This week I began to experiment with fermented feed. You can read a thread about it on Backyard Chickens Forum here. Basically, there was a study done (abstract here) which demonstrated that feeding fermented feed to laying hens resulted in better eggs using less feed. Because the fermented feed (FF) was basically full of probiotics, the chickens eating the FF developed more villi in their intestines and were better able to make use of the nutrients in their food, thus requiring less of it. The FF developed a high level of lactic acid and acetic acid (and related bacterias) which in turn made the intestinal tract more acidic and less hospitable to pathogens and disease.
The study noted detriments to feather condition and increased aggressiveness. However, these detriments were not evidenced in the anecdotal records provided on the (very long!) fermented feed thread listed above. In fact, some of the poultry fanciers noted birds regrowing feathers that had been worn down. Additionally, the higher level of microbiotics in the chickens’ intestinal tracts led to better poops (especially in Cornish X meat birds given to unhealthy digestion) and the absence of smell in the chicken coop.
While the study noted that 17-week old birds were skittish about eating the FF, I have noted no such hesitancy. My 5+ week old GNHs, 9 week old EOs, and adults all swarmed the FF, ate in a happy frenzy, and picked their plate clean. Because the feed is wet, they drink less water, but I think it’s a good way to encourage hydration in hot weather.
I began the ferment on Sunday night by putting three plastic cups of starter, three cups of scratch, and a cup of UltraKibble into the bottom of an old, clean trash can. I selected this can in part because it had a pop-open lid which would exclude bugs and debris while allowing air flow. Others have covered the top of regular buckets with the top-most part of panty-hose. I dumped a few glugs of ACV (apple cider vinegar with the “mother” containing acetic acid bacteria) and the bottom of a bag of dry yeast for bread making (only about a 1/4 tsp.) into the mix and filled the container with dechlorinated water (I have a filter on my shower) until the water line was just above the feed.
It needs to be stirred a few times a day to remain aerobic (containing oxygen) and healthy. So far, I’ve been scooping out clumps with a small strainer to feed the chickens, dumping some fresh feed into the remaining mix (scratch, grower, whatever I’m using), and giving it a good stir. Now that I’ve decided that I really like it and want to continue using it with all ages of chicks, I want to refine my procedures. I want a bucket for young chicks made with just fermented starter or grower (you can ferment medicated feed if that is what you use; the fermentation will not interfere with its function) and a bucket of layer feed, perhaps supplemented with eggshells, for my layers. I also think I want to move towards a system where all of the feed is drained and removed each time and the only part that carries on from day to day is the liquid. (This is the system first explained on the thread on BYC linked above). Additionally, I want to find good containers for serving this feed. On the thread, a trough-style feeder is often recommended.
You can ferment any kind of feed or scratch. Many are using a half feed and half scratch ratio. Try to use unchlorinated water if you can, and get your start from ACV or bread yeast (a sourdough starter would be fine). You can also simply allow the native yeasts and bacterias in your air to populate the feed naturally, although as in sourdough starter, there is always the chance that you will catch something nasty and have to start over. You can also add greens, dried alfalfa, kelp meal, beet meal, or any other chicken food to your mix. (In Korean Natural Farming where chickens are fully contained, they ferment all of their feed and aim for a 30% greens; 30% fruits, leftovers, and IMO; 30% storebought feed, and 10% chicken droppings. I’ll write more about KNF this summer, but there is a great video here.)
I have been giving them fermented feed once or twice a day and have been continuing to provide dry feed as well in their regular feeder. The EOs have been on this feed since Monday and they are looking fantastic, although I don’t know how much has to do with maturation and how much is the effect of this feed. I have not noticed any decrease in plumage quality or increase in aggressiveness and will certainly note it here if I do. I enjoy continuing to find better ways to manage my chickens, and I know there is soooo much left to learn!
Fermented Feed Posts:
#1: Fermented Feed
To learn more about fermented feed and chicken keeping in general, check out the Feed Sources and Storage page on “Chicken Diapers and 101 Other Things Chickens Don’t Need.”