Chickens / Fermented Feed / Management

Microorganisms at Work

Fermentation is an inconspicuously complex process.  Once thought to be a purely chemical reaction, fermentation is the work of hundreds of species of bacteria, yeasts, and molds consuming, excreting, reproducing, and dying off.  Each have their own ideal conditions under which they will grow and flourish.  By maintaining the right environment and introducing the species you want, you can prevent spoilage and maximize your feed!

Lactobacillus plantarum

Bacteria require the most water to thrive.  The bacteria seen in fermentation are in the acetobacter, streptococcaceae, and lactobacillaceae families.1   Most preferred is Lactobacillus plantarum which is a very beneficial bacteria found in many places including human saliva.2   Bacteria can work in two ways.  Homofermentative bacteria, such as L. plantarum,  turn the sugars in food, specifically glucose, into lactic acid.  Meanwhile, heterofermentative bacteria turns glucose into lactic acid, ethanol, and carbon dioxide gas and also produces flavor and aroma compounds.3  It would be best if we could have both, because a wider range of bacteria will create a more diverse nutrient profile.

Lactobacillus used for feed fermentation prefers an anaerobic (meaning ‘without oxygen’) environment.  Keeping your feed submerged in water while fermenting will satisfy the bacteria’s need for a very wet environment with little air.  Make sure your water is dechlorinated by using filtered water or allowing the chlorine gas to evaporate by leaving your water in an open container overnight before using it for fermentation.  Chlorinated water will kill bacteria, as it is intended to do.  Lactofermentation is best accomplished at 66.4-71.6 degrees Farenheit.4

Saccharomyces cerevisae

Yeast requires less water than bacteria, so a drier mix may be dominated by yeasts.  Yeasts turn sugars into alcohol, specifically ethanol.  We certainly do not want our chickens getting drunk, but if you use enough water and leave the ferment longer, this alcohol will become the food for beneficial acetobacter bacteria to create additional acetic acid.  Saccharomyces cerevisae  is the best of the yeasts and is found in baker’s yeast although a fair amount of yeast will be picked up from the air naturally.  Yeast can help by consuming  the air within a closed container to improve the environment for anaerobic bacteria.  The presence of yeast in the food also helps with weight gain in chickens and reduces diarrhea.5

Penicillium camamberti, a cheese processing mold

Molds can play a beneficial role in fermentation, such as in the ripening of cheese, but there is generally no positive role for mold in fermenting feed for your chickens.  Molds cannot tolerate an anaerobic environment – they need air – and so keeping enough water in your container will prevent your food from molding.  You may notice mold growing on the sides of a container if the feed slops around.

“Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to ruminants,” (Wikipedia).

Fermentation reactions work together in a chain.  For example, yeasts produce the alcohol needed by acetobacter bacteria to create acetic acid.  Generally, bacteria are followed by yeasts which are followed by molds.6   You can see such chaining at work in the production of silage, a long-used fermented feed, just within different strains of bacteria:

E. faecium growth is the first step in the silage process. […] L. plantarum takes over from E. faecium and finishes off the initial silage process, after which it runs cool. […] L. buchneri takes over from L. plantarum as soon as the silage reaches its lowest pH and converts some of the lactic acid to acetic acid, which inhibits the yeasts that may be there to cause heating on feedout.7

“Feeding Chickens” by Jacob Maris (1866)

When we are fermenting feed for chickens, we want to use plenty of dechlorinated water, keep the feed submerged by adding more liquid when needed, maintain about 67-70 degrees Farenheit, and give the microorganisms enough time to go through all of the stages of fermentation to leave us with an acidic, nutrient-enhanced wet feed.  I need to do more experimenting to find a procedure which works for me, but I think the health benefits for my birds are worth the extra effort.

Fermented Feed Posts:

#1: Fermented Feed

#2: Fermented Feed v2

#3: Science of Fermented Feed

#4: Microorganisms at Work (this post)


11 thoughts on “Microorganisms at Work

  1. Are both process’ (the yeast and bacterial) able to happen simultaneously in the same bucket? Or would it be more productive to have one bucket inoculated with yeast then transfer the feed to a second bucket inoculated with bacteria?

    • hey can happen at the same time. The researchers who specifically added yeast just put all of their bacterial and yeast cultures in when they started fermenting and let the microorganisms figure out the rest.

  2. I’ve been wondering about using yogurt somewhere in the fermentation process, any ideas on that? I make raw milk (easy to get here in Costa Rica) yogurt which I put out in a dog dish, the chickens love it. I have 30 new chicks that have to option of FF or dry feed, they do eat the FF. Being the FF is made from regular chicken feed they share that with the silkie hen that has been doing a wonderful job of mothering all of them along with a heat lamp. I only have bakers yeast available, no ACV with mother available here. I ferment the mash for at least 36 hours and use the drained liquid as a starter, I get a sweet/sour oder from my FF which sets in our laundry room to ferment which usually is between 65 to 75 degrees.

    • There are many cultures in yogurts, and different cultures are used in different kinds of yogurt. It looks like most contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. I searched through the articles I’ve found for those two. One references other research from Apata (2008) which found that Lactobacillus bulgaricus increased white blood cell counts in broiler chicks. Neither were mentioned in any of the others, so I don’t think much research has been done on those cultures one way or the other. I would assume that, since many people feed yogurt to chickens, there haven’t been any reported problems, and those cultures are commonly seen as beneficial, it’s probably a good thing to feed your flock. I’m not sure how those cultures would respond to grain, but I think you could experiment.

      If you are using naturally caught cultures and carrying them over, you are probably already getting a good mix of lactobacillus, acetobacter, streptococcaceae, and beneficial yeasts. The length of time you are fermenting, the temperature at which you are fermenting, and the sweet/sour smell all point to a good mash. I don’t think you need to change what you are doing: It sounds perfect. You could continue to feed your mash of the cultures caught from the air with your homemade yogurt on the side.

      If you wanted to experiment, I would certainly do so! See what sort of a smell you get, how long it takes to ferment, and how your birds like it. I don’t think you can go wrong with bacteria in the three basic families used in fermentation. Thanks for the interesting question, Art! I would love to hear how it goes.

      • I have restarted all of my fermenters with natural raw whole milk yogurt that I make. The fermenters each go for 4 days, there is a nice thick off-white mother on top at the end of the 4 days and the smell would make a sourdough bakery proud. A friend of mine in Vancouver had taken massive antibiotics for 45 years which left him with no natural defenses. He did a lot of research and found out thru the universities a couple of probiotic cultures that turned his system around but was costing him about $180 a month. He took those cultures and started making yogurt with them. Thru a doctor and a research lab he found out that the yogurt he made had the same cultures in it. At this time my coop is way over crowded but I think with the deep litter and the FF I have not had one sick bird in the 40 some odd chickens/chicks and guineas. I have read and reread all that you have written and read many of the references you list plus I also have done some online research and in my opinion feeding good FF is the only way to go. The list of benefits is all natural and it is long. As near as I can tell the feed that I get here for layers is greatly improved during the fermentation. The chickens we have are now laying huge eggs, the yokes are a bright reddish orange that stand tall and the whites do not run all over the pan when you cook the eggs. The pullets and cockerels have grained good weight, during processing the meat is nice and tender and looks great. I use 4 fermenters as the feed I get has the added calcium in it and settles to the bottom during fermentation so emptying the containers into a large strainer gets the calcium mixed back into the feed. I rinse each container and add the rinse into the next batch of mash along with the strained liquids. The bubbles forming in the mother the 4th day are huge, maybe 3/4″ giving me the idea that the process is going full scale. I’m thinking of trying a 5 day ferment just to see if the process is still that active or has slowed down. I make 6 litters of raw milk yogurt each week for the two of us, the cats. dogs and the flock. I run the yogurt in the blender so that it pours easily and add it to the FF in the chicken’s feed trough, I set it down and stand back, it is a mob scene following. There are chickens standing on top of chickens to get at it. I’ll post back the results of the 5 day ferment.

      • You make it sound so good that I want to eat it, Art! You have very lucky chickens. I love hearing about the effect on the meat as well. Hopefully we’ll be using our cockerels for meat as soon as we move to the new place and have a friend who is a bit less concerned about processing them. I want to find a source of raw milk for us once we move as well, and I will probably share some with the chickens, too, now that I’ve read this. I can’t even imagine the awesome ferment you have going down there. I agree that the FF and the deep litter make such a huge difference in their susceptibility to disease. You can definitely post links to any good articles or resources that you find. I know that Beekissed from BYC has a page about it which I linked in one of the articles, and their is also the FF for Meat Birds thread she was active in on BYC, both great sources of information. So, you have four going all of the time and rotate day by day so that each gets a full 4 days of fermentation? Great system. I’ll have to try to set up something similar. Thanks, Art! Great information!!!

  3. Pingback: Science of Fermented Feed « Scratch Cradle

  4. Pingback: 10 Foods to Ferment for Chickens | Scratch Cradle

  5. Pingback: Fermented Feed v2 | Scratch Cradle

  6. Hi Heather,

    I just stumbled onto your website by searching fermented chicken feed. I’m wondering if you know about EM-1 (Bokashi) for chickens and humans? I have been using some of my kefir by adding it to the scraps I give my chickens. I just pour off some of the kefir into the bowl of scraps at night and feed it to the chickens in the morning. I’m learning about fermenting for the chickens and am keen to get started. Now I’m wondering if I need to buy the EM-1 or just use the kefir I already make. I also add ACV to their water, but have read that they like EM-1 water even more. I’d love to hear any advice you have to share after you’ve been at this for a long time now. What new discoveries have you made?

    Thanks for posting your experience!


  7. I’m happy to know that yeast can be used. How many days will it have to ferment to make enough alcohol which will then be converted to vinegar?

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