Did you know that you can easily grow chicken fodder in just 7 days? Heck yes! Chicken fodder is an amazing way to multiply your feed inexpensively, while also providing fresh greens for your chickens in the winter. No soil or fertilizer is even needed!
I’ve been growing chicken fodder for many years now and perfecting my methods along the way. Having the right setup and choosing the right grain is key to being successful. I can’t wait to share all my of secrets to success with you!
Let’s dive in!
What is chicken fodder?
Chicken fodder is fodder that is grown for chickens! What is fodder, though? It’s simply soaked and sprouted whole grain that is grown hydroponically over a 7-day period indoors. No soil is needed! The most common grain used is wheat, barley, oats, or rye.
This method of soaking and sprouting unlocks the grains’ nutrients, producing higher-quality feed for less money. If you’ve heard of nutrient-dense microgreens before, chicken fodder is a very similar product!
Plus, there’s nothing better than being able to provide fresh greens for your chickens in the middle of winter. They absolutely love it and it makes my dietitian’s heart sing to watch them enjoy their greens during a blizzard.
Benefits of chicken fodder
There are so many benefits to growing chicken fodder for your flock! It’s quickly becoming a popular method of feeding and you’ll see why in the discussion below. While fodder is typically grown in the winter while fresh greens are scarce, they can certainly be grown year-round!
Save money on feed
Feed prices have increased by 14.2% in 2022 alone, so anytime I can save some money on chicken feed is a big win in my book. After just 7 days, a 1 lb batch of whole wheat turns into 4 lbs of chicken fodder. That means you can obtain 200 lbs of chicken fodder from one 50 lb bag of wheat grain!
But, isn’t there a lot of costs involved in growing fodder? Nope! Growing fodder requires minimal equipment and it’s all reusable, so there’s little investment involved.
Improve nutrition & digestibility
Typical chicken feed blends contain raw grains, which the chickens can digest to a point, but some of the nutrients are still locked up. By soaking and sprouting the grains, each grain becomes alive, easily digestible, and bursting with bioavailable nutrients.
A 2021 study found that sprouted barley has 38.6% more protein, 50.2% more fat, and 245% more total soluble carbohydrates compared to raw barley. The starch content was noted to rapidly decline as enzymes break down the starch into utilizable sugars for growth. So cool!
The University of Minnesota conducted a study on feeding barley fodder to dairy cows and found that those fed fodder had a higher omega 3 to omega 6 ratio than those who were not. More omega 3s = less inflammatory.
Fresh greens in the winter = darker yolks!
If you’ve been missing those dark orange summer yolks, give fodder a try! Carotenoids are the compound that gives those yolks the dark color that we all love, and fodder is loaded with them! Wheat has an especially high carotenoid content when the greens are present.
Chickens are natural foragers and they love scratching around for any tasty morsels. In the winter, foraging activity comes to a grinding halt. I love watching my chickens perk up and get busy when I bring out their morning fodder.
This applies not only to your flock but to you, too! Gardening is associated with reductions in depression, anxiety, and BMI, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community (Soga, 2017). Beat the winter blues by growing some chicken fodder!
The Best Grain to Use for Chicken Fodder
You can technically use just about any raw, edible grain, seed, or legume out there and sprout them for chicken fodder. However, there are a few classics out there that work the best for chickens.
The 4 best options for chicken fodder:
- Wheat – This is what I use and have had the most success with. Also, provides the most protein (U of M).
- Barley – Another very common grain used for fodder and provides the most antioxidants (Qamar, 2018).
- Oats – Harder to find, but works well. Provides the highest dry matter yield (U of M)
- Rye – Harder to find, but grows nice fodder.
Where can I find the right grain to grow chicken fodder?
This was one of the hardest steps for me when I first started growing chicken fodder. I had some grain that never sprouted. I overpaid. Some turned moldy. I wasted a lot of money on the wrong stuff. Learn from my mistakes!
Here’s what to look for:
- Whole, raw grain – Don’t use grain that has been cracked, milled or heat-treated in any way. These will not sprout
- Organic – Avoid any seed that she been treated with a fungicide, herbicide, or pesticide. Often farm crop and garden seeds are, so steer clear from these!
- Bulk – Finding organic, whole grains can be expensive. A bulk source like Azure Standard will help you save a lot of money! I purchase 50 lb bags.
Where to find it:
- Azure standard – Azure Standard is my favorite source for organic, bulk goods (including wheat fodder grain)! I buy most of our bulk goods here from dried beans and rice to coconut milk and gluten-free pasta.
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
Azure Standard offers the best bulk pricing when it comes to nearly everything, including organic chicken wheat for fodder! This is what I've been using for my flock. Currently $22.87 per 50 lbs. *Search "Azure Market Organics Chicken Wheat" to bring up the product.
- Organic Seed Stores – High Mowing Seeds and True Leaf Market offer some bulk organic grain as well. It’s a bit pricier than Azure Standard, but still a great option. Just type “wheat” in the search bar and some options should pop up!
- Your local feed mill or farm supply – I was able to find 50 lb bags for about $12 at my local farm supply store, however, it is all conventionally grown and often sprayed with glyphosate. No thanks! It’s rare to find organic grain at these types of locations.
- CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) – Some CSAs will offer organic bulk grain. This is a great way to buy and support local.
- Amazon – If you’re coming up short with the options above, Amazon offers a good product, but it’s not cheap ($16 for 5 lbs). This might also be a good choice if you only have a small flock and don’t want to commit to a 50 lb bag.
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
Need a quick and easy option to get growing right away? Check out this organic wheat seed by PowerGrow! They guarantee it to sprout. The wheat is grown, harvested, packed, and shipped in the USA.
How much grain do I need?
This is the golden question! I’ve found that starting with ~8 oz (1 cup) of dry wheat is perfect for 10-15 chickens on a daily basis. Once that wheat sprouts into fodder, it’ll be 4x heavier (2 lbs instead of 8oz). We’ll talk about this in more detail later, too, so keep reading!
How to Grow Chicken Fodder
Now that you know all about what fodder is and how amazing it is, let’s get growing!
Location for the chicken fodder system
Growing fodder can be a little messy, so I recommend placing your fodder system in an area that can handle moisture. I started in our kitchen with linoleum flooring and that worked great! An unfinished basement or tile flooring would be great, too. I would avoid carpet or hardwood floors.
My current setup is located in the bathroom of our heated shop. It has concrete flooring, a large basin work sink, and a drain in the middle of the floor. Now I no longer need collection trays underneath and the runoff can simply go straight down the drain. Super slick!
A window is preferred, but completely optional. My current set-up in our shop bathroom has zero windows, actually! That just means I need to use a small grow light over the day 6-7 trays to help them green up at the end. No big deal!
The ambient room temperature will greatly affect how fast or slow your chicken fodder grows; 60-70 degrees is ideal for fodder. Warmer than that, and you run the risk of mold growth. Colder than that, and the fodder may take closer to 9-10 days to finish.
Supplies needed for a chicken fodder system
Growing chicken fodder is pretty darn simple! You just need a few key things and these supplies can be used over and over. It’s just a 1-time investment to get set up and you’ll be good to go.
First, we need some sort of structure to hold your fodder-growing trays. This can vary quite a bit depending on your flock’s needs. The size of your shelf completely depends on how much fodder you plan to grow.
If you have a small flock and plan to grow in empty Tupperware or sour cream containers, a basic shelf will do. I like the setup below because it includes the trays and everything!
- If you have a small flock (5-12 chickens), I would buy one set and feed 1/4-1/2 tray per day
- If you have a medium-sized flock (12-25 chickens), I would buy two sets and feed 1 tray per day
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
Easy to assemble, all-in-one fodder growing unit! An excellent choice for a small or medium flock. BPA free and comes with a bonus spray bottle.
I have 40+ chickens, so I feed an entire 10×20 tray of fodder daily it takes ~7 days to grow, so I need a shelf that can accommodate 7-8 trays of that size. Most shelves are fairly narrow (15”) and the 10×20 trays are 20” long, so keep that in mind when shelf shopping! Below is the shelf that I’ve been using.
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
This is the same shelving unit that I've been using the past few years to grow chicken fodder. Easy to assemble and the perfect size to fit 10x20 trays in lengthwise.
#2 Trays with drilled holes on the end
If you are starting your system from scratch (rather than a pre-made fodder system), you’re going to need some growing trays. My favorite trays are from True Leaf Market. They are sturdy and will hold up to the weight of the fodder well. If you desire smaller trays, they offer those, too.
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
High-quality, large 10x20 growing trays. Perfect for growing chicken fodder! On the off season, you can use them to grow your seedlings for your garden. A win-win!
Once you have your trays, it’s time to drill a set of holes at one end for drainage. A 3/32 drill bit has worked well for me – just big enough to allow for proper drainage without the grains clogging the holes.
We will be propping up the non-hole end of the trays so that it’ll drain beautifully into the tray below in a zig-zag pattern. I’ve found this way of drainage to be far superior to drilling holes throughout the whole tray and having them lay flat.
#3 Water source
You’ll need to water your fodder at least twice per day, so a water source is essential. For years, I just used a garden watering can while my fodder system was in the house. Now that my system is in the shop bathroom, I have access to a water source. I use a flexible hose with a garden sprayer attachment. It works really well!
*Some people get fancy by installing a fish tank pump to automatically water for them, but I’ve never gone so far as to try this. I don’t mind watering them twice per day!
#4 Bottom collection tray (optional)
If you don’t have a floor drain underneath your fodder station, you’ll need some sort of a collection tray to catch the runoff. This could be as simple as some sheet pans, baking pans, or basic litter boxes. Whatever is big enough to catch the drips from your fodder trays.
*Make sure they are sturdy because they get heavy and can slosh around while you’re carrying them.
#5 Grow light (optional)
If you have a window nearby, that’s great and likely all the light that you’ll need. Fodder has very low light requirements. You can technically grow them completely in the dark, but they won’t green up very much.
If you are growing them in a dark location like a garage, basement, or bathroom, I recommend a small grow light on a timer. All of the trays don’t need a grow light, just the trays that are finishing to help them green up. Make sure that the lights stay out of the way of the trays dripping!
The Homesteading RD's Product Picks
These are the same grow lights that I use for growing fodder and they work great! With the flexible arms you can adjust their position to keep them out of the way of the dripping trays.
You’ll need 2 different kinds of buckets: a smaller one for soaking the grain and a larger one for carrying out the finished fodder. You could carry out the mat of fodder by hand. However, they can be a bit damp, so carrying them by hand on a -20 degree day isn’t always ideal.
#7 Miscellaneous tools
- Measuring cup – to measure your dry fodder grain for soaking
- Skimmer – for collecting any floating (non-viable) grain during soaking
- Putty Knife – for spreading the soaked fodder grain evenly in the trays
- Spray bottle – with diluted bleach (1:10 ratio) to sanitize the buckets and trays
Steps for growing chicken fodder
Alright, now that you have all of your supplies ready, let’s get to the fun part – growing that chicken fodder!
Step #1: Soak the grain
First, we start by soaking the grain to get the process going. Measure out the proper amount of seed, add to a clean bucket and cover with at least 2-3″ of cool water. The grains will swell as they soak, so don’t skimp on the water! Let soak for 12-24 hours. I usually do 24 hours for simplicity. Once one batch is done soaking, I rinse out the bucket and immediately start the next batch.
You might notice some chaff or grain seeds floating. I usually skim these off and toss them in the trash or compost pile. They won’t sprout anyway.
The amount of grain that you’ll need will depend on the size of your growing trays. I use 10×20 trays and a rounded 4 cups seems perfect for me. If your trays are half that size, try a rounded 2 cups.
Basically, you just want your soaked grains to end up as a 1/2″ layer in your growing trays. It might take a few adjustments to get it just right.
Step #2: Drain and rinse the grain
Once the grain has soaked for 12-24 hours, give them a rinse. I just give them a swirl in the bucket, pour out as much of the liquid as I can, refill the bucket with clean water, swirl again and pour out that liquid.
Step #3: Spread evenly into the growing tray
Step #4: Move to the shelf and prop up one end
Place your growing tray onto your growing shelf (anywhere is fine except for the “finishing location” if you’re using grow lights). Prop up one end, making sure that the holes are on the downward slope end for drainage. I just use a small piece of wood to achieve this. Anything you have laying around will do.
If you really want to get scientific about it, a 2020 study found that a 6.5% slope performs the best.
Watch your trays and make sure that the holes you drilled are doing a good job. You want the trays to fully drain. If you have any standing water, you’ll risk mold growth.
Step#5: Water twice daily
The grains will dry out quickly, so watering twice per day (minimum) is important. Figure out a rhythm that works well for you and stick with it – before & after work, after breakfast & dinner, etc. If you notice that the grains are drying out between waterings, you might need to water them 3 times a day.
*If you’re using my zig-zag watering method, you can probably get away with just watering the top trays and letting the rest trickle down. However, I’ve noticed that I have slightly better results when I directly water all of the trays. Be gentle with watering so that you don’t disturb the seeds too much.
Step #6: Move tray to the grow light for days 6 and 7
Once the tray has made it to the final stages (it should have at least 1″ of top growth by now), it’s time to move it to the shelf with grow lights to get it to green up. If you have access to windows, you don’t need grow light and can skip this step.
Step#7: Feed your chickens!
Once the fodder is fully complete, 1.5″ tall, and beautifully green, it’s time to bring it out to the chickens! The fodder should have a thick mat of roots by now and be easy to pull out of the growing tray as one unit. Be careful not to let the fodder grow too long, as that can increase the risk of crop impaction.
I like to fold the entire fodder mat in half so that it fits in my 20-quart bucket.
Step #8: Sanitize the growing trays and bucket
Mold growth is the main complication when growing chicken fodder, so proper sanitization is key. I’m not a big fan of bleach for most things, but I’ve had enough run-ins with moldy fodder that I find it a necessary evil. A good mixture is 4 tsp of bleach per quart of water in a spray bottle (source: CDC).
Want to watch me make fodder? Check my reel out on Instagram!
How to Feed Your Chickens Fodder
Once out at the coop, I tear the fodder mat into multiple pieces and toss them around so that everyone gets some to enjoy. It’s all usually gone within the hour! Make sure that you are providing grit so that your chickens can properly digest the fodder.
Don’t mix it directly into their feed! Fodder has a high moisture content and will quickly lead to mold growth in your feed if you do that.
How much fodder should you feed your chickens?
While I provide some guidelines, please do your own research and monitor your flock. Fodder is not a complete nutrition source for poultry and should only be used as a feed supplement. A general rule of thumb is to provide 2-3% of their body weight in finished fodder (which is 4x heavier than dry, raw rain).
I’ve found that a daily 10×20 tray full of fodder (made from ~4 cups of dry wheat) is about perfect for my flock of 40-50 chickens.
FAQ About Growing Chicken Fodder
Still unsure about a few things? Let’s tackle some common questions that I get about growing chicken fodder.
My chicken fodder is moldy, what should I do?
Mold is the most common complication when growing fodder. If you’re struggling with mold growth, consider the following:
- Rinse the seed with hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or bleach before soaking – I never do this, but this step could be considered if you’re having a lot of mold issues
- Sanitize the trays between rounds – Always do this!
- Try a different seed provider – Since switching to “Azure Market Organics Chicken Wheat” at Azure Standard, I haven’t had a moldy batch yet! Great stuff.
- Increase airflow by setting up a fan – Monitor your seeds to make sure they don’t dry out if you add a fan.
- Use clean, cool water to water the fodder daily – Don’t reuse the water that drains out the bottom of your fodder station.
- Make sure the trays are draining completely – Standing water = mold growth.
My fodder is growing very slowly, what’s wrong?
There are 3 main things that fodder needs to grow appropriately: the right temperature, a little bit of light and absence of mold/disease.
- Temperature: 60-70 degrees is ideal. I’ve grown fodder in the 50’s and it works, it just takes a few days longer.
- Light: fodder grows great for the first 5 days without any light, but then it stalls out. Make sure that you’re providing a grow light to the finishing trays or growing near a window.
- Mold: Oh the dreaded mold growing in your fodder. It happens to all of us. Make sure you’re sanitizing your equipment, using clean grain, watering/rinsing regularly, and ensuring proper drainage.
Can I grow fodder outside?
Yes, you can technically grow fodder outside. However, it is most often grown in the winter, making outdoor growing a non-option if you live in a cold climate like me. Fodder is also more prone to drying out and being consumed by other critters if it is left outdoors. Most people grow fodder indoors for these reasons.
Can other types of livestock eat fodder?
Absolutely! Chickens aren’t the only ones who love fodder. You can feed fodder to horses, beef and dairy cows, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, and alpacas.
Here are some guidelines provided by Mother Earth News regarding dosing, but please do your own research and monitor your flock for adequacy. Remember that ruminants still need hay for roughage.
- Horses: 2-3% of their body weight in fodder, plus 1.5% body weight in dry hay
- Beef cows: 2-3% of their body weight in fodder, plus barley straw ration
- Dairy cows: 3-5% of their body weight in fodder, plus barley straw ration
- Sheep: 2-3% of their body weight in fodder, plus hay ration
- Goats: 2-3% of their body weight in fodder, plus mineral and hay rations
- Dairy goats: 3-5% of their body weight in fodder, plus mineral and hay rations
- Pigs: 2-3% of their body weight
- Rabbits: 3-5% of their body weight in fodder, plus grit and calcium supplements
- Alpacas: 2-3% of their body weight in fodder, plus hay rations
Can meat chickens eat fodder?
Yes, you can feed meat chickens fodder. In fact, research has shown that broilers fed fodder have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and higher HDL (good cholesterol) levels compared to those fed commercial feed.
*I personally do not because we raise pastured red rangers in the summer, which means they are on fresh greens all day. No need for supplemental fodder.
How do I keep mice out of my fodder?
This was a big problem for me when I was growing fodder in our house basement. I would find large chunks of fodder completely missing by morning.
Mouse traps helped a bit, but the best solution I’ve found is to keep your fodder in a location that your cats can patrol. Since moving my fodder to our shop where our 3 cats live, I’ve had zero issues with mice!
Other Articles You’ll Love
- 5 Protein Sources for Chickens (Especially While Molting!)
- Can Chickens Eat Blackberries? Are They Safe?
- Ultimate Guide to Chicken Nesting Box Size
Chicken fodder has been a dependable source of highly-utilizable nutrition for my flock for many years. Once the fodder station is set up, the whole process is a breeze! I only spend about 5 minutes a day on it and I love watching my flock enjoy their fresh greens daily.
Are you a first-time chicken keeper? Or maybe you don’t even have chickens yet? Definitely check out my ultimate resource How to Care for Chickens: A Beginners Guide.
*Information in this article was referenced from personal experience and/or from my favorite chicken book Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens unless otherwise noted.
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