Fermenting Chicken Feed: The Easy Way

When it comes to doing anything on the homestead, there is always a cost to consider. And when feeding animals, there comes into question not only the cost, but how to do it in a way that is most healthy for both you and the animal.

I had been researching fermented feed for quite some time before I finally just went ahead and did it. The primary motivator at the time was finding a way to cut my feed costs. Keeping fifty-some chickens and more than a dozen ducks really racks up the feed bill- especially during the winter months when free ranged edibles are all but nonexistent. I’d read that most people were able to cut their feed cost by 50-75%. That’s a lot! That alone made me take the dive into the messy, sloppy world that is fermented feed.

Head first.

But it’s the incredible benefits- outside of feed cost savings- that truly make this option a smart one. Add to that some trial and error, I’ve found a way to make the fermented feed process so much easier- only adding to the long list of reasons why you should be fermenting your chicken feed too.

(This post contains affiliate links)

Yellow Birch Hobby Farm- Fermenting Chicken Feed The Easy Way

Why fermented feed?

Fermenting chicken feed involves soaking your feed in water for 24 hours- 4 days (more on that later). This process creates lacto-fermentation which does wonders for your feed: increases digestibility & nutrient usability (therefore more of the feed they eat actually gets used rather than passed through- thus decreasing overall feed intake), provides probiotics, and increases nutrient content. Additionally, feeding fermented feed to your chickens can strengthen their immune system, increase bowel health, increase egg production, increase egg size, strengthen egg shells, and because more of what you feed them is getting used- you will find that your chickens produce less waste (yes, I’m talking poop!)- and it will be much more formed and not so wet. AND you will find a huge decrease in the amount of water they consume from your waterer because they get so much water from the fermented feed itself.

Sounds great! What do I need to get started?

Just some chicken feed- whatever it is that you feed them. Mash, pellets, grains- whatever type of feed you offer to your flock, you can ferment. In addition to that, you just need water and a container to put it in (food grade plastic or glass- no metal). You really absolutely don’t need anything else. Oh, except a little bit of warmth will help speed up the process; 65-80 degrees is a great temperature range for your feed to sit at. The warmer it is, the faster your feed will ferment.

So tell me…what is the easiest way to do this fermented feed thing?

I thought you’d never ask. I’ve done my research on this one. I’ve been through a lot of trial and error, let me tell you. And I think it can be discouraging for someone who is just starting out and getting used to the fermented feed process to have to deal with multiple buckets and a wet, sloppy mess.

It doesn’t need to be all that bad.

Since fermenting feed usually takes 3-4 days to reach the desired stage of fermentation, many people suggest a rotating bucket system- one for each day- so you can continually have a chain of buckets going with a new one ready every day. It’s also often suggested that you keep your feed covered by water- which means straining out your feed or drilling holes in the bottom of the bucket and setting it inside of another bucket that so you can lift it up and let the liquid drain out. Yes, you can do all this. Yes, I HAVE done all of this. But I discovered it was very messy, took up a lot of room in my laundry room (which is my winter time fermented feed area), and it was all just so unnecessary.

So here is what I do. Truly, you can choose whichever route you are most comfortable with. But to save you some research time, I will share with you the most simple way I have tried to date.

I use {2} food grade 5-gallon buckets. For the very first time that you are fermenting your feed, you will need to soak your feed for 3-4 days. I use equal parts food and water; give it a good stir and cover it loosely (as in, just set the cover for the bucket on top but don’t seal it). Stir it a couple of times a day- or at least once please. You will notice a sour smell, but not a rotten smell. You will also notice some bubbling action going on and a white filmy layer on the top of the feed. That is good sign that you have lacto-fermentation going on. After the initial 3-4 days of soaking, you can use your fermented feed as a starter for your next batch- and that means only soaking for 24 hours instead of multiple days.

Yellow Birch Hobby Farm- lacto fermented chicken feed

So- what I do is keep 2 buckets running at all times. Bucket #1 is what feeds my flock in the morning. I always leave a good few inches of fermented feed at the bottom of the bucket to start my next batch. Just portion out equal parts fresh food and water into that bucket, stir it, and it’s ready to go for the next morning. Bucket #2 feeds my flock in the evening. The same process is followed and again, it is ready for the next night.

How much to feed? This was tough at first. What I did was take half of what I used to feed them and portioned that into my bucket. Then I matched that same amount with water. Keep in mind that the feed will soak up that water and expand- so don’t fill your bucket any more than half full. The consistency that you will end up with is a lot like oatmeal. It is not covered by water. It doesn’t require straining- just stirring. I’ve never had mold issues (yet)- which is the primary the reason so many suggest covering your fermented feed with 1-2 inches of water.

Yellow Birch Hobby Farm- Fermented Feed Oatmeal Consistency

It took a bit of experimentation to figure out how much my animals needed to eat as there doesn’t seem to be a tried-and-true “formula” out there. I once read that you should feed enough that it takes them half an hour to finish. I don’t really agree with that- instead, I like to feed enough for them to pick at for the majority of the day. And that worked really great for me- by the time I go out to feed in the evening, their morning feed is gone but they are not ravenous. In fact, they are somewhat patient, which is odd for chickens. Over half of them hang back while the more dominant birds get first dibs. There’s no fighting or aggression- but that’s not to say they don’t love their fermented feed. They do. They LOVE it.

What to put that slop in? Whatever you have on hand- rubber feed pans work great, shallow buckets, an old casserole dish, anything that has some depth to it but not so much that the chicken have to knock it over to get their food. I plan to mount a rain gutter inside of my coop as I’ve heard they make an excellent trough for this type of feed. You can get creative.

Show me the stats- what have you noticed since feeding this stuff?

  • I feed exactly half of what I used to, so a 50% reduction in feed cost.
  • My eggs are noticeably larger! Not only on a small scale increase, but I’ve also had multiple eggs that are larger than my duck eggs. What I’ve noticed even more so is the size of my bantam eggs; they are now more the size of what a young pullet lays.
  • They use about 1/3 of the water that they used to. I still replace their water daily, but I honestly don’t really even have to. In the winter, we provide a 2-gallon bucket for water which used to be gone in a day. Now it’s only 1/4- 1/3 gone by the next morning.
  • And yes, their poop- it’s more firm and there’s undoubtedly less of it!
  • When first switching to fermented feed, I did notice an almost immediate drop in egg production. I don’t know if this was due to switching their feed (even though you’re feeding the same food technically, the fermented product is nutritionally different and therefore “new”), or if it was because I was new to the process and wasn’t portioning out enough at first, or if it was just the changes in the weather- but it is worth noting that you might notice that to start with. It picked back up about 2 weeks later and has been more productive now than it was then.

Yellow Birch Hobby Farm- eggs

The downsides? Are there any? Well, yes. It does take more work than dumping dry feed into a feeder. I’d say I spend about 5-8 additional minutes daily dealing with my fermented feed. That includes portioning out what I am feeding and replacing it.

Also, feeding wet feed is messier. Chickens will get it on their face/heads/backs- you name it. There’s just no avoiding that. Ducks are even worse. So if your flock is entering a beauty contest, don’t expect to win. But if you’re a common sense homesteader like me and want what’s best for your pocket book, for the health of your animals, and the health of your family- you can manage to overlook the messy faces.

Want to learn more?

There are SO many great articles out there on the health benefits and research on the scientific background associated with lacto-fermented feed. So if you really feel like doing some digging in, give these links a look:

http://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajb/article/viewFile/60378/48610

http://naturalchickenkeeping.blogspot.com/2013/03/benefits-of-fermenting-feed-for.html

How about you? Have you tried fermented feed for your chickens…ducks…pigs…? Tell me about it!

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This post contains affiliate links. What this means is I link to a product (that I love& use and/or recommend), and if you decide it’s something you want, I will receive a small monetary compensation with no cost to you- just because you used my link to find it! This helps support my blogging activities and I thank you. Homestead on, my friends.

About yellowbirchhobbyfarm

Hi! I’m Erin, a 19th-century homesteader at heart. Here at Yellow Birch Hobby Farm we practice self-sustainable living by way of organic gardening, canning & preserving, raising a variety of livestock, hunting, foraging, and cooking from scratch. And here at our blog, we share it all with you! So glad you’ve found us.

24 comments on “Fermenting Chicken Feed: The Easy Way

  1. Erin, I’m thinking about fermenting feed for my 4 girls. I’d just do it in largeish mason jars. Do you think it benefits the hens to have fermented feed as just a snack? I’d keep their feeder in the coop as well and bring fermented feed out to them twice a day. I don’t want to limit what I feed the girls, but I want them to get the benefits of fermented feed.
    Great article, thanks!
    Jen

    • Hi, Jen! After conferring with some more experienced fermented feed friends, it seems you would be better off offering fermented feed as their primary feed while still offering dry feed on the side should they run out of their fermented feed and get hungry. They will typically prefer and consume the fermented feed first and use the dry feed as backup. If you do FF in mason jars, please don’t seal the jars- loosely cover them- better yet, use cheesecloth. If you seal the jar, the gases will build up and could cause the jar to crack and/or explode. Glass is a great container for doing FF in, just like I said don’t seal it- it needs oxygen.

      I hope this helps! If you ever have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Feel free to message me on Facebook or email me: erin@yellowbirchhobbyfarm.com πŸ™‚

      Thanks so much for stopping and have fun with your fermented feed venture!

  2. This is so interesting! I’ve seen quite a few things lately about fermenting chicken feed. It seems easy enough, I’m just scared I’d always forget to start a new batch! Haha, anyway, I think I’ll put this on my to try list and see how it works out! No harm in trying, right? And if I could cut the costs it would be even better! Thanks for sharing!

  3. After a horrible bout with mites (we are novice chicken folks so this caught us off guard), we decided to boost the girls diet with fermented food. They are just thriving after not falling so good only two weeks ago. They barely touch any oyster she’ll and I think their shells are stronger. Eggs production keeps going up. Smartest decision for their health and saves money too.

    • Sorry to hear about the mites! It happens to all of us! And I’m so happy that you’ve had such great success with fermented feed. Our chickens, ducks, turkeys, and pigs all eat fermented feed and I cannot imagine going back to dry. It especially puts me at ease on the really hot days πŸ™‚

      Thanks so much for visiting. Take care!

  4. Hi, it there any harm in giving them extra? I understand that they will eat what they want and leave the rest. But, if they consume 3 cups FF and I give them 4 cups in a feeder, will the extra FF spoil? Will I do them harm?

    • You can definitely give them extra. The only things to consider is (1) if it is winter, that extra food might freeze and (2) if it is extremely hot out and the food sits for a couple of days, you would want to watch out for mold. Otherwise, there is no issue with giving them extra. πŸ™‚

  5. Hi there, so I have 120ish layers and some GLW and Silkies about 30 more in all, how much FF do you think I would have to make? AND could I do it in a rain barrel type thing ore does it have to be 5 gallon?

    Thanks for the article we are planning this for winter with whole grain feed, also going to try sprouting, just not sure where to buy mesh to do that in:)

    Jenn

    • Hi, Jenn! First off, yes you can use a larger container- whatever suits your needs. Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact science as to how much to feed per number of birds. Have you fed that many chickens before? If so, take that amount and cut it in half to start- then see. You will be able to judge how much they need based on how quickly they eat it. As I mentioned, I like to give them enough so that they can pick at it for the majority of the day, running out about an hour before the second feeding of the day. All flocks are different based on breed, appetite, size, temperature, living conditions, etc etc. I know this is a frustrating answer- I remember being confused trying to figure out how much to feed. But you learn quickly based on judging your flock.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Erin

  6. Hi! I am about to tackle this project in the next week but i had a few questions. If i add probiotics, or diatomaceous earth, or garlic powder to my feed can i add those before the fermentation process or just prior to feeding it?

  7. Getting 150 layer ducklings tomorrow, Khaki Campbells and Indian Runners. Thanks for a wonderfully concise article. Feeling great about their arrival with this information. Any observations specific to ducks with the fermented feed? They always drink water with dry food so this sounds perfectly suited to them.

    • Hi, Beth! I have been feeding my chickens, ducks, turkeys, and pigs all fermented feed for the last few years now. The ducks LOVE it…it is absolutely tailored to them! I find they need less water (especially in the winter, which is helpful). It’s an excellent option…glad you are choosing it. Best wishes to you!

  8. I am just starting to ferment my feed. I did the 1:1 water to feed and within an hour the water was all soaked up and is not covered in water, just the consistency of oatmeal. Should I add more water or leave as is? Thanks.

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