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.

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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?)

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!)

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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…)

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· 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.

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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.

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138 Comments

  1. Kari Hill says:

    I found this post after typing “Is there any reason not to feed my chickens sourdough starter” in my search engine. I am so excited – can’t wait to get started! Thank you for posting!

  2. Roy says:

    I use Countryside Organic Layer crushed. I put it in a plastic container with half feed half water and by morning it is fully saturated and smelling quite strong. Less than 12 hours between mixing it and serving it. Does this mean it’s working too well or is this another issue?

    • Karen says:

      It’s probably just in a warm area Roy. Is it over 80 degreesF where you’re keeping it? It sounds to me like it’s just fermenting quickly. If you see a white layer on the top, that’s definitely what it is. White or grey “mold” is fine. It isn’t mold it’s the fermentation … yeast I suppose. It will smell almost sour. ~ karen!

      • Roy says:

        Ok, that’s kind of what I thought was happening. It is pretty warm here in Florida, though I do the food preparation in the house, it is between 74-78 degrees inside. The white/grey mold has only showed up if I kept the food for more than 24 hours. I keep it covered, so we don’t get fly issues, and because it smells strong, my wife really dislikes the smell it creates. I’ve just gotten used to it, since I am the chicken keeper around here, and that smell is the least of ‘chicken smells’ 🙂 Thank you for the advice and direction!

  3. APRIL says:

    I think I am going to try this. Maybe it will keep the chipmunks from eating the food. Darn things are cute but they sure like the chickens feed.

  4. Bernie says:

    Thanks for the information. I am raising 70 chickens and save some from feed bill. At first the chickens dont feed on the fermented grains but now they loved it. Can I ferment fresh coconut meet for them too?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Bernie. Glad your chickens like it. Mine love it … and then they get sick of it … and they they love it again. Technically you can ferment anything. I’ve never fermented coconut but from what I’ve read to do it, just chop up the coconut, or put it in a blender, add water and a probiotic capsule (the kind you’d get in the drugstore). It will be fermented in 1-2 days. I’m not sure about what the purpose of the priobiotic capsule is but I’m guessing its added to speed up the fermenting process. ~ karen!

  5. Mimi Iannillo says:

    Well, it’s more of an answer to a question than a comment. Can other things be added to the mash such vegetables or yogurt when the mash is finished? I don’t cook but when it comes to my hens, I get very creative when making a warm dish for them.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mimi! I add other stuff to the mash all the time but I don’t add it in with the mash. I add bits to the mash once it’s fermented. I’ll just scoop out a cup of it (sometimes I’ll warm it up) then I add raisins, nuts, yogurt or whatever scraps I have around that I think they’ll like. They LOVE when I add a bit of molasses to it. ~ karen!

  6. Nicole says:

    Hi, just wondering if I can ferment my feed it contains oyster shell already.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nicole. Yes you can. Most chicken feed contains oyster shell. Both pelleted feed and whole/cracked grain. It’ll work just fine. ~ karen!

  7. Wendy says:

    Love this article, thanks so much for the great info! Question-I currently mix in dried herbs for their health benefits into my layer crumbles (I use this list as my guide http://www.fresheggsdaily.com/2014/02/common-herbs-and-their-health-benefits.html) . Is it ok to add the herbs to the feed before I ferment it or should I add it after it is fermented?

    Thanks again for the fun and informative article.
    Wendy

    • Karen says:

      Hi Wendy. The dried herbs will be fine to ferment. It’s much like how you put dill in with pickles and water when you ferment them. They’ll be fine. ~ karen!

      • Wendy says:

        Thanks so much for information, my 30 ladies will be getting a new treat soon. I love your blog keep up the great work!

        • Karen says:

          Thanks Wendy. Just remember feed ferments more quickly in warmer weather or temperatures so if it’s cold outside wherever you are in the winter you’ll have to ferment inside. Inside it should just take a few days for it to start to ferment. ~ karen!

  8. Brittany says:

    Hello!

    My supervisor just sent me a link to another article which brought me to your blog to learn more about fermenting chicken feed (I’m lucky and get to hand out with chickens at work ;)!

    Does the feed need to be crumbles or can you do this with pellets?

  9. TYLER says:

    I love this article! We are getting good chick’s soon. My questions are: how long does the fermentation take at first and are you able to feed this to chick’s? Also, do does feed store feed crumbles work for this ? Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tyler! How long fermenting takes depends on the ambient temperature. If it’s hot it’ll ferment within a few days. If it’s cooler, it’ll take a week or so. It all depends. And yes, you can absolutely use feed store crumble. ~ karen!

  10. terri says:

    i used a 5 gallon bucket (as you did) and for my fabric i used a cloth reusable grocery bag.
    my girls really enjoy the new style of feed. i also give them a layer of scoby from my kombucha,

    • Karen says:

      I haven’t fermented their feed in a while terri! I should do it! Thanks for the reminder, lol. I have 3 ages right now, 6 week old chicks, a 5 month old that just started laying and then the old ladies. 🙂 I’m gonna start a crock tonight! ~ karen

  11. Cheecowah Jack says:

    Thank you so much… I though my food was going bad when It was fermenting. I have been raising chickens for a long time. Never knew this. I gave each of my chicks fresh goats milk in the morning crumble. They get garden and table stuff as well. They love Pancakes by the way. Sunday last morning treat. They know what day it is as well. They all coming running, so you better have the plate in your hands. I had a Golden Phoenix hen that traveled this country with me in my RV. She lived 14 years. PS thanks for the fly trap info… I don’t care how bad it stinks as long as it works.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cheecowah Jack! The other thing I tried this year for flies that really works are parasitic wasps. You have to pay to have them delivered and it ends up costing about $200 for the season to get them delivered every 2 weeks but I had almost NO flies this summer. Supplement with a fly trap and you really won’t see any flies at all. ~ karen!

  12. Jenn says:

    Last time I tried to ferment feed it smelled like vomit. The water on top was so dark it looked like strong tea or weak coffee. Did I do something wrong? Could it be brand of feed??

  13. Beth E. Frank says:

    I recently started giving my girls the fermented feed. They really like it. I have it in a food grade large plastic pan type container. My problem is, I get a line of mold above the fermented grains. This happens about day 3 or 4. It’s in a cool cellar. Any suggestions. Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      HI Beth! It probably isn’t mould. It’s probably fermentation (yeast). If it’s white or grey that’s what it is. 🙂 ~ karen!

  14. Beth E. Frank says:

    I received a reply about mold in my fermentation pan. You said if it’s white it’s ok. Well it is green and it smells like green mold. What do I do. I don’t want to give them moldy feed. I like the idea but I dump it out and waste feed. Thanks.

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