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Chickens,  Fermented Foods

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!


Four chickens are investigating around a raised stone island full of plants for pollinators. Trailing rosemary is creeping over the edge of the stone border and one of the chickens is standing on the edge of the island and rosemary. The setting sun is peaking through a tree in the background and there are various fruit trees along the perimeter of the yard. An apple, fig, and lemon tree being the most prominent.
Our happy healthy hens


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.


A close up image of a quart mason jar 3/4 full of fermented chicken food. The feed is still submerged in water by an inch or two and there are visible bubbles throughout the feed illustrating the fermentation that is occurring.
Our flock’s favorite whole grain organic layer feed by Scratch and Peck, fermenting and bubbling away!


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.


DeannaCat's hand is extended while it holds four fresh chicken eggs. One is light brown, one is light green, one is dark brown with even darker brown speckles, and the last one is light blue.


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.


DeannaCat is holding out a bowl of freshly fermented chicken feed. There are four chickens huddled around the bowl, one of them has their head inside the bowl for a closer inspection. There is trailing rosemary cascading over a raised stone border in the background.


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. 


We love having this reliable autodoor on our chicken coop, which lets the girls in and out of their protected run each morning and night.


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.


A four way image collage of the process of fermented chicken feed, the first image is watermarked with a "0" in the lower right corner indicating that it's the initial start of the process. There is a quart mason jar halfway full of whole grain chicken feed. The remainder of the jar is full of water, leaving the feed submerged. The second image is watermarked with a "1" in the lower right corner. The feed has expanded some, the remaining water is slightly darker in color and there is about two inches of water above the feed. The third image is marked with a "2" in the lower right corner indicating that it is the 2nd day of fermentation. The feed has expanded even more and the water is slightly more cloudy. There is about an inch of water covering the feed. The fourth image is watermarked with a "3" showing that it's the third day of fermentation. The feed has expanded even more, leaving only about a half an inch of water covering the feed. The feed looks to be more melded together compared to the previous images.
From start to finish, a 3-day ferment


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!


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4.89 from 18 votes

How to Make Fermented Chicken Feed

Fermenting chicken feed is an easy and inexpensive way to improve the nutritional value of your chickens food, leading to overall better health – and quality of eggs! It takes very little supplies and time to do. Come learn how!
Prep Time5 mins
Fermentation Time3 d
Course: Chicken Feed, Fermented Foods
Keyword: fermented chicken feed, fermented feed, fermenting chicken feed

Equipment

  • Large glass jar, mixing bowl, bucket, or other container (BPA-free preferred)

Ingredients

  • 1-2 servings chicken feed of choice (for the whole flock) including whole grain feed, pellets or crumbles

Instructions

  • 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.


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81 Comments

  • Stephanie

    5 stars
    I started soaking grains this summer for my hens and have just taken it a step further to fully ferment them. I have 13 hens that love to eat it, but only if it is drained and rinsed. They don’t like the slightly sliminess of the liquid that coats the grains if it’s just drained. Does it still retain it’s fermented benefits if I lightly rinse it?

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Stephanie, straining it off is fine but I wouldn’t rinse the feed as there is still beneficial bacteria and good things to be found in the liquid. Although, chances are the grains themselves should still have some of the fermented goodness within each grain, so if that works for you and your hens, that’s great.

  • Brad Bolton

    4 stars
    I’ve been doing something similar for almost 5 years now. I use a 1/2 gallon mason jar and various mixed grains. Rolled (horse) oats, generic scratch grains, mixed wild bird food, cracked corn and even some rye and buckwheat. To up the protein I add cracked sunflower hearts and nutrisaff. I’ve even started adding a small handful of alfalfa pellets. During molt I add some flax seed.

    I started my first batch just as you discribed… but saved a small amount of grains from bottom and liquids to jump start the next day’s batch. I top off with dechlorinated water. I’ve never had to restart.

    You can also add some fruits and veggie scraps to fermenter. Potatoes peels (or bruised portions) sweet potato peels, carrot tips, heart of cabbage…. they LOVE them. When it gets stinky… just add an apple core chopped up for a couple days… then smells like apple cider vinegar.

    One problem with wet feed is that it freezes. A nice little heated fog water bowl solved that problem.

    I mix up a 30 gallon trash can at a time so to keep weevils out I put a 1/2 cup of DE powder to coat grains. I mix in a bit of layer pellets to the ration every morning. My 5 girls get 2 1/2 cups of grains and 2 cup of pellets each day. I even start introducing this to my pullets at about 2 months slowly increasing the amount they get so they get used to it and benefit from its qualities.

    • mtek

      5 stars
      Thank you for your input! your information helps me on this new feed journey for our 1Roo & 12 fiesty girls. I had wondered about the need to feed Tommy something other than layer feed/scraps and sure enough, read last week that standard layer feeds lead to kidney problems in the boys. The girls are brats and he lets them get all the goodies I toss around. Thanks much

  • Kristie

    5 stars
    Thank you for your excellent article. I am wondering how you serve your chickens the fermented food so that they all have access to it at the same time. How do you know that they are all getting some and the boss hen isn’t crowding others out.
    We currently use a feeder with multiple openings so our hens eat when they want to, but I love the fermenting idea. Also, do you keep dry food available when feeding the fermented food?

    Thanks so much.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Kristie, we typically ferment their feed as something extra while still letting them have access to their dry feed as well. We only have 3 hens right now and the boss hen is 8 years old so she is becoming less “bossy”. You could always split the fermented feed up into a couple dishes to spread the hens out more while they are eating. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Carrie

    I periodically ferment feed for my chickens. My best girl just recovered from a case of sour crop. Do you think I should have her avoid fermented feed for a while?
    Thanks!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Carrie, I may avoid fermented feed for awhile just to play it safe while your hen recovers from her bout with sour crop. Good luck!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Violet, we usually strain off some of the brine from the top if there is separation but a lot of the times it all becomes a combined oatmeal like feed. With this, we typically just pour the whole serving out for them and it is usually all gone by the time they are done with it. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Katie

    5 stars
    I love all of your homestead content! Thank you for all that you do to help us all feel more confident in our pursuits! We just got baby chickens so naturally I was up until midnight reading your articles. Would you recommend fermenting grains for young chicks too? Ours have probiotics in their water which is a good start but it’s logical to me that these grains would be easier for them to digest and give them a healthy start. Thank you!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Katie, congratulations on getting some chicks and it’s good to hear you are reading all of the related chicken articles. Fermenting feed for baby chicks is just fine, I would offer it in addition to their dry feed which should be available at all times for them just in case they prefer the dry feed to start. Hope that helps and good luck!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Lisa, the chickens can most likely drink the fermented liquid left over but it should not be their sole option for water either. We find using the excess liquid to start up another batch of fermented feed is most useful as the feed itself can offer a lot of nutrition for your flock on its own.

    • Kay

      5 stars
      Can you add DE to fermented feed? If so, when do you add it? Also, my grains seem to mild very quickly when I’m trying to ferment, might there be a reason? I use filtered well water, oats, barley, sunflower seeds.

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        Hi Kay, we aren’t sure about DE but we would likely avoid feeding it to the chickens. We use it below their shavings in the coop but that is about it, it also turns into a clay like substance when wet. If your feed molds quickly, be sure that it is totally submerged in water as anything that is in contact with the air can mold. Also be sure to stir your ferment at least once a day during the ferment process, we typically let our ferments go about 3 days. Hope that helps and good luck!

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