Welcome to the final installment of Basics of Feeding Chickens. We’ll finish our series by talking about the whys and how of fermenting your poultry feed and other feeding options.You will find that there are as many ways of doing farm chores as there are farmers. To quote my grandfather, “There’s as many ways of gettin’ a farm job done as there’s farmers. Ya gotta be willing to listen, help, and learn from ‘em, even if it’s just to see what not to do.” So I have offered this series in that spirit, just hoping to make some things easier for you and offering you my 30+ years of experience.
Fermenting feed is kinda new to me, although people have been doing it for a very long time. A couple of years ago, we noticed that the animals here on the farm, livestock and wildlife, were behaving in a way that indicated we were going to have a hard winter. As it got closer and we realized it was setting in, I wanted to help our flock and found instructions on Scratch and Peck Feeds (the one I use) for fermenting feed. I tried it and it not only turned out to be easier than I ever expected, my flock loved it.
Why ferment feed?
>It makes the feed taste better to chickens, not that my girls seem unhappy with their feed, but I could certainly tell that they were enjoying it.
>Makes the feed more nutritious as the nutrients are more readily available for their digestive systems. Especially in the winter when they need more nutrients to keep them warm.
>Helps the chicken to eat all of the feed, especially the fine particles in the feed. Many feeds have nutrients mixed in with them and since they are fine particles, they will sometimes get missed by the birds. The fermenting process swells the grains and adheres the particles to the feed.
How I ferment my feed
1. Get three buckets (I use 3 gallon buckets because that’s what I have)
2. Pour into the bucket the amount of feed that your chickens eat in one day.
3. Cover the grain with 3 parts water to 1 part feed. (of course it’s best to not use chlorinated water)
4. Let the bucket sit for three days. Don’t worry when you see bubbles, that’s just part of the fermenting process. On day three, when you feed it to your chickens, you’ll be able to smell it, trust me.
5. On day 2, start a new bucket using the same process as above.
6. On day 3, start a new bucket. I pour the liquid I strain from the first bucket over on top of it and add enough water to have the 3:1 ratio.
7. Feed the wet feed from bucket 1 to your chickens, but you don’t want it to be liquidy (is that a real word?)
So on the third day, you will have three buckets. One you will feed to you flock that day (bucket 1), one that’s on its way to fermenting (bucket 2) and a new bucket that will be ready in three days. Keep the process going, starting a new bucket every day, for as long as you want to keep feeding chickens fermented feed.
Chickens do not require grains
Contrary to what we may think, chickens do not have to have grains to live. It’s true that offering them grain encourages them to grow quickly and to lay plenty of eggs, but there are those who don’t feed any grains at all and their chickens are healthy, happy, productive birds. Again, it comes down to you deciding what’s best for you and your way of life.
Even those who do feed grain, including me, offer their flocks a wide variety of things to eat. You know I free range and that really saves on feed and supplementing, but what if you can’t free range and you want to offer your birds a grain free diet?
Grain free diet for your flock
What may be shocking to you is that they are carnivores! Meat and fat is part of their natural diet. Just watch them free range and see what they go for first. It’s the mice, grasshoppers, crickets (love to watch them chase them), and the like. So those who feed a grain free diet offer their birds venison, beef, rabbit, worms, pork, and the like. I would never feed my birds other birds – it just seems wrong to me and cannibalism is a whole different thing from being a carnivore…don’t ya think?
I’m sure I’ve told you before, but my oldest son still doesn’t like the chickens too much. Since he was a little fellow he has said that “chickens are like little velociraptors and they would eat me if they could.” Yes, if they were big enough, they probably would. Whew…scary thought.
Those who follow this way of caring for their birds also offer them a variety of garden scraps – collards, turnips, sweet potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and lots of grass, etc; Fruits – bananas, apples, pears, plums, figs, and all such things; and Dairy products – like yogurt and milk. Be careful not to give your chickens avocado pits because of the chemical persin in them. It is toxic to birds. I don’t give mine onions or citrus fruits because they don’t like them, but some people say their chickens like citrus so give it a try and see.
Most of the people who follow this feed regimen aren’t doing it to save money, it’s just the way they feel it should be done. As you know, I free range our flocks, offer them garden and kitchen scraps, and an organic, non-gmo feed (Scratch and Peck Feeds) once a day. Our goal over the next couple of years is to produce our own livestock feed here on the farm.
Don’t stress about the many options that are available. Choose what’s best for you and your lifestyle. If you’re just starting out, pick a feed you feel comfortable with and go from there. That’s one of the greatest things about this way of life, you start out where you are and grow from there. Growth never stops on the farm, for your flocks or for you.
Chickens are resourceful, they have survived thousands of years, and barring not feeding them or supplying their basic needs, you won’t kill them off overnight. 🙂 I hope you’ve enjoyed these conversations. If you missed part 1, part 2, or part 3, you can always catch up.
Do you have a preferred feeding method for your flock? Any tips or tricks that you want to share? Be sure to leave them in the comments below. I always love hearing from you and getting different perspectives. Remember to let me know if you have any ideas, suggestions for topics you want to read about, or questions. You can always use the Contact Me page to send me an email.
Remember you and read this and other great articles on Backyard Poultry Magazine