Updated: Jul 22
Raising your own meat chickens, is it cheaper?
In our experience raising meat birds is not a job you do because you can do it cheaper than you can get it in the store. You do it because, as always with raising your own, you know HOW it's been treated and WHAT it's been fed. Not to mention the taste far exceeds any store bought.
They're very hungry birds, their nature is to eat, and eat a lot! If you think about it having a day-old chick weighing in ounces, to a 7–9 pound chicken in 10 weeks is a huge transformation. The first couple years that we started raising meat birds. It worked out to be one bag of feed per bird. This meant that each bird cost about $13 to raise from start to finish.....Now I have gotten the cost down to about $9 per chicken! Thats a huge savings especially when you figure you are doing a lot of birds at a time.
When we first started raising birds I got the feed that was available. Even though it was labeled organic it was not non-GMO. Since then I have found a local business which grows a lot of their own grains and also mixes their own feed blends with non gmo grains. The broiler (meat bird) food they carry is non-GMO! So not only is it cheaper per bird, but the quality of food has significantly gone up in what they are getting to eat.
So how did we go from a bag of food per bird to less than a bag per bird? I will share my secret.... fermenting! Sounds weird doesn't it,... not what you expected to hear, is it? I don't just do this for meat birds, but All of my birds. When you ferment food it cuts your costs by about 1/3-1/2! How?... there's 2 main reasons that your food "multiplies". Here's why…
When you let the portioned grain sit in water, it absorbs and becomes saturated, so 1/2 of a bucket plumps up to almost a full bucket of food! Fermenting food is really the action of cultivating GOOD bacteria which starts to break down the food and make all the nutrients bio-available. What does this mean? When we eat, our body is telling us that it needs a certain nutrient, vitamin or mineral. We go to the task of eating, but usually we don't find the specific nutrient, so the browsing continues. When we give the body what it needs the craving stops because it is satisfied. This is what happens when eating fermented food. The bacteria have broken down the nutrients so they can be immediately absorbed and USED. In regular non fermented food, many times the body has not had enough time to fully breakdown the food nutrient before it has time to exit the body, as a result you have much more food consumption and more waste excreted.
Fermenting causes the food to be broken down so the nutrient can immediately be absorbed and utilized by the animal. The fermenting creates the good bacteria that keeps the intestinal tract strong and healthy which leads to a stronger immune system and over all healthier animals. Because the nutrients are being received this means they eat less because their bodies are "nutrient full".
Fermenting also breaks down the food releasing locked vitamins and enzymes that would not normally have been there like the B vitamins. so, you are gaining also in nutrient content.
To ferment remember you need to play with the ratio of water to grain. Here is how to do it. Put in your dry feed (mash is better over pellet in my opinion) into a container and add water to cover. In most that I read it was a 1-part food :3 parts water ratio. Stir it in well, cover your container with a cover of sorts that won't seal it, but will keep flies out. This ratio will vary depending on the type of food you use. For instance, the water content for saturation will be different in milled grains verses pellet. You need to do your own ratio, using the grain you normally use. The idea is to have enough water that it barely covers the food with water after the soaking and fermenting takes place. You can also add a little apple cider vinegar to the bucket to help innoculate the bucket with a ferment starter. Apple cider vinegar also gives extra good vitamins to the chickens, but it is not necessary. That is it, you can scoop and feed it right to them. If you do strain save the water for your next bucket as it will help it start fermenting immediately. Over time we have figured out the exact ration using our normal feed so that by the time the water is all absorbed it is the consistency we want. We like it so it is fully saturated, but not watery or ”solid”.
During the winter we keep our soaked feed in the lower barn. Kenny made an insulated box that we keep it in which helps to keep it from freezing. Because of our cold temperatures, a full ferment doesn't happen, but we keep up the process for all of our animals… why?
A major advantage is that the fine powders will stick together making all of the food easily accessible instead of being pushed out of the dish and wasted.
The biggest advantage of continuing this process during the winter is because this way I KNOW they are getting liquid. You see where I live, water freezes quickly most of the winter and even though it gets carried out to them daily there is no guarantee that they will get any. When their feed is soaked, I am confident that they won't get dry and thirsty with a bowl of frozen water.
It is easy to know if your feed is fermenting because you will see little bubbles rising to the top. The other times of the year when its cooler take comfort in knowing that even though it may not be fermented it is still being broken down to an extent and is still benefiting your animals.
To do this accurately play with your feed quantities so that you know how much they still need for proper nutrition. For instance, do a trial run by using your usual daily amount and soaking it to gauge quantity before and after. It takes a few attempts to get your ratio of food to water to achieve your desired consistency. This method does not mean that you can cut the amount of dry feed needed daily. It means that your usual amount will now be plumped up, more accessible and nutrient dense, which in turn will give them better nutrition.