Winter is coming. OK, yes I know, that meme is so outdated, but it’s true. Despite having temps in the high 70s yesterday, we’re well into autumn. We’ve had a couple frosts and the garden is just about done for the year, except for my favorite radishes. There’s no more greens or tomatoes or Japanese beetles to add variety and nutrients to the chickens’ diets. There is also less for them to scratch and peck and keep entertained since I no longer allow them to free-range. (The hawks like chicken just as much as I do.)
Mr. WPW, my own personal hero, has risen to the challenge and built us a fanstastic system to grow fodder – sprouted grain and seeds. This system works great for sprouting microgreens and such for human eating, too. The pictures I’m going to show below are of barley, but he’s also done black oil and striped sunflower seeds, wheat, and oats. You can also use beans (peas, lentils, and mung beans worked best for us). Each of these has different taste and nutrient profiles, but the process is exactly the same.
This system is also great because it’s scalable. We’ve built this to a size for our flock of chickens, but you can make it bigger if you’re feeding sheep or goats, or smaller if you only have a couple hens.
One of the best things about this fodder system is that is cuts down on the cost of feeding the chickens. I get the super-fancy, custom blended chicken feed (organic, soy-free) from a farmer about 45 minutes away from me. Admittedly I could get it much cheaper if I just went to Tractor Supply, but I really prefer the higher quality feed grown by someone I know and trust. So, my cost for an 80 lb bag of feed is $32 and with 25 chickens I go through about a bag every week and a half to two weeks. That means we spend $832 a year in chicken feed. A 100 lb bag of barley is $15 and will grow about 600 – 700 lbs of fodder. When I feed a tray of fodder each day it doubles the length of time my feed lasts.
Where to get seeds
You can get the seeds for barley, oats, and wheat from your local grain elevator. If you don’t know where your local grain elevators are, Google is your friend. We found two elevators via Google. The third is heavily advertised in our area so we were aware of it. (Mr. WPW went to different places to find all the different grains he wanted.) The sunflower seeds you can just buy whereever you get bird seed (as long as the seeds aren’t treated for anti-germination). We bought “field” grains – not washed/cleaned grain. It’s cheaper and works just peachy for chickens. IF you’re doing microgreen sprouting you can just buy regular seeds like broccoli, mustard greens, and radishes from your local seed resource (Home Depot or your favorite seed catalog, etc.). If you’re doing beans you can just get them from the grocery store for the most part.
This system is easy and cheap to put together. We made the frame out of PVC so it weighs almost nothing. Mr. WPW found the joints on Amazon, but you may be able to find them at your local hardware store. It’s about two feet by two feet by five feet tall. Each tray (just flats used for holding seedlings) is just under a foot wide and two feet long.
He used a polyester string to weave a frame for the trays to sit on. It’s doesn’t add any weight, but is sturdy enough to hold the full trays of fodder. Each shelf has an extra piece of PVC placed on one end (alternate ends to create a zig zag) to prop up one end of the trays to allow for drainage.