Thursday, March 15, 2018

Growing fodder for chickens - cheaper by the dozen!

After some research on reducing feed costs for chickens, I discovered how easy it is to grow fodder, how it multiplies the seed volume for free (just add water), and how nutritious it is. WIN. WIN. WIN. Oh, and my chickens LOVE it!

I usually feed my chickens fermented layer feed because it also multiplies the volume of the feed for free (just add water), I believe it's more nutritious for the chickens, and the resulting eggs & meat are healthier for my family, and those with whom we share.

The general consensus recommends a 1/4 lb of food per day, per chicken ... and they will eat plenty more given the opportunity! I have 40+ chickens which means 300+lbs of feed per month!! At present {late winter} I am getting around 8 eggs a day, which means they're costing me about $4/dozen to produce (commercial feed cost of ~$80/mo ) which means I need to sell 20 dozen eggs to cover the costs! The laying rate will increase with daylight hours and reduce cost per dozen, but not the overall cost per month.

A few ways we save on feed costs is by occasional free-range foraging (it has to be supervised), kitchen fruit/veg scraps (which I also get from friends in exchange for a dozen eggs), soaked black oil sunflower seed, veggie garden rejects, weeds, and the occasional cup of scratch, cracked corn, or mixed bird seed as a special treat (or to get them back into their coops mid-day!) I'm also raising meal worms but that is another post for another day.

My first fodder crop of choice is barley. I bought a 50lb bag which I am storing in a metal garbage can to keep rodents out! I have also sprouted black oil sunflower seed, wheat, mixed bird seed, mung beans, lentils, garbanzo beans ...

Research tells me that sprouted grains are far higher in nutrient value than dry grains. And if I sprout the barley to 3" greens, I multiply the weight of the food by 4-5 times — that means 1 lb dry barley = 4 lbs fodder! So not only will I have 4 times the food, but it is significantly higher in nutrient value too! WIN. WIN. Therefore a 50lb bag of barley becomes 200+ pounds of fodder ... now that's more like it! The conversion rate may differ depending on seed.

So how to do it?

  • First soak the Barley (or seed of choice) for 24 hrs in water. 
  • Then rinse seed thoroughly and spread in a shallow pan (dish tub, plastic shoebox, foil roast pans ...) ideally if these containers drain it's best. 
  • Each day thoroughly soak the seeds for a minute and then drain so they are not standing in water. 
  • You should see hairlike white roots sprouting from the seeds in about 2-3 days. At this stage, spray with water twice a day until wet but not standing in water.
  • When you start to see green shoots emerging (day 3), add light — by a bright south-facing window, a full-spectrum fluorescent light, a daylight compact fluorescent light in a reflective dome ...
  • Continue to water & grow until it reaches desired height (3-5 inches) 
  • Feed the whole, nutritionally-loaded fodder mat (roots will all have grown together) to your pets ... chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, goats ...