How to Grow Fodder for Chickens and Other Livestock

Ready to cut your animal feed costs substantially? Learn how to grow fodder for chickens and other livestock! Whole grains like oats, wheat, or barley make for an easy way to provide fresh greens to your flock.

Be sure to check out more ideas on how to feed chickens on the cheap!

green fodder from oats growing in planter

If you’re raising chickens or other livestock, you know that animal feed can get quite expensive. Growing fodder to supplement their diet is an easy endeavor and one that will keep your flock happy.

What is fodder?

Fodder is a mat of sprouted seeds that can be used to feed a variety of livestock and small animals, including chickens.

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: grow.

By giving grains the conditions necessary to sprout, they’ll do what comes naturally with very little effort on your part. 

pink tray with fodder growing in it.

How to Grow Fodder for Chickens 

Sprouting grains into fodder requires a little bit of set up, but it’s not difficult. You’ll need some sort of shallow tray to get started. I used an upcycled storage unit with shallow sliding drawers. Check your local thrift store or rubbish bin for options — you won’t need anything fancy. You could also use: 

  • Styrofoam meat trays
  • Baking trays
  • Plastic clamshells
  • Seed starting trays

The essential thing is that you are able to drill drainage holes in the trays.

small chunk of fodder showing seeds and greens

Why grow fodder?

One of the best reasons for sprouting grains into fodder is that it helps stretch your animal feed budget. Fifty pounds of whole grain can be transformed into as much as 300 pounds of fodder simply by sprouting it. 

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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. 

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.

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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Originally published in July 2017; this post has been updated.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

60 comments… add one
  • Barbara Ballew Jul 31, 2022 @ 6:11

    Not to sound dumb but this would be my first try. So do I give the chickens the whole block of the sprouted seeds? How do I feed it to them? I’m only familiar with giving them hard food pellets in a bag from a feed store placed in the tower feeder. Do I have to keep watering it after I give it to them? Do I put it on the ground? Outside? Inside? What if they don’t eat it all? HELP!!

    • AttainableSustainable Aug 9, 2022 @ 3:39

      Keep it accessible to them and see if they like it. Make several, and keep them growing. I’d do it outside since the area will get wet. Good luck!

  • Allahyafi Mar 21, 2022 @ 17:02

    Great experience! Thank you for your kind offer of tips freely shared. Just tried it on wheat, rice, maize, sorghum n millet. All yields were great! Thank you so much.

    • AttainableSustainable Mar 22, 2022 @ 7:10

      You’re welcome!

  • Ivan Placnecia Nov 22, 2021 @ 7:28

    Hello, Kris.

    We wanted to implement a oat and wheat fodder system to feed livestock.

    We were thinking about using trays with holes at the bottom and have water sprinkled about 4 times per day for 30 secs for the oats. Since the trays have wholes, the seeds will only get damp but wont stay wet.
    – Is this spraying system enough to grow the fodder or do we need the flood and drain system to for this to work?
    -If we want to water only between 4 and 6 times a time, at what temp should we keep the room in which we put the set up? It is impossible to do it out doors as the climate here in super hot most of the year.

    We are new to this, I would really appreciate it if you could recommend a book that talks specifically about growing wheat and oat fodder. Also, if it is posible, it would be amazing if you could zoom with in order to ask more questions and get a more information about how t make this system work. In case the zoom meeting is possible, we are more than willing to pay you for your help.

    We are a small ranch in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. We are very excited to hear from you, thanks.

    We

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 13, 2021 @ 9:01

      The seeds need to be damp to sprout. I can’t imagine that spraying them wouldn’t work, but let us know! As for temps, I’d aim for between 60-80ºF.

  • Sandra Nov 7, 2021 @ 7:26

    How about the Scratch Grain feed? It’s a variety mix which includes soy. I’m pretty sure the answer is it’s ok but just checking.

    Thanks

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 7:39

      I’m not sure what you’re asking? Those are usually cracked grains, many of which will not sprout.

  • Alan Bork Oct 28, 2021 @ 2:39

    Can you use rye?

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 7:40

      As long as it’s a whole grain, it should sprout!

  • Charity Oct 22, 2021 @ 18:33

    Why can’t you cut the sprouts so they can regrow multiple times versus feeding them the entire block? I imagine it might be harder for them to eat if it’s cut. I guess I could try growing it through wire so the roots are left intact.

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 10:10

      It depends what animals you’re feeding. It’s not recommended to give chickens cut grasses.

  • Uwem Udofia Oct 2, 2021 @ 4:08

    Please, how does fodder work for broiler and again can I feed only fodder to broiler?

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 10:00

      Fodder is good for all chickens.

  • M. Cuppernoll Mar 5, 2021 @ 9:01

    After you have made your trays and grown your oats, do you replant them in the field/area that you have livestock or chickens?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 11, 2021 @ 8:06

      No, it’s given as a feed, just tossed into their paddock.

  • Amanda Michaelis Jun 9, 2020 @ 6:47

    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

      Great idea!

  • Pam Apr 11, 2020 @ 3:18

    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

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

    • Tammy Wisdom Jul 5, 2022 @ 5:48

      A chicken “salad bar” is an alternative, the chickens get their greens without digging up the plants. I do the deep mulch method, lots of leaves and old straw, etc. I just started sprouting some barley in trays,today. Thank you for your article!

      • AttainableSustainable Aug 9, 2022 @ 3:58

        You’re welcome!

  • Susan Jan 10, 2020 @ 17:07

    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

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

  • katherine jones Jan 4, 2020 @ 11:54

    do they eat the green parts too?

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 5, 2020 @ 8:31

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

      • Aminu Aminu Musa Oct 25, 2021 @ 22:39

        I’m really interested with this article. By Almighty will I will try it for me to reduce feeding cost.
        Sir my question is how can I gave it to them in first time?
        Thank You very much.

        • Kris Bordessa Nov 10, 2021 @ 7:40

          Just tear off a piece of the fodder and put it in their feeding area.

  • sosena fentahun Oct 9, 2019 @ 1:47

    feeding animal as fresh or in dry matter is good?

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 10, 2019 @ 16:32

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

  • Bryon Alexander Sep 30, 2019 @ 14:50

    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

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

  • Alex Nunoo Aug 30, 2019 @ 3:49

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

    Thanks

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 3, 2019 @ 8:12

      Try a feed store.

  • R Russell May 24, 2019 @ 20:15

    Should the barley be hull less ?

    • Kris Bordessa May 28, 2019 @ 13:51

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

      • Alex Nov 1, 2019 @ 5:28

        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 @ 19:42

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

      • Dean May 2, 2020 @ 16:18

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

  • Amie May 15, 2019 @ 4:11

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

    • Kris Bordessa May 16, 2019 @ 8:39

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

  • Bill Apr 30, 2019 @ 17:15

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

    • Kris Bordessa May 2, 2019 @ 12:55

      Either works!

    • Samir Manohar Jun 10, 2019 @ 16:17

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

  • DennisF Dec 27, 2018 @ 11:23

    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 @ 16:08

      You can use whole oats from the feed store.

      • DennisF Jan 2, 2019 @ 4:42

        Thanks!!

  • Amanda Nov 13, 2018 @ 16:59

    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

      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

      What about chia seeds?

  • Laura Nov 5, 2018 @ 5:43

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

  • raj Sep 7, 2018 @ 6:37

    can i use wheat grain?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 7, 2018 @ 7:28

      Yes.

  • Cyndi Aug 26, 2018 @ 1:43

    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

      I’ve used oat and barley.

  • tin Feb 13, 2018 @ 15:43

    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 @ 16:19

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

  • Diane Ziomek Aug 11, 2017 @ 18:10

    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

      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#.

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