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Growing Fodder for Livestock & Poultry to Cut Feed Costs

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Cut your animal feed costs substantially by growing fodder from whole grains like oats, wheat, or barley. It’s great, inexpensive chicken food and good for other livestock, too.

green fodder from oats growing in planter

If you’re raising chickens or other livestock, you know that animal feed can get quite expensive. I’ve written about how to feed chickens on the cheap, but in my 20+ years of raising hens, I’d not taken the time to learn to grow fodder. Well, “learn” might not be the right word, because this is tremendously easy. Sprouting grains into fodder does require some set up, though, and that’s where I got hung up.

While growing fodder doesn’t require elaborate equipment, other projects always seemed to take precedent and I never quite got around to finding the materials I needed. When I noticed that my son was getting rid of a small storage unit with numerous trays [exactly like this one] I went into salvage mode. He’d picked the unit up at a garage sale years ago and used it until it was just too wobbly and rusty for him.

Score one for me! Those shallow drawers were perfect for growing fodder.

small chunk of fodder showing seeds and greens

Related: How to Feed Chickens Organic Feed — Grow a Chicken Garden!

Why grow fodder?

One of the best reasons for sprouting grains into fodder is that it helps stretch your animal feed expense. Fifty pounds of whole grain can be transformed into as much as 300 pounds of fodder simply by sprouting it. (How crazy am I for not trying this sooner??)

Sprouting grains increases their nutritional content and boosts protein content slightly. And while it’s great for chicken feed, this fodder works as feed for other livestock as well.

Growing fodder

While we think of whole grains as food, they are really seeds formed by a plant to regenerate itself. Untreated whole grains need nothing more than a little moisture to try to do what they’re meant to do. By giving grains the conditions necessary to sprout, they’ll do what comes naturally with very little effort on your part.

You’ll need:

  • Shallow trays — you can use baking trays, an assortment of recycled containers, or a unit like mine
  • Shelving or a rack on which to place the trays
  • Drill with a one-eighth-inch bit
  • Bulk whole grain – barley, wheat, or oats work well
  • Bucket
  • Water

Making the fodder system

Drill several drainage holes in the bottom each tray. Test to make sure water drains sufficiently. A bit of residual water is okay, but if it’s really puddling, add a few more holes. Using a stacked storage unit makes for a mostly ready-made system.

If you scavenge an assortment of trays, you’ll need a place to set the trays while the seeds sprout. Remember that the area will get wet.

Where to put your growing fodder trays

My fodder system is set up outside near the chicken run, making it easy to access and maintain. If you have hot summers, a shady spot is a good idea. Growing fodder during winter weather will require an indoor space where it’s a bit warmer, but supplemental lighting is really not necessary.

Related: 5 Ways to Put Your Backyard Hens to Work For You

growing fodder, close up of sprouted oats

Growing fodder

  1. Soak grain in a bucket of water overnight. Cover the grains by about two inches of water. How much grain to soak depends on the size of your trays and how many you’re filling. Aim for a half-inch depth for each tray. The grains have a tendency to mold if they’re deeper than that.
  2. Drain grains and transfer to trays. Spread evenly.
  3. Water each tray morning and night. If your region is really dry and the sprouting grains dry out quickly, you might need to water them during the day or experiment with using lids on the trays to help prevent evaporation.
  4. You’ll see roots within the first couple of days, followed by greens. The growing fodder is edible at any point, but it usually takes a week or so to have a nice solid block of fodder that you can lift out of each drawer.

Related: How to Keep Your Hens Cool This Summer

growing fodder in a planter, close up of sprouted seeds
green fodder from oats growing in planter

Growing fodder

While we think of whole grains as food, they are really seeds formed by a plant to regenerate itself. Untreated whole grains need nothing more than a little moisture to try to do what they're meant to do. By giving grains the conditions necessary to sprout, they'll do what comes naturally with very little effort on your part.

Ingredients

  • Shallow trays -- you can use baking trays, an assortment of recycled containers, or a unit like mine
  • Shelving or a rack on which to place the trays
  • Drill with a one-eighth-inch bit
  • Bulk whole grain - barley, wheat, or oats work well
  • Bucket
  • Water

Instructions

  1. Soak grain in a bucket of water overnight. Cover the grains by about two inches of water. How much grain to soak depends on the size of your trays and how many you’re filling. Aim for a half-inch depth for each tray. The grains have a tendency to mold if they're deeper than that.
  2. Drain grains and transfer to trays. Spread evenly.
  3. Water each tray morning and night. If your region is really dry and the sprouting grains dry out quickly, you might need to water them during the day or experiment with using lids on the trays to help prevent evaporation.
  4. You’ll see roots within the first couple of days, followed by greens. The sprouted grains are edible at any point, but it usually takes a week or so to have a nice solid block of fodder that you can lift out of each drawer.

Notes

Making the fodder system

Drill several drainage holes in the bottom each tray. Test to make sure water drains sufficiently. A bit of residual water is okay, but if it's really puddling, add a few more holes. 

Where to put your growing trays

My fodder system is set up outside near the chicken run, making it easy to access and maintain. If you have hot summers, a shady spot is a good idea. Sprouting grains into fodder during winter weather will require an indoor space where it's a bit warmer, but supplemental lighting is really not necessary.

Nutrition Information:
Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

40 comments… add one
  • Diane Ziomek Aug 11, 2017, 6:10 pm

    I did this for my alpacas and they really enjoyed the greenery in the middle of winter. I used oats, but will try barley or wheat this coming winter as well.

    • LShillingburg Oct 1, 2019, 11:55 am

      how much did you give your alpacas? I am wondering how much to feed them. I have 7 so far. Each is about 140 to 160#.

  • tin Feb 13, 2018, 3:43 pm

    how do you give it to the chickens chopped up or they can handle the meal just fine with no extra help

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 20, 2018, 4:19 pm

      Oh, they do a fine job of picking through it!

  • Cyndi Aug 26, 2018, 1:43 am

    What grains work best maybe husband and I make treats for our chickens by sprouting sunflower seeds but that’s the only seed have used, what is the best

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 27, 2018, 7:54 am

      I’ve used oat and barley.

  • raj Sep 7, 2018, 6:37 am

    can i use wheat grain?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 7, 2018, 7:28 am

      Yes.

  • Laura Nov 5, 2018, 5:43 am

    Can this be used as the only feed source or only as a supplement?

  • Amanda Nov 13, 2018, 4:59 pm

    Where can I find these whole grains? Do they only sprout once or can you do multiple times?

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 14, 2018, 9:52 am

      Probably the least expensive place is the feed store. And I feed the whole thing — seeds and sprouts — to my hens, so no, it can’t be reused.

    • Teresa Oct 19, 2019, 11:37 am

      What about chia seeds?

  • DennisF Dec 27, 2018, 11:23 am

    Do I do this (sprouting) by buying seed or feed? If seed; where do most people buy it so it’s not so expensive? Thx. -DennisF

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 27, 2018, 4:08 pm

      You can use whole oats from the feed store.

      • DennisF Jan 2, 2019, 4:42 am

        Thanks!!

  • Bill Apr 30, 2019, 5:15 pm

    Do you re cycle water or just let it drain and keep using new water each feeding

    • Kris Bordessa May 2, 2019, 12:55 pm

      Either works!

    • Samir Manohar Jun 10, 2019, 4:17 pm

      Ensure water is changes every 24 hrs to avoid decay and stink

  • Amie May 15, 2019, 4:11 am

    Has anyone used Rye seed? I have a ton and would like to try.

    • Kris Bordessa May 16, 2019, 8:39 am

      I haven’t tried it, but it should work. Really, what’s the worst that could happen?

  • R Russell May 24, 2019, 8:15 pm

    Should the barley be hull less ?

    • Kris Bordessa May 28, 2019, 1:51 pm

      No, you want them in their “seed” form, not prepared for eating.

      • Alex Nov 1, 2019, 5:28 am

        Niceee……
        I am an Indian guy & I have 100 black meat chicken is with me. Just I wanna Know, how much sprouted grain I should feed them daily

        • Kris Bordessa Nov 7, 2019, 7:42 pm

          Roughly the equivalent of the dry feed. You’ll begin to see how much they eat and adjust accordingly.

      • Dean May 2, 2020, 4:18 pm

        How much barley fodder should I be feeding 10 chickens a day

  • Alex Nunoo Aug 30, 2019, 3:49 am

    Need help, where do i buy the seeds to grow ie Barley and maize ( Seeds)

    Thanks

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 3, 2019, 8:12 am

      Try a feed store.

  • Bryon Alexander Sep 30, 2019, 2:50 pm

    After much grief, I have found that oats need to soak no more than 1 hour! Also, here in central Texas, use a small amount of bleach in the soaking water, and spray a dilute vinegar water in the container that will hold the seeds! (Sure helps the mold problem).

    • Tom McNamara Oct 8, 2019, 11:56 am

      I totally agree the 1-2 hour soak spouts muck faster than 12-24 hour soak here in South -East state of Queensland, Australia

  • sosena fentahun Oct 9, 2019, 1:47 am

    feeding animal as fresh or in dry matter is good?

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 10, 2019, 4:32 pm

      I’m not sure I understand the question, I’m sorry!

  • katherine jones Jan 4, 2020, 11:54 am

    do they eat the green parts too?

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 5, 2020, 8:31 am

      Yes — and in the winter when greens are scarce, they even say thank you. 😉

  • Susan Jan 10, 2020, 5:07 pm

    Tried your method with oats, and it’s working great. Now want to try some other grain options and find a spot where wild birds can’t get at it.

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 12, 2020, 12:44 pm

      I’ll be curious to see what you come up with!

  • Pam Apr 11, 2020, 3:18 am

    I found your article because I was specifically looking for information about growing fodder outdoors since I don’t have much indoor space available for this. My chicken run is bare of anything green (it didn’t start out that way, but the chickens keep it that way and outside the run is unsafe from predators). Anyway, I was hoping to see pictures of your outdoor setup. Do you have any you would be willing to post?

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 7:18 am

      I’m sorry to say that my salvaged system finally gave up the ghost and I can’t find an image.

  • Amanda Michaelis Jun 9, 2020, 6:47 am

    I have had much success sprouting birdseed. I just use a strainer to filter out the corn and sunflower shells and srout the rest. I do it in mason jars on the windowsill – you can buy lids with strainers for the mason jars that work perfectly.

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 9, 2020, 10:58 am

      Great idea!

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