One of the most frequently asked questions we hear is, “Why are there all these fines in your feed and how do I get my chickens to eat it?”
This question is important as it identifies one of our core philosophies as a company; we believe that a raw, whole grain feed is nutritionally superior to highly processed products. Most mills producing poultry feed use a combination of heat and water to process their products into pellets and further into pellet crumbles, reducing the shelf life and nutrient content of the grains, unless preservatives are added. At Scratch and Peck Feeds, we focus on providing a product that is as raw and natural as possible; something we would want to feed our own animals.
The ‘fines’ in our balanced organic feeds consist of the added protein, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that support an animal’s health and development. Although fines can sometimes accumulate, many of our customers feed our products dry, as is, without issue. Recommendations for helping the flock to eat all the fines include: Adding the accumulated fines to the top of the newly added feed, using a trough style feeder rather than a gravity feeder, raising the feeder to the height of the bird’s back, collecting fines to include in yogurt or an oatmeal treat, or simply adding moisture to the mix prior to feeding to help the fines bind to the whole grains. For even better results, we recommend taking these recommendations just a bit further and fermenting the feed!
Lacto-fermentation has been used for thousands of years for human and animal nutrition. Lactic acid bacteria, like the probiotics you find in Greek yogurt, is beneficial in making the feed easier for the chickens to digest and it improves the overall bioavailable nutrients. Studies show fermented feed has increased levels of Vitamins B, C and K, along with increased protein as well! Higher levels of digestible protein can can also help with egg production.
The simple process of soaking the organic whole grains before feeding helps to release the stored nutrients by breaking the dormancy in the now softened, potentially sproutable whole grains. Because digestion becomes more efficient, fermenting the feed stretches your feed dollar further because less feed is needed per serving. Whether fed daily or used as a treat, the fermenting process for Scratch and Peck poultry feeds is as easy as adding water and letting the feed soak for approximately 3 days, depending on climate. Really – it’s just that simple! Nature has the amazing ability to create complex nutrients from very simple ingredient combinations. As an added bonus, providing wet, fermented feed instead of dry feed helps your flock with better water management as less additional water will be needed for the digestion process!
Getting Started: Container Selection –
To get started with fermenting feed, you will need to choose containers based on the number of birds you are feeding. If you have a smaller flock, you will likely do just fine long term using quart or half-gallon sized Mason jars, or even a repurposed water pitcher. If you have a larger flock, food grade buckets or bins will be a better choice once you get the hang of the fermenting process. Many small production growers have had success with modified 55 gallon drums where they pop in PVC piping as spigot to easily fill a trough with fermented feed. Make sure the container you choose has a lid that can be loosely fitted. As CO₂ gasses are a natural by-product of the fermentation process, the fermenting feed should never be tightly sealed or pressure will build up, damaging the container and creating a potentially explosive mess. Whatever type of container is chosen, some experimenting will be necessary to get the best results as the fermentation process will be faster in warmer environments and much slower if it is cold.
Mad Scientist: Chicken Feed Mixology –
Once a container has been selected, simply measure out the estimated amount your flock will consume in one day and place it into the container. (We estimate an adult chicken will consume approximately ¼ lb of dry feed per day.) Add unchlorinated water at about 2 parts per one part feed. Make sure to leave room in the container because the mixture will expand. Especially for the first few batches, it is important to check the mixture after 30 minutes to make sure enough water is being provided to cover the feed after initial absorption. Once the ferment batch has been prepared, move the container to an area with a consistent, moderate temperature away from sun exposure. For the next 3 days (more or less depending on the temperature), let the mixture sit with a loose fitting cover, stirring the mix once a day. You will know the fermenting process is working when little bubbles start appearing on the surface!
Picky Chicky: Feeding Consistency and Feeder Type
After a few days, the fermented feed should smell slightly sour which is a good indication that the process has been effective and is ready to serve to your flock. Before feeding, check the texture of the ferment. Keep in mind, if the fermented feed is too soupy, the chickens will not want to eat it. Ideally, the texture will be closer to clumping than runny. In our experience, a trough or open bowl is best to use for feeding a fermented mash rather than a gravity style feeder.
While many birds will have no problem transitioning to fermented feed, we do hear from time to time that some owners may have a difficult time convincing their flock to eat wet feed and may choose to stay with a dry feed. Even chickens have opinions and can get set in their ways! Fermenting feed may not work for every flock or situation but it can be a great way to add additional nutritional benefits to your flock and help to save on your feed bill over time. Give it a try!
Fermenting Feed Tips:
• Start small! Even if you have a large flock, practice with a small batch or two to get a feel for the ferment process and feeding texture before moving on to using larger containers.
• Do not use chlorinated water! If you only have access to chlorinated water, fill a container with just the water and leave it sitting on a counter for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate.
• Always use clean containers and stirring implements when you first begin the process to prevent mold and contamination. Once a successful ferment occurs, reusing the same container will allow the active microbes from the previous batch to assist in making the next batch.
• Do not put fermenting feed in a sealed container.
• For best results and to prevent mold, make sure there is enough water to cover feed during fermentation process.
• Stir or shake the fermenting feed mixture once a day.
• Can’t tell if it’s fermenting? During the fermenting process, small bubbles will move up through the mix! If there are no bubbles occurring, try adding more water as the consistency may be too thick.
• Mixing prior to feeding is important as fermented feed will naturally settle with fines at the top and heavier ingredients, like oyster shell, at the bottom.
• Ground mash feed, like Naturally Free Organic Starter, will absorb more water than a whole grain mash product and may involve more trial and error to get the best results.
• Don’t worry – the couple of days it takes to lacto-ferment the feed will not lead to intoxicated chickens! Lactic acid fermentation is not the same as alcoholic fermentation.
Originally Posted April 2015
Post updated February 2017