Chickens / Fermented Feed / Management

10 Foods to Ferment for Chickens


Soon after I began fermenting my chickens’ feed, I began experimenting with what I could ferment.  The fermentation process makes nutrients more available, increases digestibility, and promotes beneficial bacteria throughout the digestive tract, so I knew that it wouldn’t hurt to try fermenting foods that I already provided as treats.  (Read about the benefits of fermented feed here.)

When experimenting with additions to their food, I always kept the proportion the same as what I would feed them normally.  For example, a day’s meal of nothing but fermented sunflower seeds would be too high in fiber.  Instead, I used at least 85% regular ration, whether layer or grower, and no more than 15% extras.


I’ve been fermenting my feed in a deep plastic dish pan, although the plastic is not ideal because it can leach into the feed.  Ceramic, glass, or stainless steel would be better.  I put in a few scoops of feed, some extras, and fill it up to about ½” from the top with chlorine-free water.  (I use a filter on my faucet, but you can also boil your water or let it sit out overnight.)  I mix it all together to a soupy consistency.  As the grains absorb the water, it becomes thicker, like hot cereal.  I like to put a lid on it to keep it as anaerobic as possible, and I serve it to my chickens after two or three days, once the smell changes from sweet to sour.

Here are 10 foods you can ferment for your chickens:

1. Layer or grower feed: When you hear about fermented feed, it usually means just that.  Your regular feed can be fermented.  Take a look at the basic directions here.

2. Scratch grains: Whole, dried grains do very well.  Oats, wheat, corn – whatever you feed as scratch grains can be fermented.

3. Conventional supplements: If you add poultry conditioner, flax seeds, kelp, fish meal, or any other supplement to your regular feed, these can also be mixed into your ferment recipe.

4. Sunflower seeds: My chickens love BOSS – black oil sunflower seeds, sold most commonly for wild birds.  Soaking and fermenting will soften the shell and make them that much more delectable.

5. Dried alfalfa: Alfalfa is a great green food that you can provide during winter which also has a high amount of protein.  You can buy cubes or pellets of alfalfa at feed and pet stores to add to your ferment.

6.  Grasses and clovers: Farmers have been creating silage by fermenting grasses for hundreds of years.  Clippings of the plants your chickens like best make a great addition to your feed, either fresh or dried.  Try dandelion, comfrey, nettles, clover, or chicory.

7. Vegetables and fruit: Your chickens love your bits and pieces fresh or fermented.  Toss some to your chickens while fresh and add the rest in well-chopped bits to the ferment to provide a wider nutrient profile.  They would love the cores and bruised parts of your apples and the ends of your garlic cloves.  (Apple seeds can be poisonous in large amounts, so I usually remove them.)

8. Grains and flours:  In my kitchen, I sometimes use flours like ground chickpeas or flax seed meal or cook steel-cut oats or wild rice.  When these ingredients get old or I find an old bag with a few scant tablespoons left, these find new life in the ferment.

9. Crushed egg shells: A great calcium supplement from the flock, crushed egg shells are an ideal candidate.  The fermentation process will help to break down the shell and make it more digestible.  I don’t bake or treat my shells in any way; I just crush them in a cloth with the bottom of a cup and shake them in.

10. Hard-boiled eggs:  Shells and all, I toss hard-boiled eggs into the ferment and crush them with a potato masher!  I did try adding them raw once, but it made the mix mold rather quickly.  But, hands-down, my chickens’ favorite food of all time is fermented hard-boiled eggs.  Yum! 🙂


I have not tried to ferment meat or insects.  I’m pretty sure that bugs get into dry feed all the time and have probably been fermented before with perfectly fine result.  I may toss in some mealworms one of these days just to see how it goes.  I have also not included whole beans, although I have fermented ground beans.  Whole beans would probably require a longer fermentation period and would benefit from presoaking.

Traditionally fermented foods such as yogurt or fish paste or sauce is also very well-received by chickens, as is apple cider vinegar with the mother.  To be safe, a good rule of thumb would be not to add anything to a fermented feed that you would not feed unfermented.

So, what have you been fermenting?

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 (this post)

36 thoughts on “10 Foods to Ferment for Chickens

  1. My wife had several bags of Soak and Cook parrot food that got damp, she couldn’t sell them so I started fermenting it. Basically it is all kinds of field peas, safflower, sunflower, and other whole seed grains. The girls love it! Also I have used high protein pigeon mix during the molt.

  2. I am glad to see you comtinuing your personal Blog and hope you are able to keep it up. Is the fermentation process an anaerobic one? I had read somewhere in the lengthy post on BYC that you needed to lift out your straining basket a couple times a day to aerate the fermenting liquid.

    • There are really many bacteria that can do the job. Some, like acetobacter, like aerobic environments, and others like biffidus, lactobacciullus, and acetobacterium are all anaerobic. I’m most interested in biffidus and lactobacillus, so I like to block the air. Some of the researcher mentioned that specifically in their articles, but the recommendation is generally to keep the feed submerged in water to reduce the air. The yeasts help by consuming the air in a closed container, and they don’t get too out of hand. Also, molds can’t survive in an anaerobic environment, so keeping the feed submerged helps to keep them at bay. You can read more in the microorganisms post: It’s good to “see” you, Max!

      • Thanks for the great info! I plan to try to ferment my girls feed this week because the winter has been hard on them. One question- we have a ton of coffee grounds, and they sometimes get tossed into my compost bucket. Will this hurt my chickens if they eat them?

      • I wouldn’t specifically feed coffee grounds, but they won’t hurt. There are coffee grounds in my compost pile, too, and they’ve been scratching in that for years to no ill effect.

  3. Pingback: Chicken Fodder | The Fruity Chicken

  4. Pingback: They call us Snow Birds | Bees Knees & Goat Cheese

  5. I’ve been on a craze for fermented foods lately. Sally Fallon and Sandor Katz are two peope you must learn about if you have any interest in fermentation. I hadn’t even thought of this for my birds…I wonder if it could be applied to dogs and cats?

    I assume kefir would make a good starter, also? Milk or sugar kefir, or even kraut juice. This is puire and simple genius!!!

    • It’s raw or unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. It has the live cultures which created the vinegar still in it. Braggs is a common brand that you can usually find in the natural foods area of most large grocery stores.

      • New to the fermenting process. I fed the girls breakfast then stirred the batch to keep things bubbling. I decided to give an evening feeding and when I opened the container, to my horror, were maggots crawling all around the inside of the container. Is this still safe to feed the girls? Things are still bubbling. There’s a lot of feed in the barrel, smells ok.

      • It’s definitely safe to feed them maggots – free protein! The girls will love them. If it still smells okay, and you don’t see any strange mold, then you are probably safe. I would cover the top with a pair of old pantyhose, cheesecloth, or a screen to try to keep flies out. Hopefully there won’t be any more eggs in your feed. It’s possible the eggs were already in the dry feed, but it sounds like it is doing okay. Good luck!

      • i was told of a great feed supplement 3 years ago; something called a maggot-bucket; you drill a bunch of holes in the sides and bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, put any meat (whether it be road-kill, spoiled or outdated meat from your fridge or freezer, or even the bodies of any unfortunate members of your flock who have passed away) into the bucket, snap a lid on the bucket, hang it above the ground, preferably with a tray or even a large bowl under it, and in a day or so your chickens will be feasting on maggots… smells a bit within 4 or 5 feet of the bucket, but as the flies go in to lay eggs they sometimes cant get out… the chickens eat the maggots, an extra tasty protein treat for them and cuts down considerably on the amount of flies on the property… it only works in warm weather, so those of us in the north can only use them during the warm months… i never look out the back window without seeing at least 3 of the flock gobbling down their maggot snack…

  6. My rooster that lives with my mare is occasionally constipated. I started giving her molasses with her meds and decided to try it with him also. It does seem to make his droppings wetter, all over his feathers on his backside actually. But fermenting some grains and his feed might be a better idea. I’ll give it a try.

  7. Pingback: Fermented Feed | Scratch Cradle

  8. Can I give 5 wks old chicks fermented feed? I was thinking of continuing to feed them their medicated but I bought some chick starter by mistake so maybe I could just ferment that. Can I add some slightly expired greek yogurt with fruit?

    • Absolutely! You can feed them fermented feed from the start, and you can ferment any regular feed. I wouldn’t use too much of the yogurt because of the sugar in the processed fruit, but it should get the ferment going. Good luck!

  9. I’ve been fermenting for a few weeks now for my chickens (roughly 60 – varying ages from 1 1/2 months old to 3 yrs. old), ducks (newly hatched to about 3 yrs. old), and 1 rescued turkey hen of unknown age/origin. They all love it! I have alfalfa and alfalfa/timothy cubes left from last winter that my horses really weren’t that crazy about. I will bag them up and put them into the fermenting area now. I had wondered about the black oil sunflower seeds, too, so I’m glad you mentioned them. I only fed them as sprouts but the chickens always passed them over for pretty much anything else. They didn’t care for broccoli sprouts, either. I’m still experimenting with sprouted foods. Maybe I’ll sprout and then add them to the fermented feed for extra winter nutrition . . .
    Thanks for the great article!

  10. I skimmed the above information and didn’t see a specific post about it, but is it wise/good/ridiculous to put used loose tea leaves into the fermented food?

  11. Pingback: Feeding Fayrehale Fowl Fermented Feed! | Fayrehale Farm: Home of Fayrehale Chantecler Chickens

  12. Hi,
    I have a lot of chicken scratch that I would like to use for fermenting.
    How do I start?
    How long does it have to soak?
    What should I add to the scratch and the water in he dish?
    Thanks for your help.

  13. are you still out there? i see this article isn’t new 🙂 i love fermenting, but never heard of fermenting eggshells. can you also put oyster shell in the ferment? i’m going to try it!

  14. Hi. I can only get organic pellets where I live and organic wheat/barley and corn in bulk. Could I ferment the pellets? It gets very sludgy of course but maybe I can drain some liquid off? I would love to only give them fermented feed..!! Thanks 😊

  15. Found this old post while googling for information about fermenting feed that contains meat meal. I have coturnix quail and I’m feeding them a gamebird feed which uses meat meal as the protein source. I ferment my chicken feed and I’m experimenting with fermenting the quail food – so far, unfortunately, it reminds me of dog poop in both consistency and odor.

    On an unrelated note, you mention above that stainless steel would be a good vessel for fermentation. This is not true – the lacto-fermentation process actually causes stainless steel to corrode. Better to stick with glass, ceramic or food grade plastic. I ferment my chicken feed in a 5 gallon food grade bucket, covered with a dish cloth.

    I like your suggestions for adding fruits and veggies etc. into your ferments, and I’ll definitely be trying it! Thanks!

  16. I have a bag of whole oats with hulls. My chickens don’t like them, so I thought about sprouting or fermenting. Can you sprout or ferment whole oats with hulls?i

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s