Fermenting Feed for Chickens

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.

Building Rabbit Nest Boxes

As with everything else here on The Welcome Homestead we try to build everything solid and with good quality material but time and wear and tear still have their effect on everything. We build the rabbit nest boxes out of ¾” plywood for durability and the thicker wood has a better insulating effect than thinner wood. We build them out of wood to also give the rabbits something to chew on as their teeth never stop growing and they need to constantly wear them down to avoid over growth. It’s also easier to screw thicker wood together without it splitting. Some of our nest boxes have been around since we first got rabbits in the winter of 2008 so some are in need of repair or replacement.

We start off with precut sections. The nest boxes for New Zealand rabbits will be about 12” wide, 12” high and 24” long. This gives the doe room to turn around in there but is still small enough to keep the kits in a confined enough space that they can easily find each other to group together for warmth.

When the box is completed we cut a piece of cage floor wire for the floor. It is ½”x1” 14 gauge galvanized wire which is strong enough to hold the weight of a 10-12 pound doe and her kits and the wire gap is small enough so the kits won’t fall or crawl through. It is screwed to the box with 1 ½” deck screws and washers. This will also let any urine drain out of the bottom of the nest box so the bedding will stay drier.

When the floor is fastened to the bottom of the box we need to keep it off the floor so any poop or straw won’t stick to the bottom of the box and any moisture has the ventilation it needs to dissipate. We have no idea what the brackets are from that we used for the front of the box but they are plastic and do the job nicely. On the rear of the box we used the plastic caps from water bottles. After some use we will see if they hold up but they can be replaced with something sturdier in the future if need be. They just happened to be what we had lying around and in the interest of doing things as cheaply as possible they did the trick for now.

The finished nest boxes were taken out to the colony and stuffed with fresh straw. Now all that needs to be done is the does need to fill them with baby rabbits and all will be well!