How to Save Money by Fermenting Chicken Feed

Fermentation is nothing new. People have been using the process as a method of food preservation for hundreds and hundreds of years. Foods such as sourdough bread, buttermilk, cheese, pickles, kimchi, apple cider vinegar - even beer and wine - take advantage of fermenting.

It might surprise you to learn that animal feeds can also be fermented. There are numerous nutritional benefits to feeding fermented feed, and even better, it can save you money on your feed bill! Once again, the old-timers had it right!

I have been asked many times over the years by readers my opinion on feeding fermented feed, but until recently I just hadn't had the time to really do much reading or research into it.

However, now I can say with confidence that yes, I do feed our chickens fermented feed, and yes I do highly recommend it.

I have been fermenting whole and cracked grain organic layer feed with added oats and cracked corn. The chickens love it and I'm confident I'm providing them THE best diet I can.

What is Fermentation Anyway?

Basically fermentation is the process of creating probiotics and enzymes by allowing the feed to sit in a liquid for several days. The feed begins to partially break down, making it more digestible and also more palatable to your chickens.

What are the Benefits?

- Fermentation creates probiotics which assist in digestion and gut health by promoting 'good' bacteria in the intestines.

- Studies have shown that feeding fermented feed can increase egg weight and eggshell thickness.

- Eating fermented feed improves chickens’ immune system, increasing their resistance to diseases such Salmonella and E.coli.

How Does it Save Money?

- Because nutrients are more readily absorbed when feed is fermented, your chickens will eat less. (It’s believed that chickens will eat up to 20% less fermented feed than regular dry feed because they can meet their nutritional requirements with a lesser amount of feed.)

- Fermentation introduces vitamins, specifically the B vitamins (folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin), not present before fermentation, so if you are currently adding brewer's yeast to the feed, you don't need to any longer.

- Fermentation also creates probiotics, meaning if you currently add probiotic powder to your chicken feed, you can discontinue that too.

- Chickens LOVE it, so there will literally be NO waste when you serve fermented feed.

How Do I Do It?

Fermenting is very easy to do. Here's what you need:

- A glass, food-grade stoneware or BPA-free plastic container
- Crumble, pellets, scratch grains, cracked grains, seeds, oats, legumes, or a mixture
- De-chlorinated water (Well water, store bought distilled water or tap water allowed to sit out overnight)

Fill your container about 1/3 full with your feed mixture. Pour in enough water so the solids are completely submerged by an inch or so, leaving some headroom in the jar to allow for expansion. Cover your container with a piece of cheesecloth. 

Set the container in a cool location, out of direct sunlight.  Stir a few times a day for three days, adding more water if necessary to keep the grains submerged. You should start seeing some milky liquid and bubbles forming.

Smell the mixture. It should smell a bit tangy, like sourdough.  After three days, strain and feed the solids. (You can leave the feed for longer than three days, but it will start to lose the sweet smell and taste that chickens prefer.) 

Only feed your chickens what they will eat at one sitting to prevent it from getting moldy and to maximize the nutritional value.  Once you get an idea of how much your flock will go through in about half an hour, you can adjust the size of the container you are using, and also start to stagger batches so you have some ready each morning. 

After you have strained or scooped out the solids, you can reuse the liquid and add more feed and grains to start another batch - subsequent batches will ferment even faster if you do that. If your liquid starts to smell rancid or get really thick and cloudy, toss it out and start over.

If you see any mold developing or the mixture starts to smell like alcohol or a bit rancid, toss it out and start over. That's it, its as simple as that.

I don't feed the fermented feed every day. I have been switching off fermented with regular feed. I don't think it would be a problem to feed it every day, but I do like to switch up their diet and give everything in moderation and offer them variety. 

Note: Fermented feed is also wonderful for ducks, providing them the niacin they need, and can also be fed to chicks and baby ducklings - as always, just be sure they have access to grit to help them digest the feed, or limit them to fermented chick starter) 

-Fill a container 1/3 -1/2 full with feed, seeds and grains-

-add water-
-Be sure the grains are completely covered, leaving headroom for expansion-

-Bubbles will start to form and your liquid will start to smell tangy and sweet-
-After three days, your fermented feed is ready to serve-

There are numerous scientific studies done on the topic of fermentation, the links to which I have listed below for further reading if you’re interested, but suffice it to say, fermenting is good for your chickens’ health and good for your pocketbook. 

The Science and Benefits of Fermentation:

More on How to Ferment Chicken Feed:

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  1. Hmmm, I've been reading about this from other bloggers, but no one else had as much detail as you did. I appreciate that so much. I'm amazed that it can be done with the crumble feed. It already has some probiotics in it; will that be a problem? (Nutrena Layena)

    Thank you!

  2. The extra probiotics are no problem at all. Be warned that while crumbles ferment quite well, it takes a little longer to strain the excess liquid from the feed. You can either set the strainer up and allow it 5+ minutes to strain or add some dry crumbles to the wet just before feeding to make it less soupy. :-)

  3. Oh great! Thank you very much. This will be a fun experiment. I hope it works well for me. I'm going to have to find space for it, but I think I can. My guys already get a chuckle out of my herb drying closet, so this where I think I can set up without any flack.

  4. I have been doing this for a about a year now. The chickens and the ducks love it. Increased both shell thickness and production.

  5. Can you cover it with something besides a cheese cloth?

  6. Sure but you don't want a tight seal because gasses do built up and it can explode. So some kind of breathable cloth or even a lid just set on top but not screwed on.

  7. It's not a problem if there is already probiotic added, but I certainly wouldn't add more - that would just be a waste of money since the process does create probiotics. I read a whole ton of articles and blogs about this but I found a lot of the science of 'why and how' irrelevant (to me at least) and just wanted to know the how and why its beneficial to the chickens. So that's where I came from.

  8. I actually didn't love fermenting the crumble. It soaks up SO much water and you're right, hard to strain. My latest batch is cracked corn, oats and white wheat. I'm liking that mix.

  9. Cool idea! My wife and I will definitely be trying this. Good for our kids in 4H as well - perhaps we will pass the tip along to our group :)

  10. What are your thoughts on adding previously fermented and dried grains to feed rations, ie distillers grain

  11. Sure just a small container on the counter works.

  12. Well...I've got 31 chickens to feed. I'm thinking bucket. 😊

  13. Aah okay a bit harder to hide! But in a mudroom or in the garage even.

  14. My concern with feeding feeds with high water content is the fact that chickens eat until a certain weight is in the crop, then stop. Water is heavy, and nutrient deficient. So I always wonder when people say, "my chickens do well on it" but don't add any supporting data like the rate of lay, or, in meat birds, the weight gain information. They may look good, but are they just as productive?

    Having said that I do sprout grains in the summer for the layers, but more as a treat than to feed them on. Basically fermenting/sprouting grains helps reduce the phytic acid that makes grains hard to digest.

  15. A tight seal would cause anaerobic (no oxygen) bacteria to flourish.... Very bad.... They produce methane and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) the latter being the most deadly naturally occurring gas.... You also may have heard of botulism? It is a common anaerobic bacteria. Never ferment food using an airtight seal.... Could be deadly

  16. non-gmo only. otherwise you're playing with fire unless you just have no choice.

  17. My low fuss method: horse feed plastic bucket with a handle, add feed (I use Scratch & Peck organic layer feed), cover with 1-2" water. Stick it in my coop cabinet to ruminate for 2-3 days and start ladling. The hens love it, they lay better, and we use less feed than when we use crumble.

  18. How do you store it after you strain it?

  19. I fed my first batch of fermented food this morning (combination of wheat, cracked corn and oatmeal) and my hens went bonkers over it. In fact when it was gone, they kept pecking at the empty pan as if that would make more appear. I started a batch each day, so I'll have a continual supply now. I'm a little worried though because my second batch is smaller than my first batch, so they aren't going to be happy tomorrow. I guess I need to find a bigger container! Thank you Lisa for the wonderful website. It has become my go to website for chicken stuff!

  20. Where do you get the scratch & peck organic feed or what brand is it?
    We currently use organic layer pellets & they cost through the roof so looking for other options...


  21. Thank you! A wide variety and everything in moderation, sounds like what I tell people to eat.

  22. I don't store it, I feed it right away. Make it in batches that are the right size for a single serving. Although I believe you can refrigerate it.

  23. I agree Kristin - we go through far less feed when its fermented. Liss www.

  24. True but fermented feed is more nutritionally dense than unfermented grains. Also water passes through the crop quickly. And yes, my chickens seem to lay comparable to before I started fermenting and I go through FAR less feed.

  25. Canadian ShepherdMarch 27, 2015 at 3:33 PM

    Great reading. Just one question how much do you measure for each bird well your filling the container? I have 24 chickens. Thanks

  26. Lisa can you ferment your breakfast of champions mixture minus the probios?

  27. I have been feeding fermented feed to my flock of over 500 for over a year. I make it real thin so it can flow into long gutter. I fill about half way then pour dry on top and by the time it soaks up liquid its all nicely fermented. Able to feed 500 in 5min love it! Plus all the chickens are super healthy and no need for any antibiotics

  28. I have been feeding fermented feed to my flock of over 500 for over a year. I make it real thin so it can flow into long gutter. I fill about half way then pour dry on top and by the time it soaks up liquid its all nicely fermented. Able to feed 500 in 5min love it! Plus all the chickens are super healthy and no need for any antibiotics