Fermented Chicken Feed – the WHY’s and HOW’s!

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Let’s talk about chicken food for a moment, shall we? It seems so simple and not really blog worthy, and yet! AND YET! I have more issues with their food than anything else regarding chickens. They throw it everywhere, the squirrels (THE SQUIRRELS!!!), the cost of feeding the chickens AND the squirrels, and the chipmunks, and the mice, and the birds….I mean really. I love wildlife and I don’t mind sharing but things were getting a little out of hand. A bag of organic feed a week was making for some pretty expensive eggs…and fat squirrels! Don’t have a squirrel or rodent or bird problem? Your chickens are very neat and don’t happen to throw their food EVERY-WHERE when they’re eating? Well here are a few additional reasons to ferment your chickens food:

  1. Fermenting boosts the nutrition of the grains you’re feeding! Usable protein increases, digestibility increases, enzymes and vitamins become more bio-available and the ladies love it!
  2. Feed cost. We feed only organic feed and it does get a bit pricey (especially when you’re feeding the entire wildlife population). Any way we can cut down on feed costs really does make a difference in our monthly budget. My girls are much more satisfied with much less eating fermented feed and the squirrels don’t like the mushiness of the fermented food. HA! Victory!
  3. You won’t have to buy expensive feeders! I put out 2 black recycled tire bowls that cost me about $20 for both. The hanging feeders were expensive, bulky, and honestly just a pain to fill.

Okay! Now that you have your “why” let’s talk briefly about the “how”. I hope you’re ready for this…it’s quite sophisticated and very complex. You will need…

  • Chicken feed (I use organic crumble or non GMO turkey crumble)
  • A container (size depends on how many birds you have)
  • Non chlorinated water (call your water department to check if they add chlorine to your drinking water. Ours does, so I fill a 5 gallon bucket and let it sit for 24 hrs to allow the chlorine to evaporate)

THAT’S IT! There are a few different methods that people use to ferment their feed. Some people line up several buckets and use one full bucket per day. Here is my method, for simplicity sake;

  1. When you first start, you will have to wait 4 days for the grains to fully ferment. I know. The agony. Four days is basically forever, but ya just gotta do it. Sorry.
  2. Fill your jar or bucket a little less than half full with whatever feed you are using. I am currently using a mix of organic layer crumble, barley, and scratch.
  3. Fill the bucket the rest of the way with chlorine free water.
  4. Give the whole thing a good stir a few times a day (mine is in the garage so I stir it up in the morning when I’m out getting the animals fed and then at night before bed) You might have to add more water as the grains expand. No big deal. I like to keep my fermented grains a little thick, like oatmeal, but not dry. Some people prefer a soupier consistency, not I.
  5. You will notice bubbles and fermenty-like activity in your buckets or whatever container you are using (see video below). That’s awesome! Just imagine all the gas and bubbles your Chick’s will not have to deal with because you’re fermenting their feed! What a good chicken keeper you are!

After 4 days, your feed is done and fully fermented! Feed half of the bucket to your chickens, and refill the bucket with new feed and water. Because the fermentation bacteria is already present and active, the new feed will ferment much faster! In about 24 hours (this is similar to how my sourdough works!)

So now you have a simple system to save your gobbly gals digestion and your pocket book. Win. Win.

I really cannot find a downside to this method! Except for the small extra daily step of adding water to the dry feed…but it’s nowhere near as annoying, or costly, as loosing 30%-40% of your feed to random acts of nature.

Greenhouse at Last!

Another bucket list item to check off the list! I have always wanted a lovely little greenhouse, made of glass and brick, sitting in the middle of a vast garden in a big open field! Well, I didn’t exactly get the one I’ve dreamed of, but I am SO HAPPY that I have one large enough to grow everything I need for Winter salads and Spring starts!

The funny story behind this greenhouse is that I literally did not even think about it as an option for the first few months we were here. It was dirty, dingy, full of garbage and scraps from the previous owner, and NOT the pretty picture I had envisioned for my dreamy greenhouse space. When the light finally came on, and I put a bit of work and elbow grease into spiffing it up a bit, I found an incredible diamond in the rough!

The first thing I did, after giving it a thorough clean out and scrub down, was fill the 5 white rain barrels my dad had hauled to the property with water for thermal mass. Haven’t heard of it? It’s a very effective (arguably the most effective) system for heating and cooling an “unheated” greenhouse. Here’s a coolio page full of great info about using water for thermal mass in a greenhouse, if you’re interested in looking more into that as an option: http://greenhousegarden.com/thermal-massheat-storage

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Once those were in place, and they will never be moving again, I got to work on the “prettying” up part and bringing bits and pieces of my “ideal” and fitting them into my “practical” and “currently available” greenhouse. Here’s the steps in a nutshell;

Paint EVERYTHING white to reflect as much sun as possible during the Winter months. Another “non-ideal” part of this greenhouse is that it is NOT South facing, it faces West. So I need to make sure I use every beam of light to my complete advantage. White reflects light and the light will bounce off all of the white surfaces until it finds something dark (ahem….plants) to absorb into.

Remove old, nasty, yellowed, disgusting…you get the point…roofing. I replaced the old roofing with a slanted, corrugated, clear glazed greenhouse roofing. Immediate win.

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Put up a shade cloth so the sun doesn’t scorch all life inside the greenhouse…ask me how I know that life doesn’t exist in a scorching hot West facing Summer greenhouse…sacrificed some beautiful seedlings to the greenhouse sun god 🙁  I didn’t get around to actually putting the shade cloth up until about 2 weeks ago, when I planted all of my Fall seedlings and realized they would be smoked the instant their tiny little green heads poked out of the soil. Make sure it’s white, so the UV rays can still get through though! I just nailed mine up and into the roof beams. Ahh….it feels cooler in here already!

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I have always wanted a brick floor greenhouse. Like, always. The space of this greenhouse is narrow and long, not idea for what I wanted to do, which was actually brick flooring and in ground beds. No room for in ground beds with the shelving that was already present and the 5 huge rain barrels, so I settled for as big a brick pathway as space would allow for. I worked through several patterns and narrowed it down to these two options:

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I asked everyone on my facebook and instagram pages which they liked better and the left option was overwhelmingly more popular. So, of course….I went with the one on the right! Muwahahahaha! To be fair….I did love them both but the one on the right was SO much easier and actually did look better and offer a bit more style in the small space I had to work in. I decided to just go with sand as a base, no cement, and got to work. And work it was! Geez! I was thankful for a small space after leveling and laying every single brick by hand! But I LOVE how it turned out!! The antique brick gives it such a sweet rustic touch, doesn’t it?

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PLANT ALL THE THINGS!!! But make sure you have that shade cloth up if temps are still getting up there in the high 70’s even. I have my greenhouse winter greens planted and growing scorch free!! YAY!

 

Kitchen Garden

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Initially I had the silly notion that I would not be doing a garden this year (hee! hee! ha! ha! ho! ho!). Luckily, my best friend suggested a kitchen garden. MIND BLOWN. Of course I needed a kitchen garden! Duh. After a little investigation, we found the perfect location right outside the kitchen window. Life is grand, isn’t it?

I got to work that weekend! I pulled out the ridiculous pine bushes and daffodils and decided on raised stone beds to match the existing walkway. I drove my happy self down to Lowes (do I own stock in that company yet? Cause…) and bought an entire pallet of my chosen brick (okay they were the cheapest ones there) and headed home. The kids tucked into bed and I started working. At 10:00. Ten at night. That’s when the work gets done around here folks. By midnight I had figured out the pattern for my raised beds and built about half the walls. Then the baby woke up and life halted until morning. If you have children, this should sound familiar. yep.

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I finished off the beds the next day and my hubby was nice enough to fill them with dirt for me. He’s a keeper.

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Because we have allthebunnies and allthedeer and this is going to be the location of many green, delicious, herbivore faves….I felt better knowing there was some kind of fencing around the area. I didn’t do anything too crazy, just a small basic deterrent, because the location is so close to the house, we figured the majority of the animals wouldn’t be inclined to come into the garden anyways, the fence is really just an extra precaution.

I simply used 1×1 placed into the ground about 8-12 inches deep, no cement (I wasn’t that serious). Once the posts and cross beams were assembled, I attached rabbit wire and called it good! See that fancy fence work there…where the posts meet? Yea, that was also done by huba huba.

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I originally planted herbs, lettuce greens, kales, mustard greens, micro greens, pansies, and chards in here….and have had a summer to see what did well and what did not. This area ended up being pretty much completely shaded all day, which was great for some things, not so great for others. Here’s the short list for you:

Sorrel – AWESOME! I reseeded the entire back back with sorrel for Fall and next Spring. This will be our main salad green for quick salads when I don’t want to go all the way out to the pasture garden.

Bee Balm – Doing great! Will be planting more for homemade tea’s!

Cilantro – surprising well though growing slow. Debating about putting this in the pasture garden due to so. much. sun. I’m thinking that it will bolt much more quickly there than in the kitchen garden with some shade. I will just start the seeds earlier in my greenhouse next year and see if more greenhouse growth helps growth once planted out in the garden.

Kale – Did well enough. I never got huge over grown kale, like I do when they are in full sun, but I did get enough to take weekly cuttings to sautee or blend in smoothies

Mint – Getting established this year but I think it will thrive in this area. I have it growing all the way around the kitchen garden because bunnies do not like it and we do not like bun buns in the garden!

Claytonia (Miners lettuce) – should do well in this area because it prefers shade. It never took this Summer and I’m not sure why. It may have already been too hot when I sowed the seeds. This is another great staple to add in with the sorrel because it reseeds well and does well in shade. Will re-try next Spring.

Mache – Did well here! Will reseed next Spring.

Lettuce Greens – These did not do well here, though it may have been because I over thinned. I am going to try them again next Spring here and also out in the pasture garden

Mustard Greens – Did amazing. Will be planting those here every year! We love these to spice up our Summer salads! “We” as in the hubs and I…too spicy for the littles. Same with arugula…more for us!

Micro Greens – Loved this area! Will be replanting in Spring.

Pansies – I loved having these in my kitchen garden! Did you know that pansies can be “candied” and put into salads? What a beautiful Summer treat!

Tarragon – not so much, needs more sun. Out to the pasture garden next Spring.

Thyme – It’s hanging in there but needs more sun. Will go out to the pasture garden next Spring.

So that’s the list I have for my kitchen garden next Spring. I think it will be just the right mix for quick salads and Summer Iced tea 🙂

Do you have a kitchen garden? What are you growing close to home that’s easy to snag for a quick healthy meal? If you have lots of sun, your list will look quite different from mine!

Home!

 After a bit of a sad and emotional goodbye to our old house, we stepped into the future God has waiting for us and we have been HOME for 5 month now! Our forever home. Our dream home. Our anything goes home. Our wild and free home. Our little piece of Heaven nestled right at the base of the Sierra Nevada Foothills home. What a relief.  Home is a very nice place to be. But home still needs a lot of work…

We have been working. our. tails. off. for the past 5 months to get lots of balls rolling in the direction of self sustainability. At least in the scope that we have envisioned for our family, which is to produce as much food to feed our family as possible on our own property. God has blessed our hard work! Here is where we are:

Meat, Eggs, Dairy:

We arrived with 4 laying hens, we now have 13 laying hens, 15 that will be laying by next Spring, and 12 bantam hens that will be patrolling our garden next Spring when the fencing for their run is complete. We also are raising our first turkeys this year! I chose a few heirloom varieties; midget white and royal palm. We have ended up with 3 toms (males) which will be Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner but I think I’ll keep the ladies. They are so pretty and I LOVEthe pretty whistling sound turkeys make! Who knew?

  • We have never been able to raise meat birds due to space constraints…we raised 17 Red Ranger meat birds this year! We processed them ourselves and now have a freezer stuffed full of pasture raised, organic, homegrown chicken! YUS! This was  a biggie for me! When I was vegan….it was mostly because I felt that if I couldn’t actually know how the animals were raised and processed, I had no business eating them. So I feel MUCH better about knowing exactly what kind of life and conditions these chickens were raised with. I also learned pretty valuable “gutting” and “butchering” skills that you can only learn by doing.
  • The hubby scored with a deer AND elk tag this year! Pretty confident he will at least be able to get a deer so that will be at least 100 pounds of fresh game in the freezer. Hoping for an elk…which would feed our family for several years!
  • We have our 3 little goat ladies that are doing great and are very happily growing fatter every day. I mean….how do you get so fat eating grass? I don’t get it! Lol. I will not be breeding these girls at 9 months, like a lot of people suggest, but closer to 18 months. Goats have a 5 months gestation period so….we’re looking at a year in a half before getting any milk from them. I am considering looking for a goat in milk before then. But once we get the whole cycle in, we will be good on dairy! YAY!

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So that has us good on our eggs, meat, and dairy….eventually. If there is no deer or elk meat for the freezer we will continue to purchase our grassfed beef to fill the red meat void.

Fruits and Veggies

      • The property was very neglected for a looong time before we moved in so we have been cleaning up a lot of dead and over grown growth and then mulching, mulching, mulching with woodchips to start building up workable soil. We have been blessed with an abundance of woodchips from a local arborist which we have been spreading like maniacs all over the property. The initial idea was to do a nice deep layer over the front lawn to prepare it for a dwarf fruit tree orchard next fall! We will have 4-8 different kinds and varieties of fruit trees planted! Probably 16-20 trees in total.

The second focus has been to get the back right quarter of our pasture nice and mulched and ready for a huge garden area! I did end up doing a very small “test” garden this Summer, which performed MUCH better than anticipated! I will do a quick blog post on the methods that I am experimenting with and how everything did soon! We will be fencing in a large portion off at the end of the Summer so that I can expand my winter garden plans! YES! I said…

  • Winter garden!!!!!! I did some experimenting with overwintering crops and winter gardening in my last house, with minor successes, but then pregnancy. I have a lot of new information and am excited to put it into practice to see what does and does not work here. I think our biggest issue will be the wildlife, not the weather.

So there you have it! A basic 5 year plan to (God willing) produce our eggs, meat, dairy, fruits and veggies mostly right here on our very own little homestead 🙂