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
#5: 10 Foods to Ferment for Chickens (this post)