How to Ferment Chicken Feed for Healthier Chickens.

Fermenting chicken feed is just as good for your chickens as fermented foods are for you. And there’s nothing more to making it than adding water to chicken feed and letting it sit. If you can make Cup-a-Soup, I can teach you how to ferment chicken feed.

Karen Bertelsen bear hugs a chicken outside her coop while preparing it for the winter.

I love all of my chickens with all of my heart and unconditionally except for Baby, whom I hate. She bites, she chases, she terrorizes.  If you have a small flock chances are you love them all too so you want to do what’s best for them. But you’re busy. So no, you might not be willing to buy all the individual ingredients to make up the right nutrients of chicken feed and mix them yourself.

You MIGHT however be willing to just add a bit of water to your own feed in order to create a nutritious fermented concoction for them. You will even feed it to Baby.

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 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 of reasons. The first reason is that fermented feed has naturally occurring probiotics. Gone are the days you had to run to the store to grab sip-and-go yogurt drinks for your hens.  

A flock of multi colored hens in an open field eating fermented chicken feed out of a speckled bowl.

Photo Leigh Edwards

Just like with humans, the gastro-intestinal tract is important for 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. These anitnutrients in grains and seeds act as a protective barrier that can prevent the grains from being fully digested.

Why?? This is a kind of whacked-out, mutant survival mechanism of the plant world. Having these antinutrients will boost the chances that, even if eaten, the grains can still grow once they have made their journey all the way through a critter and are planted in a ball of fertilizer when the animal poops them onto the grass. 

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. 

Lowering your feed bill:

Because your chickens are getting more accessible nutrients from their feed, after a few weeks, they’ll start to eat less of it.

They’ll also start to lay bigger eggs with thicker shells and larger yolks. Your hens will also be far less likely to be mortally hurt by diseases and pests carried by the local wild birds.

Fermenting!

A bowl of fermented chicken feed sits atop of a tree stump with a pasture and forest in the background.

Photo Leigh Edwards

OK – so now that you’re ten-kinds of excited about having healthier chickens and lowering your monthly feed costs, you want to know 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). 

Using vinegar to start the fermentation process can also start an alcohol fermentation. (Not the goal.)

No – if you want to grow your own little army of immunity-boosting PRObiotics, you need to have lacto-fermentation. If you make dill pickles in a crock like I do, it’s the same thing. 

The good news is for lacto-fermentation you just need water.

Pouring water into a bowl of crumble chicken feed to ferment it.

Photo Leigh Edwards

If you are the anxious type and really want to get the probiotics marching about the feed sooner, you can add one of these starter cultures:

  • 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
  • *not whey from yogurt because that type of culture only works at a higher temperature than what you keep your house at.
     

Understand you don’t NEED to add any of these things. You’ll get lacto-fermentation from just using water – these starters just help to speed things up by a few days.

 

A black hen stands in front of a tree stump with a clear bowl of fermented chicken feed on top.

Photo Leigh Edwards

 

How to Make Fermented Chicken Feed

How to Ferment Chicken Feed

How to Ferment Chicken Feed

Active Time: 2 minutes
Additional Time: 4 days
Total Time: 4 days 2 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $0

How to ferment feed for your chickens to reduce feed costs and improve hen health.

Materials

  • 1 glass, ceramic or plastic crock (size depends on the amount of chickens you have but around 2 gallons should be good for a backyard flock of 4-6)
  • Water
  • Starter Culture (optional)

Instructions

  1. Put 2-3 days worth of feed in a container.*
  2. Cover the feed with water. You should have an inch of water above the level of the feed.
  3. If you want to use a starter add it now.
  4. Check on the feed in a few hours. It may have absorbed all of your extra water already. Add more water so that the feed is again covered by 1".
  5. Cover your container with a dish cloth or something else that allows air to pass through because things are going to get bubbly. You don't want a tight fitting lid that might explode off.
  6. Stir the mixture up a couple of times a day. This helps to incorporate oxygen and speeds up the fermentation process.
  7. You can start feeding it to your chickens right away, but it won't become truly fermented until you start to see bubbles in several days.
  8. Add more water and feed every few times you take some out to maintain your ferment. Doing this you can keep the fermented feed going forever.

Notes

*Chickens eat about 1/4 cup of food per day per chicken.

The warmer the environment, the more quickly the feed will ferment.

This CAN be fed to chicks and is in fact very good for them.

Remember to always keep at least 1" of water covering the feed to help protect it from harmful bacteria growth.

Your fermented feed should smell sour. This is normal and in fact, the goal.

Both crumble and whole grain feeds can be fermented. Crumble feed will turn to a sludgy sort of mix. Just scoop it out with a strainer or slotted spoon and let the liquid it drain back into the fermentation container.

Starter Cultures

  • 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
  • *not whey from yogurt because that type of culture only works at a higher temperature than what you keep your house at. 


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I'm an Amazon affiliate some I get a few cents when you buy something I've linked to.

 

I used to ferment my feed all the time, but I fell out of the habit of it. I’m BACK on the fermenting train now and if you watch my Instagram stories you might just see me slinging this hash to my chickens. 

Yep. Even Baby.


I’ve updated and rewritten this post which was originally published on my site by Leigh Edwards of Natural Chicken Keeping. 

 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

How to Ferment Chicken Feed for Healthier Chickens.

148 Comments

  1. Kipley Herr says:

    My question is: When you add more feed into already fermented feed, do the new pellets become instantly fermented? Don’t they have to stew for a few days? Wouldn’t it just dilute the amount of fermented feed? Thanks

  2. Karen Purpero says:

    What kind of “feeder” do you use to feed it to the chickens? Particularly for chicks- I have a normal trough feeder for my older layers, but my chick feeders are the traditional upside-down bucket looking things with openings for the dry crumble.

  3. Mark says:

    No radishes??

  4. Nicole says:

    So I realize that using yogurt whey won’t help the fermentation but . . . will it hurt it? I have so much yogurt whey and am looking for ways to use it.

  5. Madi says:

    Hey! This is fascinating to me, because we brew Kombucha for ourselves at home and I’m often blessed with extra SCOBYs (true name: pellicles) from each batch. I want to try feeding some to my hens – do you think that:
    1.) A small amount of kombucha tea could be used as a starter?
    2.) feeding pellicles as treats would be sufficient as a pre/probiotic boost?

    Thanks!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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??

  9. 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!

  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

    • Madi says:

      Another Kombucha brewer! I was just asking if a pellicle could be a good treat for them. So you feed fermented and pellicles? Do you think just the pellicle would be sufficient to get the good bios into their systems? Can you use starter tea to boost the fermentation of the feed?

  11. 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!

  12. 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?

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

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