Kelly Liston

You all know how much Oh Lardy loves to ferment foods!  If it is a veggie, a fruit, even a juice, we have tried to ferment it.  So, it should come as no surprise that I decided to ferment my chicken feed.

I mean, why not?  Fermenting their food will improve the enzyme content and increase vitamin levels!  Fermenting chicken feed will make it more digestible, more bioavailable AND boost usable protein level!  That is pretty awesome, don’t you think?

Fermented Chicken Feed

Yes, there is an extra step involved when fermenting chicken feed.  Will it be worth it?  What kinds of benefits will you see when you start this practice?

For starters, your hens will stop wasting their food!  They find it so delicious that they just eat it right up!  When my hens eat from their dry food container, I notice food all around it!  This is because they peck and throw stuff out that they don’t want.  When I put a bowl of fermented food down, it is empty by the end of the day!

Also, now that there are a lot of good lacto-fermentation bugs in the food, the hens’ immune systems are given a boost and they have an easier time keeping disease at bay.  Healthy and robust chickens are great to have because they are happy.  And happy hens lay eggs.

I have known about fermented chicken feed for quite some time, but only recently started feeding it to my hens.  After all of my hens completed their yearly molt, only one hen returned to laying.  One out of FIVE.  They all seemed happy.  They had a clean coop and plenty of the snacks they enjoy.  I was stumped.  I have heard that fermenting chicken food results in lots of eggs.  Getting lots of eggs in the nest box was my main reason for fermenting their feed.   Three days after starting to feed my hens fermented chicken feed, the remaining 4 hens resumed laying eggs.  YAY!!

Fermented Chicken Feed

Okay, so how do you do it?  It is so easy, friends.  All you need is a container, chicken feed, water, and time.

There are several ways to do this and today I am going to share with you my method.  I wanted to be sure that I only fermented what they would eat in one day.  This was a total guess.  And it will be an experiment with you too.  Bottom line is that I wanted the bowl to be empty at the end of the day, just not empty too soon.

I have five hens.  I started out with fermenting three cups of chicken feed at a time.  This seems to be the perfect amount for them.  I backed off to two cups and it was clearly not enough.

 How to Ferment Chicken Feed

  1. On Day 1 fill a half gallon mason jar (or other suitable container) with your desired amount of chicken feed.  For me, I use 3 cups.
  2. Fill your container with filtered water until it covers the feed by an inch or two.
  3. Add a lid and set it on the counter to wait 3 days.
  4. On Day 2, repeat Step 1 and set the jar next to Day 1.
  5. On Day 3, repeat Step 1 and set the jar next to Day 1 and Day 2.
  6. On Day 4, empty the fermented chicken feed from Day 1 into a bowl and feed it to your hens.  Watch them go crazy for it!  Wash your jar and repeat Step 1.  Place your jar at the end of the line next to the jars from Day 2 and Day 3.
  7. On Day 5, feed the fermented chicken feed in the jar from Day 2 to your hens, wash your jar, and start the process all over again.

Fermented Chicken Feed

Are you starting to see the rotation?  Basically by Day 4, you will have a jar of fermented chicken feed ready to feed your hens every day.  I am finding that a three-day fermentation is working well right now.  Two days isn’t enough time and anything longer than 3 days results in a more sour feed.  And the hens simply don’t like it.  This is all trial and error.

Of course, in warmer months, the fermenting process may speed up and it will be ready sooner.  And then, in the winter months, it may take longer.  You will know when the feed is ready when it is nice and bubbly.  The feed will have a sour smell, but shouldn’t smell rotten or putrid.  My family thinks that fermented chicken feed smells gross.  But it doesn’t smell like the fermentation went south.  As with all ferments, a bad ferment will have clear signs that it is bad (foul smell, mold, etc).  Besides, your hens aren’t stupid.  They won’t eat it if it is bad.

I have a feeling that I may be spoiling my hens with this awesome food.  If I am not out there with a bowl of food by 9am, they are at my backdoor acting all sad and hungry.

I am really interested to feed fermented chicken feed to new chicks whenever we get more.  I am curious to see if I notice any differences in their growth or when they come in to lay.  I know for certain that fermented chicken feed could have helped my molting hens, due to the boost in usable protein.  I am hoping next fall they will come out of their molt sooner with the help of the fermented chicken feed.

So, are you going to give this practice a try?  It is really easy and the benefits are awesome.  Do you already ferment your chicken feed?  Do you have a method that you love?  Please share it with us in the comments!

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Fermented Chicken Feed

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76 Comments on “Fermented Chicken Feed”

  1. So would this be like corn whiskey for chickens? JK Are you using any special feed or just standard layer rations etc from the farm store? It looks like it has scratch grains in it too.

      1. I am glad to hear that you are using standard laying mash as that is all I have access to atm. Thank you for the great info – starting my fermentation now! =)

  2. I’ve been wanting to try fermenting feed for awhile now. It’s a pretty hot topic on BackYardChickens.com. Your method is much simpler than the other way I’ve heard about doing it (a smaller bucket with lots of holes drilled in the bottom, stuck down inside a larger bucket, reuse the water over and over for some time, up to 24-hour soak). I’ve heard it results in better feed conversion ratios for meat birds too. I will have to try this out with my hens since you make it look so easy!
    Journey11 recently posted…My Rockin’ New Chicken TractorMy Profile

    1. Good luck!! I am actually going to use this method for a shorter soak with apple cider vinegar and see how they like it!

  3. I have known about this for years as well and may give it a try after reading your piece here. A word of caution on fermenting/sprouting chicken feed. You gain some enzymes and available protein but you decrease overall energy of the feed. This can have ramifications particularly in meat birds but of course has many variables, not the least of which is your starting protein value and type of grains used.

  4. Here at our farm, we sell pastured, organic eggs and are always looking for ways to make the feed more nutritious, while decreasing expenditures for it (non-GMO, organic feed is very expensive and cannot be found locally for us). While we do not ferment their regular feed, we supplement with soaked, sprouted, non-GMO corn. We have found this will decrease their dependence on the feed (which is very expensive) and best of all, make those yolks ORANGE! It has to be sprouted, not just soaked for this to happen. Since we have hundreds of layers, this is how we adapted Sally Fallon’s grain soaking method. We get a 5 gallon bucket and pour in corn to about 1/4 to 1/3 the bucket, fill the rest with water. Let that sit until it needs to be drained (temp makes all the difference, since we do this outside, or in the barn during winter). Get your window screen to fit over the top of the bucket, secure with metal banding and nuts/bolts (we found a metal banding at the local hardware store that has holes every inch or so). Use this screening to drain & rinse as often as needed. Then for the sprout time, just turn the bucket at an angle (we use an old outside sink for this) to let air in and sprouting begin. The chickens LOVE this! I’m not sure how to do your method on a large scale (we feed 50# of feed every day). When our cow in is milk, we used to mix their feed with fermented milk to make a mash which they love too. I think one of the keys to getting chickens to eat all their food is to make it moist. Our chickens also ate every bit of the mash.

  5. Thank you for sharing this, I have 30 chickens and have been trying to think of ways to cut down my feed bill. I have been able to reduce what I feed them by half by fermenting it and they LOVE it. They seem happier and more satisfied than with the dry feed. I am an avid cultured/fermented food devotee and I am glad to be able to share it with our chickens now too. I truly appreciate the good advise and am putting it to good use 🙂

    1. Amber…could you share how you upscaled to make it work for 30 chickens? I have 40 and it seems a bit overwhelming to think of. Thanks!

      1. Use 5 gallon buckets. We have 12 hens currently and use one 5 gallon bucket. Step one: dump the feed in, cover with water, and stir. Let it sit for 3-4 days stirring once a day. By day 3 or 4, you’ll be able to smell the fermentation. Feed it to the hens. When you have about one serving left in the bucket, fill with more feed and cover with water. Within 24 hours (sometimes within 12 hours), it will be fermented again. Never go completely out or you’ll have to start over again. It’s quite simple. My kids can do it.

    2. How do you ferment enough for 30 birds? We have 25 chickens, 22 ducks, 7 turkeys, 2 geese, 2 guineas and 3 emus. That equates to about 16 pounds of feed per day, and that won’t fit in a mason jar. We used to do a 12 hour soak in a bucket with holes, fitted inside a larger bucket to hold the water. The water holding bucket sprung a leak and we realized we weren’t really seeing any benefit from the 12 hour soak, so we haven’t pursued it again.

  6. I enjoyed this post because it gives a label to something I’ve already been doing! I feed a natural mix of beans, peas, lentils, etc. and I’ve been soaking it for several reasons, mainly to increase the yield, provide more usable protein (the more of the feed their body uses, the less waste there is. Literally. My coops are cleaner.), better digestibility, and great additional hydration during hot weather. I also noticed that my animals (I feed the same mix to my pigs, ducks,meat birds, and turkeys) much prefer the soaked, er, fermented feed over any dry, including commercial!

    1. My pig loves fermented kitchen vegetable scraps, too. Will try feeding them on chickens as well. This a great idea, less messy and healthier, also seems to boost their immunity systems.

  7. Thanks for sharing! I have recently switched from organic feed to making my own with a mix of whole grains and seeds plus supplementing with greens from the garden (mostly just kale and chickweed in the winter!). My routine is similar, in that I soak the grains & seeds overnight. I’d like to try fermenting, like you do. But I will also begin making fodder for them also – as I will be for my rabbits.

  8. I lost my flock to predators but this spring we are starting anew. I plan on giving fermented feed right away. I even ferment some of the goat’s feed. 🙂

    1. I raise Toggenburg and Nubian Dairy goats. I was curious about fermenting feed for them. My girls are spoiled rotten and wouldn’t eat feed if it was a bit damp. How do you get your goats to eat mash? I do put beet pulp in their water in the winter and they gobble that right up but not wet grain. I plan on getting chickens this spring, collecting eggs all summer, and taking them to slaughter in the fall. I don’t like to winter birds and I REFUSE to buy chicken off the shelves to feed my family. I plan on just getting a dozen hens and MAYBE a roo…

      1. If GMO’s are a concern for you, check on that beet pulp. Many sugar beets are now GMO and that’s where commercial beet pulp comes from.

        We raise dairy goats too, but they don’t get any grain.

      2. I assume you are getting pullets in Spring … you know chicks take about 5 months (20 weeks) to reach laying age. My spring (April) chicks only started laying in the fall – each one about 5 eggs/week, and many of them have continued to lay through winter. They’ll go to freezer camp in a couple years when laying slows or stops.

  9. I recently researched the quantity of feed needed per laying hen, and it’s 1.6 pounds per week. if they have access to pasture, we don’t have to give them the full feed requirements, but thought I’d share if it might help you decide how much to soak.

  10. I fermented my chickens’ feed until the wet feed started freezing solid this winter and they couldn’t eat it. I kept it in a food-grade bucket and just always left some in the bottom to mix into the next batch, and it would be ready the next day.

  11. So happy to read your blog. We are soaking cracked grains for the chickens, 1 to 3 days, so it does get fermented. We add a handful of our green supplement every day. This consists of about 20 kinds of greens and flowers that we saved last summer and dried. We use dandelion leaves, plantain, chickweed, pigweed, yarrow, echinacea leaves, wormwood leaves (just a little), comfrey, dill, marigold leaves and flowers, calendula, kale, spinach, mustard, monarda, fireweed, beet greens, carrot tops, celery leaves and anything else edible we can find in the garden and in the wild. This is the first winter we have done this, and wonder why we never thought of it before. The chickens love this mixture better than anything else, even sprouts!

  12. So it looks like you feed each girl .6 cup of dry feed per day. If I have 12 hens that would be 7.2 cups of dry per day. If I want to make big batches in a 5 gallon bucket, how much would 7.2 dry cups be we once it is fermented? Thank you!

  13. I’m new to this. Can I do this with the organic starter feed? I have some 3-4 week old layers and 1-2 week old meat chickens? Thank you

      1. I’ve been feeding our 2 month old girls fermented food, and they love it as much as the big girls

  14. Has anyone had any issues with the jars cracking and pressure building up? When I open my jar after a few days, a lot of gas comes out and one of my jars actually cracked. I am thinking about just using a tea towel instead of a mason jar lid. Will that work as well?

    1. If you’re doing lacto fermentation (which seems to be described since you’re not adding yeast) the feed actually needs air in order to work properly. Plush, like you said, with lids on ,you are building up pressure and your jars can explode. To make sure that you don’t allow your feed to go bad, just make sure you have an inch or so of water over the feed at all times.

      I was going to give this method a try, but since I have 9 hens, I’m not sure mason jars are efficient enough more me. I be been doing it in a large 2 gallon glass jar with a glass lid (not air tight). I keep an ongoing rotation going, by using a strainer. I dip the strainer in the jar, I scoop about 2 – 4 large strainer scoops at a time (depending on the time of year). Then I pour more dry feed in, and a bit more water. Because there is already fermented feed in the jar it’s not having to start all over to create a ferment, and it’s ready to go the very next day (24 hours).

      I’m on day 2 of the mason jar trial, and I’m trying 2 half gallon jars at a time (so 2 jars for day one, 2 jars for day 2, etc). I tried following the directions from the post, and came home from church today to my jars hissing and ready to explode. I opened them up, and even though I had head room in there last night, I had a couple inches of water above the feed line last night. This morning the feed had expanded so much that all the water was absorbed and there was no protective layer of water above it any longer. And one jar, when I opened it, the feed actually began expanding with the release of pressure and overflowed the jar. I’ve adjusted the amount I added to day 2’s jars to hopefully lessen that possibility. But in not sure how comfortable I feel with the lids on anymore with the pressure of the gas building up…

  15. I have 2 questions:
    1) do you put your (airtight) kids on the mason jars?
    2) do you provide dry feed as well or is the fermented all they need??
    Thanks so much for the info!

  16. You mentioned using a layer mash. What ingredients are in your layer mash? Thanks for posting this! I can’t wait to try it!

  17. Does your feed ferment without adding AV vinegar or other fermenting additive? All other sites add something to start it. Thank you, for I am new to chickens, but I fermented my 3-week-old chicks and by the 5th day they didn’t like it, so I think it became to vinegary.

  18. I’ve been giving my three girls fermented feed for about a month now. I’ve noticed that (1) they LOVE it and (2) they waste a lot less food than when they were getting only crumbles.

    I like this rotating method a lot better than what I’ve been doing (refill a huge jar about every week or so) and can’t wait to try it.

    Just as an FYI, every morning, I add a handful of (dried) oatmeal, a couple of tsp. of crumbled egg shells (for calcium), a small scoop of probiotics, and about a Tbs of grit to about one cup of fermented feed. For a special treat (when it’s been a super cold night), they get a couple of scrambled eggs added in. They go crazy for it every single morning. They have access to dried feed crumbles, crumbled egg shells and grit all day (and get a couple handfuls of dried cracked corn in the evenings when the temps will be cold), but they really love their breakfast.

  19. I recently switched my chickens feed to fermented feed from free choice food, I feed approximately 3/4 gallon of fermented feed twice a day. They act as if they are starving when I feed them. They do not finish the feed before they stop eating. Egg production is down as well. Is this just a result of the change in feeding routine or am I starving my chickens? I have tried looking up how much fermented feed to feed per chicken but the only thing I have found stated is enough feed for 30 mons. Does anyone have any advice on amount approximately per chicken to feed?

    1. Perhaps others can chime in on this as well. When I give my hens fermented feed, I still have unfermented feed in their treadle feeder. I like them to have the option. I am unsure as to how much food each hen is supposed to have. But I would worry that if they ate it all in the morning, they would have no food to eat for the rest of the day.
      Kelly Liston recently posted…10 Reasons to Start a GardenMy Profile

    2. I read an article that said an average layer eats about 4oz per day of fermented feed. It appears that most people feed moist food twice a day.

  20. I have two week old Ancona ducklings…would it be safe to give them fermented feed this early? I’ve been thinking about trying it, but am a little hesitant because they’re still so young.

    Also, I have been buying and adding chick/duckling safe probiotics to their water…I was wondering if adding whey to the water work just as well? I am very new to all this. 🙂

    1. I’ve fed my ducks fermented feed since they arrived. Have never fed them dry food. They love it but then again it’s all they’ve known!

  21. Can you ferment starter feed that has fish meal in it? I am feeding Graham’s Organic Chick starter and it has fish meal in it. Thanks in advance!

      1. Thanks Kelly. I tried fermenting my feed. My girls love it. They don’t seem to want the regular dry feed anymore. How long can you keep fermenting from the same batch? Mine smells a bit sour. I am thinking my next feed I won’t get with fish meal…it is a bit stinky when fermented.

  22. I want to ferment my feed also, but I have been trying to find the feed I want to use, would these ingredients be good for fermenting? It seems like there are a lot of extra stuff in this- its an organic and gmo-free mix i found.
    Ingredients: Organic Field Peas, Organic Corn, Organic Wheat, Organic Oats, Fish Meal, Organic Rice Bran, Organic Alfalfa Meal, Organic Flaxseed, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Silico Aluminate, Dried Organic Kelp, Dicalcium Phosphate, Salt, Yeast Culture, Roughage Product (organic wheat middlings), Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Choline Chloride, Menadione Nicotinamide Bisulfite Complex, D-Calcium Pantothenic Acid, Niacin Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, and other healthy organic ingredients.

  23. What do you put the fermented feed in to feed to the chickens? We have tried fermenting with lots of different blends, and it seems when we include layer pellets, it’s really gummy, so it doesn’t flow through the hanging feeders like the looser ingredients… seeds and whole oats, etc. Thanks, Karyn

  24. I have started fermenting feed for my chicks and give it to them in the morning and at night. They gobble it up super quick so I also leave the dry starter in their brooder all day as well in case they get hungry between feedings. I have noticed that their crops are huge and hard. I tried taking away all food for 24 hours and massaged their crops to help it soften and digest and it seemed to help but as soon as I add the food back in it happens again. Would giving them grit help with this issue? Should I take the dry food out and only feed them the fermented feed twice a day? I notice the large solid crop in my 8 week old pullets that are on the fermented feed as well (they also have access to dry all day). I heard the crop should empty after 4 hours but it seems like it never empties if I always have food around.

    1. I always have food around for my chicks when I have them. Did you notice the problem starting after you introduced the fermented feed? If so, I would remove the fermented feed and stick with the dry starter and see if that helps.
      Kelly Liston recently posted…Pasta Primavera RecipeMy Profile

  25. Hi I’m in Australia & I’m new to this chooky stuff!! I have 3 girls & they are balls of feathery fun. My question is, is there a problem if the fermented food is older than the 4 days?

  26. Does the fermentation jar have to be glass? I don’t have any half gallon size glass jars & I was thinking of using half gallon milk containers (not the plastic kind). Will that work? Will it work in plastic containers?

  27. I have been giving my girls (14 total) and (2 beautiful roosters) fermented feed for the past week and they love it, however I found last night that I put too much feed in the (already fermented water I keep adding feed to) and this morning had to throw it all out………my bad……..it may have been ok but it did smell putrid to me (not sure what putrid smells like) but it just didn’t smell right. My question is about what I put in there to ferment. I couldn’t get a straight answer from my feed store, so I just bought the cheapest all grain horse feed, my usual laying pellets, scratch, and sunflower seeds, put equal parts in the jar, covered with water 2 “, covered with handkerchief and rubber band. Is this mixture ok? And since I dont have a cheese cloth is the handkerchief ok? And is it ok if the black oil sunflower seeds float to the top (since everything is suppose to be below the water)? Thank you for your quick response as I am about to start a new batch but want to make sure I do it all right this time.

  28. Have been wondering regarding scratch mixes. A lot have additives besides vitamins there can be found additions such as: shell grit, limestone, dicalcium phosphate, vegetable oil. Minerals: calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, zinc, manganese, selenium, copper, iron, cobalt, iodine, molybdenum. How do these additions affect the fermentation process compared to if just using just grains?

  29. Pingback: How To Start Raising Chickens For Meat Or For Eggs | I Love Pets

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