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Fermenting Wheat for Better Nutrition

We’ve always fed whole wheat grains under water for both ducks and geese on a daily basis because this prevents fouling by most wild birds. But with correct fermentation technique, one can further enhance the flavour and digestibility of the grain. Drying feeds to low moisture content improves their storage time but reduces their food value. Whole, hard grains can even pass through the birds untouched. Reconstituting them by fermentation improves food value and is like producing the best yogurt or sauerkraut for your birds!

Lactobacilli are present in the air and on the surfaces of the grains and will proliferate in the right environment. L. acidophilus ferments sugars into lactic acid and grows readily at rather low pH values (below pH 5.0). It has an optimum growth temperature of around 37 °C (Wiki). It occurs naturally in the animal gastrointestinal tract and mouth and some strains of L. acidophilus may be considered to have probiotic characteristics.

On the first day of soaking, digestibility is initially improved by the reduction of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors found in dried grain. By the second day, the Lactobacilli begin the process of fermentation by using the sugars in the grains and multiplying in great numbers, producing lactic acid. The lactic acid makes the environment unsuitable for harmful bacteria, as long as the wheat is totally submerged in this acid, anaerobic environment.

Picture of wheat fermenting


The geese and ducks are now fed two-day (summer) and three-day (winter) fermented, strained wheat decanted into buckets of fresh water, just sufficient ration for the day.

The fermented food can also strained and the wheat grains mixed with dry grower pellets for the ducklings. It must be consumed straight away; it should not be left out in the air otherwise the pellets become soft, and moulds will develop.

All birds have access to coarse builders sand (sharp sand), or mixed poultry grit if they are in-lay. In practice, fermentation has worked well. The geese have preferred the softened, fermented grains, and the ducklings love it. There have been no signs of moulds. Do beware of these: they are especially toxic for waterfowl.

Academic studies have found that fermented feed for poultry has increased egg weight, shell weight and shell thickness, and has improved intestinal health by level of anti-nutrients found in the grains and seeds, and improves the availability of vitamins (folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine) during digestion. It takes a bit more organisation but is well worth doing because increased nutritional absorption also leads to reduced food intake.

Successful Fermenting

  • Use a glass container for small amounts, or a food-grade plastic (BPA- free) container for larger amounts. The lactic acid released increases the chance of leaching of bisphenol into the liquid
  • Use well or spring water to completely cover the wheat. Tap water works best if it is suitably de-chlorinated after sitting for 24 hours. Chlorine inhibits bacterial action
  • Stir the wheat occasionally to release gas bubbles. Top up with water to keep a depth of 5 cm plus above the grains
  • Store in the dark. Sunlight must be avoided; the ferment will smell rancid
  • Use a loose-fitting lid so gas can be released
  • The grains have improved by 24 hours but digestibility further is increased by day 2–3. In lower winter temperatures, even 4 days is acceptable
  • The grains and liquid should smell inviting like sourdough bread

Further reference:

Engberg et al ‘Fermented feed for laying hens, add credence to the claim that feeding fermenting foods increases digestability and decreases poultry feed costs. ‘Fermented feed was characterised by a high concentration of lactic acid (160-250 mmol/kg feed) and a moderate level of acetic acid (20-30 mmol/kg feed), high numbers of lactic acid bacteria (log 9-10 CFU/g feed) and a pH of approximately 4.5.’ It also improves the health of the intestine and increases resistance to a range of harmful bacteria including E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. External link image

Page last updated: 16th October 2023