Growing Fodder for Chickens

Growing Your Own Fodder for Ducks and Chickens Offers Additional Nutrition.

Growing Fodder for Chickens

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If you are a backyard farmer who frequents the internet for advice, chances are you’ve come across the concept of growing fodder for chickens. Not only does this offer a way to save some money on feed, but there is evidence to support it provides a bit of extra nutritional value. 

On these principles alone, fodder is certainly an idea worth exploring and experimenting with for those with the patience to try something new.  

For the unacquainted, the process of growing feed in a hydroponic-based system might seem like an overwhelming undertaking. After all, few quick internet searches will show up a myriad of highly technological-looking systems with questionable labor intensity.  

The good news is that, despite their appearance, fodder systems are incredibly simple to make on a large or small scale. In fact, the whole process isn’t much different than people who grow sprouts in their kitchen for their own consumption. For poultry purposes, grains can be sprouted in a very simple and cost-effective way on small and larger scales. 

Designing the System 

The foundation for the fodder system is quality seed. The four basic types of seed grains used to sprout fodder are rye, oats, barley, and wheat. All of these are fairly common ingredients in poultry diets, you may even find them in your prebagged feed. When these grains are sprouted, the germination process is said to make the nutrients up to 40% more digestible and available. 

All of these grain types are readily available at most feed stores and farm co-operatives. Just be sure that you purchase seed that has not been treated with any sort of fertilizer or product. 

The tools required to sprout grains into fodder are very simple. You need some sort of container with some form of drainage (or a device to strain the seeds), a way to spray water, and a favorable growing environment (approximately 60 to 70 degrees F). Some fodder growers prefer to put lids on their containers to help trap heat in if temperature stability is a concern. 

growing-fodder-for-chickens
Germinating wheat seed for growing fodder for chickens.

You can get quite creative on materials using anything from disposable baking tins, potting trays to shallow Rubbermaid totes. Because the process does take some time to grow and space, it may be a good idea to have a designated shelving space to store fodder as it grows. Whatever the case, just be sure you store you are growing in a place where excess water can be easily drained.  

Self-contained fodder systems on various scales are commercially available, some with impressive automatic watering and draining mechanisms. But for the purposes of the backyard flock, a homemade setup is all you need. If you want to scale up, you can investigate options moving forward – there are some sizeable homemade hydroponics and fodder systems you may be able to re-create yourself. 

The Process of Growing Fodder for Chickens 

Prior to sprouting, seeds should be rinsed thoroughly to remove any impurities or pathogens. Some growers opt to use a tiny bit of bleach during the initial washing process before rinsing thoroughly to ensure bacteria and any mold spores are killed. 

For maximum sprouting, it’s recommended that you soak your grains for a full 12 hours to help soften the outer shell. After that, the seeds should be thoroughly watered at least twice a day. For growing in small containers, you can simply fill with water and rinse the seeds through a strainer. After a few days when a solid root mat has formed, the container can simply be tipped to remove excess water. For larger seedbeds, it will be necessary to drill multiple small holes in the bottom and place them in an area where they can drain on their own. 

It only takes about three days for the initial sprouting and root formation to begin, with a “harvest” ready in about a week or so depending on climate — the sprouts should be about four to six inches high, but there’s no hard and fast rule. While thick, the root mats can be cut through with a sharp knife for easy removal and feeding.  

The System 

Dealing with copious amounts of water and organic matter, mold can be an issue. One way to avoid this is to thoroughly wash every tray between each batch of fodder to remove any spore introduced from the last batch. There are also some fertilizer companies that sell hydroponic-specific liquid nutrients that can be added to your system, some of these promote help to reduce or eliminate issues with molding.  

Because of the space needs and time to grow, feeding fodder on a regular basis will require multiple batches growing at the same time to ensure there is always a fresh harvest to feed.  

How much fodder you feed to your flock will depend on you. Fodder can be supplemented to reduce feed, or they can be used as the primary source — but be aware that chickens need to consume between 2% and 3% of their entire body weight each day. If fodder becomes a substantial part of the diet compared to a complete feed, be sure to offer a mineral mix and calcium supplement (for layers) as well. 

Bibliography 

Bio Minerals Technologies, www.biomineralstechnologies.com/livestock/better-fodder/eliminating-mold-on-fodder.  

 “Growing Fodder for Chickens-Chicken Fodder System: Amy K. Fewell.” Amy K Fewell | The Fewell Homestead, 30 May 2020, thefewellhomestead.com/growing-fodder-for-chickens-chicken-fodder-system/.  

“DIY Home Fodder System.” Peak Prosperity, 9 Apr. 2019, www.peakprosperity.com/diy-home-fodder-system/.  

Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Backyard Poultry — A Natural and Sustainable Flock — and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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