Should I Ferment or Soak My Chicken Feed?

Fermenting Chicken Feed to Cut Costs and Improve Your Flock

I don’t know about your chickens, but ours are eating A LOT right now. When we crunch the numbers it is hard to justify keeping our flock of laying hens because we spend so much money on chicken feed. Of course, free-ranging chickens can significantly reduce your costs, but we have so many predators around us that we wouldn’t have any chickens left if we turned them loose. But what if you could reduce your feed bill and improve the health of your chickens by slightly changing what you are feeding?

I have been seeing a lot of people talking about growing fodder sprouts and fermenting chicken feed to help reduce feed costs, but does it really make a difference? I did some research and here is what I found: fermenting or soaking your commercial feed can reduce your feed bill, improve egg weight and total body weight, and improve the gut health of your chickens protecting them from harmful bacteria that can result in illness.

In one study with young layer pullets, the chickens that were fed fermented feed gained more weight and laid heavier eggs with harder shells than those chickens fed non-fermented commercial chicken feed. They also consumed slightly less feed than the other chickens. Lastly, when fed fermented feed they had a more acidic upper digestive tract which is protective against pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. One potential downside discovered was that the chickens seemed to compete more for food when fed the fermented feed, and this resulted in reduced plumage condition. Also, the chickens fed fermented feed began laying eggs a little bit later than the other chickens, which would result in a slightly reduced total egg production over the life of the chicken.

In another study with young broiler chickens, researchers compared feeding dry commercial feed, non-fermented wet feed (soaked feed), and fermented feed. Both the soaked feed and fermented feed resulted in increased weight gain and they realized that the birds were able to use more of the nutrients and convert it into more meat on the bird. They also drank less water since there was a lot of water already in the feed. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you are carrying buckets of water to your coop like we do it can really make a difference. Overall, there weren’t huge differences seen between the soaked feed and the fermented feed groups. However, without the fermentation process you won’t get the good bacteria growing in your feed and you will miss out on the protective effect that occurs in the chicken’s gut when those good bacteria are around.

If you are interested in making your own fermented or soaked feed, here is how you do it!

How to make fermented feed with commercial complete feed:

  1. Read your commercial feed bag to find their recommended amount of feed per chicken per day. Take that number and multiply it by the number of chickens you are feeding and then measure it out into a container: glass, ceramic, or BPA free plastic. You need a lid for the top, but it doesn’t need to be airtight.
  2. Add enough non-chlorinated water to the container to completely cover the grains (a good ratio to shoot for is about 19 ounces of water for every 1 pound of feed). You can use tap water that has set out overnight if you don’t have any filtered water.
  3. Cover the top with your lid and leave it for about twelve hours.
  4. Stir the mixture daily and replace the lid.
  5. The mixture should become bubbly and if you put your feed in a glass container you should be able to see the bubbles move up and down. When you see this you know your mixture is ready! The whole process should take around three or four days. The longer the mixture sits the higher the chance for mold growth and it also becomes more sour and less tasty for the chickens, so when it starts bubbling feed it. Don’t feed more than the chickens can eat in one day.

How to make soaked feed with commercial complete feed:

  1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 from above and then let your feed sit overnight (about 12 hours). Don’t worry about covering the top.
  2. Dump out the feed and see how your chickens like it! Don't feed more than the chickens can eat in one day.

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