Are you looking for a way to provide your chickens with fresh, green fodder all year round, even in the winter? Growing fodder indoors is a great solution!
Not only does it provide your chickens with a nutritious treat, but it also helps cut down on the amount of feed you need to purchase. It also provides great entertainment value for your chickens when there isn't much to scratch at and will allow you to do some winter gardening during the cold months.
And best of all, it’s easy to do! In this post, we’ll show you how to get started.
What is fodder and why is it important for chickens?
Fodder is a type of living animal feed that is composed of plants, such as grasses, legumes, and grains. It provides animals, such as chickens, access to year-round greens, regardless of the weather, and can help relieve boredom in a flock.
It's generally grown directly in trays without using soil, which helps with cost efficiency and makes it easier to grow fodder indoors. The seeds are allowed to sprout and grow until they're 1-3" in length, which is usually 5-10 days after they're started.
Fodder is very digestible; its vitamins, proteins, and minerals are more bioavailable to chickens. Fifty pounds of grain can be transformed into more than 200 pounds of fodder depending on which variety of seed you're growing, making it a cost-effective way to feed your livestock fresh greens in the winter or even year-round if you have an enclosed run.
Fodder is also an excellent supplement for broody hens and chicks. It gives new chicks the opportunity to learn foraging behavior while under their mother’s wing as well as increasing their gut microbiome. This makes it an excellent practice to add to your Caring for Chickens Chores.
What are the best plants to grow as chicken fodder?
Choosing which type of fodder to grow is really important. From grow times to nutrition to minimizing the risk of mold, we've categorized our favorite types of fodder by price, grow time, nutrition, and difficulty to grow.
The following is a list of our top ten favorite types of fodder to grow for chickens, especially for beginners.
How to grow chicken fodder in small spaces and during the winter?
Step 1: Disinfect Seeds (Optional)
Certain varieties of seeds are more prone to mold than others. In addition, if you're purchasing bulk seeds intended for livestock feed, the seeds will not be cleaned as well as seeds intended for sprouts and microgreens. If you find that you're having issues with mold in your fodder, you may want to disinfect your seeds prior to using them in future attempts.
The simplest way for home growers is to use household vinegar. This excerpt from the above mentioned article gives easy directions. To disinfect seeds with vinegar:
Rinse the seeds in cold running water.
Place seeds in a clean, non-reactive container like a 5 gallon plastic bucket.
Cover with vinegar to 1 inch above the level of the seeds.
Soak seeds for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
Rinse seeds until all vinegar smell is gone.
Step 2: Soak Fodder Seeds in Water
Next up, we need to soak the seeds before we put them in trays. The soaking is extremely important for larger seeds because we're not using any kind of growing medium in the trays, so they won't be able to hold onto moisture and will be at high risk of drying out before the seed coating is soft enough to sprout. To keep smaller seeds in place and moist through the sprouting process, a thin layer of soil or coco coirshould be used. If you want to read more about Soaking Seedsthis article explains how.
Add the seeds you want to grow into a jar or bucket and add enough water to cover the seeds by about 2 inches. Only soak the number of seeds that you're ready to grow at one time. To determine how many seeds to soak, start with our microgreen cheat sheet guide. You can go a little over the recommended amounts to make a thicker mat of fodder, but this is a good place to start because seeding rate will vary based on what type of fodder you're growing.
Step 3: Rinse and Drain Your Grains
After 24 hours of soaking, drain your soaked seeds and give them a thorough rinse. This is far longer than you would soak seeds for microgreens or other seeds that would be grown in media. The extra soaking time ensures that the seeds have as much moisture as they can possibly hold before you go into sprouting. Keep in mind we do not recommend this process in growing seeds meant for human consumption. Nor is it appropriate for growing microgreens.
Step 4: Spread Chicken Fodder Seed Evenly in Tray
Immediately after rinsing, spread your seeds in the clean and sanitized tray you've chosen to grow fodder in. Based on your flock size and space available, you may want to grow in 5x5 trays, 1010 trays, or in full 1020 trays. Trays with holes are a better option in this case than mesh trays since it makes the seed and root mat easier to remove from the tray. You will also need a tray with no holes underneath to protect your table surface. All of our smaller trays with holes will nest inside a no holes tray of the same depth.
Keep in mind that you will want to be succession planting seeds at least every 7 days to allow your chickens to have fresh greens at least once a week. If you want them to have greens twice a week, you'll want to repeat this entire process every 3-4 days.
You'll want to keep your trays in an area of your home that's not too cold, as most seeds won't germinate below 50℉. They don't need sunlight to germinate so don't feel like you need to keep them by a window, especially in the winter when the glass can get very cold.
Step 5: Spray Trays to Keep them Moist
Once the seeds are in the trays, this process becomes very familiar if you've ever grown microgreens or plant starts indoors. Because the seeds aren't in any growing medium, they dry out quicker than other plants, so it's important to give your trays a good spray twice a day until they're fully grown.
It's important to keep an eye on the airflow around the trays to reduce mold contamination, so having a fan blowing around the trays is a good option if you're able to. Another nice-to-have item is grow lights to help really pump up the vitamins in the fodder before they go outside. But don't worry, if you don't have grow lights, you can still grow amazing fresh fodder for your chickens!
Step 6: Feed Your Chickens the Fodder
This is the best part - for them and for you! You can set the tray down directly in their pen, especially if you're using our heavy-duty trays. Otherwise, you can pull the fodder out of the tray and feed it directly in a feeder or on the ground as one giant living mat. If you seeded it thickly enough, it should come out as one piece.
By following these steps, your chickens can enjoy a nutrient-rich and healthy food source during the winter months, even if you have limited grow space. Happy growing!
What is fodder for chickens?
Fodder for chickens is a nutritious and economical food option that is created by soaking and sprouting whole grains, such as wheat, oats, barley, or rye, over about a 7-day period indoors, without the need for soil. This process unlocks the grains' nutrients, resulting in a high-quality feed that is more affordable. Chickens love to snack on the seeds, roots, and sprouts that are produced.
Growing fodder is a great way to provide green vegetation to your chickens in the winter months when outdoor plants are unavailable. It also helps reduce feed expenses and encourages natural foraging behaviors.
What types of fodder can chickens eat?
Chickens can eat a variety of different types of fodder, including sunflowers, clover, buckwheat, radish, millet, peas, turnips, parsnips, wheat, oats, and barley. All of these grains become up to 40% more digestible when sprouted, soaked, or turned into fodder.
It's important to manage fodder as a low percentage of their overall diet (30% or less), especially when you're feeding only one type of fodder. Some common fodder varieties can cause issues in chickens when fed in too high amounts.
What are the benefits of growing fodder for chickens?
The benefits of growing fodder for chickens are numerous. Fodder can help to stretch your animal feed dollar and reduce your overall expenses, as just fifty pounds of grain can be transformed into a much higher volume of fodder. Additionally, fodder offers a variety of benefits to your chickens, such as providing them with access to year-round grains and greens, regardless of the weather, and giving them novelty to help relieve boredom in a flock.
Fodder can also be used to give your chickens fresh greens during the winter months when forage is scarce. You can also grow sprouts as an alternative form of fodder on a small scale, especially if you have limited growing space available.
What materials do I need to grow fodder for chickens?
If you want to grow fodder for chickens, you'll need a few materials to get started. You'll need a container like the 5x5, 1010 or 1020 trays mentioned above or you can use shallow trays like our microgreen collection, seeds (such as alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, and barley), water, a spray bottle, shelving (optional, unless you're doing a large batch) and grow lights (optional). Depending on your preference, you may also need the supplies to disinfect your seeds, as described above.
Fodder can take a few tries to master, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to develop a rotation and succession planting system that works for you and your chickens.
How do I prevent mold growth when growing fodder for chickens?
Sanitize your seeds
Clean and sanitize your trays before each use
Control humidity in your grow space
Keep air moving with a gentle breeze from a fan
What are some of the most nutritious types of fodder for chickens?
Chickens and other livestock can benefit from eating fodder, which is soaked and sprouted whole grain that is grown without any growing medium over a 7-day period indoors. Some of the most nutritious types of fodder for chickens include:
Barley Seeds - Barley fodder looks like grass and is also a great choice for edible lawns. This type is high in protein and carbohydrates and provides chickens with Vitamin A, B-complex, and E.
Millet - Millet is a high-protein grain that is also high in essential fatty acids and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium, making it a nutritious fodder choice for chickens.
Wheat Berries - Wheat berries are rich in Vitamin B and provide chickens with a great source of energy. They are also high in lysine, an important amino acid for chickens.
Sorghum - Sorghum is a good source of dietary fiber and minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc. This type of fodder also contains Vitamin A, B-complex, and E.
Oats - Oats are high in fiber, protein, and essential minerals like magnesium, iron, and zinc, and are a good source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. Feed at less than 25% of total ration.
Alfalfa - Alfalfa is high in protein, Vitamin A, and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. It also provides chickens with essential fatty acids.
Clover - Clover is high in Vitamin B, calcium, and iron and is a good source of dietary fiber.
Buckwheat - Buckwheat is a great source of Vitamin B and essential minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium. It is also high in dietary fiber. Feed buckwheat at rates less than 30%.
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