In our constant quest here at The Welcome Homestead for better quality and cheaper, more sustainable ways of doing things there has been some research done regarding chicken feed. Currently, we feed a complete layer pellet along with scratch grains (corn, barley, wheat, oats) in a basic 50/50 mix. This has worked well for a few years and the birds have been healthy, happy and the egg production has gone well. Last summer we had a high of 22 eggs from 25 hens one day and an average of 17-20 eggs a day for most of the summer.
However, feed costs have exceeded the income from selling eggs and this situation had to be stopped. Unsustainable activities will sink the boat eventually if allowed to continue so we have taken some steps to turn things around.
Mixing the grains in the same feeder and leaving the feeder on the ground allowed the hens to scratch around in the feeder looking for their favourite goodies and spreading feed over a wide area around the feeder resulting in a huge waste of feed. The feeder was consequently hung from underneath the coop by a hook where it was still sheltered from the elements and only pellets were put into it. This had the dual purpose of getting it up away from their feet so they couldn’t scratch in it and they showed less of a tendency to search through one type of food.
Secondly, we started fermenting the grains by soaking them in water for three days. Fermentation has been used for centuries by people to preserve and enhance feed. Yogurt and sauerkraut are two examples of fermented food that we eat regularly.
This has a few advantages over dry grains:
-soaking the grains softens the husks allowing easier digestion
-the fermented grains swelled up resulting in less feed being eaten due to the larger bulk of the grain. These pictures show the same grains before and after fermenting.
-soaking the grain results in more moisture being ingested by the birds reducing the need for water consumption which would help them out on hot, dry days.
-the fermenting process increases the acidity of the feed which helps the digestion process and helps the bird’s digestive tract fight off harmful bacteria that can enter through the esophagus.
-the fermenting process also results in higher protein, increased vitamins B, C and K and probiotic bacteria needed for better digestion. In this picture you can see the bubbles produced by the bacteria’s digestion process.
Overall, we’ve been very happy with the end result. Compared to last summer, our feed costs have gone up about 20% but we have twice as many birds here now. There is a feeding frenzy when the fermented grains are set out and there is usually a small amount of pellets left in the feeder so we feel we’ve figured out the right amount of food to put out for the number of birds we have. In addition, when crops are checked during evening chores they are always full so the birds are evidently getting enough to eat. Their feathers are thick and full, they look and act healthy and the eggs seem thicker and heavier.
As always, we continue to research and try to find ways to keep everything we do here as healthy and sustainable as possible but we’ve been very satisfied with the changes in the feed program so far and enjoy seeing our eggs and meat come from a happy, healthy and well cared for flock.