I’ve been making my own fermented chicken feed for a few months now, and it’s been a great success. The chickens and ducks love it, and consider it a special treat. I usually give my small flock about four small scoops a day in a little dish, and it gets cleaned up in about ten minutes. It has a pleasant smell, like unfiltered sake. Even the dog enjoys the few little grains that fall to the floor during preparation.
My recipe is simple. I just mix in whatever feed grains I have on hand, add a bit of kelp meal and then some water and give it a good shake. Right now I use corn, wheat, oats, barley, millet, black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts. Wild bird seed also works well. Over the next few days the grains lacto-ferment, which introduces Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, and other beneficial bacteria and yeasts into the culture.
Technically you can ferment normal pelleted or crumbled chicken feed as well, but I like to use whole grains. My poultry don’t usually get scratch, but sometimes I fill up the feeder with whole grains instead of pellets. I’ve never understood the saying that scratch should be considered “like candy” for chickens. I mean, these are whole grains. If I planted them they would grow. They store nutrients much better and are a lot less processed than commercial feeds, and I’m pretty darn sure commercial feed is made from processed whole grains, I mean come on.
You can start your fermentation jar or bucket by simply adding grains, adding water to cover and leaving it to sit at room temperature for about 3-4 days. Once it starts to smell sour and you see bubbles forming, then you know it’s ready; but even minimally soaked grain has improved digestibility by reducing the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors found in all grains, seeds and legumes. Every time you remove some of the feed, refill the jar with more fresh grain and water and continue the cycle. In their lactic acid bath, the grains will be preserved indefinitely.
There’s enough natural lactic acid bacteria in the air and on the grains to get your culture going without adding anything else. If a white scum develops on the surface don’t fret, this is the scoby, and is normal. Just shake up the jar to mix it back in. The longer you keep your jar going, the more beneficial it becomes as the culture ages and matures, much like a good sourdough starter. It’s recommended to keep your jar covered and it goes without saying if you see mold developing, best to toss it out and start again.
Fermented feed has been found to increase egg weight and shell thickness, as well as boost intestinal health by forming a natural barrier to acid-sensitive pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. It also lowers feed consumption due to more effective digestion, according to a British Poultry Science study from 2009. Another 2009 study by the African Journal of Biotechnology showed that fermented feed reduces the level of anti-nutrients found in grains and seeds, and greatly improves the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals during digestion.
Not only does fermentation preserve vitamins in grains, it also creates new vitamins, especially B vitamins like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin.
I haven’t noticed much of a difference yet in my hens but fermented foods have long been known to be conducive to good health in many species, including humans. I encourage you to give it a try!