Today I’m going to show you how you can raise healthier chickens AND save 40% or more on your feed. All it takes is a simple system for soaking and fermenting the grains you use as feed. We use this for our laying hens, meat chickens, other poultry, and even our pigs, which are partially grain-fed.
What soaking does
Grains are made with a protective coating that helps seal in all their nutrients. That’s why you can store your wheat and oats long-term and why grains can store in the ground. The protective coating locks up the nutrients in the grain meaning our bodies have to work harder to get them. Many nutrients just pass through.
By soaking grains, you soften that coating and unlock nutrients. By soaking our feed, we’re making more nutrients available to our animals. And we’re going a step further by encouraging fermentation.
The benefits of fermentation
Fermentation adds probiotics and increases vitamin content. Fermented feed is shown to increase the thickness of eggshells and the weight of eggs. With more available nutrition, your animals will need less feed, which in turn will reduce your feed costs.
Ready to give it a try? First I’ll share how we’re doing this on our homestead, then I’ll give you some pointers on how to make it work for your particular situation.
Make your own fermented chicken feed in 6 easy steps
2-4 Buckets, depending on how long you’re fermenting
1. Line up your buckets.
You will need one bucket for each day of fermentation. The final bucket will need small holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.
2. Scoop grain into your first bucket.
How much grain you use depends on your flock’s needs. Most recommendations say a quarter to one-third of a pound of feed each day. I would recommend you start on the low end of that range to establish a baseline.
Other food sources, housing, and other factors will affect how much feed your chickens need. Every environment is different. If you’re using a high-quality, higher protein feed or if you’re free-ranging your birds, you’ll probably be able to reduce that amount pretty quickly.
3. Add water to cover your grain.
Add enough water to cover your grain by several inches.
4. The following day, pour the grain from the first bucket into the second.
Once per day, pour the soaking feed from each bucket into the next, continuing down the line until your first bucket is empty and ready to be refilled with fresh grain. Once the soaking feed reaches the last bucket with the hole in the bottom, it will be fermented and ready to use.
You could just switch the buckets, putting the empty bucket back at the beginning of the line, but I like to dump them because it mixes everything up and makes sure all the grain is getting exposed. You could stir smaller buckets to get the same effect.
5. Add water as needed to cover the grain entirely.
This is an important step. The grain swells while soaking and needs to stay submerged to keep mold from growing. As you are learning this process, you may need to occasionally check to be sure the grain is still covered. Eventually you will get a feel for how much water you need.
6. Feed your chickens!
The drained feed in your final bucket is ready to use.
That’s it! Soaked and fermented chicken feed in 6 simple steps, for healthier chickens and a lower feed bill. It’s a low maintenance system that is well worth the effort.
Some further thoughts to help you get started:
Choosing your buckets
We use 5 gallon buckets because we’re feeding so many animals. If you’re feeding fewer animals, you could just use smaller containers.
Choosing your grains
Whatever feed you normally use will work. I’ve even heard of some people successfully using mash or pellets. We use a combination of whole and cracked grains.
We’ve further lowered our costs by using non-GMO scratch. We don’t have affordable organic grain available to us, but if you do I highly recommend using it.
If you have the ability to regularly move or free-range your chickens, you can get away with a lower quality feed. Your chickens will eat seeds and bugs and won’t need as much protein in their feed.
Length of fermentation
We ferment for 3 days right now because it’s still a little cool. If it’s warmer where you are, you could cut that time down to 24-48 hours. 24 hours should be your minimum. Remember, you’ll need one bucket for each day of your process. Don’t let your grain ferment for more than 48 hours after you see bubbles appear… you don’t want the feed turning alcoholic.
Adding a starter
You don’t have to add a starter, but it is helpful. You can use a little bit of the liquid from any lacto-ferment– sauerkraut, whey, etc. You can also use water from your second or third buckets of feed, which have already been fermenting. Just add starter to the water in your first bucket to kick-start fermentation.
How to know it’s working
When the grain begins to ferment, you will see bubbles forming in the water. It should smell sweet and fermented. It should never smell moldy or icky. That’s a sign something is wrong, and you’ll need to discard that batch.
Easier to digest and more nutrients
Since it is easier for your chickens to digest the grains and there are more nutrients available to them, they will automatically lower their consumption… healthier chickens who are cheaper to feed!