Over at The Survival Podcast I am always finding new things, thanks to my guests and listeners. Last year I learned about something called a “fodder system”. Fodder systems convert grain and seeds into high quality fodder for livestock. The most popular fodder is barley because it is cheap and grows fast, but you can make fodder from almost any seed that your animals would want to eat.
These fodder systems range from DIY systems using rain gutters and grow lights that take say a hundred or so bucks to create, all the way up to multi-thousand dollar commercial systems with automated timers, complete climate control, and lots of bells and whistles. The selling point of both systems is high quality feed and a relatively fast payback time.
Consider that when you grow fodder, one pound of barley, when grown to fodder, will become anywhere from 3-6 pounds of feed depending on how long you grow it out. We grow ours to about 4 times the weight. I do this mainly because I keep chickens and geese and the chickens don’t like it too grassy. What this means is my 50 pound bag of barley is equivalent to 200 pounds of feed.
High quality chicken feed is generally about 15 dollars a bag. Since we want to avoid both soy and GMOs we pay about 25 pounds a bag for a natural non-GMO, non-soy feed made by Texas Natural. It is made with wheat, sorghum, peanut meal, field peas and some other great stuff. In general, I am happy to pay more for a great product that keeps my birds and my family healthy. Yet we have about 12 laying hens and as many as 50 meat birds at times along with our geese. So it can get expensive.
So how much does it save us to spout fodder for our birds? Consider that we are paying about 14 dollars for a 50 pound bag for barley and ending up with 200 pounds of fodder. Price per pound is therefore, 7 cents! If growing for goats or cattle and taking it up to 6 times conversion, your 50 pounds of barley becomes 300 pounds, price per pound is therefore about 4.6 cents a pound, less than a nickel!
It gets better though, sprouted grain is a super food not just for people but for animals, too. Now that our birds are on sprouts, pasture and high quality feed, their health is amazing. They also absolutely love sprouted barley and some other sprouted things as well. With your animals loving something that is great for them, has no GMO threat, and costs you less, you can see why someone might invest hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of dollars in a fodder system, I am just here to tell you it isn’t necessary.
My system is made up of the following…
- 6 five gallon buckets, 5 with holes drilled in the bottom and one with no holes
- Some cinder blocks for the buckets to sit on and drain
- A scoop to measure the barley, this is actually my wife’s scoop for her bird feeders
Buckets at Lowes or Home Depot are about 3 bucks each, most people have or can borrow a drill, you can use anything like even rocks to sit your buckets on but 3 cinder blocks do the trick. New blocks if you have to buy them are, at most, 2 dollars. So even if you buy everything new, including the scoop, my system will cost you a maximum of no more than 30 dollars to build.
I know what you are thinking, well fine but how much time does it take compared to an automated system? Well, I spend about 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening with my system. I do this, drinking coffee in the AM, often with a beer in the PM so it never feels like work to me at all anyway. I could easily double my production if necessary with no more equipment. If I wanted to go up by 4 times, I would need only 6 more buckets and perhaps another minute or two a day maximum of my time. When we did our last meat bird cycle, I simply put in two scoops of barley a batch and once we slaughtered them I backed it down to one scoop.
Here is how it works,
Day One – Soak one to two scoops of barley in your bucket with no holes for about 12 hours. It is best to start your soaking in the evening.
Day Two Morning – Dump the barley that was soaked overnight into one of the buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. Let it drain and set it in your sprouting area. You want a shady spot that doesn’t get too hot, you don’t need much sun at all for this. Don’t start another batch soaking at this time.
Day Two Evening – Set your bucket of soaked barley on something to let it drain, I do this where the water will be of advantage to my garden. Fill the empty bucket with no holes about 3/4 full, dump that water on the soaked grain to keep it moist and rinse it off. Put a scoop in your bucket with no holes, add water to cover well, return both buckets to your sprouting area.
On the morning of day three you just continue the process, now stack a new bucket with holes inside the one with the two day soaked grain, and dump the grain you soaked overnight into the new strainer bucket. Fill the soaking bucket about 3/4 full, dump into the strainer buckets, let drain and return them to the sprouting area.
If you can set things up so the rinse water will drain to a garden from your sprouting area you won’t even have to move the buckets.
Each day you will notice the barley or seed of your choice is changing a bit. By day two you should see tiny white roots starting to pop out of the grain, day three you will see a lot of roots, day four a bit of green and day five quite a bit, this is when we feed the fodder to our birds. Each day I just stack all the buckets and dump one bucket of water into the top to rinse the grain and keep it moist. You can feed this grain to your animals at any point along the way or grow it out further. You will just need to decide what they like best and what gives you the best return of investment on your feed costs. Honestly the chickens like it best before it totally turns into a matt with grass on it. But the geese love it matted up and green. So we compromise and stop at 5 days versus the 7 days many grow fodder for.
You really can do this with any grain or seed that will sprout and form something your animals will want to eat. We tried black eyed peas and they were great spouts on 3 days but to our surprise the birds didn’t really like them. While they love to eat field peas, leaves, pods and all in the field where we cover crop with them, spouts just didn’t do it for them. I also tried black oil sunflower. My laying birds ate it and seemed to like it okay but didn’t get really excited. Our meat birds (freedom rangers) didn’t seem to want it at all. I will experiment with some other grains and seeds but for the most part it seems that barley is best.
Many have told me barley won’t sprout at temps much above 60 degrees. Like I said, we keep our buckets in a shaded alley between our garage and house. It is cool in there but we have had great results and our temps have ranged from 45-95 degrees during the time we have been using this system, we have never had a failure to sprout and grow. Will it work in the summer when temps climb well into the hundreds and overnight lows are still in the high 80s? I am not sure, but I am confident it will work most of our year in the south.
The other thing I am not sure of is how cold we can go before we have a failure to sprout. But we will find out. We can always move the system into our garage at that point, again you don’t need much light at all to just start the beginning of green growth and the birds actually like it less grassy anyway. I am going to try sprouting some sorghum and, if they like it, we can go to it in the hotter times of the year if necessary. Sorghum is still a non GMO crop and available in bulk at a low cost just like barley. We also know we can grow a lot of it on site because we ran trials with many varieties this year.
A few simple things to make your spouting successful
- Don’t let your grain soak more than twelve hours. All grain has wild yeast and lacto fermenting bacteria on it. Left too long it will begin to ferment, it will then stink and likely not sprout well.
- Drill small holes in your buckets, lots of small holes are better than a few big ones. This will let you try sprouting smaller seeds. Don’t sweat the holes. As long as the bucket drains, you are good. I used a 1/8 inch bit for my system.
- Our “scoop” holds about 2 cups of grain, it works fine at that rate and we can go to two scoops (4 cups) with good results per each bucket. If you need more fodder, set up a second set of buckets.
- I find it best to start my soaking in the evening. I am less likely to forget it that way. Since I feed the birds each morning that reminds me to strain it off. But do what works best for you.
- Try to find a nice cool shaded spot for your sprouting and, again, if you can set it up so you can rinse in place, all the better. A 7th bucket could be used to bring the water in and take it out if you want to do that.
In any event, if you keep chickens, rabbits, geese or other livestock, this is a great and cheap way to cut your feed costs and provide super nutrition to your animals. If you ever decide you want a fancy automated system, fine go for it but try this first. You can always use the buckets as planters if you move up in such a system. Best of all this system requires zero electricity, as long as you have water and can dump a bucket, you are in business.
I have been told by those in the north that their winters are too cold for my method. My response is one cheap grow light and the buckets are likely sufficient in whatever area you would set up your fancy system. Frankly the light need only be placed over the last two buckets in the cycle, if at all. Again this process doesn’t need much light. Unless you are doing a 7 day cycle with major top growth for goat or cattle or something like that, I just can’t see making a much larger investment. So give this system a try, it won’t set you back much, your animals will love you for it, and it will seriously cut your feed costs.