Now that Lisa is working for Green Mountain Flour, we have access to incredible amounts of organic wheat bran. The chickens, and only the chickens, like it dry. Everyone else, and the chickens too, think it’s great fermented for a few days. Really great — they gobble the stuff right down.
It took a while to get the cultures going. The first batch didn’t start bubbling until the fourth day, and the first several batches did not really swell up, which I’d expected even without fermenting. However, after several weeks now, the bubbles start within minutes, and the goop expands enough that I need three buckets to a 25 lb bag of bran instead of the two I started with. The downside is that I need more buckets.
According to Google, wheat bran runs 15.5% protein which would be enough until the turkeys start laying. (Turkeys are our sentinel species for protein. The other three are all happy with significantly less.) Being paranoid, I put a scoop of soy into each bucket anyway. When we have growing poults I expect to need more. Poults stop growing when they don’t get enough protein. Fortunately, you have a couple of weeks to notice this and fix their ration before there is irrecoverable harm. It’s hard to miss a hungry turkey – they are, let’s say, very communicative.
The geese have started laying, along with the chickens who never stopped. So far, free choice oyster shell seems to be enough calcium. This is good, because I don’t have another idea ready. Most of the chicken eggs shells come back because we put them out into the compost piles and the birds devour them immediately, but this time of year we sell the goose eggs so are losing that calcium.
Anyway, this time around, I have some actual numbers. This winter the flock was eating a full 50 pound bag of commercial layer pellets every day, or about 40 pounds of Blue Seal Multiflock. Multiflock is formulated for multi-species barnyard flocks and and satisfies the big birds better. Layer pellets dipped down to $12 at one point, but quickly bounced back to $15-16. Multiflock is about $19, or about the same cost per day. Multiflock was the better choice, but Poulin seems to have no equivalent.
Currently we are using a $10 bag of soy every month. Oyster shell consumption is up significantly, to perhaps another $2 per month. That’s it. This is a spectacular savings for us. The only downside is giving up all hope of us actually eating in the dining room until Spring. During the winter, it’s the only place we have to store the fermenting buckets with access to water. The barn doesn’t have water, and it would freeze anyway. The basement is too tiny and really inconvenient. The only reason I wouldn’t recommend this diet even to someone who has to buy wheat bran is that we have reports of people saving half their feed by fermenting their regular ration. This would be a similar cost, and the mineral balance is mixed in.
The color of the yolks in the eggs and the flavor is amazing for this deep into winter.
We’ve also been feeding this fermented wheat bran to our first hatchlings of the season. They love it, and for the first week, all seemed well. The suddenly they started getting listless and dying. After the first couple of losses, we gave them yogurt and cottage cheese, and all seems better again. Unfortunately, we have two likely culprits and no way of distinguishing between them. First, the chicks getting sick correlated with the main flock starting to eat more, and the bran swelling more, so that buckets were not fermented as long. I need to scrounge two more buckets to get us back to a solid three days of fermenting time. I suspect the eating more part is due to the waterfowl laying, but there is also a huge winter storm on the way, which could also be a reason they are suddenly starving. We got 8 goose eggs today. The previous record was six on Friday.
Or, the chicks could have been coasting on calcium and protein from their eggs, and simply begun running out. The next batch through the incubator are also new genes, and thus to be coddled. Perhaps I can do some careful experimentation later in the year. By then the big flock will have pasture and bugs, and thus need far less feed, assuming that spring does indeed actually ever arrive.