Although the topic of fermenting chicken feed is a debated one amongst backyard chicken owners, reputable studies confirm what many of us have already known all along:
Feeding fermented feed to chickens results in healthier hens that lay better eggs. Fermented feed can result in chickens that have improved immune function and less harmful bacteria in their systems. And fermented feed benefits meat birds too.
By the end of this article, you will understand everything there is to know about fermenting chicken feed and will be able to do it yourself easily at home with my simple step-by-step guide.
In This Article
- Exploring the benefits of fermented chicken feed.
- How to safely and easily ferment your chicken feed.
- Types of feed that can be fermented.
- Scientific studies on fermented chicken feed and the results on chickens and eggs.
- Does fermented chicken feed really save money? (Yes.)
- Feeding fermented feed to baby chicks.
- Pros and cons of fermenting chicken feed.
- Can you give fermented feed to other poultry and waterfowl? (Yes.)
Ensuring optimal nutrition for my chicken flock is a top priority for me. Quality food forms the cornerstone of their health, directly impacting the quality of eggs and meat they produce for my family.
Contrary to the assumption that a healthier diet means expensive food, a simple yet effective method to elevate any chicken's diet is by introducing fermented chicken feed. This process seamlessly complements your existing dry feed.
Fermented chicken feed is the exact same concept and process except you’re doing it for your feathered friends. Fermenting chicken feed requires two ingredients: chicken feed and water. Some human fermented foods require salt but that is not true for fermented chicken feed.
Fermentation, specifically lacto-fermentation, harnesses naturally occurring beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus) found in the environment, initiating the conversion of sugars and carbohydrates into lactic acid bacteria (LAB). This fermentation produces alcohol and acids, acting as natural preservatives that enhance food shelf life.
The fermentation process fosters the growth of beneficial probiotics in food, improving gut and digestive health. It also increases the bioavailability of nutrients in grains while deactivating antinutrients present in them.
Benefits Of Fermenting Chicken Feed
Similar to how fermented foods might benefit humans by aiding digestion and maximizing nutritional intake, fermented chicken feed offers analogous advantages for chickens.
Better Digestion & Nutrient Uptake
In fermenting feed, not only are nutrients from grains liberated, but the feed itself also becomes more digestible. This process also promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, which helps to improve gut health and strengthen the chickens' immune systems, making them more resistant to illnesses.
Fermented chicken feed enriches the nutritional profile of grains, amplifying vitamins, minerals, lactic acid bacteria, and probiotics. This process unlocks vital nutrients otherwise hindered by naturally occurring antinutrients in grains, like phytic acid, lectins, alpha-amylase inhibitors, and protease inhibitors.
Fermented feed is more nutritious and also gentler on their stomachs. These changes help chickens extract more goodness from their meals, ensuring they absorb a higher amount of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. It's like upgrading their meal from standard to supercharged, giving them a better chance to thrive and stay healthy.
Increased Egg Laying
When hens were fed a fermented diet, they laid about 9% more eggs throughout the year compared to those on a dry diet. Conversely, hens on a hydrated diet laid around 11% fewer eggs in the same period.
This means that the chickens fed with fermented feed were more prolific layers, showing an increase in egg production. The fermented diet seemed to provide the hens with the right nutritional boost, resulting in higher egg yields over time compared to both dry and hydrated diets.
This shows that it's not the increase of liquid in fermented feed causing the spike, but something bout the fermentation process itself and what it does to the feed.
The increase in egg production could be due to the enhanced nutritional profile provided by fermentation.
Save Money On Feed Costs
My chicken feed costs have gone up and I'm hearing the same complaints all over the chicken groups. There are also grumblings that the quality of the feed has gone down, but that's a different topic.
Fermenting your chicken feed has been proven to be an effective strategy for reducing chicken feed costs and saving you money — all while potentially increasing egg laying.
The results of this study indicate that the fermented diet was more efficient in terms of converting the feed into eggs. The chickens on the fermented diet were able to produce more eggs without needing to consume additional feed. As a result, the cost per egg produced was notably lower for the group on the fermented diet.
The efficiency in feed utilization by the birds on the fermented diet translates to potential cost savings for chicken owners. This means that while the amount of feed consumed was similar between the groups, the fermented diet offered a more economical approach, allowing for a higher output of eggs per unit of feed provided.
The improved nutrient absorption and digestibility of the fermented feed likely contributed to this efficiency, as the chickens got more from less feed.
Read More: 25 REAL Ways To Save Money On Chicken Feed Costs.
Improved Immune Function
Fermented chicken feed might strengthen the immune systems of chickens through multiple mechanisms. The process cultivates a healthier gut environment by encouraging beneficial bacteria, crucial for robust immune responses. Simultaneously, it enhances nutrient absorption, ensuring vital vitamins and minerals are readily available, fortifying overall health and immune functions.
The ease of digestion with fermented feed reduces stress on the chicken's digestive system, allowing for better energy allocation toward sustaining a strong immune response. Some fermented feeds may contain natural compounds that inhibit harmful bacteria, fostering a healthier gut environment and potentially reinforcing the chicken's immune system against pathogens.
Reduction of Bad Bacteria
Campylobacter is a type of bacteria commonly found in poultry, including chickens.
Consuming undercooked chicken contaminated with Campylobacter can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, and vomiting. Severe cases can even result in complications like dehydration or reactive arthritis.
Reducing Campylobacter in chickens is crucial to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Studies have shown that fermented feed alters the gut environment in chickens, making it less favorable for the survival and proliferation of pathogens. This change in the gut microbiota, influenced by fermented feed, potentially reduces the colonization of Campylobacter and other harmful bacteria in the chicken's digestive system.
Types Of Chicken Feed That Can Be Fermented
There are different types of chicken feed: whole grain, pelleted, and crumbled are the primary types. Then there are scratch grains primarily fed as a treat.
All types of chicken feed and treats: whole grains, scratch grains, commercial crumbles and pellets can be fermented.
Feeding Fermented Feed To Baby Chicks
Baby chicks can eat fermented feed right from the day they hatch.
If you feed whole grains (as we do) it is best to quickly break up the grains in a blender as the pieces will be too big and difficult to manage otherwise. It doesn't take much to break up fermented feed and it will not damage your kitchen blender either.
By the end of the first week, baby chicks are ready to tackle the whole grain without any additional help.
If you feed pellets or crumbles, there is no need to use a blender.
How To Ferment Chicken Feed
To ferment chicken feed effectively, follow these steps:
- Gather Materials: You'll need chicken feed, water, and a container with a lid. A 5-gallon bucket works well for larger batches.
- Mix Feed and Water: Fill the container halfway with the feed, then add water until the feed is fully submerged by a few inches. Optionally, add a splash of apple cider vinegar to kickstart fermentation.
- Cover and Ferment: Seal the container with a lid or cover to keep bugs out. Let it sit at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, for about 72 hours. Check daily, stir, and add water if needed to keep the feed submerged.
- Feed Preparation: After three days, the fermented feed will start to bubble and may have a sour smell. Strain the liquid and use the feed. You can strain the feed using a colander and place it in the chickens' feeder.
Maintaining a Consistent Supply:
- Start Multiple Batches: To ensure a continuous supply, stagger the fermentation process by starting new batches on different days.
- Storage: Store unused fermented feed in a cool, dark place. Use airtight containers to prevent spoilage. A mudroom or a cool basement can serve as ideal storage spaces.
To Keep The Fermentation Going:
- Reserve Starter Feed: Set aside a small amount of the fermented feed (about 10%) from each batch to use as a starter for the next batch. This helps kickstart fermentation by introducing active cultures.
- Regular Feeding: Use and replenish the feed regularly to maintain the fermentation process. As you use the feed, always reserve a portion to start the next batch.
Consistent feeding and careful storage are key to sustaining the fermentation process and ensuring a continuous supply of fermented chicken feed for your flock.
Start small and increase as you get a handle on what you're doing and how much feed you go through. You really don't want to keep fermenting the feed past 3-4 days as it can start to become alcoholic and you do not want to feed that to your chickens.
If you run out of fermented feed, just give them dry stuff, it's fine to mix it up.
Spoiled fermented feed is possible. I have never had this happen but that doesn't mean it's not real.
Constantly check for changes in smell, appearance, and texture. If the feed emits a strong, foul odor or shows signs of mold growth—like fuzzy patches—or if the texture feels slimy or unusually thick, it may have spoiled. Any abnormal color changes could indicate spoilage.
Fermenting Chicken Feed In Very Cold & Very Hot Weather
The ideal temperature range for fermenting chicken feed is between 68°F to 75°F (20°C to 24°C). This temperature range provides optimal conditions for the growth of beneficial bacteria and supports the fermentation process for the feed.
As with human food (making sourdough bread in the winter in my cold kitchen is my Everest) fermented chicken feed has a sweet spot where temperature is concerned.
Too hot can cause the feed to ferment very fast or even over-ferment.
In the wintertime, the fermentation can not take place out of doors.
In colder climates, fermenting feed in winter might require additional attention to maintain proper fermentation temperatures. Bringing the fermenting feed inside can be beneficial to ensure a consistent environment for fermentation.
Cold temperatures can slow down the fermentation process or even halt it entirely, affecting the growth of beneficial bacteria. If left outside in freezing temperatures, the fermentation process might take longer or cease, potentially leading to spoilage or inconsistent fermentation.
Bringing the fermenting feed indoors to a controlled environment, like a mudroom or a spot near a heating source, helps maintain the optimal temperature range for fermentation. This ensures that the beneficial bacteria continue to thrive, allowing for a successful fermentation process even during colder winter conditions.
An additional concern is that the fermented feed might freeze due its high water content after you have set it out for the chickens.
One way to keep this from happening is by feeding several times throughout the day, another is by adding the feed into a vessel that is kept warm, like an outdoor electric dog water bowl.
Fermenting chicken feed is a powerful and cost-effective technique for poultry owners. It bolsters immune function, enhances nutrient absorption, and reduces pathogenic bacteria. The process yields healthier chickens that lay more eggs while consuming less feed. Embracing fermented feed improves poultry care sustainability and efficiency. Incorporating it into routine can have transformative benefits for feathered companions and farm productivity.
- The Foothills Farm Fermented Feed Study (PDF).
- Effects of fermented feed on growth performance, immune response, and antioxidant capacity in laying hen chicks.
- The impacts of fermented feed on laying performance, egg quality, immune function, intestinal morphology and microbiota of laying hens in the late laying cycle.
- Effects of different probiotic fermented feeds on production performance and intestinal health of laying hens.