Homemade Probiotics for Chickens?
In recent years, researchers have discovered just how important beneficial bacteria are for our digestive health. The same thing goes for all other animals, including our pets and livestock, such as chickens. You can find some good quality probiotics for chickens and other poultry online or maybe even at your feed store. If the price for these products is cause for concern or you would like to reduce your waste and increase self-reliance, I’ve shared some great tips for how to make homemade probiotics for your chickens.
What Are Probiotics and Prebiotics?
When we talk about probiotics, we’re usually referring to beneficial bacteria found in the lower digestive system, namely the intestines and colon. These bacteria help us digest food and boost our immune systems, helping keep us healthy. Probiotics are also important in maintaining the natural health of our chickens, pets, and other livestock.
Prebiotics are fibrous plant materials that help feed the beneficial bacteria in the intestines. These fibers are found in many whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Not only do we need to consume these foods regularly to feed the probiotic bacteria to keep our bodies healthy but we should also give them to our livestock, too!
Why Give Chickens Probiotics?
Just like us, chickens are healthiest when their digestive system is filled with the right species of bacteria for digesting their food and keeping their immune system working properly. If your chickens are eating non-organic feed, the pesticides that remain on the feed can cause the beneficial bacteria to die, leaving them susceptible to the growth of bacteria that can cause diarrhea and other problems.
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How to Know When Your Chickens Need Probiotics
If you notice that your hens have loose stools or the feathers around their vents are encrusted with feces, a good round of probiotics might be just what they need to get their intestines back in good shape.
Here are some reasons that your chickens might need probiotics:
- They’ve finished a course of antibiotics or dewormers
- Their stools are runny, discolored, or unusually smelly
- The feathers around their vent are crusty with feces
- They don’t have access to prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in their guts
- Day-old chicks from a hatchery should have probiotics to help populate their guts with beneficial bacteria
Although probiotics are a great addition to your flock’s feed and water, it is important to note that this is not a treatment for disease or parasites. Be sure to check their droppings for signs of parasites on a regular basis to prevent a flock-wide infection.
What Probiotics Can I Give My Chickens?
There are many different beneficial bacteria that normally live in a chicken’s digestive tract and some of the species are different from the probiotics that humans need. However, there are quite a few species that we have in common. If you look at the live bacteria present in most chicken probiotics on the market and compare them to the probiotics made for humans, you’ll see some of the same species in both products.
However, buying probiotics from the food supplement aisle is sure to set you back a pretty penny. Probiotics for chickens are not nearly as expensive, but the cost can add up. Plus, there are natural ways of including probiotics in your chickens’ diet and saving money, too!
Here are some foods that naturally contain probiotics that your chickens will love:
- Fermented vegetables
- Fermented grains
- Kombucha (up to two tablespoons per gallon of water)
- Apple cider vinegar (up to one tablespoon per gallon of water)
Feed your chickens active cultures for the best results. The beneficial bacteria need fresh sources of nutrition to keep them alive, so yogurt and other probiotic-rich foods should be fed to your flock when it’s fresh. While it isn’t good to give your chickens a lot of dairy products, these fermented foods can be fed to them in small amounts. A tablespoon per day for each chicken should be fine.
Although I’ve read many suggestions for adding apple cider vinegar (acv) to their drinking water as a health tonic and probiotic for poultry, there hasn’t been enough research to confirm this. Both acv and kombucha contain probiotics that may be beneficial for your flock’s gut health but they should always be diluted to reduce their acidity (see the list, above). Consuming freshly made yogurt or kefir is probably a much better source of probiotics for both poultry and people.
What Prebiotics Can I Give My Chickens?
Chickens will naturally find their own prebiotics if they are allowed to free range or spend time on grass pastures each day. If their pen has become barren of grass and weeds, they won’t be able to search out their own prebiotics and you’ll need to provide these.
Remember that whole grains are a good source of prebiotics, including wheat and barley. If your chickens eat grains in their feed every day, they are off to a good start. Here are some other foods to give them to increase their prebiotic intake:
- Dandelion greens
- Sweet potatoes
In the winter it may be more difficult to provide these extras for your flock if you live in the north and rely on your garden for these extras. Try sprouting wheat grass as a natural form of prebiotic fodder for your hens.
How to Make Probiotics for Your Flock
One of the least expensive ways to make your own probiotics for your chickens is by making apple cider vinegar from scratch. Of course, if you don’t have a lot of apples, you can also use many other fruit scraps. You’ll want a non-reactive container, a bit of apple cider vinegar as a starter, and plenty of fruit.
Here’s how to ferment apple cider vinegar as a healthy probiotic for your chickens:
- Place fruit scraps in a large, non-reactive container
- Press down to remove air pockets
- Cover scraps with water and add about 1/4 cup of real apple cider vinegar or the ‘mother’ from your last batch
- Stir, cover loosely with cheesecloth, and allow to sit at room temperature until bubbly, usually a few days to a week
When making vinegar for ourselves, we usually strain the liquid off the fruit but for chickens, you can feed them the whole batch of vinegar and fruit scraps in small amounts each day with their food. If it’s easier, you can add one or two tablespoons of the liquid to their water dish each day and toss the scraps in their pen.
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More Ways to Make Probiotics for Chickens and Other Poultry
In addition to making your own fermented fruit vinegar, you can make these healthy foods for your flock of laying hens, meat chickens, ducks, turkeys, and other poultry.
- Ferment whole grains or ground feed rations for 2 to 4 days
- Make homemade yogurt, kefir, or other fermented dairy products
- Create small batches of fermented vegetables
Keep in mind that fermented foods should have a vinegary or sour smell to them, but they should never smell rotten, rancid, or moldy. If they go bad, compost them!
Prebiotics and Probiotics for Healthy Chickens
Feeding your flock of poultry healthy foods, including fiber-rich vegetables and fruits that are chock full of prebiotics will help feed the beneficial bacteria in their digestive systems. Adding probiotics in the form of apple cider vinegar, fermented foods, or a probiotic supplement every day is a wonderful way to keep your chickens healthy and happy.
Even if you don’t think of your chickens as pets, they still need to stay healthy so they can continue to provide you with delicious, nutritious eggs and meat. If their gut bacteria get out of whack, you can be sure that egg production will drop off or their eggs will have thin shells or pale yolks because they won’t be able to extract as much nutrition from their feed.
Do you feed your chickens a probiotic or prebiotics to keep them healthy? Leave a comment!
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