Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Benefits of Lacto-Fermenting Feed For Chickens (Part 1 of 3)

By Sue -

Fermenting Feed Series - Part 1 of 3

Fermenting or soaking  feed for chickens has gained a lot of popularity in recent years - and for good reason.

Four week old chick eating fermented feed.

Why is fermenting feed a good idea?
In a previous article, "Easy Ways to Sprout Seeds for Your Chickens" here on the Natural Chicken Keeping Blog,  we discussed the anti-nutrient roll of phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins, and hard-to-digest proteins  that are present in grains (seeds) and legumes (also a seed).  We learned that seeds were created with these items as a protective device to help them survive until conditions are right for them to sprout and grow into mature plants.  This is GREAT for the seeds and their continued proliferation.  However, it's not so great for people or animals that attempt to use them as a main food source as they deplete our systems of nutrients that are vital to health.  For more information and documentation, please see Easy Ways to Sprout Seeds for Your Chickens.

While sprouting, fermenting, or even just overnight soaking of seeds/grains reduces their anti-nutrient properties making them more available for digestion and use by the body, lacto-fermenting provides another set of benefits. 

In the book, Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin, the author states,  "... beyond simply maintaining the vitamin content of raw foods, the process of fermentation can actually create new vitamins, specifically B vitamins and Vitamin K2 , as well as some types of enzymes."  (Emphasis added)  These additional nutrients are part of the benefit and byproduct of lactic acid bacteria working in the fermentation process.  

Almost everyone who has ever eaten yogurt will recognize the term "friendly bacteria" or "probiotics".   We've learned that these friendly bacteria are ESSENTIAL to maintain a healthy digestive tract and a properly functioning immune system.  Fermenting feed for our animals provides these same benefits.

Yogurt anyone?  Photo Courtesy www.lesfarms.weebly.com

According to one study regarding use of lacto-fermented feed for chickens, an adaptation period of several weeks is required to see benefits in chickens that were previously given dry feed.  After the initial adaptation period, fermented feed was observed to:
"...improve feed conversion as compared with the dry mash... increase egg weight... increase shell weight and stiffness...increase intestinal health by acidification of the upper digestive tract, forming a natural barrier towards infection with acid sensitive pathogens, e.g. E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. "   

Additional studies note that:

  • Wet feeding increases the feed intake and growth rate of Chickens.
  • Pre-soaking of broiler feeds for 12 and 24 hours significantly increased dry matter digestibility and body weight gain in male broilers (25-40 days of age) compared with dry feed.
  • Bacterial fermentation of barley and wheat whole meal flours with b-glucan-degrading LAB (Lactic Acid Bacteria) has improved growth and early feed-to-gain ratio in broiler chickens.

Regarding Chicks:

  • Early access to semi-moist diets for day-old chicks stimulates gastrointestinal (GI) development and prevents dehydration during transport from the hatchery.
  • Rapid GI tract development after hatch is essential for optimization of digestive function and underpins efficient growth and development as well as a full expression of the genetic potential for production traits. 
  • The moisten capacity of the crop of chicks during the first weeks of life is also believed to be a limiting factor for the optimal functioning of the gut when standard solid diets are fed.
  • Benefits of wet feeding have been attributed to decreased viscosity of gut contents, greater development of the layer of villi in the digestive segments and reduced crypt cell proliferation. 

For a bibliography and full list of studies, see:  

Broody and newly hatched chicks enjoying fermented feed with a few dried meal-worms added. 

To summarize, lacto-fermenting or soaking feed gives "more bang for your buck" by

  • Increasing nutrient usability
  • Decreasing the overall intake of feed to provide the same -or greater-  amount of nutrients (by reducing undigested feed items passing through the digestive tract)
  • Increasing nutrient content as a by-product of lacto-fermentation (B Vitamins, Vitamin K2 and Enzymes)
  • Strengthening the immune system resulting in increased ability to resist disease and bacterial infection

The benefits go on and on. 

And don't forget -  producing a healthier chicken results in healthier meat and eggs for you.

- Sue

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