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Fermenting Chicken Feed

 
gardener
Posts: 1567
Location: N. California
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I was actually on the internet oh maybe 2, 2 1/2 years ago trying to figure what the best food for my chickens would be.  You know the internet, more information than you can possibly process. The thing that caught my eye was about fodder.  I tried fodder for a while.  It worked, but I felt like I was constantly trying to solve a problem.  To hot for wheat. got to dry, to much water, to time consuming.  I started searching again.  This time I discovered fermenting grains.  It sounded so easy, I already had the grains so I gave it a try.  I have been fermenting grains ever since and haven't looked back.  It couldn't be easier.  There are lots of ways to do it, it's about finding what works for you.  
Why would you want to do this?  It will cut down on your feed bill.  Some say as much as 50%, some say 30%, I don't know, but my chicken food lasts a lot longer then it did before I started fermenting.  Fermenting is super healthy for your chickens. The reason fermenting feed saves on feed is the process makes the nutrients more digestible, so the chickens don't need to eat as much to get more out of it.  It also develops a  natural probiotic.  All these benefits trickle down to the eggs. So now we are eating healthier too. The chickens love it! This is very simple and condensed, but I figure it's so easy to find the info, if you are looking for more, its easy to find on the million articles and You Tube video's.
Lets get started
*First you need containers.  Some use glass, some buckets, large bins, etcetera.  Basically if it holds liquid you can probably make it work.  I started with cutting the top off of plastic water bottles. That worked fine for me, until I moved my station into the chicken yard. The chickens would nock it over and help themselves, so I had to get something with a lid.
* Next you need something you can ferment.  I like wheat and barley.  For my 19 hens I ferment 1 cup of wheat, and 1 cup of barley, and I usually add a little of other.  Like I have some flax seed and oatmeal right now.  I just add extra stuff in maybe a 1/4 cup just to add extra nutrients and keep the hens interested.  This is what I do, but not what you have to do with the research I did, it seemed like the most notorious way to go, but I'm not an expert, so what do I know?  Some people ferment the feed they have.  Some scratch.  Ferment what works for you.  Put what ever you have decided to ferment into the container.
*Cover the feed/grain what ever with water.  I have a well, so I just use the water from the hose.  If your water is chlorinated you will want to put your water in a bucket, or other open container for 24 hours before using it to let the chlorine dissipate. Or you could buy water, but that is more work, and cost that cuts into your money savings.  I have always put twice the amount of water as grains at least.  Some say 2 to 3 inches of water over the grains.  Again this is where you have to decide what works for you.  My grains look like hydrated grains with a fermented yeasty smell.  I saw some people that use less water end up with a mush consistency.  I like mine looser, but that is just personal preference.  The only important part of the water is to make sure it covers what you are fermenting, otherwise you can get mold.  Mold can kill, you don't want that.  If you see mold make sure you put it some place the chickens can't get to.  It happened to me one time, and I thought I would put it in the compost pile and just cover it up. You don't know how fierce chickens can be until you try to keep them from eating something they think they should have. They are ruthless little devils! No one died or got sick with my moronic mistake, thank goodness.
*Let it sit.  This is where you have to play around with it.  I live in N. California.  They are predicting 108 for Saturday.  In the summer I let my grains sit 2 to 3 days.  Much more then that and I goes to far because of the heat.  In the winter months I let it sit about 4 or 5 days.  To make it easy I use 3 containers in the summer and 6 in the winter.  I line them up in a row, and the first one gets used, refilled and goes to the back of the line. I wish I had a great formula for this, but it depends on the heat I think, so at first you will just have to smell it.  It won't take long to figure it out.  Some say stir it 3 times a day, some everyday.  I personally give each container a shake when I refill the container I just used, and that's it. I have seen caution about using a lid.  they say it can build up gas and explode.  I guess I have been lucky, because my containers have lids. I think I may drill a couple of small holes in the top to be safe. The hens knock them over all the time, and I like having my set up in the chicken yard, so it's quick and easy, so lids are a must.   You don't have to worry about not knowing what is to far.  You will know.  I don't actually like the smell of sourdough, or fermenting things at all.  People say it smells sweet and yeasty, and I just think it stinks, like all fermented things smell to me.  BUT once it has gone to far it stops being that stinky ferment smell and sends an alert to your brain its BAD!   It's been to long, so I can't say exactly what it smelled like, but there was not question it was bad, you will know.  
*Feed your chickens.  I have trays that have holes in the bottom.  I just pour the fermented grain in and the chickens love it.  I have two containers in different parts of the coop to make sure even the hens at the bottom of the pecking order get there share.  It took a bit of experimenting to get the amount right.  To little and they gobble it up and look for more, to much and there is some still in the tray the next day.  For me the two cups plus the little extra seem to be what works, most of the time.
* Rinse and repeat.  In the summer I rinse the container until it doesn't have the fermented smell.  In the winter I may leave some in the container to give it a head start in the fermenting process.  Then I start the process over again.  I keep the grains in plastic bins on the outside of the coop where I have my little fermenting station.  It probably takes me 5 minutes a day.

Fermenting feed, or grains, it's easy, beneficial, and saves money.  If you aren't doing it I hope you will consider giving it a try.

With some luck, because I struggle with this kind of stuff I will post a couple of You Tube video's  One is the one that first convinced me to give it at try, and the other I think is helpful for those of you that have a bigger operation, other then a hand full of hens.  

Good luck to all you cluckers out there


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pollinator
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Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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There's a locally available whole grain feed that I'm tempted to try.  It's meant to be fermented.  But it's considerably more expensive per ton to buy than the pelletized feed I've had really good results with the last several years.  The pellets are (since the covid inflation hit) $800/ton if I get them in supersacks (1/2 ton per sack) including sales tax of 8.5%.  However I have to drive to the mill to get the feed, and with my vehicle/trailer combo that's 2 trips to get a ton.  So I figure $850/ton to my driveway.  Ouch already.  The whole grain feed is actually a little bit less nominally at $780/ton including sales tax, but there's no way to avoid a shipping charge of about $170-200 (still trying to nail that down).  So $950-980 all in.  Ooof.

Last year I fermented the pelletized feed.  I found no reduction in consumption at all.  With the whole grain feed I can certainly see where fermenting would make it much more digestible and would save a lot vs not fermenting.  But the pelletized feed is already very easy for the birds to break down given the processing it's been through, so while fermenting it reduces the water needs and potential for dehydration, and adds some probiotics to their system it doesn't do much for bioavailability of nutrients.  

If anyone has used pelletized feed, and used fermented whole grains, especially with broilers, I would LOVE to hear about the experience.  I'm especially interested in whether the whole grain feed (assuming fermented) goes as far, farther, or not as far, pound for pound, as pelletized feeds.  

I'm also tempted to get the Nurtibalance from the same source as the whole grain I mentioned, and then get a mixture of whole grains from the same place I get the pelletized feed.  But that's a lot of work to make my own blend, and I'm not sure it would even save all that much, particularly if I avoided soy.  Wheat is the highest protein grain (besides soy) they have on the website and it's only 12.8% protein.  Broilers need 20% to grow well, so I'd have to add fish meal or something if I didn't use soy.  And by the time I get everything needed to provide the protein and nutrients necessary I doubt I'd be saving much, if anything over the pre-made mixes, let alone the pellets.  
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Andrew I wish I had some educated answers for you.  I don't have meat birds.  If I understand the process of fermenting should make more of the protein available to the chickens then dry food.  I'm only thinking this because it's supposed to be more digestible, so maybe I'm wrong.  It's a bummer you can't find a source closer.  What about trying 50/50. Then it would be one trip in your rig, and 1/2 the cost for the other.  That way you could play around with the mix, and see if you find something more cost-effective. That grows fat healthy birds ???
What about adding some other high protein thing to there feed?  Might be something out of the box. Something you can find locally. Like I feed my chickens walnuts in the fall because we have 3 trees.  I'm not suggesting that, it would be to much work for a large operation. I just saying maybe you could figure out something to add that you could get inexpensive, or grow that would boost the protein levels. Sweet potatoes are supposed to be easy to grow, and they are one of the highest protein veggies, along with spinach, edamame, etc.  Just throwing ideas, because it's all I've got.
I hope someone else posts a better solution. Good luck
 
Andrew Mayflower
pollinator
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Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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I'm starting to work on getting nut trees growing, but best case I'm 3-4 years out (realistically 4-6 years) from getting even a minimal harvest from them.  And honestly, my hope for the nut harvest was more geared towards trading nuts for pork as I can't raise pigs on my property (HOA rules allow any livestock except pigs, weird I know, but thems the rules).  

Field peas is a common substitute for soy for boosting protien content.  However I've read somewhere (can't remember where now) that for poultry at least it's bad for them to go much over I think 30% peas in the blend.  But I haven't found a good source for field peas anyway.  Somewhere I may still have a spreadsheet where I calculated the protein % for different blends.  Even with maxing out the peas it was tough to get high enough without either some soy or fish meal.  I'll look into some veggies as higher protein options.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I just want to add that along with fermenting grains, I also feed my hens organic layer crumbles which is in a feeder that they can get 24/7, and lots of other stuff, like veggie scraps from the house and garden, and nuts from our trees.  I usually give them organic scratch once a day, but recently read high carb food will raise the chickens body temperature while digesting. Great for the cold months, but not for the summer, so I have stopped that until cooler times.
Lots of people only feed there chickens fermented grains, and if you're one, and it works for you that's great. My train of thought is chickens by nature are scavengers. So to me that says for Optum health a diverse diet is needed.  That is why I feed the way I do. I am not an expert, what I know about chickens comes from books/internet, experience, and the amazing people on Permies. I say this because I enjoy sharing my knowledge, but in no way am I saying you should do what I do. This is what works for me. The best food I can afford, lots of space, a relatively clean coop, wood chips to dig through, and a bit of attention, and I have health, I think happy hens.
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