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 sprouting grains 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.
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.
Sprouting grains for 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.
- 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
Making the 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 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.
Growing the fodder
- 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.
- Drain grains and transfer to trays. Spread evenly.
- 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.
- 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.