I don't know about your chickens, but our chickens eat A TON. It gets expensive. We would like to free range them, but we have far too many predators and much too big a space to do that without losing all our chickens. We actually experimented with free ranging our guineas and well...we have about half our flock left. (Actually a group of guinea fowl are called a "confusion" or so I read.) So today I wanted to share our experience growing fodder for our chickens plus a few tips.
We started growing fodder last year and the plan was to grow enough fodder to give them a flat of sprouts every other day or so, in hopes that it would reduce the amount of complete feed we were giving them. I sort of bailed after a few weeks. Life gets busy. We did learn a few things, though, and I plan to try this again more consistently this year. I really enjoy feeding the chickens something green during the winter months when there aren't many bugs out or green grass growing.
Principles of Growing Fodder:
1. Obtain any sprouting grain: wheat, barley, oats, sunflower seeds, alfalfa, lentils, clover, mung beans, and soybeans are some examples. We used oats last year that we purchased from our local farm store like Orscheln's or Tractor Supply.
2. Soak your sprouting grain overnight (8-12 hours). Soaking too long can make it ferment. ***Add a little bleach or hydrogen peroxide to the soaking water to kill mold spores. Don't skip this step! Add 3 Tablespoons bleach to 2.5 gallons water or 2-3 teaspoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water. You don't want to feed moldy fodder to your animals. We had a huge issue with mold until we started adding this step. We had essentially no mold growth afterwards.
3. Drain all the water and spread your grains onto any flat surface that has adequate drainage. Anything will do really. We bought the large disposable aluminum pans from Walmart. They come with a lid. We poked holes in the bottom for drainage and then sat the lid underneath. You need something to prop up your aluminum pan to keep it out of the water that drains out onto the lid. We used some fat, flat rocks we found lying around outside. I mean we're doing this to save money people.
4. Keep sprouts around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the growing cycle. Don't put the fodder trays by a cool, drafty window for light. This could contribute to mold growth. They do just fine with ambient light (the normal light in your home from light bulbs). Grow lights could be helpful for growing fodder faster, but it isn't absolutely necessary.
5. Spritz the sprouts a few times per day with cool or lukewarm water. Ensure adequate drainage is happening.
6. Feed the fodder about 3-7 days after starting this process! Some chickens (or other animals) may like more of a grass mat or less of a grass mat. You'll just have to experiment with your animals to see what they like best to know how long to grow the sprouts.
That's it! It isn't a super difficult process, but it can take a little bit of practice to get it just right. Let us know what your experience has been and what your favorite sprouting grain to use is!