Most folks are familiar with sprouts used for human consumption. Alfalfa sprouts are commonly used in salads and sandwiches, while wheat sprouts are used in juicing to make nutritious wheatgrass shots. But what many people might not realize is how livestock and other animals can benefit from this concept as well. When grown on a large scale, sprouted grain makes excellent fodder (feed that is brought to an animal instead of foraged for themselves). Known as sprouted fodder systems, the practice has been gaining popularity as livestock owners have discovered the advantages it offers. Higher nutritional value, decreased water use, lower feed costs, no need for fertilizers or other chemicals, year round production and the ability to provide fresh feed in a very small area have all made sprouted fodder systems appealing.
Sprouting Grain for Fodder
Sprouting grain for fodder is a relatively simple process. While the most common, and easiest, grain to use in sprouted fodder systems is barley, other grains such as wheatgrass and oats can be used. Basically, a sprouted fodder system is the process of growing a grain such as barley in shallow trays. Using only water, the seeds sprout and form a dense green mat of shoots and roots. After 6-7 days, the fodder is ready to be fed to livestock. Sprouted fodder is very digestible and can be fed to animals of all kinds. Cows, horses, goats and sheep all the way down to pigs, rabbits and chickens find fresh sprouted fodder extremely palatable. When planted in multiple trays on a rotational schedule, a continuous supply of sprouted fodder can be harvested every day.
How to Begin a Sprouted Fodder System
To begin first obtain the desired grain. Barley, wheatgrass, and other seeds are available from Nature's Seed. Typically, two pounds of barley grains will produce around 12-15 pounds of fodder or more. Soak the grain in cool water for at least 12 hours, then drain and spread the grain evenly into shallow trays. The damp grain should be spread no more than ½ inch deep, and make sure the trays have drain holes. Place the trays in an area with a temperature range of 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit that also receives plenty of light. While the seeds don’t need any light to sprout, they will need light during the last few days. Greenhouses work well, although a room in your house with large windows works fine too. Large-scale sprouted fodder systems will use fluorescent lights which are available at most plant nurseries and garden centers. Water the trays a few times a day to keep the grain moist. After six days, or when the shoots are six inches tall, the fodder is ready and can be either fed whole or chopped into pieces. Everything can be eaten by your animals— roots, shoots and all.
Consult Your Veterinarian
Sprouted fodder is an excellent way to get the most value out of a grain seed. Crude protein levels increase as the grain sprouts, as well as fiber content and digestibility. While sprouted fodder does have its benefits, it’s important to consult a veterinarian when considering it for feed. Sprouted fodder often needs to be supplemented with dry roughage (hay and straw) and minerals depending on the animal. Sprouted fodder systems also need to be monitored for mold growth.
*Not for human consumption