Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making Lacto-Fermented Feed - Part 3 of 3

Fermenting Feed Series - Part 3 of 3

Swedish Flower Hens enjoying their fermented feed.

By Sue -
To start your lacto-fermented feed, follow these steps:

1.  Find a container that is a suitable size for the number of chickens in your flock.  Suitable containers include:

-Plastic Food Grade Buckets
These can often be obtained free of charge or very inexpensively from your local grocery store bakery department or a local restaurant and come in various sizes including 2 Gallon, 3 Gallon or 5 Gallon. 

  • LEAD FREE Ceramic Crocks or Containers - If using ceramic, be sure that you purchase a new container from a source that clearly states lead-free.  Do not use any ceramic container that you currently own that is not marked lead-free.  See Lead and Zinc - Hidden Dangers to Your Chickens.

Various sized crocks from

  • Glass Containers - So far I've used glass containers that I can keep handy in the kitchen.  If possible I always prefer glass over plastic as glass is much less porous and does not contain substances that can leach into the high-acid ferment.  Glass containers come in various sizes similar to crocks.


Above:  Anchor glass truffle bowl with fermented feed.  I used this when I only had 6 chickens. 

Below:  Two Gallon Glass container with fermented feed.

Notice the liquid layer above the feed sediment.  Keeping liquid above the feed helps keep oxygen from freely reaching the feed below.

The high acid content of the fermented feed can interact with the metals and cause contamination of the feed.

2.  Place a suitable amount of dry feed in your container and completely cover with water. As lacto-fermenting is an anaerobic process, be sure to add enough water to keep about 1/2" - 1" of water standing above the feed level.  This encourages the Lactic Acid Bacteria to proliferate while deterring the growth of undesirable molds/yeasts/fungi which require oxygen to proliferate.

Be aware that when you first start the feed, it will begin soaking up water and expand so begin with a small amount of dry feed relative to the size of your bucket or container and continue to add water as it soaks into the feed to keep the water standing well above the feed.  Initially when you add water and stir it all together it will appear that there is more than enough liquid.  After several hours it may have soaked up all the water and you'll have to add additional water and stir again. 

Continue this process until it quits expanding and has enough water standing above to keep it completely submerged. When you first start a batch,  stir the feed about every 2-3 hours (or as often as possible for your schedule) for the first several days. 

Cover the feed with a loose-fitting cover or lid that will allow for off-gassing.

3.  Within 2 - 5 days, the feed will begin to bubble slightly as the LABs will begin to put off carbon dioxide, and you should start to smell a slightly sour smell similar to pickles, sauerkraut or yogurt.  This is the lactic acid that the LABs are beginning to produce.

NOTE:  Lacto-fermented feed should not have a rotten or putrid smell - just a slightly sour/tangy smell. 

Some folks who make fermented feed have asked about a putrid smell in their fermented feed.  The presence of a strong, unpleasant odor indicates an over-growth of unwanted yeasts/molds and possibly "unfriendly bacteria".  If the feed is kept well under the water level, you will usually not have this unbalanced growth of molds and purification.

For LACTO FERMENTATION My personal "rule of thumb" is:  If I can smell yeast/mold or alcohol in the lacto-fermented feed, I don't feed it to my chickens. (See notes on ACV below).

4.  When feeding, scoop or spoon out an appropriate amount of feed for your flock.  Scoop from the bottom of the ferment container to assure that you get a full mixture of all the items in the feed.  You can press out some of the liquid, strain it in a strainer, or just put it into the feed pan as-is.

Do not remove all the feed and liquid from the container.

Fermented feed in a stainless steel strainer draining slightly before adding to the feed bowl.
Note:  You may begin to feed as soon as the first day.  While the LABs will not yet have had time to  multiply, simply soaking feed overnight is beneficial.  (See, "Easy Ways to Sprout Seeds for Your Chickens" for information on the benefit of soaking grains for the reduction of phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.)
5.  Add more dry feed back into the ferment container to replace the feed that was removed.  Stir thoroughly and add enough water to completely submerge the feed as before.  The LABs that are already present will continue to proliferate and the fermenting process can be continued indefinitely in the same container.

Lacto-fermentation can be achieved with no added starter culture as the LAB cultures and various yeasts are naturally present in the air and on surfaces everywhere.  However - if you prefer to speed up the beginning of lacto-fermentation or cultivate specific LABs in your ferment, you can add a starter culture when you first begin your batch.

If you decide to use a starter culture:
Starter cultures that are APPROPRIATE for Lacto-Fermented Feed include:

  • A tablespoon or two of juice from raw lacto-fermented pickles or sauerkraut.  (Note:  If the pickles or sauerkraut were purchased from the store or were heat canned, this WILL NOT contain live active cultures and cannot be used.)
  • A purchased starter culture.  I have personally tested, and had several others test, Avi-Culture II which is the only avian pro-biotic culture on the market at this time that is grown on a non-gmo substrate.   I've also tested Caldwell Starter Culture for Fresh Vegetables which works very well.
  • Whey from cheese made with a mesophillic culture, or a mesophillic starter culture for cheesemaking or culturing other dairy products such as cultured buttermilk or fromage blanc.
  • A tablespoon or two of CULTURED Buttermilk with live active cultures from the supermarket.  Be sure it states live, active cultures.


  • Whey from yogurt.  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.  Therefore, it is a less suitable source of LABs for fermenting feed.
  • Yeasts are not an appropriate starter for lacto-fermentation as they produce alcohol rather than lactic acid.  (See Part 2 FERMENTATIONBASICS:  A TALE OF TWO FERMENTATIONS  for more information.

Edited for clarification:

A few notes on Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar relative to lacto-fermentation (ACV):

When using LACTO-FERMENTATION, Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar is not an appropriate STATER CULTURE.  The CULTURE in ACV is Acetobacter bacteria which converts alcohol to acetic acid and is not a lactic acid bacteria.

Rather, for lacto-fermentation, a Lactic Acid Bacteria is appropriate as a STARTER CULTURE.  Please see Part 2 for an overview of the two types of fermentation.

Although not useful as a STARTER CULTURE in lacto-fermenting, it has many other benefits.  Part 2 in this series gives a brief list of nutritional benefits of unpasteurized ACV and some links to find more information.  Please take a look at Part 2 for that information.

While not a starter culture used in lacto-fermenting, it can be added to lacto-fermented feed at any time in small amounts for its other great benefits!

Since I prefer - and use - lacto-fermentation, one of my goals is to keep naturally occurring yeasts/molds/fungus from proliferating in the feed so that the LABs can be dominant in the mix.

As stated above..For LACTO-FERMENTATION my personal "rule of thumb" is:

If I can smell yeast/mold or alcohol, I don't feed it to my chickens. 

When these smells are present and strong enough for me to notice, I know the LABs are out of balance and yeasts or alcohol are becoming more dominant. 

To help illustrate with an example with which most are familiar:  consider a candida  overgrowth in our bodies.  (Commonly referred to as a "yeast"  infection.)  Although yeasts are always present in our systems, it is the balance that is the issue.  When yeasts are kept in balance, it allows the "good bacteria" to proliferate in our system  and create a healthy gut flora which helps our  immune system to do its job.  If the yeasts get out of balance in our body, we take action to help correct the imbalance and return the "good bacteria" to dominance.

If I ever smell either yeasts/molds or alcohol in my feed I have used ACV to help quickly bring the pH level down (increase acid) which (in moderation) can help retard the growth of the yeasts and allow the Acetobacter bacteria that's contained in the ACV mother to digest any alcohol that may have been produced by naturally occurring yeasts.  When used in small amounts, it can retard the growth of the yeasts just enough to allow the LABs enough time to re-establish a dominant colony that is able to keep the molds/yeasts in check. 

In my experience, the small amount of ACV (about a tablespoon or less for about 2 gal.of feed)  allows the LABs enough time to re-gain dominance within a day or two. 

I have not  had to use ACV for the purpose of rebalancing LAB dominance for several months as I have a good, strong LAB dominance in my current batch of feed.

 - Sue

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