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Dead Simple Fodder System

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

About Jack Spirko

Best known for his work as the host of “The Survival Podcast,” a daily online audio program that focuses on modern survival concepts and philosophy. Jack’s podcast teaches skills such as gardening and permaculture, food storage techniques, alternative investing strategies, keeping small livestock, home energy production, food preservation, and creating individual liberty. Jack and his work have been featured in The Dallas Morning News, The Chicago Tribune, Freedom Watch on Fox News and the Mike in the Morning Show. Jack is a contributing editor for Survival.com Magazine and a former staff columnist for LewRockwell.com. Jack has been called “the face of the modern survival movement” by Judge Andrew Napolitano and “the man we should call Spirkodamus for his accuracy in predicting future events” by legendary survival trainer Ron Hood.

56 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this Jack. I’m wondering how well wild life and wild birds would like the fodder. Would fish? And I’m wondering if rabbits would like the barely fodder as well as the birds or maybe rabbits would prefer alfalfa fodder.

    • Not much use to fish I would think. Surely some wildlife would like it but a lot of work to feed deer that’s for sure. Rabbits would love it, birds would depend on species.

      Most birds would like it best before the grass starts to emerge.

    • I feed 7-9 day sprouted barley to my Meat rabbits, they love it. I’ve been getting great gains on the fodder as well. They get free choice alfalfa, a whole grains mix, and the fodder. I’m getting in an order of field peas and wheat tomorrow to try those for sprouting. I haven’t tried oats, but I understand that it doesn’t sprout well. It sure makes the expensive organic feed go a whole lot further. If you’d like more information or have questions on feeding fodder to rabbits feel free to email me: rhapsodyvf at gmail dot com.

  2. I saw this years ago on Robert Plamondon’s blog. A good place to consider doing this is in your laundry room if you have a floor drain and especially if you have a laundry sink for washing out the buckets. You need to wash out the emptied bucket because it will get slimy. Another option is to buy the $1 dish washing pans at the dollar store and you could go vertical with it. A dish drying pan on the bottom could guide the draining water to the floor drain.

  3. Where in the world do you find barley seeds? None of my feed stores have them… i am assuming this is not rolled barley.

  4. really want to try something like this indoors for winter fodder for my chickens

    • Me too! This seems like a better method to have sufficient fodder seed on hand in the event of a feed disruption during the winter.

  5. Can this be used for horses? or is it mostly for other barnyard animals?

  6. Thank’s for the article Jack! That is a great way to do fodder. I am going to try it that way. I am in Michigan so it gets pretty cold. I will try it and see just how cold it has to get before the barley stops sprouting. I imagine it won’t sprout below freezing. I have a great source for barley though and if I put it in my garage I might be able to keep it from freezing most of the winter. We feed our chickens barley anyway so it won’t be a big deal to try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Do you feed your laying hens just the fodder and free range or do you also feed a laying mash of some sort? If not how well do the chickens lay on the fodder vs. laying mash?

  7. Thanks Jack will this work for oats and wheat as well do they have the same sprouting time.

  8. Thanks for this great tip. Will this work for oats and wheat do they have the same sprouting time.

  9. A local raw milk dairy gets away with feeding mostly lousy grass hay by supplementing their cows’ diet with fodder, and it works very well. Our “dead simple” fodder system involves wheat, oats, corn, and barley all sprouted in aluminum baking trays we perforated with a screwdriver. The chickens don’t like it as much after more than a couple days of sprouting.

  10. I did this last winter in the cellar. Sunflower seeds take longer, but everything loves barley. My cows and sheep liked the barley at 7 days, wheras the geese and chicks like it at 4 days.

  11. I’ve been wanting to do sprouting for my dairy goats and havn’t found a usable system. I will try this. Is there any truth in the belief/claims that the nutrition factor “goes through the roof” with sprouts over just grain? I can see it would be 4 times more if you’re quadrupling the weight. I also see the advantage since goats and other ruminants are designed as grass feeders and not grains feeder. Thank you very much.

  12. man that is cool as everything

  13. I’ve been doing this for a while now. What are your thoughts about this being their one and only food source? Is that what you’re doing currently or no?

  14. Would doing a compost tea rinse add to the nutrition or just cause problems?

    • Hey, from my experience in Compost tea is this: it will not cause mold right away. I have had mold and mildew hit my seedlings that I fed with to much nitrogen, and between everythnig I’ve tried to get it off, compost tea was the only thing that worked, washed mold off immediatly. I would say this, compost tea is not for ingesting, it could or could not be good for you, depending on what bacteria you have lurking in it and how diverse and strong your immune system is.

      although, professional sprouters sometimes use Worm castings below the seeds, that is pretty much your compost tea, but worm tea on a processed foodwaste substraight. so those pro sprouters get 2-3 cut of wheat greens instead of the whole sprout, but avoid the bottom for obvious dirt in your food issues.

      my 2 cents, dont know if anyone is going to read this, but good luck

  15. Hey Jack,
    Looks like you liked my ‘stacking’ suggestion ;>)

    btw, did you lose your neck knife? it looks to be missing in the vid…

    cheers,

    jake

  16. Jack,
    This is great. I will be trying this as I’ve heard of fodder systems, but just never really made it onto my radar.

    Do you know how complete a feed this is for chickens? Or what “percentage” this would be for a chicken in, say, the winter when there is little to get outside (I’m in NH)?

    Also, are you really getting 4x the mass in only 5 days? I read on other websites they don’t get that in 7 with professional systems? I guess I’ll figure it out myself soon enough, but I was wondering if you’ve done much weighing and whatnot with this. I have around 40-50 laying hens. We’ve wanted to go “organic”, but it was to much money. This might be just what we need to make it worth it AND cut our costs at the same time.

    Jesse
    “ahmishwannabe”

    • Most larger systems claim a 6x increase in weight.

      How complete is the feed? Don’t know, don’t care, my birds are on this, free range pasture and high quality GMO and Soy Free feed as well.

  17. Alice Royle on the pastured poultry yahoo group runs a feed mill in Oregon and contends that most of the 6x weight increase is from water it soaked up, and so it if bulk without a lot of nutrition. Some of the anti nutritional factors are used up, but in the absence of sunlight, the seed can’t do too much synthesizing. I still think it is a good idea, since the chickens seen to love it in the winter when there is no grass to eat, but not for sole source feeding.

  18. Regarding sorghum sprouting, I’ve read about issues with poisoning due to the cyanide content of the seeds increasing with soaking:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1984.tb13212.x/abstract;jsessionid=C5B429AE50FC73FF7185EF0A3F41A3D3.f04t04

    I love the simplicity of the system you’ve set up, and will try it with barley.

  19. Hey Jack.
    Really enjoyed reading this and I am really impressed with your results. I wrote an instructable on growing fodder, which I posted at http://www.instructables.com/id/Basic-Fodder-growing-system/.

    I was also a featured member of 13 skills a few months ago (member name Seryph, number 417 if anyone wishes to follow me), with the completion of my sprouting skill accomplished with growing fodder.

    An interesting point I learned yesterday while down at my local feed store. They were selling small trays of fodder which they had grown from Barley for $6 a tray. Could be a great side business for someone out there.

  20. What about using usual garden center grass seed? Fescue and bluegrass are known to be good for hay, why not use them over barley/wheat?

  21. Thanks for the write up.

    I had one question with regards to the cycle you describe.

    On day two you rinse the seed in the evening, that you put in that morning, then on Day three you put the seeds from the night before, day two, in a new bucket. Do you then rinse the new seed that evening again or was that extra rinse only on the second day. Basically do you put the soaked seed in the bucket in the morning and then rinse them that evening when you prepare a new batch of seed to soak.

    Thanks again for this great information.

  22. Are those Lowe’s buckets food grade? Would be a shame not to use food-grade buckets after going to the trouble of obtaining natural, non-GMO feed and sprouting it.

  23. Has anyone had any problems with mold? I tried oats while waiting on my local feed store to get barley in, and the oats all got moldy. I have the barley now and starting over.

  24. Excellent ideas and uses ! I also sprout a lot of wheat grass . Both wheat and barley are plentiful and cheap in my neck of the woods . I eat sprouts in many ways and they are really good and very nutritious.

    • Oats don’t make good fodder. If you want to use oats sprout and then feed immediately before they start to become fodder. Sprouting will release the nutrients, but you won’t get the same amazing feed multiplication factor

      Wheat and barely are your best bets for making trouble free fodder

  25. Just a note that you can get free buckets by calling your local bakery. Most are happy to set them aside for you, also these are generally much heavier duty food grade buckets vs the cheap ones from lowes or home depot which are a lot more flimsy

  26. if you have trouble in the high heat summer just stick a hole free bucket on the bottom and sprout them in the basement…

  27. Hey there, Jack.

    That looks like a great system! I am curious, have you done the numbers on how many lbs of dry grain it takes to feed each species a day of food? I am very interested in getting in to fodder but so far I have not been able to get a lot of input from folks using a fodder system on dry-grain conversion rate.

    I realize that you are feeding them a much higher weight of food though much of that must also be water intake by the sprouts, and that fodder growing converts much of the nutrition in to a more bio-available feed source, but I would like to see some numbers on:

    1. how man lbs of dry grain go in a bucket
    2. how many buckets feed 10 chickens/geese/turkeys/birds, 1 pig/sheep/cow/etc that sort of thing…

  28. I was very excited to try out this method… I got some buckets from Lowe’s, and even found in the basement there’s drain hole that seems was made to have a 5 gallon bucket fit on it.

    But after a week, I had no sprouts.

    I moved them up to the bathtub to see if that would make any difference. I’m in the North, and it was probably in the low 40s in the basement, and in the main part of the house I keep the heat at around 54 in the winter. I also started using warm water for the rinse… and now I was starting to get some sprouts, but still going very slow.

    Not being one to give up, though, I changed things up a bit.

    I ended up getting some large tubs from Walmart (about the size of two shoe boxes). Drilled holes on one side of the bottom of each. Set them up on a spare greenhouse shelf, two on a shelf, with the top one draining into the one below, etc. And on the very bottom I put a large flat tub (like what would go under the bed).

    Then I put this up in my plant and baby chick room, where it is nice and warm and they are near a window and grow lights… and the results were fantastic!

    I will try the bucket way again once it starts to get warmer and I can do it outside.

  29. I’m transitioning my meat rabbits to fodder currently. I would like to do meat chickens in the future… How did they do on it? How big were they at what age?

  30. I have been using a fodder system for my layers all winter, supplementing them with a vegetarian feed. Now I want to run an experimental group of meat birds with sprouted barley. Because of their high need for energy and protein, what would I supplement with? A traditional broiler starter?

  31. I’m going to try this out.

  32. Just started a system. I’m on day four and I’m getting some mold. I put a dash of bleach in my 12 hour soak water.
    Is there something I can do?

  33. Just thought I’d mention that I investigated Texas Naturals and although yes, they are non soy and GMO free, the downside is that they still grow via conventional methods. This means that they use pesticides in the fields growing. If you look into a truly organic soy free, non GMO mill (like Coyote Creek or Countryside), their prices are higher. Everyone needs to decide how much they are willing to pay and what comprises are acceptable.

  34. Each day you just stack all the buckets and dump one bucket of water into the top to rinse the grain and keep it moist.

    Do you leave them stacked or do you just stack them long enough to rinse and drain?

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