Three ways chickens will improve your beer March 23, 2012

You know what else chickens can do for you? They can help you make beer at home. No kidding. We have chicken beer all the time–the girls just LOVE helping!

Well… all right, it’s not “chicken beer,” exactly. It’s not beer made from chickens. It’s not even beer made FOR chickens. (Is that what you thought? Wow, what an imagination, haha!) What we do instead is brew beer WITH our chickens. Chicken beer, yum.

Future beer buddy

A fuzzy, future beer buddy

 

Even though it’s not as exciting as sitting at the bar with your flock sharing a frosty one, all the same  our chickens are involved in the beer making process. Even better, when we tell our friends that we’re drinking chicken beer, they are much less likely to want some, which means more beer for us—winning! Unfortunately, our friends have recently grown wise to this trick, so we’ll have to come up with a new beer preserving tactic, soon.

When it comes to the beer, the first way that the chickens help us is passive. Chickens are very good at making poo! When we clean out the chicken coop, we put all the manure -y droppings and pine shavings into a big compost pile. There it sits for a year or so while it ages and breaks down. You can tell when it’s done, because it will be dark, dark brown or black and will have a wonderful, crumbly texture. Plus, it actually smells pleasant. In other words, if you can smell chicken poo, you haven’t waited long enough. Chicken manure is “hot,” so if you put it on your garden beds before it is properly aged, it can burn your plants.

So first, our chickens help us fertilize our hop bed.

Hops

Hops are hungry, like tomatoes, and like a deep, fertile soil.

Because we can’t accurately calculate the alpha acids in our home grown hops, we don’t usually use them for bittering, during the boil, but we do use them for dry hopping the beer; adding aroma at the final step before bottling. We grow a few different kinds of hops, but our favorites for dry hopping are the cascades, classic for American beer.

Dry hopping a brown ale

Here we're dry hopping an American brown ale

It’s somehow right that the classic American hops should be fertilized by–and protected by–our Rhode Island Reds, classic for American chickens. Our other birds help, mind you, but the Rhode Island Reds seem especially drawn to the few pests that seem to attack the hops. So, the second way the chickens help us is by hunting for pests on the hop plants.

Hops pests

I guess these spiky creatures look tasty to chickens

Thanks, ladies!

On brew day, the chickens help again. When brewing beer, you “mash” the grains, meaning, more or less, that you soak them in water at a temperature that converts the starches to fermentable sugars for the yeast. When the mash is done, you normally discard the spent grains, because all that good sugar has been extracted. I’m too frugal to really want to discard much of anything, though. So, at our house when we’re done with the grains, our chickens help in a third way, by consuming the spent grains.

eating spent grains

If only this gave us beer flavored eggs, we could make a million

We don’t want to give the girls too much at once, because they need to have a balanced diet! So, we use spent grains in other ways, too. For instance, I love to use them when I make home made black bean burgers—delicious!—and I use them also in our home made spent grain bread.

Spent grain bread cooling

This garlic and poppy seed topped spent grain bread cools on the porch while the chickens graze in the yard

It’s so tasty that recently we’ve been splitting the grains with the chickens. But the chickens still get most of them, and we also benefit–in eggs–from the grains we give the chickens.

carton of eggs

I love to see jaws drop when I whip out a carton of these eggs

So, the chickens eat the grains… then they poo and make us compost, then they clear the hops bed of pests, then they poo and make us more compost. It all works wonderfully, and appeals to my frugal heart.

It’s a beautiful cycle that ends with us relaxing on the porch swing while drinking a fine, hoppy brew and eating a slice of fresh, crusty bread while we watch the chickens. Perfect!

Landscape reflected in beer tulips

Cheers!

21 Comments
Mike March 23rd, 2012

Wonderful.., the circle of life! and sorry you’re not our neighbors..,

LindaG March 23rd, 2012

Hope my chickens are as helpful as yours when we can finally have some. :o)

Laura Spinale March 23rd, 2012

Love your story. I can’t wait for my adventure in chickenhood to start too!

Georgette Clark March 25th, 2012

We have been brewing for 3 years, and the chickens always get to enjoy the spent grains. Our plans are to grow our own hops, but for right now, our local CSA has grown some, and we will take advantage of that.

I would love to try that bread, would you mind sharing your ratios?

Thanks!

Terri March 27th, 2012

That sounds wonderful. Waste not want not. My frugal heart salutes you.

Yess Bryce March 29th, 2012

This is a great site!! which chickens lay your darkest brown eggs/ and which chickens lays the speckled egg?

Marion March 29th, 2012

Just love it! And that delicious looking bread totally makes my mouth water 😉 so inspiring. Keep up these great blogs !

Tyler June 28th, 2012

My goodness, what a great article. Now I want a beer.

Jeff July 3rd, 2012

Just brewed last week and dumped my spent grains in the coop which made a great treat for the girls, never really thought of this since we are new chicken owners. I cant wait to brew again so I can provide a tasty treat for both my family and our hens. everybody wins.

Brent July 8th, 2012

I am a home brewer and my chickens love spent grain! I have started freezing the spent grain in small plastic containers- I toss one in the run on a hot day and it is gone in a few minutes.

Jon Petts July 17th, 2013

I have a love for beer & chickens. I have recently moved & I jobs & now have access to free spent hops. Are these any good for chickens too? I will ask about spent grain aswell.
Beer, porch swing, crusty bread, & mad chickens. Life dont get much better!
cheers.
Jon.

Lissa July 17th, 2013

Good luck with the spent grains! They are delicious. We like spent grain buns with mushroom-onion-Swiss burgers especially. 🙂 I can’t recommend feeding the spent hops to your chickens. Hops are fatal to some dogs. Obviously, the biology is very different between canines and birds, but even so you should check with a veterinarian before making that experiment, just to be sure. We toss our spent hops on the compost pile–in an area secure from dogs–and our chickens are uninterested. On the other hand, if I tossed the hops to the chickens as a treat, they trust me, and may try them, even if their instincts really seem to keep them from eating hops they find in the compost pile. (At our house, it isn’t a place for kitchen waste, because we have too many wild critters around; we just compost yard waste and chicken bedding/manure.) The hops do make good compost. We tend to make very hoppy beers, and like whole cones hops for dry hopping (rather than pellets), so we often have a lot of hops to compost. I’ve often wondered if the antibacterial qualities of the hops help keep the soil healthy when I dig that compost into the garden, or if those qualities are destroyed by the composting process?

MsRiderUp June 30th, 2014

Hi,

Love all the info! We just have chickens — don’t drink, but would love to find spent grain to feed them. Your recipes look really yummy! Care to share?

Thanks!

Lissa July 2nd, 2014

Lissa’s no-knead spent grain peasant bread
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3 cups bread flour
1/2 c spent grains
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp garlic granules (optional)
2 tsp dried minced onion (optional)
~1-1/2 c water (warm, not too hot)
Dried garlic for topping, cornmeal for dusting

In a large bowl combine flour, spent grains, garlic, onion, yeast and salt. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be quite sticky. The amount of water will depend on how wet your spent grains are. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest 5-6 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. Again, the exact amount of time will depend on your spent grains and how much residual sugar is in them.
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Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and dump dough out onto it. It will still be very sticky. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself a few times until you’ve made a nice, round loaf. Cover loosely with plastic wrap again and let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes. Don’t do too much here: you’re more or less just shaping it into a heap. Don’t knead.
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Generously sprinkle dried garlic onto a cotton towel (not terry cloth); put dough on towel and then dust with cornmeal. So, what’s on the bottom will eventually be the top of the loaf; the top will be coated with garlic–yum! Cover with another cotton towel (I just fold my one towel over) and let the dough rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
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About a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered dutch oven (cast iron or enamelled cast iron are best) in oven as it heats. It is important to preheat the pot you’re using, so be sure to stick it in in plenty of time. When it’s time to bake, carefully remove pot from oven and lift the lid. Sprinkle in a little cornmeal, then slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot (garlic will now be on top). It may look like a mess, but that’s okay. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
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Cover with lid and bake 28 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 28 more minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. You can adjust these times to your liking and your oven. Cool on a rack, if you can stand to wait long enough. 🙂
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Instead of garlic powder and minced onion, you can also use herbs. I’ve also done several with herbs like rosemary, and I’ve replaced 1c of bread flour with (red) whole wheat flour. I would imagine white winter whole wheat flour would give you a little more volume, but I tend to like the flavor of red whole wheat a little more. I like to top with poppy or sesame seed, too. I think you can mess around a little to get a combination you really like. 🙂 The different types of spent grains will vary the loaf, too. We tend to like brown ale grains and barleywine grains. If you don’t brew yourself, you can get some spent grain from local breweries.
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Enjoy! You may never buy bread again.

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Cara March 29th, 2015

Do you know if you can freeze the extra spent grains to save for future chicken treats? Thanks!

Lissa March 30th, 2015

Hi, Cara! Yes, you can freeze the spent grains. I always freeze portions to save for bread; the chickens will like them, as well. On a hot day, you can probably give them an extra special treat by “serving” the grains still partially frozen. 🙂

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Linda February 10th, 2016

I also dry the spent grains, then put them thru the food processor and use them as part of the flour in my bread!

Lissa February 10th, 2016

Oooh, what a good idea to dry and mill them first. I’ll have to try that!

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