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Why bother to make your own feed?Many times you hear the question, “Which feed is best for chickens?”. Most of the time the answer is pre-made, perfectly formulated, and mass produced feed that you find in your local feed stores (organic or non-organic). While that feed does supply what your chickens need, some people like to control what exactly is in the feed. There is something to knowing exactly where each ingredient comes from and having minimal fillers involved in your feed. The saying, “you are what you eat”, is steadily on our minds. What goes into the chicken comes back to their eggs and eventually their meat. Their food is also edible by humans which means a lot. We believe in whole, real food for us, we want that for our animals too. It’s a personal decision as to what’s best for our chickens. We mix our feed once a month to once every couple months.
A lot of people are very against mixing your own feed. There are specific levels of nutrition that they absolutely need. While this is true, there is a bit of wiggle room. But what were chickens eating before the days of convenient bags of chicken feed? What happens if you lose access to feed? Most of the time chickens were fed scraps from the kitchen and they also free-ranged so they were getting adequate nutrition. We stumbled upon videos from Abundant Permaculture (aka Justin Rhodes). They make their own feed and you can see the results through the future videos of their birds thriving. So we followed their formula, sourcing our grains from Azure Standard. Our birds get a wonderful organic mix of corn, wheat, oats, black oil sunflower seed, field peas, and minerals. We sometimes add barley, flax, alfalfa, and lentils. They get plenty of high protein that the layers need and we give them crushed eggshells back as calcium. We free range in the afternoons so they get plenty of bugs and worms, making a complete diet. At times we’ll change up some of the grains so they get a varied diet as well. You can feed the grains as-is or fermented for a nutrition boost.
Fermenting unlocks even more nutrients out of those grains! We were already understanding of the benefits of fermenting as we’ve fermented vegetables, kombucha, kefir, etc in our own home. So why wouldn’t we apply that to our livestock? There are plenty of benefits to fermenting our birds feed. Fermenting is pretty simple once you institute a routine.
- The bird is healthier and typically contract less disease as their guts are established with plentiful bacteria
- Less food is eaten. Because of the nutrients fermenting unlocks, they eat 1/3 – 1/2 less feed!!
- Less waste. Dry food left out 24/7 can result in lots of waste. They dig in the feeder and food goes flying. We saw this with the dry crumble we used with chicks. Fermented feed is wet and they eat every morsel of it!
- Less smelly poop. I don’t know how it works but they definitely don’t stink as much!
- Bigger and stronger eggs/eggshells.
- Shinier/healthier feathers
Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases, or alcohol. It occurs in yeast and bacteria, and also in oxygen-starved muscle cells, as in the case of lactic acid fermentation. Fermentation is also used more broadly to refer to the bulk growth of microorganisms on a growth medium, often with the goal of producing a specific chemical product.
Storing the feedWe store our mixed feed in big Rubbermaid tubs. You don’t want to leave feed in bags sitting out as it attracts rodents. The feed keeps wonderfully. Our ferment feed gets stored in a 5-gallon bucket. We are looking into getting 55-gallon food grade barrels to store our feed in soon to take up less space. You can also store the grains individually in airtight containers and mix when you need it. If you choose not to ferment, this may be a great solution for you!
Below you’ll find some recipes for hand-mixed feed as well as fermenting directions. Both of these recipes we have tried ourselves successfully. If you try it, let us know in the comments how you like it!
Recipe #1 – Whole grain chicken feed
- 30% Corn (you can leave this out if you want corn free)
- 30% Wheat (you can sub Barley here depending on availability)
- 20% Field Peas
- 10% Oats
- 10% Fish Meal
- 2% Poultry Nutri–Balancer
Then provide Icelandic kelp, and eggshells or oyster shell, free choice for your birds.
Recipe #2 – Whole grain livestock feed
- 50lb Barley
- 50lb Oats
- 25lb Beet Pulp
- 12lb Black Oil Sunflower seed
This is the recipe we currently use. We use this to feed our chickens/turkeys, goats, rabbits, and peacocks. The fowl get fermented feed, the goats get the straight grains. For the chickens, we will add Poultry Nutri-balancer, kelp, and a little cayenne to the fermenter bucket. Every so often we’ll buy a bag of quality bird seed and add some to the fermenting bucket as well. It contains various other grains such as millet and milo. Sometimes we add alfalfa pellets (not a lot, they expand) for a boost in protein.
- Fill a 5-gallon bucket (or adjust your bucket to the size you need) with grains just under 3/4full.
- Add any supplements you want to the feed (Nutri-balancer, kelp, cayenne, herbs, etc).
- Fill the bucket with water to the top and stir.
- Cover the bucket loosely with a lid and let it sit for about 3-5 days. Stirring once or twice a day.
- Once you’ve seen that the feed has a yeasty smell and has been bubbly, you may serve your birds!
- When you get to the bottom of the bucket, leave a little water and grains (a cup or two) and start at step 1 again. This is called backslopping. The bacteria in that leftover grain/water will help speed up the process of fermenting. You should be able to use the grains with only 24 hours of sitting now.
In the summer, when it’s really hot, your ferment is ready faster. Depending on your flock size, you may want a smaller bucket. It can get pretty strong smelling. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. You may also see a bit of white on the top, that is ok, that is yeast. If you see mold, which is fuzzy (yeast is not fuzzy) then you can take the affected part out or discard it all, your preference. If you keep getting mold, make smaller amounts and keep the feed under water. We keep ours liquidy but not soupy; like oatmeal consistency.
Have you tried fermenting your feed? Let us know how your flock is doing!