Chickens / Fermented Feed / Management

Fermented Feed

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

#2: Fermented Feed v2

#3: Science of Fermented Feed

#4: Microorganisms at Work

#5: 10 Foods to Ferment for Chickens

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.”

Shared with:

The Chicken Chick Down Home Blog Hop

50 thoughts on “Fermented Feed

  1. I had been reading that same thread on BYC and just today started my first batch. I put scratch and a glug of apple cider vinegar in my sprouting buckets, how long did you find it needs to “brew” before feeding?

    • I fed my first batch after about 20 hours of “brewing.” 🙂 Beekissed on BYC drains a bucket of FF – leaving only the liquid behind – feeds the chickens, and mixes new feed into the remaining liquid to stew for the next day, so hers is only about 24 hours. I’ve noticed that the smell begins as light and almost sweet after the first day and then becomes increasingly sour as the days go by. I think I liked the smell around the 2nd or 3rd day best, so I might try to make batches I can use in that amount of time and retain only the liquid so that I don’t need to remake the active cultures. I think you could do the same – go ahead and use some tomorrow, leave some to keep brewing, and then decide after a few days where you and your chickens seemed to like it best. Kassaundra on BYC lets hers brew year-round and just stirs fresh into the old to keep it going like an old sourdough start. I don’t think there is any wrong way to do it. 🙂

      • Is the goal with fermenting the feed to create a more acidic enviroment to allow probiotic cultures like those in yogurt to thrive? Or to convert carbs or sugars in the feed to things more readily useful to the chickens digestive tract? Or possibly both?

      • Your great question prompted me to go on my university database and see what full-texts I could dig up before my subscription runs out! In addition to the article for the abstract I linked to, I also found a 2009 paper by Niba et al. (“Bacterial fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract of non-ruminants: Influence of fermented feeds and fermentable carbohydrates.”) with this great summary of the current research consensus.

        “The consensus is that fermented feeds:
        – Improve intestinal microbial and physiological balance
        – Improve nutrient utilisation
        – Stimulate the gut immune system
        – Lower gut pH thereby improving the barrier function of the gut to pathogens”

        It seems that the emphasis is on the probiotic-like function of the fermented feed. The second article (quoted here) suggests that the industry should call the use of fermented feeds “fermbiotics.” However, the sugar is decreased (by 77%) and must be converted to something. It is possible that it is simply consumed by the microflora and contributes to the small increase in protein (3%) in fermented feeds. None of the articles directly say what happens to those sugars.

        Interesting question!

    • I read the same thread and started fermenting but simply allowing the natural bacteria from our air.

      My chickens have stopped laying and I had been getting nearly 24 a day from my 30 chickens. It is November 9 so I would expect some decline but not 1 a day. I started giving them the mash just under a month ago. Their laying had declined to a dozen and half.

      Their feathers are shedding like crazy. I feel like I’ve damaged them to the point of no return. Some of the chickens – maybe 8 of them – look full and healthy but the smaller ones are looking shabby with feather stubs and no feathers.

      My experience is so different than all the articles. I have smelled the mash and it smells edible, good, and has that fermented smell.

  2. This is awesome, Heather! I’ve been following this, too. I’ll be picking your brains on this topic…

    • 😀 I’ll be reading up! There’s even more positive information about fermented feeds used for pigs, btw. It seems like the industry is trying to extend the application from swine to poultry.

      • When I was young there was a farmer in Illinois that ran a still, he fed the left over mash to his hogs which did rather well eating the mash, the weight gain was better than just giving the hogs normal feed. His still was buried under the hog lot with the mash piped direct into the fed trough. The pig sty covered up the smell from the still and gave him a good way to get rid of the mash little did he know he was ahead in giving FF to his hogs.

      • That’s a brilliant scheme! I am sure the mash did the hogs a lot of good. It probably grows the villi in their intestines, provides probiotics, and frees up nutrients just like it does for chickens. Any idea what he was fermenting? Corn, potatoes, grain?

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  5. I don’t have chickens, but I would love to get some, just for the eggs really. Even when I buy eggs from the farmer’s market, they still are fed organic feed containing soy for the protein. I think once i find a nutritious feed that doesn’t contain soy and isn’t very expensive then I would be one step closer.

    • I use soy-free organic feed (from Countryside Organics,, although I am close enough to drive there). But it is expensive, especially with the increase in grain prices recently resulting from the droughts this past summer. It’s usually about one-and-a-half times as much as non-organic feed. I do think it’s worth it: My eggs probably have more than 150% of the nutrition in nonorganic eggs, and ranging helps, too. Additionally, the more I can free range, the further the feed goes.

      If you just want some eggs for yourself, get three or four hens and a coop at least 4’x4′. Make sure they have a least 40 square feet in which to move around outside, preferably more. The big commitment is getting up in the morning and being home in the evening to open and close the coop door to let them out and protect them from nocturnal predators. It really helps if you have a neighbor who is willing to help out or if you can splurge and spend about $200 for an automatic chicken door. Otherwise, like me, you just have to get up or get home on time.

      I love watching them and having them range in the yard. It really touches some deep cord and feels right. Definitely continue to look into it if you are interested. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Thanks for all the information! I will definitely check out the link for feed if I do ever get them— and come back for more info!

        I spoke to a local farmer, who really seems to be doing everything right, and he said the difference between organic feed with soy and without is the difference between $800 and $1500 per ton. When you’re talking ton-age, I guess it’s hard to pay twice as much. His chickens are pastured, so my hope is that it’s minimal.

        If I did get my own chickens then I would worry about foxes during the day, especially since I have cats. My husband worries about the smell, they would be kept close to the house and the shed that we would convert is right by all of my daughter’s backyard toys. Maybe next spring…

  6. What a fascinating concept, I had never read about fermented feed before. Thank you for your thorough treatment of the subject with links!

    • I am so glad to hear it! You should definitely give fermenting a try, even if it is just some of their scratch or treats. They love it, and it’s so good for them – a probiotic for chickens! Thank you so much for hosting the blog hop. I really enjoy taking a look at everyone’s posts.

  7. ok,,,newbie alert. I’m really sorry to have to ask this….but what is “scratch” and what is “starter”? In your recipe for the fermented feed you said 3 cups of each then the ACV and water. Í’m taking a guess at what UltraKibble is…layer pellets type stuff?? Likely called different things in Australia.

    • No problem. 😀 Scratch is a mixture of whole grains fed as a treat. Mine contains corn, wheat, and oats. Grower/broiler are for growing birds who are not laying, so it contains no calcium. It also has a higher percentage of protein; mine has 19%. Starter is a finely ground “grower” or “broiler” feed. When the grower/broiler is ground more finely, it is easier for little birds like chicks to eat, so we “start” them on starter. When chickens come to laying age, they are usually fed a mixture with added calcium and about 16-17% protein, called “layer.” UltraKibble is a name-brand for a feed supplement. Here is a link.

      I do want to note that I was just explaining what I was mixing up. It’s not really a recipe for you to follow, just an explanation of what I was doing. You can ferment your regular feed just using the water and ACV. If you have other stuff around that you like to feed your chickens, you can throw that in, too, and it will be fine.

      Thanks, Sandra! I’d be very curious to learn what different mixes of chicken feed are called in Australia.

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  9. Can you ferment Rice? Cooked or uncooked? I inherited quite a lot and dont want ot eat it myself, I thought i’d feed it to the critters. But would like to ferment it first if its plausible. For pigs or chickens.

    • Yes, you could ferment rice, either cooked or uncooked. Most other grains are uncooked when fermented. In Korean Natural Farming, they feed uncooked brown rice to chickens regularly. So, yes, I think you could certainly feed it fermented, cooked or uncooked. I’m sure the pigs could eat it as well.

      • hello.. Like your bog spot..
        i got here from googling the korean farming and IMO i think…
        any how. I wonder if you’ve made any of the concentrait.. that they add milk to and then separate after a week? . they use on bedding and garden.
        would like to ask more if so.. thanks Debra

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  13. Hi Heather!

    I am a budding chickeneer that will be starting my 1st flock middle of next month. I am so excited about utilizing FF as a viable food source. Couple questions…

    My chicks (Dominiques & Buff Orpingtons) will be day olds – can I get them started on FF right away?

    Also, I am planning on using organic, GMO-free feed to supplement their free-ranging. If expense became an issue & we had to start using “generic” feed – would fermenting it help break down some of the “bads” (ex. chemical pesticides, etc) or would it be like fermenting a Cheeto hoping for a carrot, ha? Just trying to evaluate my best, better & worst options…

    Thanks so much!

    Kendra 😉

    BTW ~ Noticed you had Harvey’s Small-Scale Poultry Flock as recommended reading. My 1st & only chickeneering reference book so far – devoured it! Excited to be learning these techniques from the get go! Looking forward to following you here on Scratch Cradle 🙂

    • That is very exciting, Kendra! Congratulations on beginning your new flock, and you’ve made great breed selections. You can start them on FF right away. Just ferment your regular chick starter. It will also help reduce the chances of cocci or other brooder diseases because the beneficial bacteria will create a nice, well-populated and acidic digestive tract from the beginning. I have not seen any mention of fermenting breaking down harmful chemicals, but fermenting would improve any feed.

      I do absolutely love that book – the best chicken book I own – and everything else written by Harvey Ussery. Thanks, Kendra!

  14. Just to address the “where does the sugar go” question…We got into it in the later pages on the BYC thread you reference. The yeast is eating the sugar – it’s part of what’s happening in a fermentation, as opposed to a soak. Yeast eats sugar and converts it to alcohol after a period of ~48 hours. After some concern was raised on the forum, I tested the alcohol content of the fermented feed and found it to be non-existent. Even after a significant period of time, I don’t see it ever being a problem because of the introduction of the ACV into the mix. It introduces acetobacter when in turn work on the alochol to convert it to vinegar. So…there’s where your sugar is going…thankfully, no drunk chickens result from this process.

    • That is excellent, Kittie. I am really excited to hear that you found no alcohol. I had always wondered about that. As I researched more about the fermentation process, I did figure out where the sugar goes and wrote up a bit about it in Microorganisms at Work.

      I took a look at your website, Landstown Poultry, and enjoyed reading through your website. You have a lot of great information, and I look forward to reading more about how your new farm and Creole Dorking breeding program go! How very exciting! We are moving to a new farm, too, and will be undertaking breeding projects as well, but you are ahead of us in the process. It’s great to read.

  15. What do most people put the FF in to feed the flock? We just got our first flock on Good Friday, so they are only a few weeks old. I don’t think I should feed them out of a saucer or platter because I don’t want them to walk through it.

    • I just use a bowl, but you can use a raised trough. Some people build trough feeders out of a piece of gutter or PVC pipe cut in half lengthwise raised up on small platforms of wood or a PVC frame. Here is a picture of something similar someone made using a drywall mud pan. You could also hang the PVC pipe like this.

  16. Hi Heather, Our local feed store ran out of organic chick starters (18% protein) but do still have the organic chick growers (16% protein) available. I’m wondering if I can feed the growers to new chicks if I’m going to ferment all their feed anyways, which does boost available protein?

  17. I have been reading all over about fermenting feed and somewhere I thought I read that, like sourdough start, what you take out can be replaced with equal parts. Am I dreaming or is that what you do. If not, then how do I have feed to give them on
    day 3 and so on? Or is it about multiple buckets started on day 2, day 3 and day 4?

    • I run my current bucket like a sourdough start. I take out what I need and add more food and water as needed. Of course, this means that the food is in varying stages of fermentation when I scoop out a bowlful each day, but it is easy to manage. The larger the overall container, the smaller proportion will be less fermented. Other people use the multiple bucket system and rotate through 3 or 4 buckets. That ensures that all of the feed is fermented a full three days. It’s really whatever works for you.

  18. Hi! Very interesting! So, I have eggs in the incubator. I have never raised chickens before, so please excuse my ignorance! I see that you said we CAN ferment medicated chick starter. Can you please give me more specifics about this? How much chick starter to start off with? How much does each chick eat? Do you add anything to the medicated chick starter ferment? Thank you so much for this great article!

    • Just give the chicks the same amount of food that you would give if it were dry. Chances are that they will not eat quite that much, but you never want chicks to run out of food – they are growing way too fast! Also, the amount of food they eat will increase based on how many chicks you have, how many days old they are, and how often you have to change out their food because it is full of shavings.

      If you don’t want to estimate, you can start off with a set-up like this and then adapt as needed: Start off with a small container, about 1/2 gallon to a gallon in volume. Fill it up just over half-way with feed. Add in two tablespoons of a starter culture. I would recommend Braggs’s raw apple cider vinegar. Then, add de-chlorinated water (just leave an open pitcher out overnight, use filtered water, or use boiled water) slowly and stir until the mixture is wet like cake batter. Pour a little more water on top so that there is a good quarter inch above the feed. Leave it out for two days, adding more water if it starts to look dry. Then, use a slotted spoon to scoop some into a shallow bowl or chick feeder for the chicks. Take out what is left at the end of the day. If they ate it all, give more tomorrow (or earlier in the day if you happened to notice.) If there is some left, it is probably dry and crusty, so toss it and give less tomorrow. If you are home and able to switch out their food more often, feed in smaller batches so that it stays wetter.

      Hope that helps, Tina!

      • Thanks so much! My chicks hatched and I am finally ready to start this! Will be putting some feed in water tonight! I’m assuming I leave it uncovered? Yay, so exciting!!!!!

  19. I really want to try this! I have a few questions: 1) Can you use this method with regular layer feed or chick starter feed (non-organic)? 2) Do you think I could soak/ferment my cat’s dried food as well. I won’t be using any starter cultures, just straight well water mixed with the feed.

    Thanks so much for this article! It was very informative & helpful. 🙂

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