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?)
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.
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!
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:
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.
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!)
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…)
· 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.
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″]