We are just a couple of days into the new year and everyone is thinking about their goals for this upcoming year. My goal is what it has been for the past few years. My goal is to continue to strive for self-sufficiency. I’m going to tell you about my newest project. With the high cost of feed for my animals and the reality that purchasing my feed from the store does not make me self-sufficient, I decided to learn more about growing fodder.
What is fodder? Fodder is sprouted grain and legume seeds, grown as highly nutritious, yet cost effective livestock feed. It is grown in trays with no growing medium to produce a “sprout mat” that is completely edible and highly nutritious as it is a living food as opposed to just grain or seeds. It is ready to feed in 6-9 days. The animals will eat the entire mat, roots and green growth, so there is no waste. A pound of grain will produce anywhere from 6-10lbs of green food.
Now that we know what it is, let’s talk about how to get started. I looked at several set ups online and found there were some I could purchase. However, as you may have noticed already, I’m kind of a cheapskate. I did not want to put a lot of money in to saving money. I know that sometimes purchases are necessary, but, I also know that I often have things around my house and property that could work. This is one of those times. You may not have the things that I had but you have some things so keep your mind open and be willing to improvise. Don’t get stuck on doing it exactly as I have. Just go with the basic idea and think outside the box. If you don’t have anything that would work, by all means, buy what you need, but open your eyes and your mind first to make sure. Always doing this will save you a ton of money.
Also, I should mention, I have been told barley is the easiest to start with but I started with wheat. Why? I came into about 50lbs of free wheat. Remember, I mentioned I was a cheapskate? I figured it was better to experiment with free resources. If it was an epic failure, nothing was lost but time and effort. I discovered that wheat isn’t tough to grow either.
Now, for supplies. I started with a small greenhouse I use to start spring plants in, black seed trays with lids I found on clearance at the end of the last garden season and two plastic tubs that I once used for foot soaks in another life when I had time for that sort of thing. And, of course, my wheat. If your trays don’t already have holes in them, you will want to drill holes in the bottom for drainage. You will also want to drill holes in the bottom of one of the tubs for the same purpose. Leave one of the tubs intact as it will be used for soaking and it’s tough to keep water in a tub with holes in it.
Here is a picture of my set up.
I started by soaking my wheat. A good rule of thumb is a pound of grain for each tray. A pound of wheat fills up a quart jar so I use that as a scoop. You want measure your wheat into the tub with holes in it. How much you measure will depend on how many trays you want to start. I started with three so I measured three quarts of wheat. Rinse your wheat well. You will then want to stack your tub with holes inside of the tub without holes and add water until the level is twice as high as the wheat. Let the wheat soak for at least 12 hours. I leave mine overnight.
In the morning, I lift the inner tub out of the outer tub and let it set in the sink to drain. By this time my wheat has begun to sprout. This is day one.
After the water has drained, I put the tub without holes on top of the wheat and push down to lightly pack it. This mimics soil and I find doing this causes faster growth. This is all I do the first day.
On day two, I water. I use hydroponic technique called flood and drain. I fill the tub so the water completely covers the wheat and then let it drain out. Once the water drains, I replace the tub on top. This is day two.
On the morning of the third day I water again. Once the water has drained, I transfer the wheat to the sprouting trays. A good rule of thumb is to fill the trays about 3/4 of an inch deep. If it is shallower it dries out quicker. If it’s deeper it holds too much moisture and grows mold. This is day three.
From here on out, you will just need to water daily. Twice a day if you are in a particularly dry climate. You can add dome lids to help hold in moisture if needed. Moisture is one of those things you will have to figure out for yourself. It may change daily depending on weather. You will get the hang of it.
This is day four.
Additional view of the bottom of the mat.
Some times my mats are ready to feed in six days. Sometimes it takes as long as nine. This depends on factors like humidity and temperature. When your mats are at the stage you like, they are ready to feed to your animals. I have found that my chickens like the mat left whole whereas my goats prefer it to be cut into small chunks. This is done easily with a knife. However they get it, they devour it all. It took them a couple of days to adjust as neither chickens nor goats embrace change well so, don’t be discouraged if your animals turn their noses up at it initially.
Once you have the process figured out, you can add more trays to suit your needs. Currently I have added a second shelving system and have three soaking tubs rotating along with 18-20 trays growing at a time. My goal is to grow enough that I won’t have to supplement with store bought feed. For now, I am happy just to have cut the monthly feed bill in half.