Chicken Coop Chatter©
Suitable container (I used a trough type chicken feeder and bro used a dish pan)
Seeds and/or grains or beans
Almost any grain, bean or flower/weed seed can be used for making your own fodder or sprouts for the chickens. I prefer calling this fodder, because literally fodder means foraging, and chickens are foragers even when they cannot free range they will forage through straw, hay or grass and weeds that you may toss into their chicken runs.
When I say you can sprout any grain; you can as long as it has not been heat treated and is not toxic to humans or animals. The grain I would caution you against using is Rye. It is believed that it was Rye that caused the bazaar behaviors that led to the witch hunts in prior history because of mold that formed in the bottom of the rye barrels and was used in bread making. So do NOT use rye simply because of the toxicity that forms in mold that may occur while you are growing your fodder.
We are certainly not the only ones that makes sprouted fodder for chickens, however most use wheat as their grain of choice. Wheat is fine, however it is not as complete nutritionally as other grains, and because of this I have opted to sprout fodder that meets all the nutritional needs of the chickens.
If your chickens are able to free-range there is little need to grow your own fodder except in the long winter months when the ground may be frozen or covered with heavy layers of snow or ice. Which makes it all the better when you can grow your own to provide some greens throughout those colder months.
Growing sprouts has been done for centuries, but popularized during the hippy movement as a source of nutrition that could be grown indoors in a bright window with relatively few supplies; at any time of year and used in sandwiches or salads and stir-fry. Many still practice the skill of sprouting for a variety of reasons for human diets.
Seeds sources can be as near as your feed store, your health food store, a local farmer or purchased online from a variety of sources. You can purchase organic, non GMO, or grains that are not certified organic but also are non GMO and certainly not all seeds of all plants are GMO.
The seed I use, I have purchased through my local farm store and online and all are labeled organic, however I would not hesitate to purchase from a local farmer that is not certified organic, yet grows non GMO grains. In spite of advertising schemes, most small farmers are not over-using pesticides and herbicides and not buying treated grains. But do your own research and make choices based on your own convictions. I do not support the GMO movement, but I want to make it clear, that organic is NOT herbicide and pesticide free, they are using the strongest *natural* products approved by the FDA which are toxic as well, yet the public is led to believe that organic means nothing is used, and that is completely bogus. To be truly organic would be to use nothing at all to kill insects and vegetation, but you would not purchase fruit or vegetables that have an insect hole or worm inside. It is the public that has dictated the use of herbicides and pesticides because they want perfect fruit and vegetables.
When I garden, I do not use pesticides or herbicides, even those approved by the FDA, so there may be a need to cut out a bruise, or a bug and there may be a need to weed. Those are the choices the public has made that has driven the use of such products. Herbicides were developed because the public could not tolerate a dandelion or other weed growing in their green lawns. When the public recognizes that they are the ones that have brought about the GMO movement, and allowed it to get out of hand, then the public can and will fight against it and get back to reality of bugs and weeds in their food and lawns and the natural balance will be regained.
Rather than just sprout my grains, beans, or seeds, I do use a growing medium, not just water. A good potting soil from your garden center, a container and some seeds and water is all you need. Nothing fancy is required, however I use a vintage metal chicken feeder to grow my seed. It is portable allows several chickens around it and just seems the most appropriate container allowing the chickens to enjoy their fodder, and it can be replanted when the chickens have had their fill. Once a week or a couple times a month is all you need to provide nutrition and activity in the chicken run. This is not intended as a steady diet and just as any treat, it should be limited to only a couple times per month, not as a daily diet.
Place about 2 to 3 inches of potting soil in the bottom of your container that has holes in it for drainage. The chicken feeder is not sealed tight so it drains without need for adding holes. Dampen the potting soil and allow to drain. Sow your seed, and cover lightly with soil. For my chicken feeder I only use a couple teaspoons of mixed seeds which will fill the entire container. Half to one teaspoon of seed in an average container is usually sufficient. Cover the container with plastic wrap or plastic sheeting to create a mini green house effect. Set in a warm area of at least 50 degrees and up to 70 degrees. Within a week your seeds will germinate and grow quickly. Put water in a spray bottle and spray into the container to keep the soil moist or pour water gently around the edges of the container and allow to drain. IF you allow the growing medium to dry out completely, then soak the container in warm water to absorb moisture and allow to drain. When your seedlings have grown above the top of your container, it is ready for the chickens. You can allow it to grow taller if you choose. The newly sprouted grains, beans or seeds will continue to grow and you can trim them to add to other treats you may provide or take the entire container out to the chicken run for the chickens to eat free-will.
Seeds I use may include: Buckwheat, Sunflower, Pumpkin, Corn, Flax, Lentil, Quinoa, Chia, Barley, Oats, Alfalfa and Hard Red Wheat. You of course can choose your own blend of as many or few as you would like. Millet is a common seed, grows fast and is available in the bird seed section of your garden center. Red Clover is fairly expensive but again is usually available in the garden or farm centers. Peanuts can be grown but you will need to look for raw peanuts which are generally available in bulk food or health food stores or sections of the grocery store. Most beans are nutritional for you and chickens and sprout easily. Qunioa and Chia are both complete nutritional seeds. Healthy for you and your chickens. I do not recommend soy or rye.
Herb seeds can be used such as parsley, savory, oregano, sage and thyme. Vegetable seeds, that provide greens such as beets, carrots and celery are suitable. Most grasses are suitable seeds for fodder. Most wildflower seeds are suitable, however stay away from Foxglove.
These same seeds and grains can be grown in your chicken garden during the spring, summer and fall months. Planting adjacent to your chicken coop and allowing your chickens to forage in their own garden area, provides opportunity for exercise, and a well rounded diet of vegetation, bugs and worms. This is especially important if your chickens are not able to free-range, you can still offer the opportunity to forage by fencing in a garden run that is specifically for them, where all you need to do is open the gate to allow them into the adjacent fenced off area.
If this garden area is not possible, you can still continue to grow your fodder outdoors during the warm months and set the containers in the chicken runs. As you see from the above lists your fodder can be as versatile or as limited as you choose. If your chickens are receiving a proper balanced feed, the fodder is merely a supplemental treat to keep them active and provide fresh greens for proper digestion. As with any treats, it is not wise to offer daily. Once a week is sufficient.
The other method of making fodder that bro used is simply sprouting in water. He placed about 2 inches of grain (Barley), in a dishpan and covered it with water from a hose. When placed in a warm environment, the sprouts began to show within 3 days and were ready to set out for the chickens within a week. As soon as you see most of the grain sprouted you can set it out for the chickens. The reason bro grew his barley sprouts is that the chickens would toss out the barley and eat other grains. The barley they had tossed out began sprouting in the chicken runs, so he used the barley for sprouting and they devoured it.
We found that the chickens enjoyed both methods we used for making fodder. That which was grown in a planting medium and that which was sprouted in water. If you find that there is a certain dry grain that your chickens are not eating, try growing it as fodder or as sprouts and see if they will enjoy it more as bro did with the barley.
In addition, you can trim the sprouts or fodder and dehydrate to add to the grain rations you would typically feed your chickens. This will add nutritional value to their regular rations. The grain fodder is easily dehydrated at about 95-125 degrees either in a dehydrator or lowest setting in an oven. Just trim the fodder as it's growing (bite sized pieces), dry it and add to scrambled eggs, vegetable scraps, or the regular grain rations you are feeding your chickens. They will enjoy it dried or fresh.
NOTE: You can save your non altered seeds from your vegetables, herbs or wildflowers for replanting. Simply wait for the plants to go to seed and allow the seed heads to dry before harvesting. Store in an air tight container out of direct light.
NOTE: You can ferment the seeds or grains, however if you do, we do not recommend you feed it to the chickens more than once a month. There are toxins that build up in the stomachs of chickens as in humans. We won't discourage you from fermenting, we just wish to caution you about the continued use of fermented grains.
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