How to Ferment Chicken Feed for Better Hen Health & Eggs
It’s no secret that our chickens are darn spoiled. As beloved pets that also happen to provide us fresh organic eggs to eat, giving them top-notch nutrition and care is high on our priority list! One of the many special things we do for them is ferment their chicken feed. If you know us, that shouldn’t come as a surprise either! Here at Homestead and Chill, we sing loud praises to fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough… you name it! Just like human food, fermented chicken feed packs a long list of health benefits.
Read along to learn how to ferment chicken feed, and why it is so stellar for your bird’s well-being. It is easy to do, only takes a couple minutes to make, a few days to soak, and can actually help save you money on feed! Not to mention, they love the stuff! I have yet to meet a chicken that doesn’t prefer fermented chicken feed to plain old dry grains. Plus, you’ll reap the rewards in more nutrient-dense eggs.
But first, how about a quick primer on fermentation…
What is lacto-fermentation?
Lacto-fermentation occurs when beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus) that is naturally found in the environment (like in soil, on vegetables, or your chicken feed grains) interacts with food in the right controlled environment. To ferment chicken feed, that controlled environment is as simple as a mason jar, bucket, or large glass bowl with water. The lactobacillus converts starch and sugar in the food into lactic acid bacteria (LAB). This encourages the formation of natural probiotics, lowers pH, and prevents growth of harmful bacteria in the feed. Healthy yeasts are also present in “wet mash” grain mixtures such as a fermented chicken feed.
Why ferment chicken feed?
There are a number of reasons to feed your flock fermented chicken feed, either regularly or at least on occasion. In a nutshell (uh… I mean eggshell) it can help improve their digestion, absorption of nutrients, and overall health by adding probiotics to their diet. Even more, it is a very efficient way to feed your flock! Fermenting chicken feed can reduce the amount of grains needed to keep your flock full – cutting costs for you. Last but not least, it can even lead to better egg quality!
HEALTH BENEFITS OF FERMENTED CHICKEN FEED
1) Increased Digestion and Nutrient Absorption
The process of soaking chicken feed grains makes them easier to digest. In the most obvious way, the softened feed is more gentle on the stomach – or in a chicken’s case, their crop and gizzard. Yet there’s more to it than that! All grains, seeds, nuts, beans and other legumes contain something called phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors. Phytic acid can impair the absorption of certain nutrients and minerals, and is therefore often referred to as an “anti-nutrient”.
However, the process of soaking, sprouting, and/or fermenting grains and legumes vastly reduces the phytic acid content – thus makes it easier for chickens to utilize all the good nutrients they’re consuming! That is one reason we love to sprout seeds and grains for our chickens too, including alfalfa, barley, corn, sunflower seeds and more. Last but not least, fermentation has also been shown to enhance the content of certain vitamins in foods, such as Vitamin B.
2) Added Probiotics and Immune Health
As lactic acid bacteria work to ferment chicken feed, beneficial bacteria populations bloom! The resulting probiotics are stellar for digestion, immunity, and improved gut health. As explored in our “Health Benefits of Fermented Foods Explained” article, gut health is directly related to total body health.
Studies show 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. Even more, this study found that the levels of lactic acid bacteria in fermented chicken feeds lowers the pH of chickens intestines enough to ward off acid-sensitive bacteria like E.Coli and Salmonella. Meaning, chickens consuming fermented feed are less likely to develop infections and other diseases, and live longer, less complicated lives. For you, that means less stress, vet bills, and also healthier eggs!
3) Better Quality Eggs
According to a study published in the Journal of British Poultry science, chickens that were fed fermented chicken feed showed increased egg weight, shell thickness, and shell stiffness over chickens on dry food. When chickens have nice firm eggshells, they’re far less likely to have issues with laying soft-shell eggs or becoming egg-bound; both of which can be life-threatening!
Also, keep in mind that what goes into your hens also goes into their eggs. If they receive superior nourishment (including eating fermented feed), the eggs laid for you will be supremely nutritious in return. That is why pasture-raised and backyard chicken egg yolks are so deeply golden compared to their factory farm counterparts.
4) More Bang For Your Buck
Okay, this isn’t exactly a ‘health benefit’ per se… but valuable nonetheless! As chicken feed grain soaks in water to ferment, it also expands in volume – so your birds will get full faster. They aren’t being cheated out of anything in the process though, like filling up on junk food. On the other hand, they’re getting more nutrients than ever! That said, fermenting chicken feed is an inexpensive way to improve the nutritional value of basic dry feed while also consuming less of it.
When and How Much to Feed Chickens Fermented Food
How often you decide to feed your flock fermented chicken feed is totally up to you! There is no “overdoing it” – the more often, the merrier! I know some chicken keepers who give their chickens fermented feed exclusively, while others do it only as a periodic treat. While it is very easy to do, fermenting feed admittedly takes a couple extra steps than simply leaving out a large feeder of dry grain for the week.
Depending on our schedules, we try to make a batch at least once or twice per week. For us, one “batch” is two days worth of fermented feed – so that means our girls receive it about four days per week. Other times we fall off the wagon and do it less. However, when our chickens are molting, stressed, or seem a little under the weather, we keep the fermented feed in ample supply! They need all the extra nutritional support they can get during those times.
Offer about the same amount of fermented chicken feed as you would their normal food. Check the serving recommendation on your feed. For example, our favorite Scratch and Peck organic layer feed suggests ¼ cup of feed per bird. That means putting out about a cup for our flock of four per day (measured prior to fermentation). Again, because fermented chicken feed may keep them more satiated and also expands slightly in volume after soaking, they may eat slightly less than usual. See what your flock will consume and adjust as needed.
HOW TO MAKE FERMENTED CHICKEN FEED
Step 1: Mix Feed & Water
Find a suitable container to ferment the feed in. Great examples include a large glass jar, bowl, or bucket. Because fermentation makes the feed slightly acidic, it is best to choose glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic. It should be large enough to hold a day or two worth of feed for your flock, plus extra room for water, stirring, and expansion.
First, add enough chicken feed to the container for one or two daily servings for your flock. We usually ferment about two cups of feed, enough for two days.
Next, pour dechlorinated or filtered water over the top of the feed. Add enough so that the feed is fully submerged and has a couple inches of room to expand. Chlorinated water may inhibit healthy fermentation. If needed, simply leave a glass of city tap water out at room temperature overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate.
Q: What type of chicken feed can I ferment?
A: You can ferment crumble, pellets, or whole grain chicken feed – including chick starter! We’ve found that whole grain feed holds up the best, as the others expand more and get a bit mushy. We use our long-time favorite organic layer feed from Scratch and Peck. You can even ferment scratch as a treat, though it shouldn’t replace their layer feed.
Step 2: Let It Ferment
Cover the top of the container with a loose-fitting lid, plate, or other makeshift lid. It doesn’t need to be air tight! The idea is to prevent drifting mold spores from floating in, but also allow the fermentation gasses to escape.
Set the container in a location with moderate temperatures for three to four days to ferment. We leave ours on the counter. Check and stir it each day. Add additional water if the feed has absorbed it all.
By day or two or three, you should see small bubbles on the surface and/or within the feed mixture. That is a sign that lactobacillus is hard at work! It should smell slightly tangy, sour, and sweet – similar to yogurt or yeast. Ours smells a tad fishy too, only because the feed has kelp meal in it. The liquid will also get increasingly cloudy. If the fermented chicken feed develops mold or putrid odors, do not feed it to them!
While fermented chicken feed will be effectively preserved (due to the low pH) and safe to consume beyond day three or four, it gets more sour the longer it sits. Therefore, it can become less palatable for your spoiled chicken’s taste buds. We took a survey among our backyard residents and found that our flock prefers their feed fermented for three days.
Step 3: Drain and Feed
Chow time! If the fermented chicken feed hasn’t absorbed all of the water, you can either drain it off into the bushes, or reserve the liquid to jump start a new batch! The lactic acid bacteria in the “brine” will be happy to feed on more fresh grains, and can actually put the next batch about a day ahead of schedule.
Speaking of schedules, you’ll need to figure out your own little fermented feed groove. Since it takes a few days to ferment, some folks start staggered batches every day or two (date the containers) in order to have fermented feed available at all times. Or, you could start one batch after another and not provide fermented feed every day.
Note that the feed will spoil faster when it is no longer submerged in its liquid “bath”. Therefore, if you ferment a hefty amount to feed a larger flock over the course of two days, simply scoop out half on day three and then drain/use the rest on day four. If they gobble it up on both days, that is great! Because we make a two-day supply at a time BUT our girls don’t eat it as readily after more than three days of fermenting, we refrigerate the unfed portion to halt fermentation until using the rest the following day.
Simple, effective, and worthwhile!
In short, making fermented chicken feed is an easy and inexpensive way to give your girls a boost! It can lead to healthier chickens, better quality eggs, and potentially lower feed costs. What’s not to love about all that? I hope you found this article helpful and interesting. If so, please spread the love by sharing this post! Above all, I hope your chickens enjoy their new feed!
You may enjoy these related articles:
- Sprouted Seeds: A Health Treat for Backyard Chickens
- 10 Ways to Keep Chickens Cool During Hot Summer Weather or Heat Waves
- Tips on Caring for Chickens During Cold Winter Weather
- Feeding Chickens Eggshells or Oyster Shells for Essential Calcium
- Best Practices for Storing & Washing Fresh Backyard Chicken Eggs
- When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs? 5 Telltale Signs It’s Soon!
- Top 18 Chicken Breeds for Your Backyard Flock
How to Make Fermented Chicken Feed
- Large glass jar, mixing bowl, bucket, or other container (BPA-free preferred)
- 1-2 servings chicken feed of choice (for the whole flock) including whole grain feed, pellets or crumbles
- Check the serving recommendations for your chicken feed (e.g. 1/4 cup per chicken per day). Then, choose a large enough container to fit one or two daily servings of feed for your flock, plus some extra room for water, expansion, and stirring.
- Add enough chicken feed to the container for one or two days servings for your flock. We usually ferment two cups of feed, enough for two days.
- Pour dechlorinated or filtered water over the top of the feed. Add enough so that the feed is fully submerged and has a couple inches of room to expand. (If needed, simply leave a glass of city tap water out at room temperature overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate.)
- Cover the top of the container with a loose-fitting lid, plate, or other makeshift lid. It doesn’t need to be air tight.
- Set the container in a location with moderate temperatures for three to four days to ferment (such as out on the counter, in the garage, etc).
- Check and stir it each day. Add additional water if the feed has absorbed it all.
- After 3 to 4 days (our chickens prefer day 3) give them the fermented feed. If it hasn’t absorbed all of the water, you can either drain it off and discard, or reserve the liquid to jump start a new batch of fermented feed.
- Repeat as desired, and develop a schedule. Since it takes a few days to ferment, some folks start staggered batches every day (put a date on the container!) in order to have a finished batch of fermented feed available at all times. Because we make a two-day supply at a time, we refrigerate the unfed portion to feed them the next day and also start a new batch.
I have tried this twice, once as chicks and once as nearly grown hens. The chicks would have nothing to do with the fermented feed. The hens however were suspicious but eventually ate it all pretty quickly. Will absolutely do this again, but I’ll have to figure out how to do a larger batch at once.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Kit, I don’t know how big of a batch of feed you need to make but you could likely make a batch in a 2 or 5 gallon bucket and use a large stick to stir it a couple times a day.