With any new interest I spend a bit of time on the internet learning. I hate to make mistakes that cost me time and or money, so I learn all that I can and walk into new ventures with my eyes wide open. The chickens have been the same way. I knew I wanted the chickens so as to be a bit self-sufficient, but I also did not want to deal with sick chicks or have predator issues like I have read so many have. So I made decisions like getting the chicks from a reputable hatchery to avoid any diseases and spent some money on strong and secure wire. In both areas I could have gotten by much cheaper, but the peace of mind and no issues to date show the decisions are paying off in the long run. I decided that I could save money in other areas, like feed, to reduce the ongoing rather than upfront costs of the chickens. I am especially glad about the wire as when I am out at 3 am with the dog, I see a pack of foxes rummaging around in the next door neighbors yard. With the chicks locked in their secure coop I know I can go back to bed and sleep without worry.
Now that the chicks are out in their coop and run, we just have to keep them well fed to get them where they will be laying eggs around the first of the year. One of the places on the net I now frequent is the Back Yard Chickens Forum. I have found helpful answers to my questions from its members and there is a TON of information available with the search bar. One of the areas I am now looking at is feed and nutrition. I am feeding a commercial growing feed now that I have run out of the medicated chick feed, and this phase is getting them healthy to the laying egg stage. The chooks also get some sort of scratch or goodie thrown out to hunt for. Since I have a cat that is crazy about the cat grass they sell in pet shops, I bought a 50 pound bag of oats so I would have plenty of oats to grow out for him. Since I have so many oats, the chickens also are getting some to scratch around for as well. I know corn is they typical scratch food, but here it Texas with temps still in the upper 90’s in October, the heat corn produces when consumed is not really needed. Looking as what we are doing now for food, it was time to see how we could save some money and still provide optimum nutrition for the birds.
While searching for what foods are good and not so good for the girls, I stumbled across a thread on fermenting. There is also some talk these days about fermented people food like sauerkraut being very good for people, so I decided to read through the hundreds of posts on the subject. From what I gathered it was a way to feed less and provide better nutrition to the chickens. Results were shiny feathers and very healthy birds. I found some flock owners fermented their feeds, others fermented the scratch grains they threw out to the birds. I decided to try some of both.
My first experience was to put a days worth of feed in a glass gallon pickle jar I had lying around. I added water to cover and waited. The food needs to be covered with water so the bacteria can start and also to prevent mold. The bacteria are present in the air I read and just needed about 48 hours to get going. Well.. that much feed I was constantly adding water to keep it covered as the feed soaked up all the water. It ended up swelling to reach the top of the jar. I watched and waited and it did get bubbly and got a funky odor to it instead of the yeasty smell I was expecting. Really not so sure we wanted to this every day …
After two days I went to feed the mix and it was a sloppy goo. There was no way for me to strain the liquid from the mash and over all was very difficult to work with. The chickens were also not thrilled with the new texture of their feed. I found they were more interested in eating it when some of the water evaporated off later that day and left a firmer mash. So I changed things up a bit.
I saved some of the mushy feed in the jar and only added a portion of their feed to it for the next feeding. I have empty sour cream containers that I use to measure and scoop the animal feed. The girls were getting 2.5 to 3 containers of feed mixed with some water with electrolytes to make a firm mash. For my new fermented food I only put one sour cream container of the feed in the jar with the about an inch of the mushy feed I had saved. I added water to cover and headed to work. When I got home I checked the water level and found I needed to top it off some to have water above the swelled feed. I like to have about a half to three-quarters of an inch of water above the feed.
The next morning I gently pour off this half-inch or so of the water into a cup. I then pour the fermented feeds into a bucket with the remainder of their feed ration. I start with one sour cream container of dry with the fermented feed and stir the two together. I find the mixture is still a bit too wet and sloppy so I then add a bit more of the dry. I am feeding about what I was feeding before, it is just a portion of it is now fermented. And because the fermented food has a bit of water still in it, the dry feed absorbs the liquid to get the texture more to the chickens liking. I mix the wet and dry until it forms a nice ball as you can see in the picture. In this form it is easy to scoop out and put into their feeder. And best of all, the chickens seem to really like the food. At this time I am still feeding about the same amount of feed. However, the chickens are growing and putting on size and weight, so I am OK with feeding the same amount rather than increasing the feed to meet these growth needs. I would prefer if all the feed was fermented, but this is a workable solution that is easy to do in the morning before work and readily accepted by the birds.
So why feed the fermented feed? Fermenting uses naturally occurring bacteria to partially break down the food, improving its enzyme content and increasing its levels of vitamins B, C and K. Fermenting will also make the food more digestible, and boosts the “usable” protein level by about 12 percent. Feed consumption and waste will be reduced and this saves money. Flocks fed fermented feed are generally healthier and less likely to contract disease as well. Since the food is wet it is more difficult for the chickens to scratch it out of a feeder, again reducing waste and expense. Though my birds are not laying eggs yet, the yolks from hens on fermented feeds become noticeably larger and shells are more solid.
In addition to their grower feed, I also ferment the oats now. I fill a quart canning jar half full of oats and cover them as well with water. The next day I pour them into a strainer and catch the fermented liquid in another jar that I then add more oats too for the next day. I think these could ferment a bit longer to make them more digestible, but it is more convenient to feed daily before work this way. The chickens prefer the fermented grains over just throwing the oats out. Even partially fermented they are getting better nutritional content then the grains not fermented. And as I get more comfortable with fermenting, I can change this up over time.
In addition to the fermented feeds we are also sprouting some sunflower seeds. I have tried this a few ways and the best success for me is to soak the seeds over night in a bowl of water. I bought a 40 pound bag of black oiled sunflower seeds, but am still using some of the birdseed mix I did that has some millet in it. Both seeds sprout well this way.
After they soak over night they go into a kitchen sieve. They are rinsed well and tossed about. Then the sieve is placed back into the empty bowl to drain. I the take a paper towel, wet it and put it over the top of the seeds to keep them from drying out. I also place a dish towel over the top to keep them dark. Then, morning and night, I rinse and toss the seeds, dump the drained water and rinse the bowl until they sprout. I can and do feed them when they have just the little tails of the root coming out of the seeds, but prefer to wait till there are new leaves on the sprouts as well. The black oiled sunflower seeds are supposed to be really good for the chooks, but at this age they are not really interested in eating them. The sprouting them gives them the nutritional benefits of t he seeds and they girls love hunting around for the sprouted seeds. Sprouting like this is pretty easy and does not take up much room on my counter.
At this time I am not sure I am saving any money with my feeds. I do think I am providing good nutrition, and even with the “snacks” of oats and spouts, they are healthy for the chickens to consume. Best part is the fermenting and spouting is not costing me much in time, another place I do watch the costs. So we will continue along this course and look forward to that first egg where we can see the fruit of my current efforts.