Recently, I remarked on Facebook that I needed to thin down my flock of (then) 28 Ameraucanas because the cost of chicken feed was encroaching into the human feed budget. My friend Lorien Hoover sent me a link for Fermented Feed: http://naturalchickenkeeping.blogspot.com/p/fermented-feed.html
She synopsized the article this way, "That article in short says, put feed in bucket, add Bragg apple cider vinegar with the mother (couple glugs) strain out enough food, replace removed feed. Rinse and repeat. Super easy just a bit messier, but saves a ton of feed and the chickens look healthier. You can use the feed you currently have."
I read the article, which mentions two very different fermentation processes: Alcohol Fermentation and Lacto-Fermentation
Lorien advocates Alcohol Fermentation, the author practices Lacto-Fermentation.
Since I've been adding Bragg Vinegar to my flock's water on and off for the entire time I've had this flock, I decided to try Lacto-Fermentation.
I couldn't find any buttermilk with live culture, which is what the article recommends, at either Central Market or Whole Foods. They actively discourage yogurt whey, stating that "The specific strains of LAB used in yogurt is thermophillic which means that it achieves maximum growth rate when it is kept at a higher temperature than the room temperature where most will have their fermenting container." So, I opted for some kefir with live bacteria. (The Greek Gods is my personal favorite.) Now, I usually drink the plain, but since I was going to be fermenting, I chose the honey flavor.
In a food-grade plastic bucket, I poured a quantity of H and H soy-free, GMO-free Layer ration, which is what I usually feed. I added some Coyote Creek Chick Starter, which I also usually have on hand. Then I added water to cover, stirring constantly. Finally, I added some kefir.
That first night, I stirred the mash several times, adding water and kefir so that the consistency was easy to stir, be didn't have much water over the top of the feed.
The first and second days, Monday and Tuesday, the birds loved the feed. Not only my chickens, but most of the doves, sparrows and grackles in South Austin enjoyed the feast.
However, by Wednesday, the thrill was gone, though they were free-ranging all day. The fermented feed was lightly touched.
By Friday, they barely touched it.
I dumped all of the leftovers on the ground Friday night, and by Saturday afternoon, it was all gone. I don't know whether chickens or their wild cousins ate it.
Please note that I did not add any more kefir, or honey, to the mash after Sunday evening. By Wednesday, the mash smelled sour, but clean. It was also bubbling, I assume emitting CO2.
I have a sneaky suspicion that chickens can taste sweetness, unlike cats. I do know my birds love melons and fruits, but were not as enthusiastic about citrus as they were about melons and berries. I have heard many anecdotes about chickens enjoying fermented fruit to the point of inebriation.
I also know my birds well enough to suspect that the fermented feed may have been under guard, so today I got a few more feed dishes.
This week, I'm going to try two batches of fermented feed: one with Bragg apple cider vinegar with the 'Mother', and another with honey kefir.
I will say I did use much less feed this past week. Rather than 100+ pounds of feed, I used about 60, plus scratch, for 27 birds of varying ages.