Fermented Chicken Feed Using Mason Jars
I started my chicken journey in earnest back in 2018, after I finally (10 years after I planted the idea) got the buy-in from my husband. Looking back, I think he came around because I’d convinced him that if we had a few chickens, we’d save money on those delicious (expensive) pastured eggs we had come to love. I’m just going to say it right now – DO NOT BUY BACKYARD CHICKENS TO SAVE MONEY ON EGGS. You will be sorely disappointed if you think your overall expenditures will in any way go down with backyard chickens. Even the most careful and money conscious among us will end up spending more on those sweet little fluffy butts (fun fact: chicken keepers often call chickens “fluffy butts”) than they ever spent on the most organic, pastured of eggs, especially if you add in the monetary value of your time.
Here’s the thing, after four years of chicken keeping, I (and anyone else who does it) will probably tell you that the value comes from the incredible joy of the hobby, personally knowing your hens, and the satisfaction in cooking up that perfect, nutrient rich, creamy dreamy egg (with flavor and texture better than any grocery store egg you’ve ever eaten) that came straight from your favorite girl, Princess Lay-a.
Truly, knowing exactly where (and who) my food comes from makes me so happy, not to mention that I can rest assured that the chicken who laid that egg is happily and healthily bopping around in my backyard at that very moment.
All that said, I’m coming at this from a hobbyist perspective. I have a handful of named hens in my backyard.
Certainly, a larger scale operation is very different, and I can’t speak to having any experience in that, but maybe those of you with a bigger farm/more land/more chickens can give that perspective in the comments section.
How It All Got Started...
Ok, so let’s go back to the day I bought my first chicks. I loaded my family into the car, and we took off for the only Tractor Supply in the area (about 45 minutes away) that had chicks at that time in September. (By the way, I personally prefer getting chicks in the spring, but it was fall when we decided to take the plunge the first time.)
Owning a Mason jar business, I was absolutely delighted to find that they carried chick feeders and waterers to which you could attach Mason jars (see photo).
It was destiny! 😍 We came home with three sweet chicks that day.
Fast forward almost four years, and I can say with authority: chicken keeping is AN EXPERIENCE. Some people have great luck: no predator issues, no flock health problems…they will tell you it’s a cinch. I am not one of those people. I won’t get into everything I’ve had to learn the hard way over the years, because I want to keep the vibe here upbeat. I will tell you that things have gone pretty well for the past two years – certainly not without issue, but I’ve figured out how to deal with most issues efficiently and effectively. I’m one of those people who will spend an inordinate amount of time researching and subsequently fixing (or at least I will always put in the ol’ college try) whatever issues arise.
And now let me introduce you to the happy hens who call the Helseth Homestead their home, sweet home!
Just recently, my favorite girl, Mrs. Owl, developed sour crop. Fortunately, that’s one issue I’d never dealt with before that point, though it is a relatively common ailment. When I threw down some mealworms one evening, and she didn’t run over with the rest of the flock, I knew there was a problem. (If you’re new to chicken-keeping, one almost sure fire way to tell if you have a sick chicken is having one who doesn’t run for treats. The only exceptions I can think of is if you have a hen who is broody, sitting on eggs, or laying an egg at that moment. Otherwise, they want treats pretty much 100% of the time.) I did the normal check up. Looked at her poop (yep), felt her abdomen, checked for a stuck egg, and felt her crop. Bingo. Her crop felt like a small water balloon – soft and squishy. So I put them all to bed for the night and got up first thing the next morning to check her crop again (because if the crop stays full over night, you can almost certainly identify that it’s a crop issue). Yep. Still felt like a water balloon.
I went through a full treatment protocol, which was REALLY intensive (I won’t detail it here, but backyardchickens.com is my go-to for all things chicken health, and that’s where I found great advice on how to treat sour crop). I was waking up at 5am to care for her so that by the time my kids were up, I was done with morning treatments. She was mostly better within three days, but it took a good two weeks for her to be back to normal. I wouldn’t wish sour crop on my worst enemy (ok, I don’t have a worst enemy, but you get the point). Really, it was a lot, and I never want to go through that again, nor do I want a sweet hen to experience it. Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I took to my favorite resources to find the best ways to prevent it going forward. Because sour crop is essentially a yeast infection of the crop (i.e. an imbalance of crop bacteria), the number one way to prevent it is with probiotics.
In researching probiotics, I found that in addition to sour crop prevention, they help with a host of other issues. They can improve overall health, increase egg production, and boost immunity. If there’s one thing I like, it’s a magic bullet. And while I know that there’s not actually such a thing, it seems like probiotics are about as close as you can get to a magic bullet when it comes to chicken health.
Enter fermented chicken feed and Mason Jar Lifestyle (woohoo!). I’m sure you’ve heard of fermenting foods for human consumption, like cucumbers and cabbage (hello, pickles and sauerkraut!). But most people don’t think about the fact that, indeed, fermenting food for pets is both possible and very helpful! Lacto fermented food is full of probiotics (i.e. good bacteria). If you want to get really specific and nerdy, you can read more about it HERE.
Supplies for Fermenting Your Own Chicken Feed:
Half gallon Mason jar
Chicken feed of choice (I recently switched to super high quality Scratch and Peck because, as I mentioned earlier, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure)
Directions to Make Your Own Fermented Chicken Feed:
Step 1) Fill the jar about ¾ full of feed (I filled mine too full and ended up having to add extra water, because all the water was absorbed – but I almost ran out of room. So don’t over fill with food as I did.)
Step 2) Fill with filtered water until the feed is covered by about an inch.
Step 3) Drop a Mason Jar Lifestyle glass weight on top, as it’s important to keep the ferment (the food being fermented) submerged under the water.
Step 4) Add a Mason Jar Lifestyle fermentation lid to the top (of course, it doesn’t have to be our brand, and some people use cheese cloth, but I think ours makes the process so easy and works great!)
Step 5) Wait.
There are different thoughts around how long to ferment chicken feed. Based on my research, it seemed that about three days was a nice amount of time to develop the good bacteria while maintaining a taste that the chickens enjoy.
Fermenting much longer will lead to more bacteria, but some people report that their chickens like the taste less and sometimes wouldn’t eat food that had been fermented “too long.” It’s probably fine to go a few more days, though.
How do you know that the process is working? Well, your food will develop pockets of gas bubbles (as you can see in the photo). The hows and whys of all this are fascinating, but because they are available all over the internet, I’m going to try to keep this blog as a more simple how-to.
If you’re a nerd like me, I do highly recommend reading up on the whole scientific process, though!
Here’s a lovely photo of my girls loving their three-day fermented chicken feed. I’m going to try to keep a jar going for them at all times.
Here’s to good health, eggs galore, and no more sour crop! Cheers!