Chicken feed storage is not something that many of us put much thought into. We’re usually more concerned about coop design, predator control, and keeping our birds healthy. As important as these things are, proper chicken feed storage is just as important, and it doesn’t take too much effort to do it right! Unfortunately, if stored incorrectly, your chicken feed can make your birds sick, make them stop laying, or in extreme instances, kill them. You may be feeding chickens table scraps and other treats, but it’s still imperative that you provide your hens and roosters with good, palatable, and well-balanced chicken feed.
Chicken Feed Storage
Livestock feed is a relatively stable product, but there are a few common reasons that feed is lost or spoiled. Rodents, insects, fungi, moisture, and rancidity are the most common reasons that feed is lost on the farm.
Chicken feed storage isn’t just about finding a place to park your extra bag of feed. Mice and rats are good at finding your stores, and if your feed is hanging out in the bag you bought it in, then it’s likely that a rodent will chew your bag open. If you have a large rodent population, or if you give them enough time, mice or rats can easily relieve you of lots of feed, which is money down the drain. What’s more, mice and rats carry diseases your birds can catch. If rodents infect your feed supply, you can quickly make your birds ill. Additionally, giving rodents an easy and plentiful food supply makes your life harder when trying to rid your coop of disease-carrying vermin.
Chickens love to eat bugs, but not all bugs are clean. Insects, just like rodents, can be carriers of disease. If those carriers live in your feed, then you could be feeding your birds diseased feed.
Moths, weevils, and beetles love to eat livestock feed. Just like rodents, if there are enough of them, they can make a serious dent in your feed stores. You want to feed your chickens, not the pests. These unwelcome guests thrive and reproduce the best between 75 and 100 degrees, so summertime is when you can expect to see issues with insects.
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Proper chicken feed storage is essential, especially if you want to prevent your feed from going moldy. Mold in the feed is not uncommon, and you may even find small chunks of moldy feed in a bagged feed from the feed mill itself. Moldy feed in the milling process is unavoidable since little nooks and crannies of the system collect bits of feed that spoil in the system. Eventually, those bits will detach and wind up in a batch of feed. Small chunks of spoiled feed are nothing to be concerned about, but when your entire feed store is infected with fungi, you have an issue. The fungus that grows in feed can create mycotoxins that can poison your birds and can give your feed an off flavor that your birds will not like. Fungal growth is most likely to occur when the humidity hits 65 percent or higher outside, and 77 degrees or higher.
The biggest challenge of chicken feed storage is moisture. Humidity can encourage the growth of fungi, break down pelleted feed into mush and outright spoil your feed. The most common reason that fed gets wet is rain or the natural condensation effect that occurs in storage containers. Many people use barrels or bins to keep their feed safe and dry, but as the heat rises and falls with every day, these barrels collect condensation on the inside walls. This process can be exaggerated if these bins are in direct sunlight.
If you live in a climate that has big swings in temperature, keep your bins out of the sun. If you can’t keep them out of the sun, consider insulating them with reflective insulation to reduce the heat and slow the change of temperature. Insulating bins will help reduce the accumulation of moisture because of inside temperature changes. Additionally, allowing your containers to vent, will let the moisture out. Make sure your ventilation doesn’t allow bugs, rodents or rain into your feed.
Mixed feeds don’t last forever. Just like food in your refrigerator can turn rancid, so can your feed. Fats used in the production of chicken feed will eventually oxidize, which turns the feed rancid.
A rancid feed will have an odor about it, and it’s not a pleasant odor. Feed that has turned rancid contains toxins that will stunt a bird’s growth, and the taste will be off-putting. This poor taste will lead to your birds to avoid eating it as well, and if you’re raising meat birds, that will mean you’ll see lower weight gains. Fungi and insect damage hasten this process, which is why proper chicken feed storage is critical.
How Long Does Feed Keep?
When grain is ground at the mill and your chicken feed is mixed together, it’s contaminated with fungi and insect larva. It’s unavoidable just like those errant chunks of moldy feed, just because the feed mill’s system is bound to have some contaminated feed somewhere in the vast production system. It’s an unfortunate, but unavoidable fact of livestock feed.
Most chicken feed is pelleted before it’s bagged, which does a lot of good for the shelf life of your chicken feed. When feed is pelleted, it’s pressed through a blazing hot pellet die. This cooking and the pressing action heats the feed and kills the lion’s share of contaminants in the ration. If properly kept, your pelleted feed should store for a minimum of three months, and if conditions are well-regulated, up to six months.
Does Feed Type Matter?
All feed should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place, but some feedstuffs are more prone to spoilage than others. Manufactured and pelleted feed that does not include extra fats, such as molasses, should all keep between the three to six-month window. Your feedstuffs will store longer if given the right environment but will spoil quickly if exposed to moisture, sun, and rodents.
Where to Keep Feed
Formulated feed likes to be parked in a cool, dry place. If you have the luxury of having a feed room to store your feed, lucky you. For those of us who don’t have that luxury, it’s wise to keep your feed in a container that stays out of direct sunlight and is watertight, but not necessarily airtight.
What About Containers?
Drums and trash cans are a popular place to keep feed, especially for chicken feed storage. Be aware that feed can react with metal containers. If using steel, or a galvanized trash can, keep bagged feeds in the bag instead of spilling them into the steel container. Food-safe steel barrels have a non-reactive liner in them, usually made of porcelain or food-safe paint. These liners will protect your feed from reacting with the steel. Plastic or “Polly” barrels are best for avoiding reactivity. However, they don’t resist light as well as metal, and they don’t resist chewing by rodents as well as steel.
Keeping Your Birds Happy
You’ve spent the time to learn how and what to feed chickens, now take it a step further and make sure your feed stays in top form. For those of us who have only a handful of chickens, buying and storing 50 pounds of feed at a time can be a challenge. The bottom line is; as long as you keep your feed safe, cool, and dry, you’ll have no issues with spoiled feed, and your chickens will have clean, fresh feed to support their egg laying!
Do you have a preferred type of container where you store your feed? How well does it work for you? Let us know in the comments below!