It’s going on 3 years now, that I’ve been fermenting chicken feed in winter. Each morning I take a bucket of “porridge” to the coop for the Runamuk laying flock. The ladies absolutely love the sloppy feed, and I like knowing that they’re getting the best diet I can give them─producing superior eggs for my customers.
Why Bother With Fermenting Chicken Feed in Winter?
Fermented foods provide our bodies with additional probiotics─good bacteria that aids in digestion, strengthens our immune systems, and supplies us with vitamins we otherwise might not get in our diets.
Chickens receive the same benefits from fermented feed: increased immunity to illness, improved health through a more efficent and effective digestive system, and there are some who claim that fermented feed can also result in an increased egg-weight and improved shell-resistance. And there’s most definitely a reduction in the feed bill.
Seeds and grains have developed inhibitors that protect the seed’s vital proteins, minerals and fats in an effort to make it to germination. Those mechanisms can actually block our body’s ability to absorb the nutrition we’ve given ourselves. Soaking the seeds and grains softens their hard exterior, and makes their nutrients more readily available; it enables the body to process them much more easily─more effectively. With fermented chicken feed you’ll actually be feeding your birds less─partly because the seeds and grains swell up significantly during the soaking and fermentation process, but also because their bodies are able to make the most of the food you’re giving them.
How Do I Do It?
I don’t have a particular recipe, but I’ve found that filling a 5gal bucket half full with grain (if you don’t have 65 birds to feed, I’m sure you could use a smaller bucket), and then adding warm water til the grain is just-covered, seems to work well. It’s important to keep the bucket in a warmish location for the fermentation to happen. Also, you may need to add more water (the grains will absorb a LOT of water!) or more grain to get the right consistency. It should look like slightly soupy porridge. Stir it at least once a day.
The mix will smell sweet and slightly sour when the fermentation process kicks in─like beer or a sour-dough starter. Once you get the bucket going, you can take some “porridge” out every morning. Then, just add more grain and water as needed to keep your fermentation bucket going continuously.
What Goes Into the Bucket?
I’m using whole grains in my fermentation bucket. I buy “bi-product” grains from Maine Grains in Skowhegan: $8.50/40lbs. They use only certified organic grains sourced from Maine farmers in their milling, so the bi-product is organic, but not certified. What I get depends on what they’ve been processing recently; sometimes I get oats or wheat berries, sometimes they have spelt available─other times it’s a mixture.
Note: If you have a grist-mill within an hour’s drive, find out what they do with their milling waste; it’s worth it to make the trek once a month to stock up on grains for your livestock.
You can do the same thing however, with any whole grain: corn, wheat, etc. so even if you go to Tractor Supply and buy a bag of cracked corn, you’ll be able to provide your flock with beneficial probiotics.
Q: Can I do it with commercial pellets?
You could ferment the commercial pellets, but I feel like there’s way more nutritional benefit with the whole grains. Also, I wouldn’t necessarily advise you to completely do away with your commercial feed in favor of the fermented feed. The commercial feeds are designed to include all of the vitamins and minerals that a chicken needs; without it, you’ll end up having to buy supplemental minerals to offer your flock in order to ensure their health. I’ve priced those through Fedco and they were too expensive for my budget, so I’ve opted to feed my flock the fermented grains, in addition to a certified-organic pellet or crumble.
Happy, Healthy Hens
Some folks feed their flocks fermented grains all year long and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally I only do it in the winter months, when the Runamuk layers can’t be on pasture and are restricted to the coop. That’s the time of year when this farmer sees the highest feed bills; it’s also the time of year when pathogens are most prevalent, so it makes sense to feed this food that is super-charged with vitamins and nutrients. By fermenting chicken feed in winter I can keep happy, healthy hens through the season til springtime, when the grasses and insects are once again available to supplement their diets.
It’s very satisfying to this farmer to maintain top-notch birds, and to be able to provide them with a really great quality of life, and that’s something that is hugely important to me when it comes to my livestock. But you don’t have to take my word for it! Try fermenting your own chicken feed this winter and see for yourself!
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