(My article as previously published in http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/ )
You may wonder why you would want to soak grains, and there is a simple answer. Many grains have an outer coating, by soaking the grains, that coating is softened and brings out the beneficial nutrients, which in turn makes those grains more digestible and the nutrients more available to the chickens and other fowl.
Most grains can be soaked, though rolled or flaked oats or wheat will get soggy, chickens love it. Other grains will soften, but not become soggy in the soaking process.
Since chickens have a sensitive digestive system, soaking the grains helps them to digest properly and prevent some of the digestive issues you may encounter. Of course all food is processed first through the crop, but there is still a portion of the grain that simply follows the digestive tract without being fully broken down in the crop.
Not all grains are created equal. The reason chicken feed has a variety of grains in it, is because they don't all have the fully balanced nutrients needed in a healthy diet. Two grains/seeds that do provide all the essential vitamins, minerals and balanced nutrients are Quinoa, and Chia. Both have a very long history of use and were found to be beneficial in ancient civilizations.
Chia, when soaked will develop a mucilaginous texture, but the seed itself will remain in tact. Though what most people know about Chia is that it is marketed as a *Chia Pet*, a clay figure that grows Chia *hair*; It is in fact a very beneficial seed for consumption, and is easily sprouted to provide greens to the chickens when they are not able to free-range or are limited on fresh greens in their overall diet.
The process of soaking grains is easy, requiring little time or effort. Simply pour a couple of inches of grain into a container, such as a dishpan or broiler pan. Add warm water until it covers the grain by an inch or so. Add a couple tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar, which helps break down the outer coating on the grains/seeds. Stir with a wooden spoon, and allow to sit up to 24 hours before feeding to the chickens.
Soaking grains does not need to be a daily process, you can do it once or twice a week or as your schedule allows. Leave out the vinegar when soaking the grains and in a few days you will have sprouted grains. Covering the container with vented plastic wrap will provide a warm environment for the grains to sprout. Once you see the sprouts emerge, remove the plastic covering to allow more ventilation and to prevent molding.
The benefits will be noticed regardless of how often you choose to soak the grains. We would recommend once a week, or every other week, rather than daily. Chickens still need the hard grains for the crop to function properly and the vinegar added, can build up toxins in the intestines if used too often. We would rather use the soaked grains as a treat, rather than a steady diet. Your regular chicken feed works fine for soaking, but you can try many different grains and seeds such as quinoa and chia and even millet. Avoid, soy and rye.
Only soak as much grain as you can use in a couple of days, to prevent mold in warmer weather. If the grains mold, throw them out. Mold is never a good scenario and it is one reason I do not recommend soy or rye. The rye emits a toxin, and is believed to have been the cause of the odd behaviors during the witch hunts. Modern science has studied the behaviors and concluded that it was the rye grain at the bottom of the barrels. When it was used in bread baking, people began behaving in strange and unacceptable ways, which led to the loss of many lives out of fear. Soy on the other hand goes rancid very quickly because of the natural soy oil, so it is not suitable for soaking.
If you would like a little variety to the grain soaking, you can add a couple tablespoons of plain (live culture) yogurt to the grain/water mixture rather than the vinegar. Whey from your butter or cheese making can be substituted as well.
When chickens are not feeling up to par or show signs of inactivity, the soaked grains can invigorate them and help with their digestion. Just as with humans, chickens have periodic digestive issues, so the soaked grains can provide the essential nutrients and help them overcome a cranky tummy. But one benefit you will notice almost immediately is that chickens require less grain when those grains are soaked, because they ate able to absorb the nutrients much more readily, and will feel full longer. So when budgets are tight, you need not scrimp on the chicken feed, simply soak it so that the nutrients are bio-available to the flock.
I recently came across data presented by #PoultryScience.Org. In their experiments, soaking the grains helped increase weight and overall growth in the broilers, without the need of increased amounts of grain.
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