How to ferment whole grains for chickens

You can use any grain. Here I'm using Barley and Wheat
You can use any grain. Here I’m using Barley and Wheat.

We all know that fermented food is good for us but did you know it’s good for your chickens too? Here’s how it is good for your chickens and a rundown on how we ferment grain for our flock.

They can benefit in several ways from fermented food. We feed our chook scraps of the same fermented foods that we eat, things like Sauerkraut and Kimchi, they love squabbling over chunks of Kombucha scoby and Apple Cider Vinegar mother and we periodically add Apple Cider Vinegar to their drinking water. They also love eating Bokashi vegetable scraps straight from the Bokashi bin!

The main way that we keep our flock’s gut biomes happy is through fermenting their grain. This simple, easy to do technique has many benefits which include more moisture in their diet, increases fibre, vitamins and minerals as well as microbes introduced from the ferment Fermenting your chicken’s grain also reduces the Phytic Acid in the seeds which actually impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and some other minerals. That’s why we must cook or at least soak so many of them before we can eat them and is why Phytic Acid is called an ‘anti-nutritive’ factor.

How to ferment your grain

Fermenting grain is so easy that, after reading this, you’ll be wondering why you never did for your chooks it before.

What you’ll need.

  • Grain
  • Water
  • A container with a tight fitting lid
  • (Optional) liquid from another ferment such as Kombucha
  • (Optional) Molasses

All you need to do is to put the grain in water, make sure that it is well submerged. For grains like Wheat and Barley, make sure that you’ve got roughly the volume of water to grain because they’ll absorb lots of water.

Seal the lid on the container and leave it for three days in the warm weather if you see bubbles on the surface, you know that the ferment is working.

If you want to speed things up a little, add some liquid from another ferment to your bucket. Maybe you have some Kefir, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Apple Cider Vinegar – anything fermented from your kitchen can go in. You can add some Molasses too as that will feed the microbes in the ferment and make them multiply faster and work harder.

Put the grain in a waterproof container that has a tight fitting lid.
Put the grain in a waterproof container that has a tight fitting lid.
Cover with water and remove the floating debris.
Cover with water and remove the floating debris.
Optionally, you can add some molasses and Kombucha and mix in well.
Optionally, you can add some molasses and Kombucha and mix in well.

What to expect

Your grain will swell a lot as it absorbs water. After 2 -3 days, depending on the weather, you will notice some bubbles forming on the surface of the water, especially if you stir the grains a little. This is CO2 that is formed as a waste product of the microbes going about their business and is exactly what you want to see. Give it another day or so for the microbes to really get busy and then you can feed it to your chickens.

You may notice a grey/white film or scum forming on the water’s surface. This is called Kahm yeast and is not an issue, it’s harmless to your chickens and

The grain will swell a lot as it absorbs water.
The grain will swell a lot as it absorbs water.
Dry vs soaked grain.
Dry vs soaked grain.
When bubbles start to form, fermentation is underway!
When bubbles start to form, fermentation is underway!

Cautions

As with anything, don’t overdo the fermented foods. Everything in moderation, of course. Fermented food is acidic and too much acidic food, especially when it’s loaded with yeasts and other microbes can lead to an ailment known as Sour Crop in your chickens.

Possible problems

There aren’t many things that can go wrong with fermenting grain. it’s the same as when you ferment your own food, not keeping the food submerged below the surface of the water. If the water level falls below the top of the grain, you are exposing it to oxygen.

  • White mold. White, Cotton Mold can form on any grain surface that is exposed to air.A little white mold isn’t a really bad thing, just submerge the grain thoroughly and it will die off.
  • Green mold. This is a bad thing and is a sign that you’ve neglected your ferment for waaaayyyy too long and the little ecosystem that forms in the bucket has got out of control. You’ll have to dispose of this batch. Fortunately, worms will break it down and eat it eventually, so add it to your worm farm or bury it in your garden and start your ferment again.
  • Sprouting can occur in grains that are above the water surface because sprouting is triggered by the presence of both oxygen and moisture. This isn’t a big issue, just feed the sprouted grains to your girls and they’ll love you anyway. Top up your container with water to submerge the rest of the grain.
  • Vinegar Flies. These aren’t a problem in small numbers, they are attracted by the CO2 coming from the daily activities of the microbes in the ferment. A well fitting lid on your bucket is the answer here.
  • Scum. This is Kahm Yeast and isn’t a problem, though it is visualkly unappealing. If it bothers you, skin it off or lay a piece of cheesecloth over the surface of the water to help lift it away.
  • Discoloured or cloudy water. Unless it smells stagnant, this isn’t a problem, ferments often cloud the liquid in them.
  • Bad smells. Your ferment should smell like…fermentation. That delicious, slightly acidic, vinegary, smell that makes you tingle down to your toes if you’re a fermentation lover or slightly acidic ‘off’ smell if you’re not. If it smells really rotten or even light rotten eggs, discard the batch and start again. Bad smells can happen if the ferment has got too hot and the heat has killed off the good microbes in the mix and they’ve, basically, rotted along with the grain.
If the water level is below the top of the grain sprouting can happen and mold can form.
If the water level is below the top of the grain sprouting can happen and mold can form.
Kahm Yeast isn't a problem, though it can look unsightly.
Kahm Yeast isn’t a problem, though it can look unsightly.

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