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Fermenting Chicken Feed

January 24

What is lacto-fermentation and why should we add this step to our feeding routine? First, allow me to provide a brief but necessary overview of the “what” and “why” of fermenting feeds. Lacto-fermentation occurs when beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus) that is naturally found in the environment (like in soil) interacts with food in the right controlled atmosphere. To ferment chicken feed one needs only simple materials such as a mason jar with cheesecloth or a food grade bucket with some holes drilled through the top.

The magic happens in about 3 days when the lactobacillus converts starch and sugar from the grains into lactic acid bacteria (LAB). This encourages the formation of natural probiotics, lowers the PH and prevents growth of harmful bacteria and provides healthy yeasts. The grains become little missiles of nutrients.

Benefits of fermenting feed

Increased Digestion and Nutrient Absorption:

The process of soaking grains opens up the grain and allows for ease of digestion. Obviously, grains become soft and the feed is gentle on the crop and gizzard. Grains also become more bioavailable. Additionally, the process of of fermenting reduces the phytic acid content; which can impair the absorption of certain nutrients and minerals. Less phytic acid makes the grains more dense in nutrients and available. But wait, there is more…Fermentation has been shown to enhance the content of Vitamins B, C and various minerals.

Added Probiotics and Immune Health:

As lactic acid bacteria work to ferment chicken feed, beneficial bacterial populations bloom. The resulting probiotics are mega boosters for digestion, immunity and improved gut health. As we all know by now, gut health is overall health; one and all. Many studies have shown that animals who receive a steady intake of probiotics through fermented feed, have a more robust immune system than those on a standard dry feed diet. Moreover, studies have found that the levels of lactic bacteria in fermented chicken feeds lowers the PH of the chickens’ intestines enough to ward off acid sensitive bacteria such as E.Coli and Salmonella.

Stronger, Denser Eggs:

According to a study published in the Journal of British Poultry Science, chickens which were fed fermented chicken feed showed increased egg weight, shell thickness and had harder shells than those fed a straight dry feed. When chickens have properly formed eggs, their chances of laying soft shells and becoming “egg bound” decreased drastically. Of course, the saying is also true “You are what you eat, eats.” Eggs are just more nutrient dense when chickens are fed a fermented feed.

Decreased Feed Costs:

Yes, you heard it from me, the lady who sells you feed! However, anyone who knows me knows that my number one priority and the driving force behind the feed business has always been the proper care and feeding of chickens. Therefore, it is my responsibility to educate my customers not only on how to best feed their chickens but how to feed them the most cost effective and nutritious way possible. That being said, when feed is fermented, the grains expand up to twice their size in volume, which allows your birds to become fuller faster and with more dense nutrients. Here is a good example of the savings: Most chickens eat about 1/4 to 1/2 lb of dry food per day. So if you have 5 chickens eating 2.5 lbs per day, they would eat one 50lb bag of feed about every 20 days or so. With fermented feed, chickens eat about 1/2 so your feed cost is literally cut…. in half.

Now the question…When and how much? How often you decide to feed your flock fermented feed is totally up to you! There is no way to overdo it and the more often, the better. Some chicken keepers feed only fermented feed, while others (such as myself) feed a few times a week or when chickens seem particularly stressed or compromised in any way.

How to Ferment

Room must be at an ambient temperature no warmer than 55 degrees or cooler than 40.

  1. Mix Feed & Water: Find a suitable container to use for fermenting process. I prefer a 3lb painter’s pail found in the big box home stores. Drill some small holes on top for air circulation. A mason jar with cheesecloth works well for small batches. Add enough feed to the container to fill it up a little more than 1/2 way up the bucket. Cover feed with enough distilled or purified water to completely cover the feed and allowing a several inches for the feed to expand. Stir from bottom to top very well and cover.
  2. Let the feed Ferment: With the cover on your container somewhat loose fitting or enough air holes drilled for proper circulation. (Gasses must be able to escape or mold occurs.) Every 12 hours or so, stir well again from top to bottom and replace the lid. By day 3, most of the water might have been absorbed, if this is the case, add a little more water so the feed does become completely dry. A little water is necessary to continue the “starter” if a new batch will begin.
  3. Feed & Replenish: Remove the fermented feed and offer to your flock, reserving any remaining liquid! The lactic acid bacteria left in the brine will feed on fresh grains and put you about a day ahead of schedule for the next batch. If you do not think your flock will eat all of what you have fermented within a day and the weather is warm, offer only what they will eat and refrigerate the remaining, offering only what they will consume for the day. Cold weather is fine to leave feed out for a couple of days. The concern is feed becoming moldy in warm weather.

So, there is the scoop on fermenting feed. While it does take a bit of time and effort, the results and health of your chickens, the quality of their eggs and the love they will feel will all be abundantly obvious and well worth the extra time spent on such good husbandry and learning an awesome homesteading skill.

Happy chicken keeping!

Lisa Marie Samples

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