Fermenting and Sprouting

Q:  Isn’t fermented or sprouted feed better than pelleted feed?

 A:  Fermented and sprouted feeds are fun! It’s natural!  It makes a great treat.  But it’s a lot of work, and if the object is to end up with excellent nutrition, it’s not the most efficient way to get there. It’s no better than a good feed in a simpler form, unless making it is just plain fun. 

 Some of our farmers do sprout or ferment some of their feed, but mostly as you might ferment food for your family.  I can buy yogurt at the store or I can make it.  It can be fun if you have the time and the interest.  I’ll cover fermenting and sprouting together.  Even though they are different, they are both intended to improve the nutritional value of grain.

Fermenting does have value in increasing beneficial bacteria and enzymes.  Animals (and humans) like it and eat it happily.  They appear to eat less overall.  And it can work to make a tasty feed. But the devil is in the details when it comes to practicality. And I am unashamedly practical, like most farmers need to be.

Fermented whole grains are more digestible than whole unfermented grains, but a fortified pelleted feed will have those advantages also.  (Activated enzyme activity, beneficial bacteria etc.)  A crummy pelleted feed won't have those benefits, so fermented good grain will beat pelleted junk pellets.  But fermented whole grains will be less efficient than fortified pelleted feed by a significant margin.  Fermenting is simply one of the ways to get the benefits of easily digested, nutritious food.

 Fermenting is labor intensive.  Keeping the product fresh, wholesome and preventing toxic mold growth requires a lot of cleaning of feeders and buckets. The technique is an attractive concept for those of us that like to be self-sufficient and for the cooks and do-it-yourselfers amongst us.  It has value in making otherwise hard-to-digest whole grains more digestible if you don’t have a quicker or easier way to do it or if you just plain want to do it. 

 Sprouting provides a different, attractive, tasty living product.  Nothing wrong with that! But will it save you money? Some of what sounds good for your wallet is just bad math.

 For example, how'd you like to make one pound of feed grains into five pounds of feed, or ten?  Maybe you like the idea of sprouts or fodder.  The chickens certainly love it.  Just add water to seeds and wait awhile. You have no more calories, but it is bigger, bulkier, and heavier so it depends on how you measure it.  Do you have more?  Really?

 It may look like you are saving money but you really are just getting the birds to eat less because the feed has swelled up with water.  They may eat less, but they are getting less nutrition overall. 

 And have you increased the protein percentage?  Technically, sprouting grains will result in higher protein numbers, but that’s not because you have more protein.  It's because you have fewer carbohydrates than you started with because they were used up with the sprouting.  They turned into energy for the baby plant.  Stay with me here...or just nod your head and say, “Enjoy your math, Alice.”  (Truth is, in school I did NOT enjoy math.  But it is handy.)

 Let’s say you have 100 points of feeding value to start with, 80% carbs and 5% fiber and 15% protein:

80% carbs

5% fiber

         + 15% protein

            100% value of feed

You use up about 10% of the carbs in sprouting, because it takes energy to live, even for a sprout.  It’s a basic natural law.  Now you have 70% of the original carbs, a little over 5% fiber and about 16% protein.

            70% carbs

            5%   fiber

         +  16% protein

            91% value of feed

You have no more protein in total than you started with, but you do have less feed value overall.  See what I mean? Now these numbers are approximate, so don’t hold me to the decimal point. But you get my point.

 In summary,

·         Animals love fermented and sprouted feeds, so it is a nice treat for them.

·         Fermenting and sprouting are fun.  They are like cooking, sewing, woodworking, gardening or other activities that produce something useful.

·         Fermenting and sprouting are a lot of work, so it is fine as a leisure or hobby-type activity, but if your time is limited there may be better ways to spend it.

·         Fermenting and sprouting not a very efficient way to feed your birds, unless you have no other way to process the feed, and you have a good source of non-grain protein in addition to whatever protein the grain contributes.

·         If the feed is dusty and you need to get it wet so that the birds will eat it, that is a solution to a problem.  It’s not an advantage.  It’s a workaround to get them to eat something they would not naturally eat.  It is not better than a feed that they eat readily that is easy to digest.  It is a way to compensate for a dusty material they don’t like.

·         Do make sure there is NO MOLD.  Moldy feed, even just barely moldy, is much worse than no feed at all.  Do the sniff test! 

·         If it is fun, do it!  There is cleanup involved in most hobbies, so the cleaning may be no big deal for you.  When I make yogurt, I have to wash dishes, too. 

·         Don’t feel that you are cheating your animals by not doing it.  Lots of treats make them happy, so feed the ones that make you happy, too!