Fermenting your chicken’s feed before serving it is surprisingly easy, and it has a lot of benefits. It adds probiotics to feeds without them or gives them a hearty boost in feeds that have probiotics included like any of New Country Organics’ Poultry Feeds. It also increases protein content and breaks down complex nutrients so that they’re easy to digest and absorb. It’s even a known method of breaking down phytase in feed, which is a natural chemical in plants that binds up essential nutrients like phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium. Without breaking phytase down, however, the nutrients that are bound to phytase pass through a chicken’s digestive tract without being absorbed. Generally, this is no big deal since feeds are formulated with this passage in mind, but it can be nice to give your flock an extra healthy boost of these nutrients and more. Fermented feeds can even sometimes help conditions such as sour crop. Ask your local poultry veterinarian for best feeding practices to see how fermented feed can help prevent and treat illnesses in your feathered friends.
You can ferment any chicken feed, whether it’s a pellet, mash, crumble, whole grains, or meant for starter chicks, growers, or layers. Whole grains ferment the best, because they’re the least soupy and as a result easier for the chickens to eat. However, whole grains do take longer to ferment, especially in a feed that doesn’t contain probiotics. Regardless, the same benefits of fermentation will apply to the feed no matter what kind you have on hand. You can even ferment scratch feed for an extra special treat. For this article, we fermented our Pastured Perfect Layer Feed and sent it home to our CEO’s flock. It fermented in just one night thanks to the probiotics we include in our feeds, and the chickens loved it!
Materials you’ll need:
- A clean glass or ceramic jar
- A clean loose-fitting lid, or a kitchen towel and rubber band.
- Some New Country Organics chicken feed,
- Water (dechlorinated works best)
Note: Tap water often works just fine for this, but if you find your water has a lot of chlorine it might harm the bacteria you’re trying to grow. In this case, you can use bottled water, leave tap water out for 24 hours, or boil tap water for 10 minutes to evaporate off the chlorine. We used regular tap water for our jar and it worked perfectly.
- Fill a jar with feed about half way.
- Add water so that the feed is fully submerged by about three inches.
- Place a lid loosely on top – tight enough that it doesn’t immediately come off, but loose enough that there’s air flow so extra gasses can escape. You can also secure a towel on top with a rubber band to achieve the same purpose.
- Let the jar settle for about a half hour.
- After waiting, you might find you need to add more water since the dry ingredients have absorbed most of it. If so, just add some more water and place the lid back on the same way as before.
- The most important part of fermenting is to make sure there’s water covering all the ingredients – otherwise the feed might mold instead of fermenting.
- Once the feed seems like it’s settled down on its expansion, place it somewhere room temperature and dark with a hand towel underneath it. A countertop is usually fine, but a cabinet may be better. We put ours in a desk drawer overnight.
- You’ll want the hand-towel underneath in case the feed becomes extra active and spills water down the sides. Be careful not to put it near things that can’t get wet!
- Stir the feed the following day. If you see bubbles coming up or the feed sounds fizzy when stirring, it’s ready!
- If not:
- Add more water if needed.
- Put the jar back, still lidded in the same way.
- Repeat stirring and lidding once a day until the feed develops bubbles. This shouldn’t take more than five days, even in unfavorable conditions.
- After serving, pick up any uneaten feed after a couple hours – Since the feed is wet, it can go bad fairly quickly once exposed to air.
- When starting the feed, try to use water that’s just a little bit warm. Just like yeast for bread dough, the yeast and bacteria that ferment a feed like a little bit of warmth.
- The feed should smell kind of like sourdough: yeasty and a bit sweet. If it smells bad, like mold or rancid food, something has gone wrong in the fermenting process and you should throw out that batch.
- Muddy or cloudy looking water at first is usually vitamin and mineral mix in the feed getting incorporated into the water. Once it settles, fermentation can also make the water seem cloudy or milky, but you shouldn’t see any unusual colors like pink or blue. In general, the water shouldn’t change color very much, it should just change transparency. If you suspect something’s gone wrong, your nose is usually the best judge, but it’s good to err on the side of caution.
- You can refrigerate the feed for up to 24 hours once it’s done. Waiting longer than this risks the fermentation process going too far and becoming too alcoholic, or the feed growing mold.
- It’s pretty easy to overfill the jar – our feeds can expand quite a bit depending on which you use, and active fermentation makes it expand even more as food is converted into gas. This may cause water to run down the sides during active fermentation, but don’t worry, you can just scoop some feed out with a fork and pour in some more water if needed.
- You can jump-start the next batch of fermented feed by using the drained water from the prior batch. This usually speeds up the process by a full day.
- Temperature plays a big role in fermentation. If it’s chilly in your house, it may take a little bit longer to finish fermenting the feed, and if it’s warm it might ferment a little faster.
- Chickens, just like people, can be picky eaters. If you find they still aren’t trying the feed after a few minutes, consider encouraging them to try some by adding a known favorite, like our Chicken Dance Grubs.
While fermenting your first batch of feed might have seemed intimidating before, we hope this guide has made the process simple and easy for you and your flock. The benefits are numerous, and the best part is seeing the flock get excited to eat every batch you make. Fermentation can benefit us humans, too – Yogurt, chocolate, and vinegar among many other things all involve fermentation processes in their creation. So, next time you crack open a jar of sauerkraut or whip up a batch of feed for your flock, thank our little buddies, the microbes, for making it so delicious.