Foothills Farms: Feed Fermenting Fiends!

Foothills Farms: Feed Fermenting Fiends!

Foothills FarmWe talk a lot about our feeds—go figure! From the inputs, to its attributes, to its accreditations, but what about our feed in action? Our recent facility move has put us even closer to many agricultural producers in Washington, and we are now fortunate enough to be next door neighbors with Matt Steinman, the MacGyver of farming and the man behind Foothills Farm. We wanted to give an inside look at one of the many ways you can utilize our feed, highlighting one of our favorites: fermenting. Our Marketing gals, Lindsey and Deven, decided to take a field trip to Matt’s farm to see just how he makes the most of Scratch and Peck feeds.

Foothills Farm sits nestled into the lush Skagit Valley in Sedro-Woolley, WA. It’s hard not to fall in love with the scenery and the farm as soon as you step out of the car. It instantly shows its kind of special magic; the cool country air, the sounds of chickens and goats chattin’ it up in the distance, plus it has a “rainbow season”, where rainbows are enjoyed in abundance. Matt’s 100-acre farm has been in his family since 1946 and four generations of Steinman’s have lived and worked on that land—five if you count Matt’s little girl. As with most farms, Matt doesn’t stick to just one thing. They also breed Quarter Horses and goats, grow produce for farmer’s markets, CSA boxes, and even the food bank, and of course, raise chickens!

Matt’s chicken operation is one to marvel at, with 500 hens in the pasture and another 300 pullets in the nursery, he can have birds laying year-round—but that’s not the only thing that makes these chickens unique. In addition to the heaps of greens and bugs available in the pasture, these lucky chickens are also fed fermented Scratch and Peck Naturally Free Organic Layer feed. We’re sure you’ve heard us talk a lot about fermenting chicken feed. Well Matt is living proof that fermentation is possible at any scale— all you need is a little determination and creativity! While our feed can be fed dry, fermentation is a great way to be sure the fines are being consumed by your flock, which was precisely the motivation for Matt.

When Matt began the process of fermenting our feed, he was using three 5-gallon buckets to feed his flock of about 100. Even this is an incredible feat; many people would think fermenting for a flock that big would be next to impossible, but with a little bit of DIY energy, anything is possible. Matt now has a much bigger flock and so needed a bit of an upgrade to his system. Farming is all about problem solving, from protecting birds from predators, to keeping your soil healthy and your tractor running, and preventing the pesky billy goat (Matt has appropriately named “Billy”) from eating all your chicken feed! Good thing Matt is up for a challenge, though! He wrangled up three 55 gallon drums from Chiquita and repurposed them for the three-day fermentation cycle. Next up, Matt fashioned a spout and closure out of RV plumbing equipment and he was ready to roll! Check out the video for a more detailed view of Farmer Matt’s fermentation set up in action.

So why does Matt go through the trouble of fermenting feed? Other than cutting down feed costs and being a great way to make sure the chickens eat all of their feed, Matt says his chickens experience a longer production season, especially through the hot months. Plus, they are generally happier and livelier. According to Matt, the key is in hydration. Farmers struggle to keep their birds adequately hydrated through the hot summer months and egg production dips or stops all together. When your chickens eat they store the dry grain in their craw to soak, then it goes into the gizzard to be manually digested by grit. When your birds aren’t getting enough water, this process is slowed and halted because their bodies need the water elsewhere. By fermenting their feed, you are presoaking those grains in water and boosting the bioavailability of it.

Foothills farmTo give any aspiring fermenter a jump start, we asked Matt for his best advice for any farmers or urban chicken raisers who are interested in trying it out themselves. His response most likely echoes your mother or any tidy roommate, “Do your dang dishes!” What he means is rinse out whatever container you use to ferment in as soon as you give the fermented feed to your flock! If you let it sit for even an hour, you may have to get out some elbow grease to scrub the dried ferment from the containers (think oatmeal dried onto dishes). Other than that, Matt says, fermenting is a bit tricky at the start, as is any new project, but stick with it and you will have it figured out in no time.

Foothills Farm and Scratch and Peck share an ethos for organic agriculture, animal welfare and utilizing sustainable practices to care for our world. Matt has a knack for finding innovative ideas to create self-sustaining systems on his farm, which is awe-inspiring. So what is next for the MacGuyer at Foothills Farm? Matt is in process of concocting an upgraded fermentation set up and trailer that can feed up to 1,000 birds! He is also working on a food forest, which is a form of permaculture that mimics a woodland ecosystem by planting nut or fruit trees, shrubs, and ground cover plants—each serve a purpose by providing food, medicinal or environmental benefits. Pretty cool, huh! In the meantime, catch Matt at the farmers markets in Bellingham, Bellevue, and the Microsoft Campus.

9 Comments

  1. Anne July 12, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Impressive! I have 12 chickens that I ferment their feed for. That’s not a lot of work, but fermenting for hundreds, well that is one impressive gig!

  2. Chicken Flock Lover July 12, 2017 at 10:17 am - Reply

    I know fermenting feed has become popular and is touted by several well known natural chicken experts, but we may need to revisit the helpfulness and health of the idea. You see, recently we lost our favorite bird and the vet said feeding her fermented feed may have contributed and advised us to stop feeding our flock fermented feed. She said it is too prone to carrying the wrong kinds of bacteria or encouraging the wrong kids of bacteria to grow in their crop. Our bird (Martha) had been hiding the fact she was sick until it was too late, and even after two crop flushes, some drugs to get the motility moving again and some heavy doses of antibiotics we still lost her. I was always very careful with the fermentation process and would look for mold and smell for mold before feeding it to our flock. I never fermented anything past three days and every time I would use any of the feed (kept it in a half gallon jar on the kitchen counter) I would dump out the liquid and replace it with clean, filtered water. I was fermenting “Scratch and Peck” scratch mixture, so it did have a little dirt etc in it – though not a lot. I am no longer feeding them fermented feed, though am still going to soak the seed for 8 hours and then drain and sprout it before feeding so it releases more nutrition. We are broken hearted over the loss of Marth and don’t know we’ll ever be able to replace her. If fermenting can cause sickness and death, then those recommending it need to be aware and need to stop. According to our vet, it may have been a root cause.

    • Scratch and Peck Feeds July 13, 2017 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      Hello,

      We are so sorry to hear about the loss of Martha! We’re glad to hear you have been fermenting our feeds for your flock, and we’re surprised that the vet said the fermented feed was the root cause of her death. Have you noticed any symptoms from your other birds that have eaten the fermented feed?

      Fermenting is a food preservation method that has been used by many cultures around the world for centuries. One of the great things about fermenting is that if the wrong types of bacteria grow, the smell of the ferment will be very off-putting, as well as the taste and texture. All of those are indicators to the person or the animal not to eat it – it won’t taste good; the flock would not want a bad batch. Home fermenting is not going to be for everyone, but we believe in the many benefits that fermenting offers. We believe in natural and organic holistic foods for animals to provide the highest quality eggs and longevity of a healthy flock – a naturopathic approach vs. a conventional one. Regardless, we understand if you no longer want to ferment feeds and, again, are sorry about this loss.

      • Chicken Flock Lover August 17, 2017 at 9:57 pm - Reply

        Hi! I just saw your response and wanted to answer. We haven’t had any problems with our other birds and didn’t have while we were fermenting their feed. I used a glass jar on the counter and would clean it thoroughly with hot soapy water between batches. It always smelled good – like a good sourdough mix – and the birds loved it. I am strongly considering going back to fermenting the feed. I know the bacteria is good – like the type found in other fermented foods – and would strengthen their immune systems. That is something I noticed they could probably use as today I noticed one of my birds had a worm (at least one – probably more) in her droppings. I’ve heard maintaining a healthy gut goes a long ways in preventing that. I’m wondering if Martha’s demise wasn’t more due to her being a good forager – too good! We live in an urban/business area and battle with trash coming into the yard. It’s the little pieces of plastic that are the worst! The vet did say her crop was “full of things that shouldn’t be there” and I suspect Martha was eating things like plastic she shouldn’t. Maybe the vet was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time I found myself at odds with allopathic medicine versus naturopathic.

        • Scratch and Peck Feeds August 21, 2017 at 8:22 am - Reply

          Those chickens — such avid eaters, but often not the most discerning. Yet we love them for exactly who they are!

  3. Ryan July 12, 2017 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Really interesting. Thanks for covering this.

  4. Gina August 21, 2017 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this great article. I have had great success at feeding baby chicks. But, I have a question that I can not seem to find the answer to. If I am feeding laying chickens fermented feed, do I keep dry feed out all day still. I see that 1/4 cup-1/2 cup seems to be the average a bird needs per day. Is that the amount of feed still needed for fermented feed? I have read that whatever isn’t eaten within a half hours should be discarded. Thank you for any help:)

    • Scratch and Peck Feeds August 21, 2017 at 2:05 pm - Reply

      Hi Gina,

      Thanks for the kind words and for the questions! If you are just starting out with fermenting, we recommend that you scale back the amount of dry feed you have been using by about 30% and ferment that amount (the dry feed will expand during fermenting, resulting in a larger amount of fermented feed). If you need to supplement with a little dry food, you can easily add that to the ferment. You don’t want to make so much fermented feed that it is sitting around for days, because the coop contamination will ultimately spoil it. Leaving the fermented feed out for one day is fine though.

Leave A Comment