HEALTH BENEFITS OF FERMENTED CHICKEN FEED
It’s no secret that we enjoy our chickens not only because we love to watch them but also because they provide us with fresh organic eggs to eat, So, giving them top-notch nutrition and care is high on our priority list! One of the many special things we can do for them is ferment their chicken feed. I have come to love fermented foods.
Sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough… you name it! Just like human food, fermented chicken feed packs a long list of health benefits.
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. 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 to sprout seeds and grains for chickens too, including 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.
Whole grain organic layer feed, 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 great for digestion, immunity, and improved gut health and 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 they lay for you will be supremely nutritious in return.
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.
Add enough chicken feed to the container for one or two daily servings for your flock. You can ferment crumble, pellets, or whole grain chicken feed (though grain feed holds up the best; the others expand more and get a bit mushy). You can even ferment scratch as a treat, though it shouldn’t replace their layer feed.
Now, 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.
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. 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. It could smell a tad fishy too if the feed has kelp meal in it. The liquid will also get increasingly cloudy. If it develops mold or putrid odors, do not feed it to them! Start over. Leave the fermenting feed in a cooler place and possibly ferment for less time.
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. Backyard flocks seem to prefer their feed fermented for three days. But, even one day of fermenting shows health benefits.
Step 3: Drain and Feed
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.
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.
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?