Growing fodder for the homestead

Feed cost is the biggest ongoing expense for a farmer. So any time he/she can reduce feed costs, even by a little, he/she will do so, if he/she is smart.

I’ve been researching ways to cut our feed costs, and have achieved a breakthrough.

Fodder.

It’s not new, but it’s new for us, and I think it’s probably underemployed by most small homesteaders – even though they’re the ones who could use it the most.

Fodder can:

  • Decrease or eliminate your farm’s dependence on GMO grains, such as corn and soy
  • Keep a good source of protein coming to farm animals who need it (dairy cows/goats, feeder pigs, meat chickens), again, without using soy (which, besides the problems of it being GMO, poses other health risks, listed here), and without using grains, which are not ideal for ruminants.
  • Cut feed costs in half
  • Be very easy to grow

Fodder is essentially sprouted grains – typically barley. It can be grown hydroponically – just in water, without soil, and in one week, can more than quadruple in weight!

It also has a high protein content.

In seven days, we went from one pound of barley seeds, to 4.3 pounds of fodder. With just the addition of water and light.

Here’s how we did it…

The shower in our guest bathroom was the perfect spot for our fodder operation, since it’s not the greatest shower  and we usually tell guests to use our main shower anyways. Also, the bathroom has separate heating, and a built-in fluorescent light. And the rest of the bathroom is still usable; it will just feel like answering nature’s call… in a natural setting!

I purchased 100 lbs of barley seed from a local feed store, at the rate of $16 for a 50-lb bag. That’s $0.32/lb. For a point of reference, cracked corn right now is about $0.16/lb (cracked corn is one of the staples we feed to our chickens and pigs… when we’re richer, we’ll buy non-GMO corn, but we can’t afford it now – it literally can cost at least twice as much!)

  1. We first soaked one pound of barley, overnight (12 hrs), in a plastic tub. We soaked it in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water – just a little peroxide, because it helps kill any mold spores that may cause problems later. The room temperature must be between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. We then rinsed the seeds, and put them in a plastic tub with holes drilled in the bottom (obviously small enough where the seeds can’t fall through!).
  3. We kept the tub in a dark environment (to simulate underground), and watered the seeds twice per day (morning and evening). Before watering, we made sure to mix the seeds by hand, just to aerate them and prohibit the growth of mold/mildew.
  4. After Day 3, we began exposing the seeds to light. We found a 2-ft fluorescent ballast in the basement, and installed a “daylight” bulb and a “soft white” bulb in it, to try to provide different light spectra. The ballast plugs into the wall. For now, we just set the ballast on top of the growing tray. We’ll set up a permanent arrangement soon. By this point, they had sprouted little roots that were at least 1/2-inch long.
  5. On Day 5, we stopped aerating the seeds, and transferred them to a bigger tray (with holes in the bottom)
  6. By the end of Day 7, we had a big green mat of fodder, that had more than quadrupled in weight! It weighed in at 4.3 lbs!
  7. I fed the fodder to the pigs and chickens. They first went for the corn I put out, but by the day’s end, the fodder was gone.

Here are a couple of videos and a photo record of our results:

These are the nutrient measurements BEFORE sprouting. I know the protein content goes up from here, but I don't know how much yet.

These are the nutrient measurements BEFORE sprouting. I know the protein content goes up from here, but I don’t know how much yet.

More than quadrupled the weight in a week!

More than quadrupled the weight in a week!

It gets greener!

It gets greener!

The roots weave together to create a mat.

The roots weave together to create a mat.

It outgrew its container!

It outgrew its container!

Lessons Learned, and Future Plans…

  • I think our containers were too small, even for the one pound of seed. By Day 7, some seeds had still barely sprouted, and I think it’s because some of them got smothered by their brothers and sisters. We need a bigger growing surface. The growing trays are 12″x14″. For the one pound of seed, we probably should have had something like 16″x16″.
  • The holes in the trays worked for the first few days, but by Day 5, the root system was covering the holes to the point where the fodder was in standing water, which is not ideal. Solutions could be to always have the trays on a slight angle, or drill bigger holes for the trays that will hold the Day 5-7 seeds.
  • We’ve decided to rig up a system in the shower that will allow more space. We have some (water resistant) tileboard left over from another project, and are planning on using some schedule 40 pvc for the structure. We’ll get photos up once it’s done. The new surface will be approx. 24″x24″, nearly quadrupling the surface area for our growing. So we should be able to grow about 2-3 lbs of seed at a time. We can do this every day, as we’ll have 7 layers to the new setup, and so we should be generating upwards of 12 lbs of feed per day. That doesn’t quite meet our full farm feed needs, but it will definitely make a dent in our feed costs over time!
  • Ultimately, we’ll be at least quadrupling the weight of our barley, with minimal effort, generating high-quality, high-protein feed for our animals. This fodder is more nutrient-dense than cracked corn (at least in the protein realm). And if we quadruple the weight, we’ll be essentially getting 200 lbs of feed from a 50-lb bag of barley. So that’s $16 for 200lbs, which comes out to $0.08/lb. Exactly half of what we currently pay for cracked corn.
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50 Responses to Growing fodder for the homestead

  1. Sheila says:

    I also do this for wheat grass to juice. I use vegetable flats that have no holes in the bottom and put a one inch layer of organic dirt tamped down and then sow the sprouted grain on top and cover with another flat until it begins to push it up. After that I expose it to natural light and it begins to green up in a few short hours, it’s amazing to say the least to watch the whole process. I wish you much success in bringing wholesome feed to your animals.

    • So then are the wheat seeds in standing water?

      • Sheila says:

        No, at no time are the wheat seeds standing in water except for the initial soaking over night. After that I rinse them a couple times a day and after they have sprouted I then add them to the flats with the one inch of dirt that has been watered, but not drenched, and then I lightly spray a couple times a day. By lightly spraying as you mentioned you keep unwanted bacteria/mold from growing.

  2. You are expending a great deal of time and energy as well as cost on core material ( ie. barley). Your core concept is on track however cutting cost of feed and keeping it natural (organic) is important to both the pocket book and your long term concerns about GMO’s. I might suggest you look into aquaponic’s and growing duckweed as a fodder source. There is documentation on nutritional values.

    http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agap/frg/LRRD/LRRD7/1/3.HTM

    • Yeah, I’m familiar with duckweed, and meant to try it outside in a kiddie pool this year, but never got around to it.
      From what I gather, though, it will need plenteous sunlight, and you can’t raise as much in a small space, like our shower. And we don’t really have another place (or the money) to set up a full aquaponic system, since it’d have to be outside, which would mean a greenhouse and heating for our cold, Missouri winters. Correct me if I’m wrong about any of that, please.
      I do think I’ll try duckweed next spring, though. Maybe an outdoor, warm-weather fodder source.

      • Cassie says:

        A greenhouse in winter doesn’t need cost much it’s good planning.. Our clothes dryer vent on south-side house – most light in winter. Plus use to prevent pipe freeze winter as collect grey water the washer machine to a outdoor storage cistern for garden emergency drought watering. We did use a three shelf commercial rack covered in plastic at night ran dryer we permitted a very small upper vent -moisture the condensation temperature –water on the plastic another insulator.

        Back-up used a outdoor drop light with older style light bulb phased out now called rough use bulbs are the legal loop hole to still sell & manufacture for the use intended including chicken coops, crawl spaces to prevent busted water pipes in winter or etc as inefficiency factor they produce heat. other was grow some rotating kitchen garden in cover crop rotations other feed & forage (winter wheat or other green mulch cover crops for natural soil conditioner adding nutrients back till over & pest control) some heirloom cover crops are excellent forage for chickens helping boost pest control without pesticides.Two tricks move the birds on site a chicken tractor frame box cage with ground no wire cover partial tarp shade attach water dispenser large enough a few hens but small enough drag push to cover field the cage shelters them predators more rampant issue if avoid collecting in a coop at night on mild evenings summer/spring.

        I wish can still do the garden but recent disabled miss it. (oh all safe use homemade organic laundry detergent minimal use as used water softener filter to reduce both soap & water use as hard water reduces soap efficiency & require more water to rinse out) I used ingredients safe for organic level garden (homemade milk soap added calcium to the soil & so forth). … I miss the challenge recycle, the cost saver strategy and every thing thriving regardless the adversity.

  3. That’s really neat, and something completely new to a city kid like me :D

  4. Winston says:

    In days gone by, farmers fed other kinds of fodder. Grains came to the fore because of ease of mechanical processing, but before that roots were much more common and lower in cost so farmers grew roots for their stock which spend part of their time in a root cellar. If you grow pigs and chickens do some research on roots for feed.

    Years ago Michael Goc published on this topic in Countryside and Small Stock Journal. I suspect there is much more online.

    Winston

  5. Jean says:

    Definitely going to try this, buy the barley greens in powder form as a vitamin supplement, this is going to cost me much less!

  6. Shirley says:

    Growing mangle beets really help me feed my rabbits, chickens, and pigs. They can be stored in the root cellar or basement during the winter.

  7. Bruce Lynn says:

    Was the barley seed you bought and if so where did you buy it?

    • I bought it at a local feed store. Some sell it, some don’t. The place I got it is in Lebanon, MO, called Nutra-Ag.
      I strongly recommend SEED-grade barley, because it sprouts better than feed-grade (and, oddly, in this case, was cheaper)

      • Bruce Lynn says:

        Can you tell me what the cost was and what the size bag it comes in?

      • I got a 50-lb bag for like $14-something.
        That was the seed-grade.
        A 50-lb bag of the feed-grade was $16.
        I usually use about 2 lbs per day, so a 50-lb bag lasts me nearly a month.

      • Bruce Lynn says:

        Thank you for all of your replies. I only have one more question, I could not find a listing for Nutra-Ag in Lebanon, MO. What I found were:
        MFA Agri Services on 225 S Jefferson Ave,
        Hudson & Son’s Feed Seed & Fertilizer on 316 W Commercial St,
        MFA Feed Mill on 285 W Pierce St,
        Ag Feed Blenders Inc on 20756 Highway W, and
        Beard Feed & Grain Sales on18125 Highway 32.
        Could it be that one of these stores was selling a Nutra-Ag product?

      • Shoot, my bad! Nutra-Ag is the feed store I shop at in Eldon.
        It’s the MFA on Jefferson Ave. that sells feed-grade barley. You should call in advance… they sometimes have to order it (I think they rarely keep the seed-grade in stock), and then they’ll tell you what day it’ll come in. You should also call the day it’s supposed to come in, just to check. You know how it is…
        Happy to help.

  8. Bruce Lynn says:

    Correction to the above question. It should have read was the barley seed you bought organic, Non-GMO ….

    • Oh, whoops, already replied.
      Not organic. Don’t have that option locally.
      But yes non-GMO… because, as far as my research has revealed, there is not (yet) any such thing as GMO-barley.

  9. Charlene says:

    I am so proud of you! This is awesome. The sooner the better for dumping GMO corn. Excellent solution for your operation I think! What a blessing that not-so-great shower is becoming! Good luck with expanding your adventures! :)

  10. Cherrish Clark says:

    I have been interested in using fodder for a lil over a year now and your instructions are so helpful. I am interested to know about how much, after the 7 days, do you feed to the animals? I have a very small “farm” only 2 ducks, 3 roosters, 13 hens, and a pig (just a small girl now but will raise to about 250+ lb). Thank you for any info.

    • Well, my philosophy is give them all they want. I keep feed to a minimum for my chickens in the summer b/c I want them foraging. But I don’t think you can over-feed. I’d just base it on whatever volume of feed you’re giving them now. You maybe could reduce it some, b/c the fodder is pretty nutrient-dense, but I wouldn’t change it. The big benefit to the fodder is that it’s non-GMO, and very nutrient dense, and gives your animals some greens in the off-season. For your pig, if you have enough space to grow it, as far as I know you can feed her solely fodder. But we were only producing about 10 lbs of fodder per day (from 2lbs of seed), b/c of the limitations of our fodder system size. So when we were feeding 2 pigs, that wasn’t really sufficient.

  11. Danielle says:

    ok, I feel pretty stupid asking this, but I’m going to anyway (because I simply must know). So, you then feed the animals…. all of it (if that’s the case, I’m sure you’d cut/chop it up)? Or do you… shear off the top (like cutting grass) and feed it to them and then continue with the established roots?

    • Yes, you feed it all. No, don’t chop off the grass — give them all of it. Chickens love the seed part as well as the grass part. Cows and pigs just inhale it.
      You can lay it on the ground and use a razor to cut it into squares or strips. Sometimes I just pull it apart with my hands. If the roots are grown together too much, the chickens might not really be able to eat it well, so you need to pull it apart some; but cows/pigs eat it however you give it. If you chop/cut it into more bite-sized pieces, however, they will waste it less. On the other hand, whatever my cow wastes, my chickens clean up!

  12. FernOwl says:

    I saw something similar on another site that was using those cheap aluminum roaster pans like you might cook a turkey in for Thanksgiving. I found them at my local dollar store. I don’t have farm animals to feed, but we go through a lot of lettuce so I have a thin layer of dirt in the bottom and spread the seeds on top. Get ready for a salad, walk to the pan and cut off what you want, leave the rest to grow a little bigger. I’ve had no rust even on pans I’ve kept in use for a year now, so they should also work for what you are doing. They are cheaper than plastic and no worries about chemical seeping out of the plastic.

    • Bruce Lynn says:

      FernOwl I would be concerned about using aluminum given its possible links to Alzheimer’s disease. I would use a search engine like Google to research this. I realize that this could be difficult given that aluminum special interest would surely fight any research showing links between the two. I remember a paper I read in college where a company’s pesticides used on avacado plants was shown to be dangerous. I believe the company was Monsanto. The company then commissioned a study which used a reduced number of avocados consumed by a person in a year to show that their pesticide was safe. This is kind of like the study in Europe with Monsanto’s Roundup where rats started developing tumors after 3 months. Monsanto redid the study using a 2 month period. I trust Monsanto about as far as I could throw the statue of liberty.

    • polly says:

      only need to worry about the chems from the aluminum

  13. Beth P says:

    How many chickens are you feeding per pound of seed? We have 5 (may get 2 more) and I was just wondering how much they would be eating per day. Our chickens are not free range.

    • Honestly, I’m really not the best person to answer that. My chickens are free-ranging, so they scratch through my cow’s manure and peck for bugs (if the ground’s not frozen!), etc. Right now, I just feed all the fodder to my cow, and the chickens peck at all the little seeds/roots/blades she leaves behind. So I give my chickens regular feed — but that’s b/c my space for growing fodder is currently kinda limited.

    • Jesse says:

      If you’re raising chickens for meat, remember they gain 1lb for (roughly) every 2lbs (in dry matter, barley grains are about 89% dry matter) you feed them and your meat chicken should increase 50-55% in weight in the first 6 weeks. The only problem with feeding them just the barley is that chickens need their diet to contain at least 18% protein. Barley is only about 11% protein for chickens. Fortunately, chickens can utilize really cheap protein sources like bloodmeal or fishmeal! With cows and pigs, you have to be a little pickier about how you give them their protein. Fishmeal would also cover the lack of linoleic acid that you’re going to have a problem with feeding barley. Don’t feed them too much fishmeal, though, or they’ll taste… fishy. Layers will need to have calcium/phosphorus supplemented so maybe dust some dicalcium phosphate and limestone over your sprouts before you feed it to them. You should be able to get that from your local farmer’s Co op or any agricultural feedstore.

  14. Melissa says:

    This is a great idea! I do something like this for Wheat grass that I juice. (Except that I grow them in a tray with burlap, not dirt) We’ve been raising chickens for a few years now. And this will be super helpful when we get back into it.
    Question, I’m sure this would work with all sprouting grains? Like I have a birdseed that I feed wild birds with millet in it, and if that seed hits the ground it sprouts and takes over the yard. I know the nutritional value would be different. Just wondering if it would work in a pinch.

  15. KaD says:

    I grow sprouts at home for my own diet; the alfalfa/cabbage/clover/radish mix produces a SEVEN fold increase by volume. Sprouts are very nutrient dense because the moment the seeds burst into life they release their nutrients to help the plants grow-broccoli sprouts have FIFTY times the antioxidants of broccoli. After the first four or five days you can probably cut back to watering ONCE a day. Sprouts can be grown indoors all year long for fresh vegetables even in the winter. A wise choice for people, pets, and livestock.

    • KaD says:

      Make sure when you get seeds for this use they are *specifically* for sprouting. Regular seeds are many times treated with anti-fungal agents and other chemicals.

      • Brian says:

        You add anti-fungals as a chemical but if you don’t use an anti-fungal you will get mold and that will kill some farm animals …..I know I need more research ….but you need to study more as well …..

      • I use a little hydrogen peroxide in the water I soak it in (the 12-hour soak at the beginning). It’s not toxic.
        The biggest variable to control is TEMPERATURE. If you get above 75 degrees in the room where you’re sprouting, you’ll likely have mold growth — doesn’t matter how much hydrogen peroxide you use. I learned that the hard way. Then you have to scour everything to get rid of the mold.
        And though a LITTLE mold won’t hurt a chicken or cow (as far as I know), it CAN hurt/kill goats. Frankly, I think pigs probably like it… :)
        Point is, the best way to avoid it (from my experience) is to presoak in water with hydrogen peroxide, and then keep the room between 65-70 degrees (F). Within a week, you should have good fodder, with a 5-fold increase in volume, with little to no mold.

  16. Ron says:

    ive seen nice fodder setups on the Farm Tek pages. Lots of info and ideas from just reading a few pages. I dont work for them or anything.

  17. David in eastern Oregon says:

    what a great article you have wrote. you have a new subscriber my friend

  18. Chief says:

    This is a great way to create protein for livestock. I give my ponies oats to supplement hay in the winter and that can be expensive over time. I will have to try this out. I am setting up a small indoor hydroponic system in a south window for lettuce and herbs. Harbor Freight has a tubing kit and pumps to help this along. BTW – Barley is the base grain for most beer. That is why beer is called liquid bread. High nutritional value.

  19. Pingback: Homestead Chicken Feed - Rural North Carolina

  20. Candice says:

    So im curious, would amaranth work? And I would think in the long run it would be more cost effective to grow your own plants and take the grains and save them to use for sprouting, kind of like the circle of life lol. I only have ducks right now but I do plan on getting chickens in the future. I think this would be a great way to feed your animals and keep them healthy without breaking the bank.

  21. melissa says:

    I live in nc and have not foynd a source for barley seed..where did u find urs?

    • Just at a local feed store here. I know that’s not much help to you… but I’d advise you to call around to feed stores and check.

    • Rick says:

      Where in NC are you Melissa? There is a local feed mill in Fallston that we get our wheat and barley from for our fodder. They only carry feed grade but you can get it for $10 per 50lb sack.

    • Beth P says:

      I believe that Countryside Organics carries Barley. You can check on their website for a distributor near you.

  22. Brian says:

    Seems like the best source for seed would be the farmer …..drive out in the country and meet some …..most of us are pretty friendly in the daytime …..

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