Thursday, February 20, 2014

DIY Fermented Chicken Feed

Fermented wheat, barley, oats, sunflowers, and kelp. Served on a plate.

Wife and I have been looking into different ways to feed our chickens a healthier diet. After all, they produce food that WE eat, and we'll only consume healthy eggs if THEY are healthy. Common sense, right?

So we've been gradually moving toward "healthier" since we started. For a while, we were getting the brand-name cheap stuff from Tractor Supply. It was a pale brown, underwhelming mystery feed comprised of mostly (we think) grain by-products. Yum.

Then, we started getting the "All Natural" stuff from the local farmer's co-op here in town. While certainly better, it lacks that you'd expect. "Hydrolized corn proteins" just don't scream "all natural" to me. But hey, at least it's better than "modified grain by-products," right?

So, that wasn't the answer either.

I mean, seriously, who would want to honestly feed their chickens THIS:

"All natural" local pelleted feed. Yeah.....
When they can feed something that looks like, ya know, food:

Our first batch of fermented, home-made feed. Almost a pound!
There are numerous health benefits to it that I'm not going to get into, because it's been done before. You can verify this here and via a simple Google search. Wife and I decided to mix our own recipe, but use the Garden Betty fermenting method.

Our recipe is this:

3 parts whole wheat berries
3 parts whole barley
3 parts whole oats (NOT rolled, steel-cut, or pressed)
1 part black oil sunflower seeds
1/2 part dried kelp
Water as necessary
A big glass jar

Note: these measurements are by weight, not by volume.

Dry mixed feed for the fermenting jug.
You can see oats to the left, sunflower seeds on the bottom, and kelp to the top right.
We ended up developing our own lil' measuring cup to get the right ratios quickly and easily.
The green line is for kelp.  :)
The dry feed goes into a big glass jar. All we did was fill it up with de-chlorinated water
Mixed grains ready for water.
After adding water, we stirred it all up.

Right after adding water, the sunflower seeds float, and the kelp inflates.
To know it's working, give it a stir and check for little white bubbles. Or don't stir. Sometimes you don't have to stir. The bubbles are just there.

The burning bubbles mean it's working!
We keep our jars covered, and open them several times a day to stir and release the gasses. We overfilled them the first time, and had some expansion that made a small mess on the counter. Oops. So I'd recommend leaving at least two inches of empty space on the top of the jar the first go-around.

We're moving toward making half of the chickens' feed be these fermented grains. That's a lot of feed, and will save tons of money, even over the assembly-line feeds. We made a significant investment and bought over 500 pounds of feed last weekend.

31-gallon cans of wheat (back), barley (middle), and oats (front).
The lidded one on the bottom has the sunflower seed and kelp.
You can see my drums and my grill in the background.  :)
Another lesson learned was that a 31-gallon can only holds 100 pounds of barley, not 150. So there's a 50-pound bag in my car that will remain until I have the space in the can.

I have to keep 3 bricks on top of each of the trash can lids because I apparently have nuclear-powered mice that chew through plastic and climb up wire and eat ANYTHING. The last thing I want to ferment is mice poop. Ew.

So, the million-dollar question: do the chickens eat it?

The hens going NUTS for the fermented feed. They cleared out the first pound in
about 5 minutes.

I even gave some to the baby chicks, who loved it.

It's hard to get them to stay still.....

So, thus far, the fermented grains have been a success. Granted, we started about 5 days ago and have only fed like 3 times. BUT, the chicks love it, it looks like real food, I know exactly what's in there, and it contains tons of good stuff. So we'll keep doing it.

We are developing a two-jar system so we replace what we take to continue the fermentation indefinitely. Stay tuned for more on that.

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