For years, I have been interested in culturing and fermenting in some capacity. It pretty much started with kombucha, then I tried water kefir (I killed my grains, ugh). I also tried fermenting zucchini pickles and carrot sticks in salt brine, and those were good. Then I tried dilly beans and those were outstanding! I was pretty much hooked.
Within a few months of moving into our new place, I made a new friend, Stacey. She introduced me to making milk kefir. I had experienced kefir as a child and loved it. It wasn’t the homemade kind, but the store-bought already-flavored-with-fruit variety. I had also experienced making my own yogurt in years past but it was too labor intensive for me with the tools I had. So when Stacey shared kefir grains with me and how easy it was to make, I gave it a go.
I Made Milk Kefir, Now What Do I Do?
Making milk kefir was quite easy, even using pasteurized cow’s milk. I had no idea what to do with each batch. I ended up just mixing the whole quart with bird feed and feeding it to the chickens for a snack. Heck, I wasn’t losing anything by giving it to them, really, and I’d heard it was good for them. BUT….
I had no idea that it would affect their laying.
And honestly, I don’t have any real scientific proof that it does help them to lay more, but on the weeks I fed milk kefir to my laying hens, they tended to lay roughly a third more eggs than when they didn’t have it. Like I said—no science, just my own mind blown.
But, I Did Research Milk Kefir for Good Measure
Here’s (in what I hope will be a nutshell) what I’ve learned from the research I have been doing on formulating my own chicken feed: laying hens need somewhere between 16 and 18 percent protein in their feed. According to Dr. Jacquie Jacob of the University of Kentucky, layers need a couple of percent more protein than pullets or any other non-laying chicken. At the time I started feeding them the milk kefir, I was already giving my girls a 16.2% protein feed, so my guess is that the extra protein boost was the reason for the boost in laying power.
Should You Feed Your Chickens Milk Kefir? You Decide.
Now here’s where I need to say to you: THIS IS ONLY WHAT WE DO. I don’t know enough to tell you that you should also do it this way, but this is working for us right now, and it’s just one way that I am supplementing the needed protein that doesn’t get into my homemade whole grain chicken feed. Since I haven’t been able to find out what percent protein milk kefir is (I’m sure it really depends on what type of milk is used amongst other factors), I can really only use it as a protein booster along with my 16% protein feed.
You don’t need to give them the full quart every time–that’s just what I do sometimes. If I were to give it consistently (or have kefir consistently–I don’t), I would do about a Tbsp per day per chicken. There’s no real rule that I know of. I have read around that many others give their chickens kefir to boost their nutrition from places like BackYardChickens.com and blogs that I’ve read, but there’s not really a hard and fast rule or “dosage” that I’ve been able to find.
People Use Milk Kefir in Other Ways, too
My friend Stacey of Mr. Joe’s Farm even treats her livestock with it when they have GI issues–she says it “fixes them right up”. I also ran across this article that talks about how kefir saved someone’s dog. I’m starting to look at my milk kefir as a medicine as well as a great food for myself and my livestock.
If you are interested in trying to make some kefir for yourself and your chickens, here’s how I make mine.
Easy Milk Kefir Recipe
plastic measuring spoon (tsp)
paper towel or paper coffee filter
canning ring to fit your canning jar or rubber band
small, fine mesh strainer (all plastic)
plastic lid that fits your canning jar (like these)
How to Make It
Fill clean mason jar with milk, leaving 1-inch headspace. Stir in kefir grains. Lay paper towel over the top of the jar and secure it to the jar with a canning ring or rubber band. Store jar at room temperature out of direct sunlight, allowing it to ferment until thickened. If it runs around 70 degrees in your house, your kefir should be done in 24 hours. If it’s hotter, it will ferment quicker; cooler, and it will ferment slower. Check it after 24 hours to get a feel for how kefir ferments in your house/in your kitchen. When it’s thickened to your liking, strain kefir into a glass jar, stirring gently in plastic strainer until just the grains remain. Refrigerate your kefir and use within 2 weeks (I keep mine longer, just FYI) and stir your grains into a new jar of milk to make more kefir.