How to Cut Feed Costs with Fodder: Homesteading 101
If you’re anything like me, and I bet you are, you like to save a buck when you can. It’s no secret that feed costs can get you down, quick. We have 24 laying hens, 15 meat chickens, 5 rabbits with two litters on the way, and 10 ducks. Although this is often considerably fewer animals than many homesteads have, it’s still enough to keep our feed costs up and going. I’m here to tell you how I cut my feed costs by sprouting barley fodder and how to do it!
Barley fodder, a cereal grain, is one of the most nutritious sprouts and is full of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Growing fodder can be super easy and you don’t need too much room – some people grow their fodder in their living room, laundry room, or even kitchen! You also don’t have to use barley. You can use wheat or sprout any other type of grain your feathered, furred, or fibered friends might enjoy.
Now, I try to be 100% “real” throughout my blog so I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s the easiest thing in the world. Is it easy? YES. Can there be complications/problems? YES. Can those complications be a real pain in the rear? YES. But you’re in luck because I’m going to explain the complications I had and what I did to correct them. That way, you can skip that step and get right to growing nutritious, hearty fodder for your barnyard beauties!
MY SIMPLE SETUP
I have a small shed with a window AC unit, a fan, and a grow light as seen above. To the left you’ll see shelves with trays on top. I purchased my 1020 trays from Bootstrap Farmer and I just love them. They’re a perfect size and form perfect fodder pallets; they often sell out they’re so great! I also added two small picnic tables below the window/AC unit for more tray space when I need it. I have my barley seed right next to the trays for easy access.
Now, everyone who grows fodder will have different ideas on what’s right and wrong, what will work better and worse, etc. I’m here to tell you my experience and you can take it from there!
You need trays, such as the Bootstrap Farmer 1020 Trays. You can either purchase them with or without holes. I purchase the trays WITHOUT holes so that I could decide whether I wanted holes in them or not. It turns out, I personally did not want or even need them for my setup. Some people use the “flood and drain” method; I do not. I tried it and it just didn’t work out for me so I moved on.
You need a water source. You’ll need to flood, rinse, and/or mist your fodder a couple times a day so it is convenient to have a sink or hose right next to your operation station.
You’ll need seed. I buy my seed from a Hancock Seed near me and I get a 48lb bag of barley seed for $25.00. With shipping, it doubles that price so I just drive the hour to pick a few bags up whenever I need it.
Last you’ll need a spot that will provide a consistent temperature of, ideally, 70 degrees according to what you’ll read on the internet. Since I live in Central Florida and it gets hot as hades here, I keep my fodder room at 73 degrees with a constant fan to circulate the air around. The suggested range is 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
SPROUTING THE FODDER
Usuallt when you read about sprouting fodder, people refer to the measurements in weight. Personally, that’s always been a difficult way for me to relate to other’s fodder sprouting experiences so I’m going to talk to you in measurements such as cups instead of pounds.
- Soak 2 cups of seed overnight in a double 5-gallon bucket system with a capful of bleach. The top bucket has little holes in it so that I can easily drain the water the next morning. Before you scoff at the bleach, you should know that this bleach will be long gone by the time you feed it to your livestock, especially since it’s also heavily diluted.
- Add your seed to your 1020 tray and spread evenly. I sometimes cover my seeds for the first and last couple days with a seed tray dome to keep moisture in. This is optional and you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.
- Mist twice a day! I mist once in the morning and once at night so that the seeds stay moist, but not wet. Standing water means mold and bugs and Y’all don’t want to deal with either of those items, trust me!
- Each day, repeat the steps above. By the 7th-9th day you should have beautiful fodder that looks like this:
I harvest some of the greenery for my rabbits and throw the rest to my chickens. They all LOVE it!
MY COMPLICATIONS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM!
In the beginning, I didn’t soak my seed with bleach and it resulted in molding by the third day. Soaking your seed gives them a nice head start and the bleach kills any mold spores that may have been hanging out.
Along with the mold came bugs, mostly those little gnat looking fruit flies that hang out around rotted, moldy fruit. The molding came from first, not soaking my seed with bleach, and second, standing water! I originally tried the flood and drain system but I just couldn’t get my setup to drain completely. This doesn’t mean I couldn’t have gotten it to drain, but with my space, it would’ve been harder. I’m also not willing to put hundreds of dollars into my setup.
Flies and mold can also be a result of your seed drying out and then becoming wet again, avoid that and check your seed regularly in the beginning. This was also an issue of mine during the flood and drain days because I was just assuming my seeds weren’t getting enough moisture. Since the trays were at a draining angle, the seeds at the bottom of the angle were too wet and seeds at the top, too dry.
Something very important you need to think of, and that I never thought of, when choosing your sprouting location is air circulation. I added an oscillating fan in my shed for air circulation and it’s helped tremendously with the gnats and mold. I do sometimes still have gnats, but a few of them won’t hurt anything. You just want to avoid an infestation!
WHAT I’LL CHANGE IN THE FUTURE
Right now, my operation is a more hands-on approach than most others. I’m fine with that because I currently have the time to do it. Eventually, I’ll add automatic misters. I’ll also be adding a sink in the shed in the next few weeks so that cleaning the trays between cycles is easier. You must always clean your trays after using them or it can promote mold growth. I clean my trays with a water and bleach solution and a scrub brush. Mold is a little pesty creature, isn’t it?
I think in the future I will start to just sprout the seed for my chickens, instead of growing it out the full 7-9 days. Currently, as I mentioned above, I harvest the greenery for my rabbits and give the root mat to the chooks. If I just sprout the seed, I will let the seed be in trays for 3-4 days instead of 7-9 days. I’ll also add BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) and other types of grain to sprout as a way to increase the nutrition of the tray.
RULE OF THUMB
2lbs of dry barley seed should turn into 6-8lbs of sprouted, green fodder.
You should be feeding each chicken 2-3% of their body weight of fodder.
There are 96 cups of seed in one bag of barley. At 2 cups per tray, a bag should make 48 trays. 48# of dry seed should yield 288-336 pounds of sprouted fodder at its finished product. When bought at $25 for 48 lbs, dry seed if roughly $0.52/lb. When sprouted it should be about $0.10/lb.
Now that your fodder excitement is in full force, head over to my Pinterest board “Fodder” for some great DIY setups. And remember, my way isn’t the only right way! It’s just what worked best for me. Also, join the Facebook group “Fodder” for all your troubleshooting. That Facebook group is the only reason I figured it all out when starting my sprouting operation. Now get out there and sprout some fodder, Y’all!