Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fermenting Chicken Feed

After some crazy couple of weeks, finally here's my first official post! Enjoy!

When it comes to homesteading, a lot of things seem to go along the lines of stretching and getting as much out of something as you can.
Whether, its feeding kitchen scraps to the chickens or making chicken stock out of whats left out of a chicken carcass after dinner, things tend to be used for a second and sometimes third purpose around here before finally being thrown in the trash
When it comes to our organic chicken feed, you can't necessarily use it for a second purpose, unless you mean composting the chicken manure, but there are ways to stretch it and get the absolute most you can get out of it, and when a 40 pound bag is about 25-30 dollars, you definitely want to make the most of it!
One of the things that we've found that helps make the most out of our feed is fermentation.

The Science
Fermentation has been around for centuries as a way to preserve or enhance food. Sourdough, wine, cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, these are all foods that have been fermented in some way. These are all great for us, so why not have our chickens benefit also?

There are two basic types of fermentation:
Yeast fermentation,
and Bacteria fermentation. 

Yeast consume sugars or carbohydrates and produce alcohol. 
Bacteria consume sugars also but they produce acids instead of alcohol, this is the kind of fermentation that is used on chicken feed. 
It's also called lacto-fermentation because lacto acid bacteria are the ones that are do the brunt work of consuming the sugars. The lacto acid bacteria produce lactic acid as they feast of the sugars which is the cause of the sour, tangy smell that greets me every morning when I enter the feed room.
This lactic acid not only helps make nutrients in the feed more readily available, the lactic acid it's self is also incredibly beneficial for the health of the chickens digestive system.

Anyone who's ever eaten yogurt has probably heard of the term "probiotics," or "beneficial bacteria" those same bacteria that are present in yogurt and are essential to a healthy gut are the same ones present in your chickens feed and benefit them the same way they help you!

The Benefits
I seriously cannot conceive any downside to fermenting, unless you're incredibly lazy, you'd be crazy not to give fermenting a try!
Not only are the probiotics and the new vitamins and enzymes created through the whole fermentation process great for your flock but the soaking also helps make the nutrients already in the feed easier to digest.

All those wonderful vitamins and probiotics are incredibly good for the gut health of your birds, which I'm convinced is the reason we've never had a big problem with worms. Fermentation also helps with immune system functions which help your birds resist disease and bacterial infections.

Fermented feed also seems to satisfy their appetite more readily than dry feed too. Some people also claim that because of this their chickens seem to poop less also. I however cannot attest to this, when you have as many chickens as I have a lot of poop is a lot of poop, so honestly I can't tell the difference!  

And here's where we get to the stretching part, when I fill a bucket full of our pelleted layer free and then cover it with water an amazing thing happens,
it expands.
What once was a quarter bucket full of feed becomes a half bucket filled with feed once fermentation is over. That 40 pound bag of feed becomes almost 80 pounds of feed for my flock at the end of the day. Our pocket book rejoices and probably somewhere up in the sky angels are singing. This whole process is a wonderful way to have a healthy flock and pinch a few pennies along the way.

Here's the How to
After reading all those wonderful benefits you might be thinking this is too good to be true and probably a fairly complicated matter,
not so.

Fermenting feed is really very simple to make.(Seriously, I mean it when I can't think of any downside.)
Here's how we do it.
Step 1: Find yourself 2 to 3 buckets or containers of your choosing that come with lids. Some people ferment for 4 or 5 days but we usually do it for 2 or 3.
Step 2: Fill up a bucket with about half of the food your flock eats every day.(NOTE: In our experience, crumble feed does not have as dramatic of a increase in volume, it does expand but not quite to the extent that pellets do. if using crumbles put about 2/3rds or 3/4 of the food you use per day in the bucket.)
Step 3: Now fill the bucket with water until the feed is covered by at least 2-3 inches of water and place the lid on, just(Less if you are working with crumbles.)
Step 4: Repeat previous steps for your second bucket the next evening and your 3rd and even your 4th if you wish to ferment that many days!(Also double check buckets you filled to make sure they are to dry, you want a moist mash at least, but some people like almost a soup consistency to it so just check and make sure it's a consistency you want.)
Step 5: Feed it!
You'll know it fermented properly if it's got a slight sour smell to it, but even if it doesn't soaked feed is still very beneficial for your flock. Your chickens may take a little bit to figure out that it is food but once they realize it they should devour it with gusto! 
Make sure to leave a little bit of the food in the bottom, this feed has some of the lacto acid bacteria in it and will help jump start the next fermentation.

Feel absolutely free to tweak your fermentation system, I feed morning and evening fermented feed but some people only do once a day or just do it as a treat once a week. Do whatever you feel is right for your flock but I do highly recommend fermenting feed, both for its health benefits and for the happiness of your pocket book. 

Happy homesteading!

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