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If you’ve had chickens for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of fermented chicken feed. Fermented chicken feed is a probiotic filled, money saving, health benefiting super feed that is simple to make at home.
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Fermenting Chicken Feed Podcast Episode
Learn more about fermenting feed in this Backyard Bounty podcast episode with Scratch & Peck Feeds
What is Fermented Feed
Fermented chicken feed is a probiotic rich, easily digestible, more nutritious feed created by soaking the chickens regular feed in dechlorinated water for several days. Think of it like yogurt for your chickens.
Why Ferment Feed
Fermenting feed for chickens (and all backyard birds) comes with many benefits!
Fermenting feed saves money! The nutrients in fermented feed are more easily absorbed in the digestive system, meaning birds can eat less while still meeting their dietary needs. Plus, fermented feed has absorbed water so 1 cup of dry feed becomes about 1.5-2 cups fermented feed, filling birds up faster.
Being fermented, the feed is now loaded with probiotics in the form of beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus. These living bacteria increase gut health, improve the immune system, and creates a natural barrier to E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter .
Fermented feed is easier to digest as it breaks down the seed coatings, and has shown to increase broiler growth. It also increased egg weight and shell thickness (although it does not increase egg production), is a great supplement for molting birds, and helps to reestablish beneficial gut flora following worm infestation and medicated treatment.
Many folks, myself included, have also noticed less smelly poo after feeding fermented feed!
How To Ferment Chicken Feed
Fermenting chicken feed is VERY easy. I feel that a lot of people overcomplicate it in their head and therefore never get started. In short- dump some feed in a container, cover it with water, and wait a few days. It really is that easy!
Here are the steps to fermenting chicken feed:
- Fill a container about 1/3 to 1/2 with feed
- Cover feed with several inches of dechlorinated water
- Place container in a warm location, out of sunlight
- Check every 12 hours and add water as needed to keep feed submerged
- When feed begins to bubble, it’s ready to use
- Save some of the water to start your next batch of fermented feed
Any feed can be used for fermenting- layer pellets, mash, crumbles, scratch grains, wheat, barley, etc..
I like to use the highest quality feed available for fermenting, like Mile Four feed. Because the fermented feed absorbs water, 1 pound of fermented feed yields a larger volume than 1 pound of dry feed. Basically, a little goes a long way. I don’t mind spending extra on the premium feed since I don’t use as much. I only offer fermented feed as a treat, it is not the birds primary food source.
The better feed you start with, the more nutritious the finished product.
If you only have a few birds, you can ferment feed in a mason jar. If you have a lot of birds, you’ll probably want to use a bucket. If you are going the bucket route, make sure it’s food safe.
When I feel motivated, I use 5 gallon buckets and ferment in the spare bathrooms tub. Because I’m classy like that. Otherwise, I ferment in half-gallon canning jars on the kitchen counter. Next spring I plan to ferment in the garage when it gets warm enough.
Your fermentation container does not need to be covered. The feed should always be covered by a few inches of water.
You can use any water, just make sure it’s dechlorinated. If you use tap water, the easiest way to dechlorinate it is by leaving it out for 24 hours.
I use a Berkey Filter for my small batches. For big batches, I fill up a 5 gallon bucket and let it sit for a few days before using it.
Check your container often and make sure the feed is always covered by an inch or more of water. If you put too much dry feed in the container when you started, you’ll have to remove some to add more water. You can always feed this unfermented wet mash to the chickens.
I like to add these silicon covers to my mason jar containers, just to keep potential pests out and prevent spilling when I move them. They also help prevent water evaporation or messes when the feed starts to bubble.
The dry feed absorbs a surprising amount of water. Expect to use about 1 part dry feed to 1.5 parts water.
The fermentation process is a waiting game. To accelerate the process, keep the container out of direct sunlight and in a warm area. The warmer your fermentation vessel is, the quicker it will ferment. If you live in a cold or drafty house, you can put the container on a seedling heat mat to speed things up.
The fermentation process is complete when you see bubbles and the feed has a fermented smell- like sourdough bread. This should take about 2-5 days, depending on your environment.
Once fermented, use the feed within 24 hours. Save some of the liquid from the container and use it to start another batch. This reserved liquid “seeds” the next batch with good bacteria and probiotics.
I like to ferment feed in three containers. Each day I use one of the containers and refill it. Fermentation in my home takes about 3 days, so this 3 batch system allows me to have fermented feed available every day.
Feeding To Your Flock
When the fermented feed is ready to serve, strain off as much of the water as you can. Unfortunately, strainers and colanders get clogged quickly, so you won’t be able to completely drain it.
The fermented feed should be fed to birds within about 24 hours of the fermentation process (ie once you see bubbles). Once strained, it should be fed to birds right away and consumed within 30 minutes, as the good bacteria begin to die once exposed to air.
The feed should be placed in a feeding dish and not thrown on the ground. I use a black rubber feeding tub from the feed store. The birds know when I am bringing them fermented deliciousness, and become very excited!
I’ve made a few mistakes in my fermenting journey.
Most notably, adding too much dry feed to my fermentation vessel. The feed expands as it absorbs water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up to a wet counter because the feed overexpanded the container. If you use a mason jar, I recommend filling it 1/3 with feed, and adding 1/3 water. Having a little head room in the jar prevents overflowing when the feed starts to bubble. Adding silicon fermentation lids help a lot as well.
My other struggle is keeping the feed submerged. I often have to add water multiple times to keep a layer of water over the feed. Some day I’ll actually measure everything so I don’t have to play the guessing game.
Fermenting vs Sprouting
Sprouting seeds is also a common feed processing technique for chickens, but studies vary in results with sprouted seed. Some studies report that sprouting grains isn’t worth the trouble, while others show an increase in nutrient value, nutrient digestibility, and increased weight gain in broilers. All of the studies I read (links in the Sources) report no increase in egg production on sprouted grains .
“Seeking better poultry nutrition, some poultry enthusiasts are sprouting grains and seed for chickens, especially when green pasture is scarce. But the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) researched the potential benefits and concluded that sprouting does not significantly enhance the grains’ nutrient levels.”(2)Source: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/poultry/sprouting-grains-for-chickens-zm0z16fmzkon
Fermentation has several advantages over sprouting seeds. While sprouting does make feed easier to digest by breaking down seed coatings, it also increases tannins, making seeds bitter. Most chickens don’t like the bitter taste much. Plus, fermented grains have probiotics, which sprouted grains lack.
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- Sugiharto, Sugiharto, and Samir Ranjitkar. “Recent Advances in Fermented Feeds towards Improved Broiler Chicken Performance, Gastrointestinal Tract Microecology and Immune Responses: A Review.” Animal Nutrition, 6 Dec. 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405654518300581.
- Engberg, R M, et al. “Fermented Feed for Laying Hens: Effects on Egg Production, Egg Quality, Plumage Condition and Composition and Activity of the Intestinal Microflora.” British Poultry Science, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19373724.
- Naji, Saad A & Al-Zamili, I & Hasan, S.A.J. & Jawad, Hasan & Al-Gharawi, Jassim. (2016). The Effects of Fermented Feed on Broiler Production and Intestinal Morphology. Pertanika Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science. 39. 597-607. Link
- “Effects of Dietary Supplementation of Wet Fermented Feed with Probiotic on the Production Performance of Akar Putra Chicken.” Science Alert, scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=ajpsaj.2016.72.77.
- Yeh, et al. “Screening Lactic Acid Bacteria to Manufacture Two-Stage Fermented Feed and Pelleting to Investigate the Feeding Effect on Broilers.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 4 Nov. 2017, academic.oup.com/ps/article/97/1/236/4591658.
- Dewey, Erin. “How to Ferment Chicken Feed and Why It’s Beneficial.” Azure, 2016, www.azurestandard.com/healthy-living/how-to-ferment-feed-for-chickens/.
- Sharif, Muhammad, et al. “Use of Sprouted Grains in the Diets of Poultry and Ruminants.” Semantic Scholar, Oct. 2013, Link.