Livestock Sprouted Fodder System :: getting started

Follow our series on starting and maintaining a sprouted grain system for natural livestock fodder! It’s like providing pasture for your animals without needing the pasture and at a fraction of the cost! Enjoy!

Today I picked up the beginnings of our sprouted fodder system. This system will allow a 9-day cycle for grain growth and will be the main food source for our chickens, rabbits, and (incoming) quail. The birds will also be given calcium and grit supplements and the rabbits will be given an alfalfa/orchard grass mix hay for roughage. From my research, I found that barley is not only the easiest to sprout, but also is the highest in nutrient and protein value as compared to wheat or oats.

For $14.20 dollars, I bought a 50-pound sack of untreated (pesticide free), recleaned, whole barley seed. Obviously you don’t want to purchase treated grain seed; it could make your animals very sick or it can even be fatal. But have no fear! The grain I picked up was actually labeled as “poultry feed” and the label even recommended feeding it to game birds. Score! That makes me feel better about feeding to our near-future quail.20130211-180148.jpg

So, let’s talk trays and racks. I stopped by the dollar store and picked up these BPA-free plastic storage containers (like Glad food savers) that measure 13.8″ x 10″ x 2.5″ inches… for a dollar each. If this sprouting stuff works out, I can invest in heavy duty trays. Luckily I already had two of those metal shelf rack things that I bought a million years ago from the dreaded Walmart for $15 dollars each I think. If you can’t salvage a rack you already have, you can always build one from wood or PVC for around the same price. 20130211-180912.jpg

I initially planned out an elaborate PVC rack that kept all of the trays at alternating angles (for my gravity-fed watering system), but I decided it was far more complicated than it needed to be. So I’ll post those plans separately incase you want to be complicated.

My two racks would take up too much space separately so I decided to stack them. They weren’t really meant to stack so I MacGyver’ed the racks using a bolt and some good old fashioned duct tape. I had my choice of purple, black, or silver, but I chose silver… you know… to keep it classy. 20130211-182627.jpg20130211-182639.jpg20130211-182703.jpg


My trays did not come with drainage holes, but since adequate water drainage is an important step in preventing mold, I had to drill my own holes on one side of the trays. My trays are on a 10* degree slope to aid in water drainage during the daily rinsing steps. That’s about a 1″ inch rise on one side for my small trays. Alternatively, you can put a 1″ inch tall wedge under one side of your trays on the racks.

One thing I did learn is that using a drill to put holes in plastic is a bad idea. Drilling cracks plastic. I felt like I had learned this lesson already and just forgot about it. I stopped about halfway through my trays before deciding to pull out my hot wood burning tool to poke holes in the plastic instead. 20130211-183727.jpg

Once you have your trays with drainage holes and your rack put together, you are ready to go! I am going to add a gravity-fed watering system that does not require an electric pump as soon as I get my hands on a 5-gallon bucket. So as you can see by my beautiful pink arrows, the water will travel down each tray and drain out at the end going right into the next tray. All of the grain seeds will get the water they need, but won’t be sitting in the water encouraging mold growth. Just green sprout growth.


Featured at: The Backyard Farming Connection

62 thoughts on “Livestock Sprouted Fodder System :: getting started

  1. Very Cool! You can get a FREE 5 gallon bucket (food grade with lid) at almost any deli or bakery counter in a grocery store. They simply recycle them when empty and are happy to give some away!

  2. I didnt know that about getting free buckets from grocery store bakery and deli awesome! You may find that you will need to add more drain holes as they need a good flooding at least twice a day. they say for 15 minutes but I have found taing my trays to the sink and spraying them with they sprayer for it to fill and drain like 3 times (maybe 5 minutes) once in AM. and once in PM. has been more than adequate. I usually time it with bunny feeding time. I found that I had to put small holes all through the bottom of the tray and biger ones in a corner so I could tip it and get the excess out. I also learned to drill or por my holes from inside toward outide of try not from the bottom in because it leaves a ridge and wont drain. I am so excited to see how the barley grows for you. My oats are really hard to grow but my sunflower seeds are super easy and packed with nutrients, thinking I may stick with those as the rabbits love them. Onyx wont touch her pellets she waits for her sprouts! so I guess I am kinda roped into this now huh!? all those sprouts costed me a whole .22 cents (buying in bulk would be cheaper) and fed all 4 rabbits for 1 day. Now I just need to make my own grass hay!
    I did notice that there poop will change a bit at first a bit smaller moist and brown not black but I have slowly introduced it I feed there pellets and a few sprouts and greens on the side and that has turned into onyx having normal poop and only eating the sprouts greens and hay. and she looks amazing her coat is looking even healthier if thats even possible as your rabbits are amazing anyway!

    • Yeah, I think I will need to add more drain holes. With the wood burning tool this time! I tried drilling from the top and bottom and both ways cause the plastic to crack. The wood burning tool basically melts it (which stinks so do it outside).

      I have read that:
      * Barley is easy to sprout in the winter, but mold-prone in the summer.
      * Wheat doesn’t like cold temps so is harder to sprout in the winter.
      * Oats are harder than the other two to sprout year-round, but not impossible.
      * Sunflower seeds are easy peasy, but you have to be especially careful not to buy the bird seed mix because some of those grains don’t sprout well and can get slimy and moldy easy.

      • I’m having trouble with mold and rot. My seed mats really stink when I take them out to feed them to my animals (Geese, Chickens, and Rabbits) so I’ve been dumping them in the compost. Any thoughts on how to prevent this?

      • Try cleaning the grain very well until the water is clear before soaking. In the soaking water, add 1 teaspoon of vinegar for each gallon of water. That is just enough to kill most mold spores, but not the seed. Most mold is caused by dirty grain. Good luck!

      • Thanks, I’ll try that. I really want this to work. I also examined my seed mats to see if anything was not sprouting … I’m using oats, peas, barley and lentils… the barley was mostly unsprouted. I’m trying a tray with no barley and one with the same mix, but both well washed and vinegar rinsed. We’ll see.

      • Hahaha! Geez, I must sound like a homesteading MONSTER! The more you feed it, the more it grows!

        Have I mentioned “growing” mealworms before? Because I was totally thinking about it the other day when I was finding a ton of them in the compost. I saw a video on YouTube (dangerous) where this guy set up a tilted white compost barrel with a ramp inside so that as the larvae/mealworms crawled upwards naturally to look for somewhere to hatch (into flies I’m guessing), the mealworms would fall off the end of the ramp and into the chicken run. It was genius really. I can’t remember what I searched to find it, but it couldn’t be hard.

        Trevor just doesn’t understand the work I do to make things less work. 😉

  3. I wonder if you could sprout quinoa as a protein source for chickens. It sprouts easily in the kitchen, so I bet it would work in a system like you have posted here. The “grain” has a coating with a flavor that birds don’t like too much, but the amount of water used to sprout would potentially wash the coating away. What do you think?

  4. I think I will try this, but I have Milo seed. We grow it on the farm here as a row crop. It is higher in protein then corn, my chicken’s love it!

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I have been reading about making small scale fodder systems for livestock, but most of the things I have seen incorporate fancy and expensive brand name products. This post is fabulous. Repurposing sweater boxes is brilliant. I am very excited to try it, just as soon as I can get my hands on some GMO free seed.

  6. We are looking to do this for our chickens to help cut down on mailing feed into our location in Alaska. Seeing how you are doing it with pictures and notes helped greatly as my Youtube time is very limited as it eats up bandwidth.
    Will be interested to see how it turns out!

  7. I love this idea, and the whole micro-farming concept in general! Thank you very much for sharing this on WildCrafting Wednesday, but remember we can’t feature you unless you link back to us 🙂

  8. I live in Napa Valley , hot but not that humid. I am sprouting wheat for goats,sheep and 4 chickens. I noticed a little mold not all over but in a few spots. I have done a bleach soak and I have the window open. I am not sure what is to much mold, I also remember you saying that the root mat gets little hairs (something like that) Also does the grass grow faster on the side that is tilted down in your house?

    • If there is just a little mold in a few spots, I would just cut it out. Be sure to check in-between the sprouts on top for mold too just in case. Vinegar works well too for preventing mold, but it mostly comes down to good air circulation. Try maybe an oscillating fan or something to get the air moving.
      (And yes, my tilted trays do grow more on one side than the other, but it pretty much evens out by day eight.)

      Good luck!

  9. Hi, I’d like to try this fodder idea. Do the trays have to be transparent? Should it be a UV-resistant plastic (being out in the sun all the time)? Could the trays just be horizontal (not tilted), and then have holes all over the bottom (not just one side)? How high should the sides of the trays be? Thanks for the help! -Eric

    • Hi Eric! The plastic does not need to be transparent, but it does help the seeds at the bottom of the tray get some light. You do not want to grow fodder in direct sunlight though. Ambient light is all you need. Direct sunlight will cause the fodder to grow irregularly in the short 8-day growth period. The trays do not need to be tilted, but it does help with drainage which is VERY important in growing fodder. The sides of the trays should be at least 1″ tall, but can be taller.

      Hope that helps! Good luck!

      • Thanks, Sarah, I didn’t know about the no direct sunlight. I’m having a hard time finding suitable trays, including the Glad ones you mention here (even the Glad website doesn’t have them). If possible, could you please provide a link for where to buy some suitable trays (the cheaper the better)? Thanks!

      • Sarah, I really appreciate your help on this. At the risk of being a pest, I have just a couple more questions…
        1) If I went with less than 1/2 inch of seed, then could I go with a tray that is a bit less than 1″ tall? I presume it’s root mass which necessitates a minimum height, so maybe with less seed the root mass would be lower?
        2) Does the fodder grow period vary from 9 days depending on season (e.g. shorter in Summer, longer in Winter)? I ask because I need to know how many shelves to have. Right now I’m thinking 5 shelves, and space for two trays per shelf.
        Thank-you for the help!

      • 1) Yes, you can definitely keep your seed depth under 1/2″. This will make your root mass thinner, but you have less of a change of mold too, so that’s a benefit.
        2) Sprouted barley and/or wheat are at their peak growth (without needing added nutrients or fertilizers) at 8-9 days old. The trick with sprouted fodder is that you keep the same humidity and temperature year-round, therefore, seeing no change in growth from summer to winter. Remember that it won’t grow in temperatures outside of their ideal zone: 65-75*F.

      • Oops, I knew sprouts liked room temp, but I thought I might be able to get away with an outdoor system. I’m in Santa Barbara, CA, so it only ever gets down to 45-50 F at night, and the days are usually less than 80 F. Do you think I could still get the system to work, but with maybe a more variable growth period? Or perhaps I need some tray heating pads at night? Or do you strongly advise an indoor system? (in which case, back to the drawing board) Continuing thanks for your help!

      • It doesn’t NEED to be an indoor system, but you will have the most steady temperatures indoors. If your temps get down to 40-50* at night, you can assume that your fodder will not be growing at night. Heating pads for when the temperature drops below 65* in the evening would be perfect. Beware that an outdoor system also attracts birds and fruit flies and also that direct sunlight will cause your fodder to leaf out too much during critical growth time.

      • Hi Sarah, quick question: Is the slope on your trays really 10 degrees? Because if your trays are 13″ long, with a 1″ wedge under one side, that makes the angle arcsin(1/13) = 4.4 degrees.

  10. Thank You so much for giving me direction for a fodder system .
    Question How much bleach do you put in the water per gallon?
    Where do you soak your Barley or Wheat? in a 5 gallon bucket for 12 hours?
    How thick do you put your grain in your Trays?
    What would be the amount of weight per Tray in Grain? 1 pound of seed? or just 1 inch deep?
    Do you do the bleach water first before the 12 hours Soak? Or is the Bleach in the 12 hour Soak water?
    My name is C West Virginia and i raise rabbits .
    i am waiting a call back from my county agent today for wheat in this area.
    i can get it on the eastern shore of Md Where i am from originally for 13.00$ for 100 pounds certified. but i don.t know whether it,s GMO? comes out to 260$ per ton .
    i only have 5 does and 1 buck and 24 babies to feed .
    i would like to start with this and learn then if it works good start feeding out market hogs of hair sheep? I,m sleepless !! I,m so blessed to find you and your site/ Charlie

    • 1) I don’t use bleach because I don’t want my animals eating it, but do what you feel comfortable with. I use 1% vinegar to water in a large bucket. So for one (1) gallon of water, use about 38 milliliters of vinegar (or bleach).
      2) If you use bleach or vinegar, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, then drain the water off and refill with fresh water. Then soak the grain for 12 hours. If you soak your grain in the vinegar or bleach water, it will kill your seeds.
      3) I make my soaked seed about 1/4 inch deep in the trays.
      4) My trays are most likely a different size than yours. Gauge how much to put in each tray by the SEED DEPTH and not by volume.

      Wow! I pay $15-17 for 50 pounds of barley seed, so $13 for 100 pounds sounds like a great deal to me! Good luck with your fodder and all those rabbit babies! I have heard good things about people feeding pigs fodder, so let me know how it goes.

      • with your 10 by 20 trays 1/4 inch deep how many pounds of fooder do you get per tray? and how much weight of soaked wheat is 1/4 inch/
        yes 13$ is a great price but i didn,t figure in the gas to pick it up 4.5 hours away one way and 14 MPG ? but there are growers in the area that have wheat but not sure what they want the market is 280 4.5 hrs away and to 311 $ per ton in Pa.

      • Tray sizes will vary so what fits in mine, may not fit in yours. I will tell you though that 1 pound of dry seed expands to 4-6 pounds of finished fodder. Please look at my other posts regarding sprouted fodder on our “DIY Projects” page located at the menu bar.

  11. can you measure and tell me what the distance is between each shelf i may have to make a pvc or if wood i,m afraid of the mold unless i cleaned it i was going to usse 1 inch chicken wire for the trays to set on stapled tight what do you think ? Charlie

  12. Your video on the fodder system is wonderful! I noticed that your rack was sitting in bin to catch the water. You mentioned how it smelled after a day or two. How do you drain all the water? Thanks, Kara

  13. How is it going feeding barley to quail? I just got into quail and am hoping to add them to the fodder that the rabbits are on. . How do you make sure you have enough protein?

  14. Hello,

    I love your blog, and we are moving to our very own ranchette, and I will be doing my own fodder system, but I cannot find barley seeds for the life of me in central texas, where did you find yours?

    • I couldn’t find barley “seed” either but can find whole barley. My feed store wasnt knowlegable and didn’t know what I was looking for. Seed is usually human food grade, whole barley is livestok feed grade but is not guarunteed to sprout like seed. Works just fine. (Old post I know but others may have the same question)

      • That’s all you need. 🙂 Different feed stores call it different things: whole barley, feed grade barley, barley seed, sprouting barley, barley to sow, planting barley, feed barley, and so on…

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