Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fermented Grain: The Old Timer's Secret

Last autumn, I was told a little secret by an old timer.

Our conversation was done completely via the computer, as the gentleman lived in Alabama, and I'm here in Oregon. He raised nearly-forgotten breeds of cockfighting fowl such as the Plucker, Sweater, and Roundhead; and whether he takes part in that sport or not, I won't say. But his birds were beautiful, and the man knew what he was about when it came to livestock. He was old enough to be my grandpa; possibly old enough to be my great-grandpa, and that's what I was looking for. I seek out these old timers because of the wealth of knowledge these people have. They grew up in different times than what I know. And I want to know what they know. These older people are treasures.

Our conversation started because he mentioned that he fed only fermented grains to his animals and that was all, besides what they foraged for themselves. My ears perked at this; always on the lookout for a cheaper alternative to grain, I wondered what this whole "fermented grain" thing was about. He told me about it, and I was intrigued enough that I tried it that week. Now I'm hooked. And I thought I would share his secret with y'all too, since you can feed fermented grains to your meat animals, your laying hens, and your dairy animals, and not only will it save you some cash, but it does amazing things for your animal's health. The clincher for me though, was that when you ferment grain it raises the protein content to 18% to 21%. That bag of dried barley sitting in my barn is only 11% protein, which isn't enough to make milk, meat or eggs. It needs something to pick that protein up, and most folks have to add something like alfalfa, linseed meal, BOSS, or what-have-you. Protein is expensive. I don't like expensive.

So what is it, already!?!? Yeah, I hear you... :) 

In a nutshell, fermented grain is:
. Any grain you can lay your hands on
. Apple cider vinegar; raw, and with the "mother" in it.
. Water

Seriously, that's all.

Okay, let's start this off with explaining a small batch (I make a gargantuan batch, which I will explain shortly).

Pour some grain into a 5-gallon bucket. You can measure this out, but you don't have to. It won't spoil, because of the ACV. You can use whole grain, cracked grain, rolled grain, a mix of grains... The only thing I don't know is if you want de-hulled grain or not. I think it would be fine (considering how this works), but I have yet to try using something like hulled oats. But now that I think about it, I may have to try it soon, since whole oats are super cheap in my area. Anyway, I'm currently using rolled barley, just because that's easy for me to get, relatively cheap, and I was feeding it to my milk cow along with my meat animals, and the cow needed rolled grain for digestibility. 

Okey dokey, so you've got that grain sitting in the bucket? Good. Now, cover the grain with enough water that it's 3" to 4" above the grain level after the grain has absorbed some of that liquid. So basically, just cover the grain and if you notice that your grain absorbed everything, just throw in some more. I know, I'm an extremely technical person here. Should have been a scientist or something...

Now for the fun part. Put a glug of ACV in yon bucket. This is the part that makes people balk. "What on earth is a "glug!?" Sigh. I am the type of person who cooks by the "pinch of this, dash of that" method. I hate measuring. So a "glug" totally works for me. But if you are the kind of person who needs specific instructions, then try this: Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar in your bucket. If you filled it halfway full of grain, then use 1/4 C. of ACV. If you packed that thing full, then go with a 1/2 C. of the stuff. 

cover your bucket loosely and let it sit somewhere quiet. I just take my bucket lid and set it on top without actually sealing it. It's mostly just to keep invaders (hint, hint, you pesky chickens!) out and the grain in. You don't want to seal it because of the fermenting that's about to happen! Actually, that might be a kind of fun experiment to try... I did that with a bucket of molasses once. The stuff fermented inside a sealed container, blew up from the pressure, and went flying at least eight feet across the barn. And I missed the takeoff moment. -_- All I found was a mess to clean.

But there I go, getting sidetracked! 

So you've got your grain all wet and sitting somewheres? Alright, if the weather is warm (which it obviously is not right now; but spring and summer are coming!) then in 24 hours you should have bubbles a'bubbling in your bucket. That's what we're looking for. When you see the bubbles, then you know you've reached your goal! Fermentation!! Whoop, whoop! If it's cold, then it's going to take longer. How much longer, I can't say since I do not get the cold weather that some of you get! But with my winter temps dropping to 20 degrees (balmy weather to you East Coasters, right??) I was finding that it took 2-3 days before I saw bubbles. The bacteria required for fermentation needs warmth to really do its job. If you're using the 5-gallon bucket method, then you might think about bringing it inside to ferment. I promise it doesn't stink.

You would feed the fermented grain in the same quantities as normal grain. I usually pull out the amount needed, and let it drain for a bit since my dairy animals don't like eating wet food. The meat animals never cared. It may take a while for some animals to get used to eating it, since it *is* fermented after all... And wet. My cow balked at it for the longest time. My pigs adore it.

One thing you DO need to do, no matter the batch size, is to keep oxygen injected in your bucket. If you're pulling grain out every day to feed to animals, then that's fine. If not, then just give it a quick stir or two, and that'll do it. I *ahem* was wondering what would happen if no oxygen was injected into a batch... And I found that you get the world's most epic science project in mold growth if it's left stagnant. My experiments sometimes get a little out of hand... *sheepish look*

You can scale this idea up or down as much as you want. Like I mentioned earlier, I make a BIG batch of grain. I use a plastic, 55-gallon drum that I dump about 100 lbs. of grain into. It takes I don't even know how many buckets of water to fill that thing... And then I pour about a 1/2 gallon of ACV in it all and use a big stick to stir it every day. LOL. This stuff sits for a really long time, and the longer it sits the more fermented it gets and the better it is. As long as you don't have mold, your grain is only going to get better and better. The gentleman who taught me this always said that he got his very best feed at the end of winter, when he was scraping the bottom of his barrels and the grain had fermented so much that you had a hard time telling that it was grain. That was the stuff he used when he wanted a bloom on his animal's feathers or coat. 

So there you have it! By fermenting my grain, I've been able to go from paying $40 for 100 lbs. of 18% protein feed, to $15 for 100 lbs. of grain that will be fermented. And I could probably get that price down still more if I looked for better prices. 

To wrap this little tutorial up:
.Pour grain in bucket.
. Cover with water.
. Put in a glug of ACV.
. Feed when you see bubbles!


Erin @ Blue Yurt Farms said...

Yay for fermented foods!! We've been feeding it to our chickens for a few months now and they love it.

Really looking forward to our feeder pigs arriving so we can do the same with them.

Right now, since it's just for the chickens, I've been doing small batches with a 5 gallon bucket, but for the pigs, I'm taking your advice and going BIG.

I wonder if our rabbits would like it....hmm.

Collette said...

I totally second the fermented feed thing for my laying chickens. They look so healthy with shiny bright feathers. Their eggs are huge. And my babies are growing faster than ever... Luckily in Florida it ferments pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...

This is so cool!
I always soak or "ferment" our rolled oats before making oatmeal. It seems to be pretty much the same process, just on a much larger scale.:)

Can't wait to try it for our chickens!

Thank you for the info!


Linda said...

That is great! I am going to try it on my goats...

Anonymous said...

I've been fermenting for my layers since October. They love it:). I feed them a game bird mix, but I've actually fermented layer mash too with success, it just has a peanut buttery consistency. I'm getting my first batch of CX and hatching one Turkens for meat birds and I'm excited to ferment their feed to cut my feed bills this spring! Thanks for a great blog:)

Prairie Kari said...

Thanks for sharing another interesting secret! I am trying to wrap my head around fermenting vs sprouting. If I have this correct the fermenting provides a higher protein % than sprouting of the same type of grain? Will the fermented grain then be used in place of the grain portion of the diet but you will still grow fodder to replace some of the hay portion or how will the two systems work in the daily or wkly diet? Both together for the same animals or will you feed the one type (fodder or fermented) to i.e the goats and the other type to the cows? So many possibilities!

Kris said...

I just got 2 pigs today. And the people I got them from have been feeding them the grain mash from the brewery where the guy works. They gave me a 5 gallon bucket of it. I am very interested in the fermented grains now.

SO, is this something that I will keep adding to? I'm not sure I'm understanding correctly. And do I keep adding water and ACV as I go along? Does the grain need to be submerged at all times?

Thanks for sharing this. I really love your blog and am floowoing along on your new barn progress.

Illinois Lori said...

Too cool! I'll share this with Bryan. He'll have chickens next spring, Lord willing, and his property has about 5 acres of woods, so he plans to add pigs in a couple years, after the sheep operation is up and running :-)

Thanks for sharing it!

farmgal said...

hi, could you please direct me to where the information/study is that shows the increase in protein on the grains in regards to fermeting them.. I think this is a very interesting idea and I will be trying it so thanks so much for sharing!

Linda said...

I've started making this for my goats... they actually love it! Thank you!

Prairie Kari said...

Just watched a Salatin interview with Dr Mercola, where Joel talks about fermenting. He likes it for omnivores but not herbivores/ruminants. He says ominvores eat fermented food in nature but herbivores do not. He says in feeding herbivores fermented feed it should be treated like a condiment making up no more than 10% of their diet. We know about i.e the chickiness of the chickens, it seems this might be about the rumeniness of the rumen ;) What are your thoughts on this Caitlyn? You have studied a lot on feeds and feeding where I have not. Check it out in this video starting at 14:35.

Goat Song said...

Prairie Kari, I agree with Joel in that fermented grains shouldn't be a large part of a ruminants diet. Ten percent, like he said, is a good amount, and what you would feed regular grain as. My heaviest milker gets about 4 - 5 lbs. of grain (fermented, sprouted, or plain), a day, and Mattie would always get around 9 lbs. of grain a day. So the cow was definitely on the 10% rule, but the goats were way below that. I think the danger in feeding fermented feeds really comes into play when folks start feeding silage to their animals, which is fermented hay. That seems to really throw their rumen off, and cause problems. :-/

Prairie Kari said...

Thanks for your input, this puts it in perspective when you look at how many pounds you are feeding vs the weight on an animal - it is minimal. Now I feel sorry for those poor factory dairy and meat cows that are fed over 10% silage! No wonder e-coli in people is an increasing problem. Kari

Prairie Kari said...

One more Q - do you ever salt your hay like Joel does?

Danielle said...

I ferment for my chickens, and just want to add that I find the ACV unnecessary. The correct bacteria and yeasts will come right out of the air, just keep that stirring up, and keep taking from and adding to the same bucket. I don't even completely cover with water after I get a good ferment going; saves me from draining. The good microbes will out compete anything nasty stuff. Then again, i'm in Canada, and it tends to be a little cooler here. Mt ferment froze in the shed, and had to come inside. Smells more mild than making wine, but there is a distinct smell some might find unpleasant.

Anastasia said...

Do you have any suggestions on where to look for raw ACV?

Marianne said...

I agree with Danielle - just water, no ACV. Then you'll get the right type of good bacteria (LAB). Put a bit of ACV in the chickens water instead. :o)
Anastasia, Bragg's is one brand of ACV with the 'mother'. But it's so easy to make your own with apple peels and cores, plus it tastes so much better! Do a search and you'll find many pages on how to make your own ACV.

Anonymous said...

Ive been looking at fermenting for a little bit now. Im not sure that it raises the protein quite that much but i keep seeing that it increases it about 12% from what you started with.

Golden Goat said...

Ok, dumb question. Do you just take the regular goat feed and ferment that or do you use something else? You say grain, but I wouldn't know which grain to buy. I would love to do this, but I don't know what to start with. All I have on hand is dairy goat feed, but I would gladly buy something else and get started on that.

Anastasia said...

Golden goat, you could probably use any grain mix that doesn't contain pellets. Something like this ( would probably work, but she uses plain barley. Other things to try might be oats, wheat or corn.

Marianne, Thanks! I'll see about getting some Bragg's and eventually making my own. :)

renal girl said...

I am working to reduce my use of commercial layer pellets and I have been using sprouted wheat, weeds, scraps along with allowing the hens to free range in their chicken run. I am planning to extend the chicken run to the compost piles. I appreciate your ideas of fermenting! I wonder what is the difference in protein content between fermented grain and sprouted grain? I saw your homemade chicken feed and broiler challenge with alternative feed, using milk and sprouts. Do you think I could use this to start my chicks? Do you have a recipe for broiler chick starter? I prefer to not use corn, soy or canola to prevent GMO. I have a lot of dehydrated egg powder, and dry milk powder that I could add to the recipe. What would you recommend?
Thank you!

Amanda Miller said...

Hi! Thanks for this post! I was wondering if you just feed a straight grain like barley to your chickens and pigs, or if you add some minerals etc? Feed is so expensive, and diy recipes are so complicated with so many ingredients, that it seems hard to believe that you could just feed them something like fermented barley...but way back in the day I am sure that they did not buy complicated chicken feed at the store....

Nicole said...

Hi there was just reading this and thinking I feed my goats chaffhaye which is fermented would this also fall into the 10% rule?

Anonymous said...

Hi! I was wondering if you could feed this to a horse? Would it agree with their digestive system? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

What all do you use so your goats don't get bloat