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HOMEGROWN Life: What the Fodder?! The Latest in Cheap and Easy Livestock Feed



Have you seen the latest big craze in animal feed? Livestock fodder from grain seed takes only about a week to grow and increases your feed by up to six times in weight. (So far, I’ve seen five but I hear six is possible.) It’s highly nutritious and provides 20 percent protein by dry weight. You can feed it to poultry, rabbits, ruminants, horses—just about any grass-loving livestock around.

When my friend Brande first told me about it, I wasn’t so sure. I had heard great things about it but had only seen these huge, incredibly expensive setups for large livestock operations. I hadn’t even thought it was possible to do fodder without one of those setups.


Gathering round.

What in the hell was I thinking? Nowadays everything can be done DIY, so why not fodder? It would just require a bit more labor on my part.

There are really only three things you absolutely have to have: seed, water, and planting trays with drainage holes. There’s no need for soil or fertilizer. Because we have a mild climate, I’m just growing mine outside on a table. The best seed to use is barley, as it has the highest nutrition and protein of all the grain seeds. I can get an 80-pound bag of barley for just over $18. You can try to find hulled barley, but unhulled seems to work fine. When watering, I recapture the drainage water to reuse.


Cleaned barley with hulls intact (unhulled).

Before you start making your fodder, you need to soak the barley for six to eight hours in water. This degrades germination inhibitors in the seeds (also why you should soak peas and legumes before planting). You only want to put about half an inch of barley in your tray. It really does swell up, and I found that, with 3 pounds of barley, the tray was busting at the walls. You want to cover the barley with enough water so that it remains covered when it expands.

Soaking barley in a bucket.

Soaking barley in a bucket.

Once your barley is done soaking, pour the seed and water into your tray and rinse the seed. To help encourage germination, cover your tray so that it remains dark. I just use a burlap sack. The photo above shows the barley one day after soaking. Small root tips are beginning to show up at the ends of the seed.

Day 1: Just starting to germinate.

Day 1: Just starting to germinate.

Water your seed two to three times a day. You want to keep it from drying out too much. By the second day after soaking, you’ll start to see more of the roots.

Day 2: At this point, you’ll begin to see the seeds expand in size.

Day 2: At this point, you’ll begin to see the seeds expand in size.

The third day after soaking, small bits of green will poke their heads out of the layer of seeds and roots. This green stuff will soon be growing so fast you can almost see it lengthen. At this point, you’ll want to uncover your fodder to help the grass blades develop chlorophyll and energy.


Day 3: Time to uncover the seed so that it gets light.

On the fourth day after soaking, you’ll see the beginning of a nice little green carpet. It’s not much yet, but the following day you’ll be amazed.

Day 4: A nice green layer is beginning to form.

Day 4: A nice green layer is beginning to form.

Day 5, and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

Day 5: Day 5, and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

Day 5: Once it reaches this point, it grows quickly.

By day 6, you’re almost ready to feed it. Supposedly this is when the grass’s nutrition begins to peak.

Day 6: From day 6 to day 7, the fodder is at its most nutritious.

Day 6: From day 6 to day 7, the fodder is at its most nutritious.

On day 7, it’s time to feed your animals. You can see the awesome layers of roots, seed, and grass in the photo below. Poultry and ruminants will consume all of these parts. Rabbits generally only like the greens.

Roots, seed, and leaf in one tidy package.

Roots, seed, and leaf in one tidy package.

I started with 3 pounds of seed and produced nearly 15 pounds of fodder. It took my hens a couple of days to eat one tray’s worth. If you start a new tray every day or every couple of days, you’ll have a constant supply of fodder to feed your brood.

HOMEGROWN Life blog: Rachel, of Dog Island Farm

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with my husband, I run Dog Island Farm, in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard, I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


10 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Life: What the Fodder?! The Latest in Cheap and Easy Livestock Feed”

  1. Have you fed this to poultry long term yet? Any issues?
    This looks like a GREAT idea!

  2. Marty, no issues other than the roots are the last part to get eaten. I know some people that feed this almost exclusively to their ruminants but I don’t think it can be done with poultry since they need more grains in their diet. If you can’t pasture, this is the next best thing.

  3. I would love to do this for my animals. Is barley GMO now?

  4. No, barley is not GMO.

  5. We’ve been doing this for our chickens for a while. We had problems with mold, but spraying the sprouts just after each rinse with water mixed with tea tree oil seems to help quite a bit. That said, our layers didn’t seem to like the big sprouts much. They would pick out the remaining seeds, ignore the sprouts, and clamor for more food. So although it results in much less product per pound of seed, we started feeding the sprouts after just a couple days. Not only does this eliminate the mold problem, the chickens eat it all with gusto. From 18 hens fed our sprouts and various occasional minerals (crushed shells, salt, kelp meal, grit, etc.) we get about 10 eggs a day. I haven’t tried them on commercial layer feed for long enough to know what difference it would make for their laying, so I can’t compare economics, but I do know our sprouts, which we make mostly from wheat we grew last year, are plenty cheap.

  6. Someone sent me a link about this just yesterday. It seems to be going around, and seems like a great idea.

    But if your chickens free-range, as ours do, I wonder if they wouldn’t get the same kind of forage without us having to make it for them. We supplement their free range foraging with a non-GMO laying mash, which is very expensive. If eating this reduces their consumption of that, that would be a good thing. We’re going to give this a try.

  7. so this is where you are! great post. i hope to do this in earnest this summer. i had read that sprouting increased protein, but i didn’t know it was all the way to 20%, wow! thats’ awesome!
    now, can you tell me whether sprouting whole feed peas will make them digestible for ducks?

  8. Lisa Cotter Says:

    Had found this post orginally on your Dog Island Farm blog and I was trying to share it with someone on facebook that wanted to know how to grow fodder and I couldn’t find it there. Is there a reason it isn’t available on your Dog Island Farm site?

  9. there is a mold on my barley fodder,especially in the roots,how i can attend
    this issue,really is a broblem.
    thanks to all

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