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Foothills Farms: Feed Fermenting Fiends!

scratch peck feeds foothills farm fermenting 2

Foothills FarmOur fermentation and pastured poultry systems have become such a valuable asset to Foothills Farm. We have experienced gains in overall animal health, soil fertility, vegetable quality, and profitability, just to name a few. Pastured feed fermentation can be a key pillar for the farmer or rancher that is interested in implementing or improving regenerative methods within their enterprise. One of the biggest hurdles to feed fermentation within a commercially sized pastured operation is undoubtedly scalability. We have found that efficient processes combined with unique design can allow the enormous cost benefit ratio of fermented feed to be realized within this setting. — Matt Steinman, Foothills Farm

We 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. We 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 Steinmans 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 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, large-scale 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.

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