can also start an alcohol fermentation. (Not the goal of today’s post.)

No – if you want to grow your own little army of immunity-boosting PRObiotics, you need to have lacto-fermentation. (Just take my word on it for now because we’re getting too sciency here!)

The good news is that lacto-fermentation will just happen if you just add water.

fermented-chicken-feed-6

If you are the anxious type and really want to get the probiotics marching about the feed sooner, you can add a starter culture such as;
· 1+ Tbsp. juice from raw lacto-fermented pickles or sauerkraut
· 1+ Tbsp. cultured buttermilk (the cultured stuff will have nice shoes and an expensive haircut)
· Whey from cheese made with a mesophillic culture
· A mesophillic starter culture for cheese-making

But as I indicated before, lacto-fermentation will happen regardless of whether or not you use a starter.

And finally we’re at the point where we talk about actually MAKING fermented feed. I’ll keep it short and sweet (pffttt! Like I’m capable of THAT!)

fermented-chicken-feed-5

Making fermented feed:

You need a non-metal container. Acids from fermentation can react with metal and leave bad things in your chickens’ dinner, so use plastic, glass or lead-free ceramic crocks. Be sure to get a BIGGER container than you think you will need.
2 Gallon Preserving Crock / 5 Gallon Preserving Crock of my dreams

Me? I use a super-stylish 5-gallon plastic bucket from my local home improvement store… because I’m sexy that way! (And because I have more than 60 chickens and ferment a LOT of feed…)

fermented-chicken-feed-4

· Put 2-3 days worth of feed in your container of choice
· Cover the feed with water (you should have a few centimeters (at least an inch) of water above the level of the feed)
· If you want to use a starter, go ahead and toss it in there right away
· Expect the feed to expand (water retention will do that to the best of us… just ask my favorite jeans) so check the feed about an hour later and add more water if necessary
· That extra few inches of water above the level of the feed will prevent mold from growing on the feed and will allow the lacto-fermentation process to start… processing…
· Cover your container with a towel or a loosely-fitted cover to allow for the off-gassing that happens with the fermentation process. Don’t use a tightly-fitted cover unless you want to decorate a space with fermented feed. (Ask me how I know this.)
· Decorating with fermented feed will be covered in a different post. (No… not really.)

That’s it! You can start feeding the wet feed right away. Just add more water and dry feed each time you take some out and be sure to stir the mixture well each time. In about 3 days the feed will start to smell a bit tangy like sourdough, sauerkraut or pickles.

fermented-chicken-feed-7

You can keep a batch of fermented feed going indefinitely… just keep adding water and feed and it will keep fermenting. If it starts to smell like yeast, mold or alcohol, toss it and start over.

That’s all there is to it! If you want more of the sciency-stuff behind fermenting feed, you can get your fill (and then some) HERE.

[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”5342563″]




136 Comments

  1. Liz says:

    I read about halfway down this post before realising that the title was fermenting chicken feed, not feet.

    I was wondering why and how this was a health benefit, cause I know I don’t like soggy feet, but maybe chickens do?

    Nice article though, I’m amazed at how much I enjoy reading chicken posts! Keep up the good guest post having work Karen, and Leigh continue with the good guest post writing!

  2. Karen says:

    LOL. I’m sure you could ferment feet too. And you know, before I got chickens (before I even thought I’d EVER get chickens) I absolutely loved reading other people’s chicken posts. It just seemed so foreign and exciting! And it is. But it’s also filled with festering wounds and fermented feed. 🙂

  3. Stephanie says:

    I so want to do this. I had a fail my first go around about a month ago. I had already found Leigh’s WONDERFULLY helpful site & learned a lot from it. I was so psyched I bought various whole grains to ferment. But within days they smelled like sewer. Really awful. Not sweet. My husband brews beer, we live in the country, have a big garden…i know what nice dirty is. THIS was not nice dirty. Not sure what happened. Would like to try again (especially since I have almost 300 lbs of grains in the garage still). I just used clean bucket, water & grains. Any advice?

  4. SeaDee says:

    So when’s the post on how to make chicken feed moonshine? :-/

  5. Auntiepatch says:

    LOL!!!

  6. Jody says:

    Leigh has a similar writing style to you. Love it. Have you tried the fermentation yet? What did the girls think of it?

  7. Tracey says:

    Great post and pictures Leigh! I don’t have chickens, but I loved the article. I like sciencey stuff, so I’m going to check out your blog on how to ferment (the scienc version) 🙂

  8. Amanda Rudack says:

    Really, really, really want chickens. Leigh’s post makes it worse.

  9. LilyMacBloom says:

    Liz:
    You made me spit coffee all over 36 inches od Canada AM!

    LOl,

  10. Tigersmom says:

    I have no need to know how to ferment chicken feed as I hate eggs, except for their cool shape and soft colors and what they symbolize, yet I kept reading to the very end because I like your writing style. Nice work, Leigh.

  11. Leigh says:

    Stephanie – sorry for your sewage issues! Spores from a dusty barn or coop area, or even spores lodged in wood used for fires in your house can get into your fermentation batch and wreak havoc. Try fermenting again – but try changing the location of your fermentation bucket/crock. Put it in your laundry room or a spare bathroom instead and see if you have better luck.
    Also, in some cases you can get a batch of grains with mold. It’s not that common, but it does happen.

  12. Leigh says:

    Doooooooo iiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttt!
    3:)

  13. Leigh says:

    Tigersmom –
    Karen just likes me because I’m the single wide trailer version of herself… but with more chickens. 🙂
    What about chicken art? Do you like chicken art? If so, go check out some of the chicken art I’ve been working on at my blog: Natural Chicken Keeping … no eggs involved!

  14. Leigh says:

    Pickled chicken feet, anyone? 😀

  15. Leigh says:

    What a lucky lady you are! I just happen to live in the moonshine capitol of the world!

    Oh wait! I meant to say “What a lucky lady I am!”
    Crazy fact: A local moonshiner actually took out an ad in my daughter’s elementary school yearbook last year to sell his home made goodies! (I swear – Virginia has the BEST bake sales EVER!)
    LOL!

  16. Leigh says:

    Lacto-fermentation has lots of uses for human food, too. And real, homemade lacto-fermented products are SO good for you!

  17. Kipley says:

    I’ve done this and have a question: Once I ferment a batch can I freeze the results? Also, can I add electrolytes and oyster shell to the mix, just to have everything in one?
    Thanks.

  18. Leigh says:

    Kipley – the best place to ask all your Fermented Feed questions is on our forum where our Fermented Feed Goddess (who goes by the name of Leah’s Mom) lurks. She is like a FF Encyclopedia. Click HERE – it’s free. It’s kind of a quiet forum, but the people out there are VERY knowledgeable.

    And yes – you can add electrolytes. I’m not sure if freezing will kill the probiotics – the FF Goddess will know – and no – I wouldn’t toss oyster shells into the FF. Free-feed it separately in a bowl or feeder.
    🙂

  19. CBuffy says:

    I’ve been fermenting with Leigh since we both first learned about it 2+ years ago on another forum. Here’s my plug. My neighbor has 80 chickens. I have 120. We both feed the exact same DNA tested, non-GMO organic feed. (we order it together) I go through four 50# bags each week. They go through a bag a day. I ferment. They feed dry. They also feed all the local birds, since their chickens pick through, fling feed all over the yard, and waste a TON of feed. (Literally) MY girls practically lick the bowl! And I get WAY nicer eggs. (We sell them together as well…) So whether you have 4 chickens or an entire flock, fermenting is TOTALLY the way to go! (And it’s EASY PEASY and kindda fun in a mad scientist sort of way…)

  20. Thanks Leigh! I’ve got my first flock of 8 lovely girls and I’m looking for every scrap of information I can find. Thrilled to have found you and I’ll be trying fermentation soon.

    Caroline

  21. Lori Hall says:

    Just curious…where do you get your feed from and what do you buy?

  22. Leigh says:

    Is this “J”?
    HI!!
    XOXOXOX

  23. Karen says:

    I have, and the first day I set the fermented feed out they loved it. They went NUTS for it. Now they eat it but aren’t quite so greedy and maniacal about it. 🙂 They’re moulting so I haven’t seen or noticed any difference in the eggs or shells. ~ karen!

  24. Leigh says:

    Great to meet you, Caroline! Aren’t chickens FUN??
    Be sure to check out the Index Page on my blog (in one of the tabs near the top of the page). All kinds of links to all the Natural Chicken Keeping articles from the past as well as articles from another top chicken blog.

    Link: NCK Article Index

    Oh – and of course be sure to subscribe to my blog! LOL – gotta put that plug in. 🙂

  25. Christina says:

    Saving this for the day I finally get to have chickens!

    I’m a HUGE believer in probiotics–for us and animals. Our Golden Retriever used to have major seasonal allergies and seizures (several a month). We were told it was just “normal” for Goldens, so we just dealt with it for his first 5 years. When I read how helpful probiotics were for human allergies, I started giving them to the dog with every meal. His allergies disappeared and he hasn’t had a single seizure in almost a year!

  26. kate-v says:

    Thank you – I love learning something new!

  27. LazySusan says:

    I really have no interest in having chickens, but I thoroughly enjoyed the article, and read every word of it. Very nice writing style, very informative. If the subject of chicken feed ever comes up in conversation, I’m armed for it!

  28. I wish I would have known about this a few years back. I swear my chickens were the biggest food wasters there ever was.

  29. Lisa says:

    You can do this with grain for any animal, not just chickens! I know people with a cattle ranch who ferment corn, although in much larger batches using tarps.

  30. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Actually..I think a yard full of drunk chickens could be quite entertaining..

  31. Jane S says:

    My husband still talks about the time his family fed the chickens the rice left over from making sake. Little bantams flopping all over the yard.

  32. Kat says:

    Can you talk about the feed you use? Whole grain? Rolled grain? Pellets (ha ha!)?

  33. Leigh says:

    Grain and mash are the best in my opinion, but currently I can only afford to ferment crumbles from the farm store… but you can ferment just about anything!

  34. Kat says:

    Hold your horses!!! I can ferment pelleted feed?!

  35. deb glidden says:

    I used pellets all last winter with good results.

  36. Hi Leigh…let’s ferment some grapes and just get to the real real here! The chickens can have a glass if they would like. It was great doing the blogging webinar, wasn’t it? I had wanted chickens for months until my sister in law got some. If I didn’t have a day job, I would do it, but it is a lot of work that my hubs probably doesn’t need. You know, he would do the work and I would reap the fun part… I already had the names picked out, but just couldn’t pull the trigger. Lily, Petal, Flower, Daisy and Cluck!

  37. Leigh says:

    Yup! You sure can!
    😀

  38. Leigh says:

    Awww – well hopefully you can get some some day.

  39. Karen says:

    I second that. I’m fermenting pellets. My chickens hate organic, whole grain feed, lol. They barely eat it. It’s like some kind of sick joke on me. ~ karen!

  40. Leigh says:

    Karen – that’s too funny!
    Your flock may change their tune with fermented organic. All the grains become softer, more flavorful and way more digestible. Give it a try. Goodness knows, if I could afford it right now, my own bird herd would get nothing but organic, gmo-free feeds. 😀

  41. sheila says:

    Christina,

    Do you happen to have a particular brand name of the probiotic product you use? My mixed breed dog has allergies as well, and I’d really like to not have to put him on Prednisone every Summer and early Fall. Any info is appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

    Sheila

  42. Christina says:

    We used to use American Health chewable Acidophilus (up to 8 tablets a day in allergy season for our 75 pound dog). It was one of the most affordable options at the grocery store. But now I make my own water kefir, so he just gets a big scoop of the kefir “grains” with his food every day.

  43. Erin says:

    Thanks Leigh for the well written and very timely post.
    I’ve been wondering about changing up the feed for our 30 chickens with winter on the horizon. I was worried about nutrition once the fresh grass is a distant memory. And even though I kind of like “the random grains sprouting around the yard” in a plant geek kind of way, the waste is really starting to get to me. Our favourite feed supplier is a 50 min. drive so getting the most bang out of a bag of feed is key. We are trying this out this weekend! I’m off to check out your blog.
    Thanks Karen for inviting Leigh to guest post. Much appreciated.

  44. I have been fermenting the chicken feed just over three months. Have not noticed an increase in laying nor a real change in egg quality. But it still seems like a good idea. Not sure how it will do once winter is here, but the ferment has “worked” through the cool fall weather here in Minnesota. May have to build an insulated closet…..

  45. Kristin Ferguson says:

    I went out and tried this immediately. What kind of feed was I supposed to use? I just used the pellets I normally feed the hens (it’s one of the kinds that has extra Omega-3) and I had an almost-empty jar of fresh-fermented (from Trader Joe’s) sauerkraut in my fridge, so I poured in a little of the juice. The chickens seem to like it a lot, but it definitely turned to absolute mush. All the chicken feed I can get here in Los Angeles is either crumbles or pellets. None of it is whole grains, except scratch, which I’ve been warned again and again is not healthful for them. One final question: What would happen if you added a bit of sourdough starter to the feed instead of sauerkraut juice?

  46. Kimberley says:

    We’ve been doing this for almost a year. We also add some alfalfa pellets to the feed/water. Talk about some orange and delicious eggs! The girls didn’t take to it right away, but after a week or so they loved it.

  47. Leigh says:

    Yes – pellets and crumbles do turn to mush, but it’s still got great nutritional benefits. I use a strainer – I put the feed in the strainer and go do something else for about 5 minutes and when I come back it is ready to feed. If you’re short on time, put some dry in the bottom of the feeder and then put the soupy feed on top – by the time you serve it up, the dry pellets will have absorbed much of the “soup” and it’s good to go!

  48. Leigh says:

    Henry – it is also molting season, and this can have a big impact on egg production until the girls are done. Hopefully you’ll see some improvement soon. =)

    Yes – you will need to keep your fermenting bucket in a warm room – it needs to be above 45 F or 8 C to properly ferment.

  49. Leigh says:

    So glad you liked the post, Erin! Keep track of your feed usage so you can see how it changes in one month’s time. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)

  • About Karen

  • About Karen

  • My Latest Videos

Pin7K
Share2K
Email
The Art of Doing Stuff