Fermented chicken feed is probiotics for your chicken. It’s a wet mash created by lactic acid fermentation (the same type of fermentation as naturally occurs in sauerkraut).
Just like kraut, it contains all the bacteria that’s good for your gut: Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, and other beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
The first day of soaking your grains greatly improves their digestibility by reducing the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors found in all grains, seeds and legumes.
By the second day, lactic acid bacteria begins the process of fermentation by consuming the sugars in the grains and multiplying in great numbers, producing lactic acid. The lactic acid, in turn, makes the environment unsuitable for bad bacteria, leaving behind only beneficial microbes.
As long as the grains stay submerged in their lactic acid “bath,” they will be preserved indefinitely.
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. They will also be far less likely to be mortally hurt by diseases and pests carried by the local wild birds.
Because your chickens are getting more accessible nutrients from their feed, after a few weeks, they’ll start to eat less of it.
They’ll also start to lay bigger eggs with thicker shells and larger yolks.
How often you decide to feed your flock fermented chicken feed is totally up to you. Some chicken owners 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.
How to ferment chicken feed
You can ferment any feed you currently give your chickens, whether it’s crumbles, pellets, scratch, or whole grains and seeds. The higher quality your feed, the more your chickens will gain from lacto-fermentation.
- 1 glass, ceramic or plastic bowl (size depends on the amount of chickens you have but around 8 litres for a backyard flock of four-six). A plastic bucket is a good choice. Do not use metal as the high acid content of the fermented feed can sometimes interact with the metals and cause contamination of the feed.
- Put 2-3 days worth of feed in your bowl
- Cover the feed with water. Filtered, unchlorinated works best. You should have around 2cm of water above the level of the feed.
- Check on the feed in a few hours. It may have absorbed all of your extra water already. Add more water so that the feed is again covered by 2cm.
- Cover your container with a dish cloth or something else that allows air to pass through. You don’t want a tight fitting lid – that might explode off.
- Stir the mixture up a couple of times a day. This helps to incorporate oxygen and speeds up the fermentation process.
- You can start feeding it to your chickens right away, but it won’t become truly fermented until you start to see bubbles – usually 3 – 4 days.
- Add more water and feed every few times you take some out to maintain your ferment. As long as the grains are covered in water. Doing this you can keep the fermented feed going forever.
Properly fermented feed actually smells pretty good — fruity and tart, like yogurt. That sour smell indicates the presence of lactic acid.
If your fermented feed has an unpleasant odour, or smells strongly of alcohol or yeast gone wrong, your batch has likely gone bad. A rotten smell means you should discard the grains and start over again.
An alcoholic smell means you can try to save your batch: Add a tablespoon of unpasteurised apple cider vinegar (for every 4 litres of fermented feed) and let the acetic acid in the vinegar digest the alcohol and yeasts, thereby bringing everything back in balance.
Chickens eat about 1/4 cup of food per day per chicken.
The warmer the environment, the more quickly the feed will ferment.
This can be fed to chicks and is in fact very good for them.