Sprouted Fodder for Livestock :: a complete review

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Sprouting and growing grain for livestock fodder is a simple and efficient way to not only feed your animals a more natural and fresh diet, but is also a practically effortless way to save money. Imagine for a second that the 50 lb. bag of feed you just bought could grow into 300 lbs. of feed that is more nutrient dense in just nine days. Huh wha?! Isn’t just the mere idea of cutting your feed bill worth the try? I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Our farm has been feeding a flock of laying hen chickens quail, and angora (wool producing) rabbits a 90% sprouted barley fodder diet for over a year now with wonderful results. The egg yolks are richer, the rabbits are healthier and even produce softer wool. We have fewer runts and losses when babies are born. We have incredibly cut our feed costs by 75% just by switching to sprouted fodder.

Sprouting fodder for livestock is similar to sprouting seeds for human consumption, but in an extreme degree. Think more along the lines of sprouting wheatgrass than the little bean sprouts you would put on a sandwich. By sprouting grain and harvesting it (feeding it to your animals) right before the sprouts get their second leaves at about 7-10 days, you do not need to use anything more than water to grow them –not even fertilizer. The action of sprouting amplifies the natural proteins, vitamins, mineral, enzymatic activity, omega 3’s, amino acids, natural hormones, and stimulates immune response. Of course the increase in these wonderful benefits varies grain to grain.

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The sprouted fodder, no matter what seed or grain you choose to use, is fed whole; greens, seeds, and sprouts as a whole. Commonly used grains for fodder are barley, wheat, and whole oats. Barley, which is the easiest to grow, has a crude protein percentage of 12.7 percent and a crude fiber percentage of 5.4 percent as a seed. These percentages jump to a crude protein percentage of 15.5 percent and a crude fiber percentage of 14.1 percent after an average of seven days of sprouting. By sprouting, the digestibility of the grain increases from 40 percent to 80 percent so livestock will not need to consume as much fodder compared to commercial feed because they are obtaining more nutrition from a smaller volume of feed.*

As far as setting up your own fodder sprouting system, there are many options out there for purchase. The only problem you will run into is that there are no fodder sprouting systems for smaller operations, like say, a homestead where you only have one horse, or a few goats, or a small herd of rabbits, or a modestly sized flock of chickens. For us, you will be left to build your own. But no worries folks! A system can easily be set up using materials you already have laying around or using items from the local discount or dollar store. You’re in good hands here DIY’ers.

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Before we start, you will need to figure out how much finished fodder your animals will be eating on a daily basis. I have included a rough estimate for the more common homestead animals, but please do your own research on feed amounts and if necessary, consult your veterinarian. As any responsible animal or livestock caretaker, you will not only need to transition your animals onto fresh fodder, you will need to monitor their growth and maintenance rates to keep them in a healthy condition while you get used to feeding fodder. One month is a good amount of time to transition your animals to fodder. Ruminants especially need a few weeks to adjust their gut flora and rumen to new feed. Some animals will also require roughage or mineral supplements. Please only use these amounts as a guide.

• Horse: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder; 1.5% body weight in dry hay

• Beef Cow: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder; barley straw ration

• Dairy Cow: 3-5 percent of their body weight in fodder; barley straw ration

• Sheep: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder; hay ration

• Goat: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder; mineral and hay rations

• Dairy Goat: 3-5 percent of their body weight in fodder; mineral and hay rations

• Alpaca: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder; hay ration

• Pig: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder

• Rabbit: 3-5 percent of their body weight in fodder; hay ration for roughage

• Chicken: 2-3 percent of their body weight in fodder; grit and calcium supplements

To get started in growing your own sprouted fodder, you will need:

• 2” deep trays (look for inexpensive baking pans or dish pans at your local dollar store) with a moderate amount of small holes drilled in the bottom.

• bulk bag of untreated, feed grade, whole grain seed; barley, wheat, or oats (oats are the more difficult of the three common grain seeds to sprout and is more prone to mold)

• large bucket

• rack or shelf to keep your trays of seed on

Optional: water pump and hose to re-circulate the water used. Should you choose to recirculate the used water, I would recommend adding a quality water filter.

For the best growing results, I recommend that the temperature of your fodder system stays between 63 degrees F and 75 degrees F. The fodder can be grown with only ambient light, so although grow lights or direct sunlight can and will benefit your fodder, direct light is not necessary.

Mold is the most common problem reported in growing sprouted grains. To prevent mold:
• Be sure to rinse your grain very well before soaking. Your soaking water should be clean and clear of any dirt, debris, or empty husks.
• Add a 1% vinegar solution to the soak water. As a general measurement, you may use 1-2 teaspoons per gallon of water. The solution is just enough vinegar to kill most mold spores, but not the grain itself.
• Be sure to provide adequate air circulation
• Keep the sprouting fodder between 63 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Any cooler or warmer may result in pests, mold, and stunted growth.
• Clean all of your supplies and trays very well with vinegar or bleach.

When setting up a rack to put your sprouted fodder trays on, keep in mind that the rack will likely become wet during watering. A simple metal “storage” rack would be wonderful to use especially if a plastic tub of some sort can be placed underneath to catch any water poured through the system. Arrange the fodder trays so that the level below is lined up to catch any water from the tray above. Another good idea would be to drill holes in one side of each tray and then raise the un-draining side by about 1-2 inches. Alternate which side is raised on each consecutive level so that the first tray drains into the second tray, the second tray drains into the third, and so on. You can pour water from a bucket into the first trays or you could set up a small fountain pump on a timer with a hose leading to the top trays to water all of your fodder. Good air circulation is key to keeping mold from growing in your fodder so choose a location for your system that receives plenty of fresh air.

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Here is an easy system to follow:

(Remember: in order to keep your sprouted fodder growing in a cycle for fresh fodder every day, be sure to start a new batch of seeds every day. )

Step 1: Soak the needed amount of dry seed/grain in a large bucket. Fill the bucket with cool water at least two inches above the seeds. Allow the seeds to soak for 12-24 hours or even overnight. A shorter soak time may result in less seeds germinated.

Step 2: After the seeds have soaked, drain the water and dump the seeds into the appropriate amount of trays. The seeds should never exceed 1/2 inch deep otherwise mold may develop due to poor air circulation.

Step 3: Rinse or water each tray 2-3 times daily. The goal is to provide water for growth, but not allow standing water in the trays. Be sure after watering that each tray has drained well.

Repeat Step 3 for seven to nine days depending on the growth. Ideally, you will have about six inches of growth by day nine. Growth is very dependant on temperature and water.

Step 4: Harvest! Flip your tray over or pull the fodder from the tray and feel confident that you are feeding your animals a more natural feed! Feed the sprouted fodder whole; greens, seeds, and root mat. Because how densely the root mat that develops over the nine days, the fodder can be cut into serving portions with a box-cutter or knife much like a roll of housing carpet.

It really is that simple to grow sprouted fodder for your livestock. Just soak, drain, water and harvest! The most complicated element of this system will be sourcing grain or seeds to use. Of course if you have a local farm supply store, feed supply store, or local grain mill, it will be the most likely place to find seeds to use. Alternatively, seeds or grain in bulk can be found from online resources like Azure Standard, Tractor Supply Company, and state grain mills. A simple google search will probably find just what you need.

* Source: Cuddeford (1989), based on data obtained by Peer and Leeson (1985).

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DIY Mealworm Hotel

I had the hardest time titling this post and project. What would you call it? Mealworms don’t “grow” like a vegetable and you don’t really “raise” them either. Mostly, you throw them in a box and hope to god that they reproduce to the point that they become useful. In that sense, I suppose mealworms are some sort of creepy-crawly crop. Or at least they have the potential to save you a few bucks in chicken or quail treats.

That’s where I come in. Apparently, mealworms are quite easy to “grow” and make a great feast for chickens and other poultry and game birds. Mealworms are also high in protein. Your birds will thank you I’m sure. The best part is, however, that you can raise them in nothing more than a lidded box and some oatmeal.

Here’s what you’ll need to become a mealworm farmer:
• plastic box, tub, or drawer
• lid to the box you are using; it needs to fit tightly (we will be cutting this)
• fine mesh or screening (buy by the foot or use an old window screen)
• duct tape
• tall canister of oatmeal (opt for the cheap stuff)
• paper egg carton
• two carrots or a potato cut into large pieces
• 400 or more live mealworms (look at bait shops or pet shops as lizard food)

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Make sure the box or drawer you choose has a well-fitting lid. It doesn’t need to seal or anything since the worms and beetles we will be raising will not crawl that high, but it is nice to know that if they do, the creepy bugs won’t get out. I’ll be honest, this whole project creeps the bejesus out of me.

First, cut a decent size hole from the box lid.

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Cut your screen or fine wire mesh to fit over the hole, overlapping on all sides by about an inch or two. Many hardware stores sell window screening by the linear foot or if you have a random old window screen laying around, you could use that. Recycle folks!

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Now duct tape the screen onto the lid. I taped around all four sides both on the inside and outside of the lid. It helps me to sleep at night knowing that mealworms won’t be getting out of the box.

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Fill the box about 2-4 inches deep with oatmeal. I don’t usually purchase those large cardboard canisters of rolled quick oats, but I figured that the mealworms wouldn’t care much if the oats were organic or not and I just picked up whatever was on sale. I heard no complaints.

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Toss in a few hundred mealworms to get you started, lay some carrots and/or potato chunks around for them to eat, cover them up with an egg carton for some much preferred darkness, and you’re good to go!

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Once a week, check in on the mealworms and replace their oat bedding and food as needed. Mealworms do not need added water as they use the moisture from the foods you give them. The oats, oatmeal, or wheat bran, is used as a substrate for the mealworms to live and breed in. They may consume small quantities of the oatmeal so it does not need to be replaced or added to very often.

After about a month or so, you may notice that the mealworms have become a much darker brown. In another week, they will morph into small black beetles which will lay the next generation of eggs. The eggs will hatch into more, lighter colored mealworms within a week or two. The age of a mealworm is best estimated by its color.

Light mealworms are freshly hatched, a golden color is prime harvest age, dark brown is about to morph into a beetle, and then the beetles breed and lay the eggs. If you gauge your numbers just right, you can have a steady supply of mealworms ready to harvest for chicken snacks.

Mealworm beetles do not typically fly so don’t worry too much about escape. They also prefer cooler temperatures and are ideally raised in a basement or under a deck or porch. Just don’t forget about them! It is also important not to dispose of the oat or bran bedding once the beetles have matured, or else you will loose all of the very tiny mealworm eggs with it.

Try to start your little colony with at least 400 live mealworms. More mealworms means a faster turn around for harvest-ready larvae. Doesn’t it sound so appetizing when I say it like that? Larvae.

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Frühlingskabine Q&A :: July 2013

Check out the questions I received for July’s Q&A session as well as a brief update on the quail. To submit your own questions, no matter how large or small, email me at: fmicrofarm@gmail.com and I will include your questions or ideas in next month’s videos!

July 2013 Q&A :: Part 1 of 3

July 2013 Q&A :: Part 2 of 3

July 2013 Q&A :: Part 3 of 3

See the transcript for these videos here.

Quail Update

So anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that I was pretty fed up with the quail and their cannibalistic tendencies. I wanted to just butcher them all for meat and be done with it. Luckily, every once in awhile Trevor is my calm and reassuring side. He convinced me to give it another few days to see if they kept up with absolutely destroying themselves or if they settled down. I gave it a few more days and after finally loosing five quail, our quail covey has stopped their murderous ways.

I think the three long weeks of temperatures ranging from 95* to 105* degrees stressed the quail out to the point of driving them crazy. Four of our quail hens were eaten down to the bones and one was badly wounded, eventually resulting in its death today. Within this week I have both switched the quail to commercial turkey feed (no more barley, but I am continuing to give them mealworms) and I have de-beaked all of the quail. Hopefully by de-beaking the quail (cutting off the first third of the top beak), I have discouraged them from pecking at each other any more. So now we have seven quail instead of twelve.

Let’s hope that lower temperatures, a change in diet, and a de-beaking works!

In any case, I am somewhat glad that Trevor kept me from instituting the death penalty, because today one of the hens laid an egg. Finally, right?! That is one redeeming act. It doesn’t quite make up for the murder spree.

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the average quail egg is 1/3 of the size of the average chicken egg

2 Strikes

Ugh… I am pulling my hair out over these quail! I am about two seconds away from just eating them all. No kidding. Although, now I know how the one quail hen was wounded a few days ago… cannibalism. Awesome guys.

I always count the quail in the morning during feeding time. I do the same with the chickens and rabbits; a sort of roll-call if you will. This morning I counted 11 outside and 1 inside (the wounded quail), totaling 12. Correct. Just two hours later, I look inside the pen and spot a little brown wing. Huh?! I count again. Now there is only 10 outside and 1 inside. Wrong.

Upon further inspection, I find a quail head and two little feet inside the coop. **Sigh…** I cleaned up everything I could find, but I am still a little dismayed. I mean, really?! In two hours the covey managed to kill and pick another quail absolutely clean? Ugh!

I am unsure of the cause, but I have read that it can be a mixture of various things: confinement (they have twice as much space as is recommended), extreme heat (we’ve had extreme heat for three weeks now), and/or not enough protein (perhaps, but I don’t think so). I have been supplementing the quail’s 18% barley fodder with mealworms, which are reportedly high in protein.

Whether insufficient protein is the problem or just the heat, I have decided to put the quail on commercial “game bird crumbles” to see if that helps any. Quail are kind of a mysterious and fairly uncommon homestead livestock so it will take some trial and error to figure out what type of food works best. Apparently natural-feed is not fully meeting their needs, so I am just having to ditch my no-commercial feed approach –as far as the quail are concerned– for the time being. Ugh again.