Lately I have been researching the benefits of fermented chicken feed- there is so much to know! Get the basics answered with The Hows & Whys of Fermented Chicken Feed
What is fermented food and why should you add it to your chicken’s (or your) diet?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of food by natural bacteria, yeast, or microorganisms. They feed on the sugars and starch in the food. Some foods that are typically fermented include beer, pickles, bread, cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut and so many more.
Fermenting helps preserve food and adds beneficial enzymes, vitamins B, C, and K, folic acid, and various strains of probiotics. Because fermented foods have already been partially broken down, they are easily digestible & helpful for absorbing nutrients. Fermented foods & drinks add beneficial bacteria to your digestive system. This helps aid in nutrient absorption, not just in the fermented food you are eating, but all the food you eat as the good bacteria lingers in your gut.
All those vitamins & nutrients can help keep us (and our chickens) healthier and ward off diseases. It can boost intestinal health by forming a barrier to pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella.
Best of all fermenting chicken feed is super inexpensive and can help stretch your feed budget. There will be less wasted feed. With dry feed, chickens tend to scratch it around and make a big mess. With a fermented mash, they will gobble up every bit! With enhanced digestion, your hens will stay fuller longer, meaning they will eat less, again saving you money. In your laying hens you will notice a larger, tastier yolk, stronger shells & an all-around healthier flock. Sold yet? Let me give you one final reason – it is ridiculously easy!
How do you ferment chicken food?
Fermenting chicken feed requires just a few things – a large jar with a lid, filtered water, chicken feed (you can use crumbles, pellets, or even scratch), and time.
Choosing the right container
First, you have to decide how much feed you are going to want to have fermenting so you can choose the appropriate size container. If you want this to be their only source of feed, you will want to plan on about 1/2 cup per chicken per day.
Good container choices are large Mason jars or a big 5-gallon bucket if you have a large flock, but you could use any plastic or glass jar with a lid. Avoid using a metal container as the high acid of the fermented feed can interact with the metal and contaminate your feed.
I only feed them fermented feed as an occasional treat so I just use a large mason jar. Do what you can with the space you have. If you have a nice warm (at least room temperature) spot where you can keep several jars or buckets you can get a great fermentation rotation going where you have lots of jars in various states of fermentation so your flock can exclusively eat fermented feed.
Add your feed to a clean jar, only fill it about one-third to one-half full to allow room for the feed to expand. I often make the mistake of filling the jar too much. Don’t panic if it starts to overexpand. Just scoop some out and feed it to the flock early.
Add water so that it covers all the feed plus a couple of inches. You will find on the first day you will have to add water throughout the day (and possibly scoop out some feed if it expands too much). As the feed soaks up the water, the water line will get lower and it is important that all the feed stays submerged so bad bacteria and mold will not grow. It’s best to not use tap water as most towns add chlorine to prevent bacteria growth (both good & bad). You don’t want to use something that will kill the good bacteria.
Add the lid and let it sit
Put the lid on and let it sit in a room temperature place for 3-4 days. Once or twice a day open the jar up to off-gas it and give it a stir. Add water if needed to be sure the feed stays submerged. You can feed your flock the fermented feed at any point, but the beneficial nutrients will peak around day 3 or 4.
How do I know if the fermented feed has gone bad?
Properly fermented feed will be bubbly and smell tangy and slightly sour (similar to yogurt). It should NOT smell rotten. Fermented feed that smells rotten has bad bacteria or possibly mold growing in it. If you made sure to keep the feed totally submerged and have not had it soaking for more than 4-5 days it is pretty unlikely your feed will have gone bad.
Feeding your flock
Scoop out the fermented feed and put it in a shallow dish for the chickens and watch them go crazy! In the winter, pop the fermented mash into the microwave for a warm treat (be sure to thoroughly stir and test the temperature before feeding.)