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Fermenting Chicken Feed ft. Scratch & Peck Feeds

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Show Notes

Join Nicole and Diana, founder of Scratch & Peck Feeds, as they talk about sprouting and fermenting chicken feed!

What You’ll Learn

Our Guest

Diana Ambauen-Meade is the founder of Scratch & Peck Feeds. Scratch and Peck Feeds was the first feed manufacturer to become both Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. All of their feeds are soy free and they firmly stand with their tagline that “you are what your animals eat!”

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    Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from where we talk about all things, backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.

    Nicole: Good morning everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I am your host, Nicole, and today we are joined by Diana, the founder of Scratch & Peck Feed and we're going to talk some about optimizing our feed for our chickens and some different things that we can do with our feed and some different choices. And Diana, thank you so much for joining me today.

    Diana: I'm looking forward to it. This seems like a fun thing to do.

    Nicole: Oh, thank you. I hope you enjoy it. So Scratch & Peck Feed is one that most people have probably heard of. I know that I've known about it for quite some time, but can you tell us how you began?

    Diana: Yeah, for sure. It's just one of those little Cinderella stories, I guess starting doing something in your backyard because it was just something that I wanted to do. And then it just pretty much grew organically from there. Back in the mid '90s, I had my first flock of chickens and there was nothing on the market at that time that I felt comfortable feeding them. And so I just bought some whole grains and did a little bit of research on what to feed them, and I mixed my own feed that was in California, and then we moved up to Washington state and in 2006 maybe '07 we decided to get chickens again and I thought, Oh surely there must be something in the feed store that I would be happy to feed them because I was really looking for something organic and I was always kind of the way I've lived my life and still there was nothing.

    Diana: So I just said, "Well, Okay, I guess I'll make it again." It was really a time when a lot of my friends were starting to get into raising chickens in their backyard and they saw what I was doing and they very much liked the facts was real food, that they could tell that it was healthy. And so they started asking me to make some for them. And then I thought, well gosh, maybe there is a niche in the marketplace here for this type of feed. And so I started making some. I made a ton of it in my backyard one day using my neighbors summit mixer to mix it up. And I quickly realized that was not going to be a sustainable model for me.

    Diana: So I contracted with a mill and had them mill for me for a while and meanwhile I was taking my feet and selling it through Craigslist and delivering one bag of feed at a time to people's store steps. And again, not sustainable model, but I figured it was a kind of a grass roots way to start and literally grew from there and decided, well, if I can't find a mill in my neighborhood that could mix this for me, this can't be rocket science. I can do this, so that's what we did.

    Nicole: Awesome. Well it's so nice to hear that people can still start from scratch and make something successful and a great product too.

    Diana: Yeah. Thank you. Absolutely. That's the one on one of business, right? Find a need and fill it.

    Nicole: And so the ingredients that you use, you mentioned whole grains and things. Where do you source those ingredients?

    Diana: So we source direct from farmers as often as we possibly can. Some ingredients we just can't get enough in the Pacific Northwest. We can't source enough of it direct. So what we do in that instance, is we've got some partnerships with some organic brokers. At that point, we're only one step removed from the actual grower because these brokers have those personal relationships with the farmers. So we never buy on the commodity market. We know exactly where our grains are coming from and they're always coming from family farms. So that's part of our mission is to buy that way so that, that's how we make that happen.

    Nicole: And you mentioned organic. Are all of your products organic?

    Diana: Yes. All of our feed products are certified organic as well as verified non-GMO. I mean we've got a few things like grubs, which are black soldier fly larvae and those can't be certified organic, and then things like oyster shell and grit obviously. But everything else that we do is a certified organic.

    Nicole: Oh, okay. And the non-GMO, which is nice.

    Diana: Yeah, absolutely I felt that. Number one, the Non-GMO Project was the first third party certifier that was created back in 2012, and it was formed by a lot of the same people who originally were the driving force in getting the organic certification back in the 80s, that whole process and as time went on and they found that while we all would hope that organic would be enough of a certifier to ensure that we were getting clean product, what happened was corn and soy became so highly genetically modified that out in the field there's cross-contamination with pollen.

    Diana: And so you would have an organic farmer doing all the right things, but their neighbor across the way was doing genetically modified crops and that pollen would come over, contaminate their crop, and pretty soon now they've got genetically modified plants growing in their field. So the project was developed to have one more way to ensure that we're keeping the GMOs out of the organic food stream.

    Nicole: So do you use soy in your feeds?

    Diana: We don't use soy, no, we never have. We do use corn, so that would be the only other high risk ingredient that we use in our feeds. But our corn comes all from one farm in Eastern Washington and they are in a really protected area, so they've never had any cross contamination. And every year of course before we buy it, we test it for the GM markers and it always comes in well beneath the threshold that the Non-GMO Project has set.

    Nicole: So obviously you go out of your way to not only responsibly source your products, but to make sure they're high quality and support local farmers. Sounds like.

    Diana: Yes, absolutely.

    Nicole: That's really awesome.

    Diana: Yeah, well it's part of our mission and the way that we structured our company is that it's not just all about the bottom line, it's not just about the profit, but it's about everything that happens along the way. We want to be that company that supports our own communities and that's our family farmers. And they do a lot of incredible work and we want to support them. And there's also the side where they really enjoy knowing where their grain goes. And that their works of their hard labor going into a high quality product and staying regional and supporting animals that are being grown by families in their backyards.

    Nicole: Sure, absolutely. So you mentioned your mission. What is your mission and vision?

    Diana: Yeah, our mission statement is that to make honest, wholesome, organic animal feed products with the most heartfelt regard for our planet and our fellow living creatures. So basically, make really wonderful products without hurting anybody or the environment. And then our vision statement is that we envision a world where organic and whole foods are found on every table. Organic agriculture is dominant, animals are humanely raised and people understand that you are what your animals eat.

    Nicole: Well that's really great.

    Diana: These aren't just words that we stick up on the wall and they don't mean anything. They're actually touchstones for us at all times. Whenever we're trying to make decisions for the company, for new products, how we source or anything that we do here, we always run it through these filters. Are we following our values? Are we living up to our mission? And our team calls each other out on it too, to make sure that we're doing that. So it's super important to us.

    Nicole: Well that's great that you help to hold each other accountable too.

    Diana: It keeps us honest.

    Nicole: That's good. So one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is about fermenting and sprouting feed because it's something that I see a lot of people ask about online, and it's something that I've done and it seemed relatively easily with a slight learning curve. So can you explain the difference between sprouting and fermenting feed?

    Diana: Absolutely. So we recommend folks, if they want to sprout, you would sprout just our whole grains. So we sell scratch products that are just whole grains. We sell individual whole grains like barley and wheat, and you can sprout those individually. And then the feed products, like anything from all of our chicken feed lines to our other livestock lines, those can be fermented. You wouldn't sprout those because while there are whole grains in there, there's also a lot of other ingredients that are not sproutable. So go ahead and sprout the whole grains and you can sprout those like you would any whole grain or any seed.

    Diana: You basically are soaking them in water overnight and then you're draining that water off and you're rinsing them a couple of times a day and making sure that they're well drained and they will start sprouting and you can feed those to your chickens or other animals too, anywhere along the line that you want to a couple days, two or three days. And then the fermenting of the feed products works really well because number one, all of our ingredients are raw ingredients. So they will ferment really nicely and it's basically lacto-fermentation.

    Diana: So what it does, it makes more of the nutrients more bio-available to the animals because it starts breaking them down so that the animal's body doesn't have to work so much to digest them. They just make them more digestible. And so the way that you can do that is you would take one part of the feed to one part water and you would put that in a jar. Or if you've got a lot of chickens in your backyard, you can put it in a bucket and you put a lid on it very lightly. You want to be able to let the gases escape and then you basically let it sit anywhere from two to three days, depending on the weather.

    Diana: If it's colder out, it's going to take longer and you might actually want to bring it inside to help process along, but after about two to three days, you're going to see some bubbling happening. You're going to smell a smell, maybe like beer or a sourdough starter. It's very much exactly the same process, and then you just feed that to your chickens after day three and they will pretty much bubble up every little bit of it. It's a really great way to make the highest and best use of a mash type feed, which is what ours is, is not pelletize.

    Diana: It's a mixture rather than a pelletization of feed. And so there's a larger chunks of ingredients in there. And then there's finer ingredients like say flax meal or a fishmeal that's in there and fermenting allows all of that to be really well bound together and the animals will be able to eat every bite of it. And if you didn't want to go through the process of fermenting, you can also just add a little bit of water to the feed and bind all of those ingredients together that way, and that works really well as well.

    Nicole: Okay. So one debate that I've seen with fermenting is, so you put the water in with the feed and of course the feed absorbs it. Do you like to leave a layer of water covering the feed or is it okay if the top of the feed, once it absorbs that one-to-one water if it's exposed to air?

    Diana: Yeah, you want to keep it covered. You don't want tha, have it exposed to the oxygen.

    Nicole: Okay. So you might need to add a little bit more water.

    Diana: You might add little more. I haven't run into that myself, but it certainly could happen. And if that happens, just add more or the next time you do it, just start with maybe one and a half to one.

    Nicole: Okay. And if we're doing this outside, is there any temperature range that... Like here it can get so hot. If it's over a hundred degrees or something, is it unsafe deferment or does it ferment for a shorter period of time?

    Diana: It's going to ferment in a much shorter period of time. And I would suggest that you bring it in. You could bring it into a shed or a garage or even into the house, especially in those extreme temperature variations. And on the other end, if it's super, super cold, it's going to take a really much longer for it to ferment. So that would be a good time to bring it in as well.

    Nicole: Okay. I know for me, much to the dislike of my husband, I put my bucket in the guest bathroom in the tub. And I used that to ferment in.

    Diana: There you go.

    Nicole: And if you leave it too long, let's say you forget about it and it's been in there for longer than three days, is it usable still or do you need to throw it out at some point?

    Diana: I would say that use your eyes and your nose in that. If it's starting to smell off super, super sour, it might be a little bit long. And then of course, any time if there's anything like mold or anything weird that is forming on the top of it, you wouldn't want to feed that. You'd throw that away.

    Nicole: I've found it to be a pretty simple process, but you reiterated, I mean really all you need is a food container and your feed and some water. And it really is not a complicated process.

    Diana: No, it's not complicated at all. It's just getting into the practice of doing it. People make their own yogurt, they make again, which is a fermentation process. People make Kombucha and I'll make beer and wine and all of those things are fermentation processes. And it's just a matter of if you want to do it, just setting it into your daily schedule routine. It just takes a few minutes really. Probably you've experienced that too.

    Nicole: Yeah. And if somebody was super motivated, could they feed their flock fermented feed every day or is it better as an occasional supplement treat thing?

    Diana: Oh, I'm definitely we have a lot of customers that like to feed it every day. And so what they'll do is they'll have maybe three buckets going at a time or three containers so that you've got day one, day two, day three going. And then every day you just started a new one and just you'd want to measure out, determine the amount of feed that your chickens are going to need every day. And that's all you're going to from that. You don't want to fermented and put it out there and then have it sit around because that's not a good idea.

    Nicole: Okay. And do you know roughly how much an average chicken eats a day? Just as a starting point for somebody?

    Diana: Yeah. For a full grown chicken at first there's variations but around a quarter to a third of a pound per chicken per day.

    Nicole: Okay. And then of course you could add or subtract as needed, but that way give something to start with. So it's all right for the chickens then to eat once a day. They don't necessarily have to have access to food all day as long as they're getting enough to eat.

    Diana: Yeah. Some people will feed them just once a day and they'll eat it up during the course of the day and then they may give them a scratch or something at night before they go to bed. Obviously, if a chicken has access to pasture and is able to free range, they'll have that food to eat during the day. But if they're more confined to a space for safety reasons and stuff like that, you can also always supplement other food products like produce or leftovers from what you're eating for the day or whole grains for the night, especially in the wintertime. That's a really nice thing to do because they have so many hours of darkness cold. So giving them some carbohydrates before they retire for the evening is usually a good idea.

    Nicole: Okay. And with sprouting, is it the same thing where you can give them that as their daily feed or with that being more limited in the ingredients and is that something that is more of a treat?

    Diana: Yeah, that would be more of a supplement. I think that would be really great to give them in the evening or afternoon if you wanted to feed them that way. And again, especially in the winter months when they're not able to get out on grass and get greens, it's a really great way to supplement that protein. So with both fermentation and sprouting, like I said, it increases the bio availability. But also, there been studies that have shown that it actually increases the vitamin level, the protein level, mineral level of those ingredients as well. And with fermentation, having all of that extra moisture is really beneficial for the chickens as well.

    Diana: They're not just relying on a dry food and then trying to intake enough water to get them through the day. They've got this extra water that they're eating with their food. And we also see because the feed absorbed so much water by volume, you're getting more out of that, say third of a pound of feed than if you would've fed it to them dry. So we find a lot of our customers actually use less feed than they would if they were just feeding the dry well.

    Nicole: That definitely makes sense, just the larger volume.

    Diana: We've got a farmer who has taken the fermentation to a pretty neat scale and he feeds all of his, I think he's got like 700 to 1,000 birds out on his pasture and he feeds them all fermented feed. And instead of a bucket, he's using a 55 gallon drum for each of his days of fermentation. He says that when he goes to the farmer's markets to sell his eggs, he's got eggs, a good amount of eggs to sell all year long, even in the winter months because the birds are just getting such great nutrition. So he finds that he's got eggs while some of the other farms just don't have that many.

    Nicole: Oh really?

    Diana: Yeah.

    Nicole: I hadn't heard that ss a benefit. That's great. I know that when I was fermenting the feed, I took a short break from it at the moment, but they would see that pan coming out to their coop and they would just go insane and it really encouraged me to keep doing it, not only because of the health benefit, but it was apparent that they really enjoyed the fermented food and they seemed like they were a lot healthier and a lot more vibrant and a lot more active, and especially when they're not able to go out, like you said, to free range in our area. It is really just a great addition to their day to day feed.

    Diana: Yeah. That's great. I know there's so much fun to watch too. Just so excited to see.

    Nicole: So I have to ask what do you feed your chickens?

    Diana: Well, right at the moment, I don't have any chickens. That's just like, Oh my gosh, that sacrilegious. I can't believe I even said that. We moved from some acreage where we had chickens and ducks just free-ranging all over the place having a grand old time and we moved into town. Just to a regular city lot and I couldn't bear the thought of making them leave the country that they were going to. So we haven't replaced them yet. We're in process of remodeling a house and running the business and all of that good stuff. So I do however know exactly what the chickens who lay the eggs that I eat, what they eat and of course they eat our feed and we just get them from one of our customers.

    Nicole: Oh, there you go. Well that seems like a fair balance. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in life.

    Diana: Yeah, but we'll definitely be getting them again. They're a lot of fun.

    Nicole: Yeah. So what are some of your future plans with the business?

    Diana: Well, right now we are really focusing on expanding into some new areas. We geographically, as well as branching into using some insect meal in our sheets here as soon as we possibly can. So black soldier fly larvae meal has been recently approved by the FDA for poultry feed and we would love to start using it. It's just unfortunately, it's not quite available on the market as a supply yet. We've got a lot of really great insect companies that are on the rise and they're trying to scale up. There's a lot of demand for it and not only in animal feed, but I think the future for humans too is going to include some insect protein.

    Diana: So we're really looking forward to that when we're going to be able to include that in our feeds. So as far as geographical expansion, we know there's a lot of demand and a lot of need for really clean, wholesome feed in the Midwest States and the East going further East even. And we know that because one of the avenues by which we sell our feed is online and a lot of feed goes to the Midwest and a lot of it goes to the East Coast. And so we want to work with existing companies that are already very well aligned with our values, and work with them to help us supply feed in these new regions that we're reaching out to.

    Nicole: Awesome. That's always great to be able to offer your feed to two more people. That way they can increase the health of their own flock.

    Diana: Well, and it really does go along with our vision where we want to see a world where organic food is more dominant and more available to people. And that's the way we can do it is to get ourselves out there and make it available.

    Nicole: Sure. Absolutely. So you mentioned that you were wanting to incorporate some of the more insect base meal, like the black soldier fly. What is your driving purpose to do that? Why the black soldier fly larvae and what was the decision in adding that?

    Diana: For a long time a lot of people have been using mealworms and we had gotten a lot of requests from some of our business partners. Like when are you going to start selling mealworms and people are really interested in those for treats for their chickens. And at the time I said, "Well, pretty much all of the mealworms that are being sold are being grown in China and they're just not fed healthy food." They're fed something that's called industrial gel. And when they've been tested, they're very heavy concentrations of heavy metals, and it just wasn't something... And plus shipping all the way across the ocean. I didn't feel that that was really aligned with the direction we wanted to go.

    Diana: Then we found a new burgeoning company that was starting to grow black soldier fly larvae, and they're just across the border in British Columbia, very close to our facility. And as we got to know them and understand what their mission was, we really felt that there was a kinship there. And we also very much appreciated the fact that they were feeding these grubs. The larvae, they were raising them on pre-consumer food waste, which is basically food that doesn't get sold in the grocery store and would normally just get thrown into the landfill.

    Diana: But instead of doing that, they were redirecting it into their facility and then raising these insects on it, which then the insects become food for other animals and eventually made for humans. And so that really made it, it was a great way to close that food loop. And so that made a lot of sense to us. And then we also really like the makeup of the bug. They're really high in amino acids, including the biennium, which chickens definitely need and lysine and a full array of other ones. They're really a great protein profile, around 40% protein and good fat of around 32 to 40%, and then a good level of calcium too.

    Diana: They're like one and a half percent calcium. So really are healthy, they're not traveling along distance. They're raised with real food. That was a big positive decision for us. Definitely this is something we want to do and represent. So this company has been a great partner. They are also growing, they've built a brand new facility so they're trying to get more up to scale and they're also going to be building a plant in the US, so we'll have US scrum flex soldier flies here pretty soon. So it's just a win-win and it really fit with all of our values so that feel really confident and comfortable selling.

    Nicole: Yeah, that sounds like a really exciting future addition. And one thing I wanted to ask you too, you touched earlier that you don't have soy in your feeds and I was wondering why that was. Because I see so many feeds with soy in it. So it seems like it would be a good addition.

    Diana: It wouldn't seem so because as you say, some of these feeds, it's really become corn and soy have become the main ingredients in most feeds out there. But for me, when I first started this company, I was really very concerned about using story because of a few reasons. One is that it's almost all of the soy that's grown in this country has been genetically modified as well as other countries, and a lot gets imported. Soy actually has some anti-nutrients qualities, so it's got estrogen mimicking ingredients. A lot of people have developed allergies to soy because it's been used so prevalently in all of our processed foods in our country.

    Diana: And then this got phytic acids that have been shown to block the uptake of certain minerals, and also it can have negative impacts on thyroid function. So it's just had so many negative qualities and the whole genetically modified piece was just not something I felt comfortable with at all. We've had a lot of people say that, they used to think that they were allergic to eggs because whenever they ate an egg, they would have a reaction to it. When they switched to a soy-free feed, they were able to eat eggs again, because it was actually the soy that was passing through to the egg, causing that allergy.

    Nicole: And then that goes back to the whole what they eat, we eat.

    Diana: Exactly.

    Nicole: Yeah, definitely another reason to feed them a better quality product, especially if we're eating their eggs or their meat.

    Diana: Yeah, absolutely. We made that decision from day one, not to use soy and I think it's definitely something that resonates with our customer base. We do offer, of course, I mentioned the corn. People can buy that separately or we do offer a feed line that has some corn in it, but that our soy and corn free feed far outsells anything else we make. So it's really something that matters to people.

    Nicole: Yeah, now that's wonderful. And as you already know, it's really challenging to find feed that doesn't have corn or soy. So that's really great that there is a choice for people that have those allergies or have those personal values that they don't want to feed them to their birds.

    Diana: And corn has gotten a bad rep too because of the GMOs in it. But if you buy corn that is organic and has been tested for all those GM markers, corn is actually a really good food for chickens. Don't want to overdo it because it will make them fat and lazy. But it is a really nice thing to use, especially in the winter I think.

    Nicole: It helps their little internal furnaces heat up so they can have a warmer night when they go for roosts in the evening.

    Diana: Yeah, absolutely.

    Nicole: So now that we've talked more about the amazing feed that you have and the future of the feed that you guys are going to have available, how can people go about finding you and maybe getting some more information on fermenting and adding this amazing food option into their flock?

    Diana: Yeah, we have a website and it's We have a lot of information on there. We have always strived to provide education and information for people. Anything from how to raise your chicks to maybe how do I take care of them in the winter time, all sorts. Anything. Why do we not use soy? Why do we know what's up with black soldier fly grubs, what's good about those? All sorts of information on the website. Check out the blog section and there'll be tons of information there. There's also tutorials there about how to ferment and how to sprout. All of that information is there. We've also got some videos. We're currently working on creating more and more of those, but we do have some fermenting videos and I think if you don't have that link already, we'll send it to you so you can provide that to your listeners.

    Nicole: Sure.

    Diana: You can look on YouTube for us. We've got some videos on there. We're on Instagram and Facebook, all the regular social media places, but the website really will be the best place to find out really specific detailed information. And then if still can't find the answer to your question, we have customer service people here that actually answer the phone and can get you your answers and we can give you that phone number as well.

    Nicole: Okay. I'll put the links and the phone number in the description of the show notes so that way people can can find it.

    Diana: Perfect.

    Nicole: Great.

    Diana: That sounds wonderful.

    Nicole: Well Diana, I really appreciate you taking the time to share all the information and I know that I have a better understanding of the poultry feed and the different options and why I might want to look for something without soy in it. So I really appreciate your time today and your information.

    Diana: Oh, absolutely. It was my pleasure. It's really fun and after we got through our technical difficulties, we got that figured out it was great. I appreciate your time and your invitation to join you today.

    Nicole: Of course. Well, thank you so much.

    Diana: Hey, have a good one.

    Nicole: Thanks to you too.

    Diana: Bye.

    Nicole: Bye bye. And for those of you at home, thank you so much for listening to Backyard Bounty and we'll see you again next week.

    Announcer: Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at [email protected]. Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.

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