I spent several nights reading a thread on the Back Yard Chicken forum about growing fodder for chickens. At this point I still am not through all of it. The thread was hundreds of posts long and somewhere in the middle I decided to try growing some grain into a green sprout for the chickens since they went crazy for any green weeds I pulled and put into their run and also since they pretty much decimated all living green stuff they could reach. The recommend grain is barley, but I had none available here local. I bought oats and tried sprouting them, but found them impossible to get growing so I am fermenting the oats and growing in pots with soil for the cats. I could go online for the barley but shipping would be crazy expensive. The whole idea behind fodder is to take an inexpensive grain and turn it into three times the food. So locally I picked up a 50 pound bag of wheat for $7 and have been sprouting it.
Not wanting to put a lot of money into producing the sprouts I purchased some inexpensive foil pans from the grocery store. These were $1 and are pretty light weight. There are some that are $2.99 that are about double in strength and I have one of those that I soak the seed in during the day when I am at work. The foil pans work good for what I am doing and they are easy enough to replace if I need to. They have given me an inexpensive way to try sprouting and develop a system.
To start the sprouting process you need to soak the seeds. I use an old sour creme plastic container as my measure and put two measure cups into the heavier foil pan. I add enough water to cover and set on the counter to soak while I am at work. When I come home the wheat is put into a large wire strainer and rinsed really well. The empty foil pan is also rinsed well and I spray it with some alcohol to kill any bacteria that may have started. It is rinsed again and set up ready for the next day.
The rinsed wheat is then placed into one of the lighter weight foil pans that I have put some small drainage holes into and spread evenly throughout the pan. The holes only go at one end of the pan. I used some small scissors to punch small holes all across the drainage end. Use care and very little force as it does not take much to put holes into these pans. The new tray then goes into my bathroom where I have a large tub and have a small system set up to grow the wheat into sprouts in about six days.
The newly soaked wheat will go into the tub with the end where there are no holes slightly elevated. I have several wax warmers in the house and use two of the empty melt packages to slightly lift that end and allow water to run to the opposite end with the holes to drain. You can see them poking out under that bottom tray. Then the next tray is put in with its drainage holes towards the elevated end and set up on the opposite edge of the tray below it to make the tray on a slant. A third tray is set on that with the drainage holes oriented like the bottom tray and again set up on the edge or the tray below it. Water will be added to the top tray on the left end and water will run to the right, down into the next tray and run to the left.. then down into the bottom tray and run right and down the drain of the tub.
The trays in the tub are newly soaked grains, then the tray on top of that is the day before’s grains and the top tray is grains that were soaked three days ago. At this time you can start to see the roots and the green stalks emerging. If you push around on the grains you will feel they are starting to matt together. I do not like to mess with them at this point as far as making sure the grains stay evenly distributed over the bottom of the pan. They can still be moved in the pan from the day before and I make sure that tray is level before the next day comes and it enters this stage.
The foil pans in the tub represent days one, two and three. When a tray is on day four it is moved to a wire shelf rack that is stretched across the tub. I have a nice South facing window so the pans on the rack get some sun so they get green up before feeding to the chickens. I have a piece of 1/2″ PVC pipe under one end of the trays and the end with the drainage holes is opposite. I add a quart canning jar, sometimes two, of water every morning and night to the raised end and it runs down under the root mass and drains out and into the tub. I do not water the growing mass from the top as that seems a good way to get mold growing. I just want to add water to the root system and keep them rinsed with fresh water twice a day.
Every day I add a new tray to the bottom of the trays in the tub. On day four a tray is moved up to the far right on the shelf then it progresses to the middle on day five and finally the left side on day six. This is the day I feed it to the chickens. I find I am able to grow to this stage and not encounter mold. It is also a nice length for the chickens to deal with. I can lift out the entire tray and set it out for the chickens to eat and scratch through. The empty tray is then rinsed well, sprayed with alcohol and scrubbed.. and rinsed again to be ready for the next batch of grain and the cycle started all over again.
At this time the chickens are not consuming all the fodder I am creating. They probably have too many other things with the sunflower sprouts and the fermented oats as well as garden weeds they are getting these days. I have backed off the amount of oats I am feeding and also not feeding as much of the sunflower seeds trying to find a place where they are consuming everything that is going out for them in their pen. They are also consuming less feed so the fodder is saving me money there. Even though they are not consuming all the fodder it is not being wasted. I rake the run every weekend and remove most of the debris to add to the compost pile. The uneaten wheat will break down quickly and combined with the chicken manure will build great compost for next years garden.
Overall I am please with the results in growing out the fodder. I like the chickens having access to greens since they are not allowed to free range. Considering I have less than $20 invested and I am getting a lot of food out of the bag of wheat, I think I will continue to grow the fodder. It does not take a lot of my time, maybe 10 minutes in the morning with setting up the newest pan and watering the existing ones and then just a few minutes to water in the evening. The bathtub does require cleaning every weekend as the starches from the sprouting grains are rinsed into the tub but that also only takes a few minutes. Whether you set up a continuous system or just do it once in a while, growing fodder is definitely a good investment of time and money. It will stretch your chicken food dollar and your chickens will enjoy the greens.