How to grow sprouts and fodder for your chickens

How to grow sprouts and fodder to feed your chickens

Why should I feed sprouts or fodder to my chickens?

Sprouts and fodder are:

  • a healthy and nutritious treat with more nutrients and enzymes than what’s available in dry seeds or grains
  • an easily digestible form of nutrition for chickens who pass grains or seeds intact through their feces (even if they have access to grit)
  • a great way to tempt picky chickens into eating some greens
  • an easy way to give chickens access to fresh vegetation during the winter when they can’t forage outside
  • a budget friendly way of supplementing your chicken feed without buying vegetables from the grocery store
  • a quick and small-space friendly way of growing food for your chickens, which is especially important for urban chicken owners

By sprouting or growing fodder from grains, you eliminate many of the anti-nutrients that can negatively impact your chicken’s digestion and absorption of minerals and vitamins.

We’re talking about anti-nutrients such as:

  • Tannins (found in some seeds such as Sorghum)
  • Phytic Acid (found in wheat grains)
  • Enzyme Inhibitors (found in almost all seeds)

These chemicals will cause problems by binding with nutrients (like calcium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins) before they are absorbed in your chickens digestive system.

Or they will keep your chicken’s digestive enzymes from working properly, leading to a lot of food going to waste through their poop.

Feeding fodder or sprouts to your chickens will also reduce the amount of feed they need to eat. Since the nutrition in sprouts and fodder are so dense and easy to digest, your chickens will naturally end up eating less to meet their needs.

This is a great way to frugally feed your flock without sacrificing quality and health. I can grow enough fodder from a 25 pound bucket of wheat berries to supplement their diet for half the year.

It’s kinda like how a plate of stir-fried veggies and beans will leave you satisfied and full as well as max out your vitamin and mineral requirements. On the other hand, a bag of potato chips will also leave you full for a while, but you’ll soon be searching through the kitchen cupboards for another snack because you haven’t given your body the nutrients that it’s craving. The potato chips will also cost more compared to the fresh healthy food!

What’s the difference between sprouts and fodder

Sprouts are the tiny plant that’s just emerging from your seeds.

At this stage, the seeds coating is still stuck to the leaves and the plant is just beginning to turn green.

The plant doesn’t have any root hairs at this point.

Fodder is what you get when you let the plant grow for an extra 2-3 days. Fodder is the grass stage, when the plant is more mature, with roots and the remaining seed tissue is almost all gone and drained of nutrition.

For my chickens, I sprout sunflower seeds and grow wheat grass fodder.

You can also grow wheat grass sprouts and other types of fodder, but I’ve found that this is the best system for my flock due to:

  • the quick turnover rate and shelf-life of each type of plant (2-3 days for sunflower sprouts, 3-6 days for wheat grass fodder)
  • the taste preference of my chooks (they hate wheat grass sprouts and older sunflower plants, but love mature grass and tender sunflower sprouts)

How to sprout sunflower seeds

Sunflower sprouts in plastic growing container

I started out growing sunflower sprouts since my silkies refused to eat the BOSS seeds mixed into their grain mix.

This, plus the fact that I hate buying pieces of equipment (as you can see from my other frugal posts on how to farm mealworms and how to farm crickets) means that I used what I had on hand.

I was just lucky that these turned out to be the least annoying (and messy) ways to grow sprouts.

Here’s how I sprout sunflower seeds without any extra equipment or a lot of space. All you’ll need is some time to rinse out the sprouts twice a day and a warm place to encourage sprouting.

You’ll need:

  • A clear plastic clamshell type container with narrow holes or slots (like those used to store berries or cakes)
  • Some seeds that you know will grow

I tried traditional methods with strainers and bowls and bell jars, but all of these methods were annoying and created a mess. My method is self-contained and requires no more work than a rinse and drain two times a day.

  1. Fill the container about a quarter of the way full with seeds. You’ll want to leave enough room in the container for the seeds to grow and drain properly. The sprouts will double or triple their volume once they start to grow.
  2. Give the seeds a soak overnight with cool water. If your container has slots or holes in the bottom, then place the container in a pan to keep the water from draining out.
  3. In the morning, drain out the water by lifting the container. Throw away the old water.
  4. Rinse out the container of seeds under the tap. You shouldn’t have to dump the seeds into a strainer, just let the water drain out through the holes in the bottom of the container (see, this is why I told you to use a plastic berry container instead of a fancy bell jar).
  5. Once you’re done rinsing, let most of the water drain out and snap the top cover back on. You want the seeds to be moist, but not soaking in standing water. Just a bit of warning: stagnant water inside your sprout container will smell awful!
  6. Once most of the water is drained, place the container of seeds in a warm place, like on the top of your refrigerator, a warming pad, or a spot in front of a sunny window (cover the container with a hand towel so it doesn’t get too much light). I use the top of my grow lights.
  7. Repeat the rinse and drain procedure at the end of the day. If you want, you can pick out the seed shells as the sprouts pop out. I just leave them there and let my chickens peck at them.
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 for 2-3 days until your sprouts have a root tail pointing out and leaves are about to burst out. You’ll want to feed the sprouts before they grow a stem and root hairs.
  9. Throw the sprouts on the ground and watch your chickens have fun!

How to grow wheat grass fodder

Wheatgrass fodder in growing tray

The key to growing fodder from wheat grass is to avoid fermentation:

  • You’ll notice a sweet yeasty smell from the wheat berries before you rinse them (this is good!)
  • but they should not smell cheesy or like spoiled milk (this is bad!).

If you notice a spoiled milk smell, then the grains are too far gone. Throw away the grains and sterilize your growing container with a bleach solution.

To avoid fermentation, do not over soak your grains. That means the grains should be moist, but there should be no standing water. The initial soak of the completely dry grains should not be for more than 8-12 hours.

The steps for rinsing and soaking wheat berries is the same as for sprouting sunflower seeds. The only difference is you’ll want to transfer the seeds to a flat container once the wheat berries grow roots.

The roots will knit the wheat grains into a loosely woven mat. From this point on, you’ll wnat to avoid disturbing the mat as this will form the base of your fodder patty.

Transfer the mat of grains to their final growing tray (I use leftover plastic trays with about a 1” vertical side). Every morning and night you’ll want to wet the mat of grains completely for a couple minutes.

After the grains have soaked up enough water, drain out as much water as possible without breaking apart the patty of wheat grass.

Make sure the water is completely drained! You may need to tilt the tray slightly and let gravity slowly draw out the water.

As long as you keep rinsing the grains on schedule, the fodder will be good for about 4-6 days, or until you notice mold growing on the grains. Frequent rinsing and complete drainage keeps mold growth to a minimum.

Very important things to keep in mind when feeding fodder to chickens

If you plan on feeding fodder to your chickens, make sure you trim the grass to pieces that are shorter than 1”. In fact, pieces shorter than 1/2” are best. Long strands of grass are tough to digest and they can tangle up into a ball inside your chicken’s crop or further down in the digestive tract. This will then lead to a crop impaction which will require surgery to remove.

Throw out any moldy fodder! Even though you can’t see the mold in the grass portion, the grass may have absorbed toxins from the mold growing at the base.
Do not risk poisoning your flock with moldy fodder!

What if I have a large flock? How do I grow fodder and sprouts on a large scale?

The methods I use produce enough sprouts and fodder for a small backyard flock of chickens, but for a larger flock or if you plan on feeding your chickens mainly sprouts and fodder, then you will need to scale up your production.

This is simply a matter of using a larger growing container and drilling some drainage holes. Make sure the drainage holes are smaller than your seeds!

Some (cheap) sprouting containers are:

  • Large 5 gallon buckets like the ones used in restaurants and food service to store grains and sauces. Ask around and you’ll be sure to find some kitchens that will sell them to you for a $1 or less.
  • Gallon milk jugs. Cut off the top of the container at an angle so you leave the handle intact. You only need to cut an opening that’s large enough for you to remove your sprouts. Then rill some holes into the bottom of the milk jug.
  • Half or full sheet pans are great for growing large pieces of wheat grass fodder.

Do I have to rinse my sprouts and fodder or can I just mist them?

It may be tempting to keep your sprouts and fodder moist by misting them with a spray bottle of water, but this is not a good idea!

Rinsing is not just a way to keep the seeds moist, but it washes away extra starches and slime that feed mold and bacteria. By misting, you’re just giving molds and germs an ideal breeding ground. You need to rinse vigorously to keep the sprouts clean.

Additional Resources:

Backyardchickens thread on growing fodder for chicken feed

Backyard Chicken Lady on growing wheat grass for 17 chickens on less than 25 cents a day

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