Feeding chickens is easy. You can purchase age appropriate feed, give it to your chickens, supplement with calcium in a separate dish, and voila: flourishing chickens! Well, for the most part that is how it works. Occasionally problems do occur, but overall, feeding chickens is a fairly uncomplicated process.
It is possible, however, to up your level of commitment. This could entail seeking out organic feeds that are free of genetically modified organisms, which can take some effort to acquire depending on availability in your area. You may also wish to concoct your own feed, which is great for those who possess the skill and know-how to do so while still covering the nutritional needs of their chickens. To take feeding even further, it is possible to practice the lacto-fermentation of chicken feed.
Photo: Backyard Chicken Lady
Lacto-fermentation (named for Lactobacillus) is the process of taking chicken feed and making it into a wet mash that generates probiotics. These probiotics, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, and Pediococcus, are beneficial bacteria that enable healthy digestion. The way this process works begins with a reduction in phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors and ends with a growth of lactic acid bacteria, which consumes excess sugars and creates an environment unhospitable by bacteria that is unhealthy. In the end, only beneficial microbes are left, and that is what is fed to your chickens.
There are many reasons it makes sense to ferment chicken feed. Many who have tried it report an increase in shell weight and thickness as well as egg weight as a whole. Since chickens' digestive systems will be made more efficient thanks to the probiotics they consume, they become optimized and require less food to maintain and thus produce less waste. These probiotics also create a barrier within the digestive system that is resistant to Salmonella, which is beneficial to handlers as well in that it decreases the presence of Salmonella overall. Fermentation also increases the vitamin content of feed, giving your chickens even more benefit in the form of B vitamins.
Photo: Natural Chicken Keeping
Any type of feed can be fermented (although brewer's yeast should be avoided as it creates alcohol fermentation, which is the wrong type), so there is no need to stop feeding what you are currently using if you are happy with it. All you have to do is place your feed in a BPA-free container (BPA can transfer into the mixture) such as a glass far and add filtered water that is free of chlorine, as chlorine kills bacteria both good and bad. This means tap water is off limits for this process as the additives in it will make fermentation fail unless you set tap water aside for at least 24 hours so chlorine can evaporate. Fill your container about half way with feed and add water to submerge them then cover tightly. Don't forget that your feed grains will expand so leave room in anticipation of that. Stir daily and add water as needed to keep them submerged. Some will advise you to add a starter culture to get the ball rolling but this is not necessary as Lactobacilli is already present; you are simply utilizing it more by fermenting.
Soon you will see bubbles which indicate a successful fermentation. Feed should smell pleasant, much like yogurt does, but if you smell something unpleasant or laden with alcohol or mold forms, your batch has gone bad; discard and start over if this occurs. Feed that stays submerged is generally preserved as long as the submersion continues, but it can become too sour and unappetizing. After 3-4 days, full fermentation should be achieved and the feed will be ready for chickens to eat. Simply scoop out their rations and strain, adding feed back to the container to replace what you've used. Stir and replace water as needed but retain the liquid you already have in there as it is filled with probiotics which will speed up fermentation of added feed compared to starting a new batch.
Photo: Life After Reboot
Keep your fermenting feed in a cool, dry place and watch the fermentation magic happen! If you have any doubt about the effects it will have on your chickens, give it a try and see for yourself. All it takes is a little bit of unfiltered water and counter space in your kitchen to conduct this experiment successfully. Feed the finished product to your chickens and let their reaction to it as well as the reflection in their health and egg quality determine if it was worthwhile enough to continue.
Do you ferment your chicken's feed currently? Do you support it and recommend it to others? Let us know in the comments!