Do you want to save money on your feed bill? Do you want better feed conversion, stronger shells, shinier feathers, and healthier birds? If you are willing to do a little extra work, you can ferment your chicken feed and reap a bounty of rewards.
What is fermented feed?
Fermented feed is any chicken food that has been moistened, inoculated with beneficial bacteria, and allowed to ferment. It contains lactobacillus, acetobacter, and yeast. The bacteria begin to digest the food. Basically, fermented feed is natural probiotics for chickens. Read more about what lives in fermented feed here.What are the benefits?
|Chickens know the good stuff when they eat it!|
Fermented feed reduces pathogens and disease in the digestive tract. It is used commercially in places where antibiotics are banned because it reduces the prevalence of disease in the flock. Where birds are used for their meat, contamination is less likely. The good bacteria out-compete the bad and create an acidic environment where pathogens cannot thrive.
The fermentation process also makes nutrients more available. Because the feed is wet, the chicken’s intestinal villi grow longer and have more surface area to uptake nutrients. Fermented feed increases the weight and thickness of egg shells, and it help to convert food into meat and eggs. You can read more about the research behind fermented feed here.
Anecdotally, fermented feed also reduces the smell of chickens’ droppings, a valued benefit when raising meat birds. Others have noticed increased overall vigor and shinier feathers. If you aren’t convinced, just ask your chickens. Chickens go crazy for fermented feed!
|Fermenting a mix of feed and supplements|
You can ferment any kind of feed. Place the feed into a bucket and cover with declorinated water. You can easily dechlorinate your water by leaving it in an open container overnight, filtering, or boiling. Allow boiled water to cool. Add a few tablespoons of liquid containing a bacterial culture, and give it a good stir. The best start is from apple cider vinegar with the mother. You could also simply allow the native yeasts and bacteria in your air to populate the feed naturally. However, as in sourdough starter, there is always the chance that you will catch something nasty and have to start over. You can also add greens, dried alfalfa, kelp meal, beet meal, or any other chicken food to your mix. Look here for a list of foods you can ferment for your chickens.
Make sure the mix stays very wet. You may want to cover the top with a dishcloth and a rubber band or pantyhose to keep flies and pets out. Allow the feed to ferment for about three days at room temperature before feeding, perhaps less if you are using liquid from an older batch. It should smell sour, like sourdough bread. That lets you know you have passed the yeast-dominated phase and entered the desired bacteria-dominated phase of fermentation.
|Your ferment may grow a cap or "mother" on the top - just stir it back in! White caps are a good sign.|
What’s your system?
There are many ways to manage your fermented feed. You can use a two-bucket batch system. Drill holes in the bottom of one bucket and place it inside another. After you’ve fermented, lift the inside bucket and allow excess water to drain into the other bucket. Use the drained food, and begin again by adding extra water and feed to the leftover liquid. In this system, the liquid is reused but the feed is new in each batch. To allow each batch to ferment for about three days, you would need to have several sets of barrels to use in turn. You can see the small batch system I used for a while here.
You can also use a larger tub or barrel and carry over both liquid and feed. Add your feed to a large bucket and add your water and culture. Use a slotted spoon or scoop-sized strainer to scoop out food to serve to your chickens. Add more water and feed, and stir. This is the system I am using now, pictured here.
|Fermented and nutritious - some would say delicious!|
Fermented feed helps birds to gain more weight, lay heavier and stronger eggs, and increase how much production you get out of a bird compared to how much feed you put in. If you process your chickens, there will be less risk for contamination and the fermented feed might reduce their risk of carrying some harmful bacteria in the first place. Even if you can’t ferment your feed, you can always get some of these benefits by mixing water into your feed to create a wet mash, but your chickens will thank you if you give fermentation a try!