Fermented Chicken Feed for Improved Health

Fermented chicken feed provides many benefits to improving chicken health.

| July/August 2016

  • Fermented chicken feed can be fed year-round.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • The process of fermenting feed is simple: Choose your favorite grain or feed mix, and soak in water for one day up to a week.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Learning how to ferment feed is simple.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • A large stock pot serves as a place to ferment feed.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Fermenting feed takes one day to a week to make.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Feeding meat chickens a diet of fermented grains increases weight gain. Layers also produce heavier eggs with thicker shells.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Fermented feed is easier to digest, which means more nutrients for your birds and less money spent at the feed store.
    Photo by Susy Morris

Many of us have heard about the benefits of adding fermented foods in our own diets, including reduced risk of sickness, better nutrient absorption, and higher digestibility, to name a few. The same is true for your poultry flock and other animals. Fermenting feed for your flock is actually very easy, and the benefits range from increased egg production in winter to lower feed consumption.

When I first inherited a flock of chickens, I fed them organic chicken pellets from the local feed store. I liked the convenience of filling a feeder once a week and not having to think about it. Then I added ducks, turkeys and guinea fowl, along with more chickens. That’s when I started to think about ways to increase the health of my flock and decrease my feed bill. I found a source of inexpensive whole grains from local farms and began researching feed-mix ratios and digestibility. In my search, I turned to vintage livestock books, which are a wealth of information for any of us who want to step away from the premixed livestock feed industry. My interest was piqued when I found frequent mentions of soaking, sprouting and souring grains before feeding them to livestock.

The nitty gritty

The main reason to ferment chicken feed is that it improves our birds’ health. Probiotics help fight off sickness and help gut health, and studies have shown that birds fed fermented feed are less susceptible to salmonella and campylobacter. In fact, the amounts of these two types of bacteria in particular were shown to be lower in the digestive tracks of birds fed fermented feed, something important to those of us who raise birds, especially meat birds, and particularly if we process them on-farm.

Beyond the health aspect of fermenting feed, it is beneficial simply for economic reasons. Soaking or fermenting feed softens the grains, making it easier for the birds to digest and nutrients more readily available, thus reducing feed intake. The wet feed is also more palatable to birds, thus reducing feed waste, especially when it comes to commercial feed mixes. My birds eat about 25 to 30 percent less when fed soaked or fermented feed. This really adds up when you’re feeding between 50 and 75 birds, but it’s still a valuable savings even if you have a small flock.

Not only does fermenting feed reduce intake, it also increases weight gain, egg production, and egg weight. I also noticed in my flock that egg yolks were larger, and my customers also noted the change. In fact, my customers swear that the eggs taste different than eggs they purchase from other small producers feeding similar, yet unfermented feed.

In addition to reduced feed intake, fermenting feed increases the availability of vitamins and minerals in the feed. Phosphorus and protein availability increases, and sugar levels decrease. This increase in protein absorption, though seemingly small, helps us save money, because a cheaper, lower-protein feed can be used, which is especially helpful if you raise broilers and turkeys. In fact, my broilers and turkeys are raised on the same grain mix that my layer flock eats. Technically it has 14.5 percent protein content, but with fermenting, it is increased by about 3 percent. This may not seem like much, but it is enough that I don’t have to add extra protein for the meat birds. If you are feeding a whole-grain mix, fermenting is even more important because it neutralizes phytic acid present in whole grains. Phytic acid acts as an anti-nutrient and blocks vitamin and mineral absorption.

12/22/2017 12:00:31 PM

Intriguing artical. Looking forward to employing this feeding method with my new flock in the spring after we're resettled on our recently acquired 3+ acres. Thanks Susy. Ken Billman

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