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.
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!