Author: Alex Prediger (Deck Farm Intern from April 2014 to April 2015)
Background:
In order to test the efficiency of a new soaked-feed layer ration, we undertook a feed trial last fall. In this trial, we compared two different organic feeds: a complete-ration layer pellet and a Deck Family Farm milled and soaked feed.
The layer pellet was from Payback, had a minimum crude protein of 16%, and contained corn, barley, flax, soybean meal, mineral, and vitamins. The DFF milled feed had 15% protein, was soy free, and consisted of soft white wheat, peas, rolled corn, rolled barley, fish meal, mineral mix, and lime.  The feed was milled using a PTO powered Gehl hammer-mill/mixer with a 3/8″ screen.  Half-way through the trial, we incorporated an organic dairy source into the milled feed.
Here’s the recipe for our DFF organic soaked feed:
% protein
Lbs
% of overall ration
Lbs of protein
Chickens total lbs @ 1600*365*.23
amount needed per year in tons
Soft White Wheat
10.00%
500
25.00%
50
134320
16.79
Peas
22.00%
660
33.00%
145.2
134320
22.16
rolled corn
9.00%
250
12.50%
22.5
134320
8.40
Barley
13.00%
250
12.50%
32.5
134320
8.40
fish meal
65.00%
80
4.00%
52
134320
2.69
Flax
24.00%
0
0.00%
0
134320
0.00
mineral mix
60
3.00%
0
134320
2.01
Lime
200
10.00%
0
134320
6.72
Total
15.11%
2000
302.2
There were several reasons that we soaked our milled feed, not the least of which was the fact that all seeds contain enzyme inhibitors, which can hinder digestion. When you soak the seed, it gears up to germinate and turns off these inhibitors, making protein and other nutrients more readily available. This process, however, decreases the energy/carbohydrates in the seed. As we aren’t entirely sure the extent to which this happens, we weren’t able to know exactly what the protein content was of the feed, so we had to make an educated guess. It was our hope that in soaking the feed for 2 days with a dairy inoculant, we might encourage a bit of fermentation as well.
Experimental Conditions:
Our experiment consisted of two groups of ~10 laying hens per group (the number varied throughout the experiment due to several skilled escape artists). The control group received ~0.25 lb/chicken of the layer pellet which has been the staple feed for our flock. The experimental group was fed ~0.25 lbs/chicken/day of the milled feed, which was soaked for 2 days with water (and later yogurt) beforehand to help make nutrients more readily available to the birds. Both groups were also supplemented with grit and oyster shell.
That’s the basic layout of the experiment! Onto the really interesting stuff: the results!


Here’s a little extra information that may be helpful in interpreting the results.
We began our experiment one month before we started recording data, in order to allow the birds to adjust to the change in diet. Also, some artificial lighting was added during the second month of the experiment to account for the change in photoperiod. We switched feeds at this point to try to control for the possibility that one flock was simply better at laying than the other.  Another consideration is the fact that our hens are normally on pasture and get a good amount of added nutrition from foraging for insects and plants. This experiment occurred over winter and the hens in these flocks where confined in pens with no forage, which could have impacted the results.
Results:
We took two different averages to further analyze our results. In the overall average, we simply compared the average percent of lay of birds fed soaked feed to that of birds fed pelleted feed over the course of our 5 month experiment: .27 (soaked) and 0.50 (pelleted). We also compared the average percent lay for birds fed soaked with yogurt to the same time period for those fed pellets: 0.32 (soaked with yogurt) and 0.63 (pelleted).  Here we see that the yogurt bumped up production a little bit. It is possible that this increase could also be related to a gradually increasing photoperiod though as the pelleted birds also produced more. In considering these results it is important to note that both the age of the birds (>1 year) and the time of year (winter) could have affected the outcome, as well as numerous other variables.
Analysis:
In conclusion, it appears as though feeding soaked feed, even with supplemental yogurt, results in reduced percent lay when compared to a complete, pelleted ration. For the future, we plan to send in a feed analysis sample of our soaked feed, as well as tweak the recipe a little.  We are considering a program that would incorporate a milled feed source during the time of the year when the chickens are better able to supplement their diets due to ample foraging. In this system we would switch back to pellets during the winter, when the pasture provides less supplemental nutrition.