Cut Your Chickens Feed Bill by Fermenting

Fermentation is nothing new to most of us. We’ve either used it with our surpluses for natural food preservation, or we’ve taken advantage of the probiotics, those beneficial bacteria, that fermenting something creates. As health-promoting element of our diet, its importance is not up for debate; as a part of industrialized lifestyle, its absence has now been recognized as a serious flaw in the system. Luckily, for those just learning this, we can ferment at home right away.

Video: Probiotics Explained Simply

What hasn’t been nearly as well documented, at least not on social media or wellness websites, is the fact that those with chickens can and should be fermenting their feed as well. For all the benefits that fermentation provides humans, it also does the same for animals. In other words, it helps aids in digestion, strengthens the immune system and both maintains and multiplies vitamin content. That, of course, is great for the birds, but it’ll also make a difference to human footing the bill for the feed (yet another way fermentation is good for people).

Wicked Seeds and Grains

Seeds and grains, despite all the good they do, have a deceptively malicious side. In an effort to make into germination unscathed, they’re designed with mechanisms to preserve the vital proteins, minerals and fats that’ll go into growth. Those mechanisms equate to bad news for those of us who eat them, animal and human alike. Ingested, they are anti-nutrients, blocking our ability to absorb the nutrition we’ve given ourselves.

Video: Soaking and Sprouting Grains, Seeds and Nuts for Best Health

Sprouting and/or fermenting the grains and seeds works well in diffusing the nutrient blockade. Instead of the seeds holding tight to their protective barriers, soaking them in liquid suggests that it’s time to release all those inhibiting enzymes and phytates, such that the nutritive content of some foods—grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts—become available to those eating them. In short, this means that those eating sprouted or fermented seeds, grains and nuts are getting more of the health benefits they provide.

Why Ferment When I Can Simply Sprout

It’s true that both fermentation and sprouting can get rid of the inhibitors in certain foods, and with sprouting being the much quicker and more foolproof of the methods, it might seem to be the better options. However, fermentation does a lot more than stripping down the unwanted aspects of seeds and grains. It actually adds a lot to the feed.

Video: Sprouted Grain for Animal Fodder

The process of lacto-fermenting enhances nutritive content of the feed. It produces a slurry of B vitamins, vitamin K, and enzymes. But, probably the largest benefit of fermentation is the introduction of probiotics, positive bacteria, into our food, which transport it into our guts (or the guts of the chickens), where it keeps our digestive tract functioning correctly and maintains our immune systems. Healthier guts equate to healthier animals.

How All This Reduces the Cost of Chicken Feed

Using either sprouts or fermented feed equates to much more bang for the buck. For one, a bag of grain or seed is cheaper than a bag of animals feed. But, even for those accustomed to using only seed or grain, obviously adding liquid to the seed will result in increased weight and volume of the feed. Some farmers add probiotic powder to feed, and this will obviously no longer be necessary. Plus, because the food is absorbed better, the chickens actually eat less.

Video: How and Why to Feed Your Chickens Fermented Feed

In either instance, sprouting or fermenting, the practice can also be a major help in reducing the cost of feed because the chickens will get much healthier from their food. Fermentation improves feed conversion (over dry mash), helps the birds thwart pathogens, and is said to increase egg weight and shell resistance. It also increases weight gain for meat birds. In other words, the improved chicken feed also creates a better result from a better bird.

Simple Steps for Fermenting Chicken Feed

Soak whatever grains, seeds or legumes meant for chicken feed for one night in chemical-free water. Add them into a bucket with an optional bit of dry bran. Mix everything up well, then cover it with water. Be aware that the feed will soak up the water, and that, in order to prevent problems with mold and bad bacteria, the feed will need to stay submerged. Stir feed and water mixture. To make this process faster, an existing culture—juice from homemade lacto-ferments, like sauerkraut or a bit of water kefir—can be added.

Video: How to Ferment Chicken Feeds

Once the concoction begins to bubble a little and smell slightly sour but not unpleasant, the lacto-fermentation is happening, and the benefits are available. This will generally take a couple of days. It can be feed to the birds in the appropriate amount, but leaving a little of the cultured feed will aid in keeping the fermentation cycle ongoing by simply aiding new, dry mix to it, filling the fermenting vessel again with water.

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.


  1. Hi, I have fermented the chicken grains for a while now and the hens don’t even seem to be interested in the dry grains any more at all (not so handy when I am away for a period but that is beside the point). Living in de tropics I have noticed that as the temperature and humidity are on the increase due to our season change, the batch will start to smell off quite quickly. Also a thin layer of mould (I assume, light green cover) on top starts to develop quite quickly. I’d like to continue fermenting and what how to best manage? Would fermenting overnight suffice? Stick to 24 hours max. and not reuse a portion of the ‘juice’ as I used too? I look forward to your advice. And if you have any on sprouting in a tropical climate that would be a bonus! Thanking you :)

    1. You should have enough water least an inch or 2 of water over the mix so no mix is showing in the water , so shouldn’t get mould

  2. I also live in the tropics and find that my fermented grain is ready in much less than the three days suggested. I originally waited three days but found it going “off” so now I feed it to my flock after only 24 hours. It doesn’t swell up quite as much but at least it’s not going off and being thrown out.

    1. Rosemary, you have to cover the grain with an inch or more of water. This will prevent your grain going “off”. After the three day period, and stirring 2-3 times a day, all the water should be absorbed and it is ready to feed to your chickens. Your air temp doesn’t have a bearing on this process other than to make sure it’s above 60 degrees so the fermentation process can start.

    2. Heat speeds up fermentation (bit like germating a seed) which is prob why it goes off after few days
      So I would suggest anyone in hotter climates to prob not wait as long

  3. How many days does the fermented seed last? Can I feed my chickens for a few days on one bucket if they don’t eat it all in one day?

  4. Hi
    We’ve just started trying the fermented feed method. We have some oats that have been in the fermenting pail longer than the recommended 3 to 4 days that are smelling like crap (literally – S***! It’s now about 8 days).
    Is this good or bad for the chickens when they smell like this? I’ve been searching the web and no one so far seems to have addressed this properly. I read a few forums where people said “bad smell is fine” and one australian website (“thisNZLife”) that said it’s potentially very bad for your chickens.

    1. 8 days is too long. Throw it out and start again. If you feed your chickens bad food they can get sick with things like sour crop or diarrhea, which can lead to fly strike and death, or at least extreme nastiness.

  5. I’m in UK and ferment for my 2 chickens. I use groats, mixed corn, sweetcorn, mealworms, some spaggetti (their favourite though not the most nutritious ingredient!), chopped apple, grated carrots, some raisins, and peppers of all colours not the chillies though. If I have raw apple cider vinegar, a big slop of that goes in too. Marigold petals and a pinch of seaweed sometimes. The whole mix even without the ACV should smell like clean vinegar. They love it and it complements their dry feed. A couple of drained tablespoonfuls twice a day and they are happy girls. Shells strong, yolks rich, worms not happy about the inside environment and are less likely to infest. What’s not to like..

  6. Hello and thanks for this great article.

    Please also note that you can ferment meat, chickens are scavengers and they love it!

  7. thanks for the info i have about 50 chickens and have been looking for ways to cut costs but keep them healthy and happy going to try this today!

    1. Yes, since it is mostly just a mix of grains. I have just started and am mixing barley and layer. I am going to go a bit lighter on the layer and find more grains to add in. I just have a bunch of barley from doing fodder a few years ago

  8. I had a large amount of feed get wet and am hoping to salvage it by fermenting it. It’s a lot more than my hens will eat in a few days; can I store it?

    Also, I’m considering freezing the wet pellets so they don’t mold and fermenting later – is there enough ambient yeast to ferment previously frozen feed?

    Thank you!

  9. What about fermented lentils or similar for chicks?? As I too want to keep feed bill down, but also do not want GMO, Soy or medicated feed?? Jen thank you

    1. All of the above. I posted a long reply to you earlier but I think it got misplaced; it appeared farther down the comment thread!

  10. what about beans like black eye peas or legumes in the mix? i have bags of that kind of stuff but didnt know if it was good to mix into their food. Thanks!

  11. Dear person who makes wheatgrass for their animals. It is very very important you not bleach in your water. Bleach is radioactive and will cause tumor formation in all who consume it or use in some way. If HIV?AIDS and cancer patients just quit consuming bleach whether it be on the cutting board, coming in from city water, or from produce being sprayed with chlorinated water in the grocery store, their recovery would be so much easier. Vitamin C crystals at a ratio of 1/4 tsp per pint is far superior even given an edge in nutrients. This will eradicate mold from all things and remove it from the body. It can be given to your animals to help remove anything such. It is fairly cheap. I have ducks and I soak their feed in vitamin C, give them MSM (–antimed) for speedy glyphosate removal and have no problems. You will have to replace your buck and never never use it again for anything regarding food. There will be traces of bleach forever now. I hope you get this message and others read it too… you can use peroxide. This would be better. Be sure to rinse well.

  12. Nice post. I just learnt about fermenting and I have made deep research on it. It’s indeed a new development to combat high cost of feeding. A shortcut to feeding poultry with fermented feed is the use of rumen content. It is very rich and safe for use.

    1. where would I get rumen contents? A butcher? I have also been thinking of the grains that are used for beer? Do you think they would be ok to feed to my chickens and ducks?

    1. I just pour off the extra liquid from the top into the next batch. It doesn’t have to be completely drained. If you only have 4 batches going (using a rotation) then you’ll never have any ferment older than 4 days.
      I don’t let it go longer than that so only ferment enough for the birds to consume in one day and make a new batch daily,

  13. Hello Y’all. I live in Michigan and we have our climate issues here as well. I keep my fermented in my house. I have two batches going at all times, both batches are in 5 gallon buckets, I use Organic Oats, Scratch Grains, Chia, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Amaranth and so on. I throw in GameBird Chow, and Omega Rich and Calcium Rich feeds into the buckets. Half full, ( empty ) and fill with water from the hose, or in many cases of water that is filtered in city, a plant, water softener all should sit for 24-48 hours open to let the chemicals evaporate. I keep the water above my fermented at all times. And I am always adding back to it. Always add water and feed and stir. I keep my kids on and sealed and then pull the lip up just a bit, to let the air circulate. I started mine in June and it’s August 21st. Keep it going, don’t stop unless it smells like alcohol. Then throw it if you must. The temps that the fermented goes through adds different types of probiotics. We give ours to our flock every day at 4-5 pm. If we can’t we ask someone to do it. But we always do it and it’s seen as a treat and it keeps them close to us. I was so scared about feeding it to them, the smell and the look. But when I get past that nasty grey white bubbly mess on top and plunge past the puke with my strainer, and pull out bright, healthy, smells good and tastes ok (if you like semi soft and hard food that has a vinegar taste, I didn’t mind. I don’t feed them anything I wouldn’t eat. We don’t eat them btw. Pets only. Turkeys, Chickens, Geese and Ducks.) feed. Then look no further. They will literally go crazy for it. Their so healthy, bright eyes, healthy strong feathers, strong eggs and shells and the yolks are extremely bright orange yellow. The scat doesn’t smell either. All you can do is fail, try it. It’s very easy, way harder than you make it.

    Pickle bucket from Subway
    Distilled water ( unfiltered or chemically altered water)
    Pour, cover food with water, wait a few hours and stir, close and seal tight, then just barely raise the bucket lid. Just a bit so air can get in and out, and stir 2 times a day. If you forget to stir just stir when you remember. That’s it. Not science. They will love you for it.

    Mine were raised on it, brand new flock in June and they are very healthy and happy.

    Happy Cluckin.

    1. I’m new to fermenting feed for chickens. It keeps getting mold on top. I use a 4 bucket system.
      1st day soak bucket
      2nd day
      3rd day
      4th day is drain bucket
      All with lids, AVC, water & grains. Any advice would be appreciated.

      1. are you sure it’s mold? it could just be Kahm, a harmless yeast that can get on all ferments.

        If you’re worried about it go to a 3 day system. It won’t ferment as long but you’ll still get the benefits.

      2. I have been at this a while and didnt know what I was doing to begin with and I kept getting mold too. So now I use an airtight 4 liter (1G) Tupperware juice jug. I just put about 3-4 cups of grains in the jug, covered with water from my Santevia filtered water about 2 times as much as grains, let it sit for 2 days and they had fermented just fine. I take out about 3-4 cups of grain everyday to feed the birds and add the same amount back in. They are ready the next day. If I miss a day it doesnt really matter. I havent had any mold on it since I started doing it this way. Im am now considering adding an additional step. Im thinking I should add their dry feed to it as well and setting up a trough for them so they will get everything wet. I think, for summer anyways this is make sure they are getting enough water and will go a long ways to cutting down the feed bill.

        1. Oats have the highest protein content of the grains you mentioned, but all are fine. Legumes like lentils and homegrown soybeans are excellent, if your birds will eat them. Field peas are another excellent and easy-to-grow source of vegetable protein. I make my own grain and seed mix to ferment because I can get the grains in bulk or grow them myself. I use spelt (a heritage wheat), or hard red winter wheat, whole oats, hulled barley, millet, buckwheat, flax seeds, and hemp hearts (which are extremely high in protein). You can also use quinoa, which is very high in protein, but it’s expensive and my birds don’t seem to care for it – probably because quinoa can be bitter unless its thoroughly rinsed. I don’t use rye as it tends to spoil easily and my birds don’t like it. I haven’t used rice since most rice is too processed and has little nutrient value. Wild rice (which isn’t really rice) would probably be good but it is hard to find and expensive.

          I mix my grains and seeds together to half-fill a gallon-size crock or jar , add chlorine-free room temperature water to cover the mix to at least a depth of 2 to 3 inches, put a lid on loosely, and leave in a warm, dark cabinet for a couple of days. It should fizz slightly when you open it, and smell a little like warm cooked oatmeal with a slight sour tang. It shouldn’t smell like beer or stink like it’s rotting. Each time I scoop some out for my chicken, I add a scoop or two of the dry grain/seed mix, stir, refill the water level, and put it back in its warm dark spot!

          My girls love it, but it was a trial and error period until I found out how much they’ll eat in about 15 minutes or so. You don’t want it sitting out all day in the sun, getting dirty, rained-on, or rotting, so you want them to eat it all fairly quickly, especially in the summer. I also wash out the trough I use for it daily. It’s a treat and supplement to the bugs and greens they eat in the pasture. I keep dry organic chicken feed on hand for the rest of the day, or for when I’m away and can’t give them their fermented feed.

    2. We have 14 in our flock. How much should we be feeding. They are currently pinned up with limited space, and always act like they’re starving. We currently feed 1/2c feed per bird per day. We also have 6, 3mo old pullets we are about to combine in.

      1. I’d feed them as much fermented grain as they’ll eat in about 15 minutes or so, because you don’t want fermented feed sitting around all day exposed to air, rain, dirt, etc. It may take some trial and error to find this amount, and they’ll eat different amounts depending on time of year, whether they’re laying or not, or molting, or the weather. I have 8 layers, 8 poults, and a rooster, and I feed 2 cups total in the mornings, divided among several troughs. The rest of the day they have access to dry organic grain mix and pasture.

  14. Elsewhere I’ve read legumes need to be cooked before feeding. Should they be cooked before fermenting to destroy the anti-nutrients or is this false? Any substantiating info would be appreciated also. Thank you.

  15. hi , how much feed do I allow per chicken and ducks ? so that I can stop the dry feed . I do not throw the feed on the ground because it can bring vermin if not eaten . am I better to feed twice a day instead of using the treadle feeder ?

  16. Can you use tap water to ferment? I’m sure there are some chemicals in it but would this hurt the chickens?

    1. If you live in America no, America put chlorine in their tap water which kills the good bacteria you need to ferment the food.

    1. Tap and Hose water come from a single source. Either private well(generally without chemicals) and a Municipal system with chemicals added. PLEASE!

  17. I use DCP and multivitamin in feed. So can I yet ferment my feed and what would be impact of fermenting on multivitamin and DCP?

  18. Chemicals in water are mainly determined by whether you have well water or city system water supplied. If home well, do you have soft water (salt added) or pure well water. Big differences.

  19. Nice article.
    My one question is this, let’s say I peg ONE(1) layer Chicken
    to eat
    125g of commercial (DRY) layers mash daily.

    How many grams of dry feed am I to ferment?

  20. I am new here. I live in Ghana. When we say feed we mean a mixture of grains and animal protein. Precisely fishmeal. Can that be fermented as well or do we use only grains without the fish meal?

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