Fodder is a fantastic supplement for chickens, particularly in the winter when the snow and frost cover the ground and birds no longer have access to seeds and grass. Fodder consists of sprouting grains such as barley, lentils, alfalfa, and oats providing a healthy source of greens that chickens love.
In this guide, we look at steps to grow fodder for chickens, its benefits for the backyard flock, and why it has become a popular choice of treats for poultry.
What is Chicken Fodder?
Chicken fodder consists of germinated seeds from whole grains such as rye, barley, wheat, oats, and even sunflower seeds. The seeds develop tiny little sprouts that grow over a period of 6 to 10 days creating fresh greens that are digestible and high in nutrition.
Growing fodder is a great choice for backyard chickens that don’t have access to seeds and grass during the winter months.
When snow and frost cover the ground it prevents weeds or grass from growing and chickens have no access to their daily dose of vegetative matter.
The good news is that growing chicken fodder is easy and inexpensive making it a great choice for raising backyard chickens.
What is Sprout vs Fodder?
When referring to microgreens for chickens, the terms sprout and fodder are used interchangeably but there is a difference between the two. Sprout fodder refers to the different stages of growth of germinating whole grain seeds.
When the sprouted grains or seedlings are below 4 inches in height these are known as sprouts while fodder refers to the seedlings that have grown more than 4 inches in height.
Sprout and Fodder Growth Rate
Growing fodder takes longer than sprouts because you have to wait for the seedlings to reach a height of more than 4-5 inches. The only downside is that the compact growth habit and moisture retention of fodder increases the risk of mold growth.
Mold on fodder must be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide. You can also use hydrogen peroxide to maintain strict sanitation conditions when sprouting seeds by cleaning the containers to remove any bacteria or mold spores.
Is Fodder Healthy for Chickens?
Feeding fodder as a treat is great for backyard chickens and other livestock such as ducks, geese, and even goats but it should never replace their balanced feed. Sprouted wheat, barley and similar grains are packed with protein and fiber but cannot provide the vitamin and mineral enriched feed that chickens eat.
Always feed chicken fodder in moderation as the long stalks of sprouting grains can become stuck inside the crop of a chicken and cause crop impaction.
A crop impaction is a serious condition in which food cannot pass through the crop of chickens and into the digestive tract.
For nutritious greens at a safe stalk height, consider sprouting wheat. It only takes 6 days to reach the desired height and chickens find it irresistible.
What are the Benefits of Fodder for Chickens?
In winter when chickens have no access to grasses and weeds, you can grow chicken fodder to provide them with a tasty treat. Vegetation is an important part of a chicken’s diet providing nutrients such as protein and fiber for healthy digestion.
Growing a fodder system for chickens is easy but it is not meant to replace daily chicken feed. It does not provide balanced vitamins and minerals including calcium for egg-laying hens and cannot meet the daily nutritional requirements of chickens.
Let’s look at the advantages of growing fodder for chickens below…
Improves the Bioavailability of Food
The sprouts from the seed make the nutrients more bioavailable which means that the protein and minerals in each sprouted seed are more freely available to chickens. When birds consume a whole seed or grain, the hull has to be broken down to access the minerals inside.
The benefit of feeding a sprout is that chickens receive all of the minerals and proteins without having to break down the shell of the seed and miss out on essential nutrients.
Better Digestibility and All-Natural
Sprouting grains are more than 50% digestible for birds because of the high number of enzymes in each sprout. This means that chickens will receive more protein, fiber, and vitamins from sprouted grains.
It is a wonderful choice of natural treat that you can feed to chickens 3-4 times a week. Chicken fodder is excellent for hens as each seedling contains high levels of nutrients supporting quality egg production. Sprouted grain has high levels of carotenoids which contribute to deep yellow and orange yolks.
It is an effective boredom buster for chickens, geese, and ducks that are confined to their coops and run when the temperature drops in winter. They get to rummage through the sprouts in search of bugs while snacking on the crisp tops to supplement their regular feed.
What Grains Can You Use for Chicken Fodder?
- Mung beans
How Do You Make Fodder for Chickens?
The first step to growing fodder for chickens is to source fresh and untreated grains. You can find grains for sprouting through a local feed store and online suppliers. It is so easy to grow and an exciting part of raising chickens!
Sprouts can be grown indoors at room temperature between 45℉ and 69℉, so you don’t need any special lighting.
You can place it on your kitchen counter or a separate shelving unit if you want to grow multiple trays of fodder.
To grow a chicken fodder system you need to rinse the grains, soak overnight, and then drain the water. Then you’ll rinse and drain grains every day during the growth process.
Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need to start your very own chicken fodder system.
a). Things You’ll Need
It is best to find grains for sprouting from a reputable provider. Look for organic and GMO-free seeds that have not been grown using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. This ensures that your chickens receive the purest grains free from additives.
The next step is to find a small container such as a plastic tray or bowl to store the grains as they sprout.
The container you choose should always be wide enough to accommodate the sprout itself and the rapidly growing roots. Wider jars, trays, or bowls make it easier to retrieve the seedlings without breaking the stalks and leaves.
You can purchase growing or fodder trays and sprouting kits but really any clean and inexpensive container will do. Containers should have a few small drainage holes in the base to drain the excess water which prevents the seeds from developing mold or rotting inside the trays or containers.
Alternatively, you could use a glass mason jar to germinate seeds. You can purchase a mason jar germination growing kit with a wide rim and screen mesh lid to facilitate airflow and drain excess water. The mason jar is easy to clean and provides an affordable way to germinate seeds.
b). Steps to Growing Fodder for Chickens
- The first step is to place the grains in a bowl or tray and let them soak in water overnight.
- Once the grains are thoroughly soaked, drain them and place them into a container of ½ inch deep (this will include your choice of tray, container, or jar).
- Place this container over a second tray or bowl to catch the excess water.
- For the next 6 days, you’ll proceed to water and drain the seeds at least twice a day.
- By the sixth day, your grains should have sprouted and are ready for chickens to eat.
How to Feed Fodder to Chickens?
You can remove the greenery from the tray, container, or jar and simply place the small batches of sprouts on the ground for chickens to rummage through and enjoy.
How Much Fodder Can You Feed Chickens?
Chickens can consume 2% of their body weight in fodder but ideally, it should be fed as a healthy treat 4 times per week. This is because chickens might not want to eat their regular food if they can get a bowl of greenery to munch on instead!
The long stalks of a sprouting grain can sit inside the crop and not move into the digestive tract. This can lead to conditions such as crop impaction and sour crop.
Can You Feed Chickens Just Fodder?
Fodder is not a substitute for regular feed. A chicken’s balanced diet, which consists of regular pellets, mash, or crumbles, contain essential vitamins and minerals based on their daily nutritional requirements.
If hens don’t receive the nutrients from their regular food, not only will the quality of their eggs suffer but they will lay fewer eggs until they simply stop laying.
Some chicken keepers reduce their feed costs by mixing the sprouted grain with regular chicken feed but you should ensure that your flock is still eating their dry feed and not leaving it in favor of the microgreens.
Growing nutritious sprouts in your home is a wonderful way to treat your backyard flock. It offers a multitude of benefits for both you and your flock. It is an inexpensive and natural treat for birds but you can add your newly grown sprouts such as wheatgrass and broccoli to your very own salads too.
Sprouted grains are considered more nutritious than seeds as vitamins and minerals are readily available and easily absorbed without the need to break the hull and then try to digest the seed itself. This means that all poultry benefit from the maximum nutrition per sprout!
Microgreens are incredibly easy to grow as fodder for chickens. Simply choose growing trays or mason jars with good drainage, then rinse and soak your seeds for 24 hours. You don’t need soil or expensive lights to grow fodder which means that anyone can grow these small nutrient-rich plants in their home.
You can experiment with different types of grain from wheat and alfalfa to broccoli but wheat is by far the easiest and fastest to grow.
Feeding fodder is a simple and nutritious treat for birds that any backyard chicken keeper can do. So be sure to inform your fellow chicken hobbyists of the wonderful benefits of fodder for chickens by sharing this guide with them.
We certainly hope that you and your flock will enjoy the process of growing your very own greens!