Buying grain is one of the few ongoing expenses for Ligaya Garden. Of course, that excludes utility bills and petrol and the like. We don’t mind paying for grain so much, it’s important for the health and happiness of the chickens but we have found several ways to cut down on the amount that we have to buy and, hopefully make our girls happier and healthier with a more varied diet.
We have four main solutions to reducing the amount of grain our girls eat – sprouting grains, fermenting the grains, importing feeding the girls veggie scraps and fodder. I think that fodder is going to be the main contributor to quality and quantity in their diet. Fodder can be grown for any animal that likes to eat greens and can be grown for your rabbits, Guinea pigs, pigs, goats, sheep…whatever critters you have that will eat the stuff!
This post is one of three posts which will be about different ways to use your grain in order to give your flock a wider diet and better nutrition an also reduce your grain costs. The other two posts will be on sprouting grains and fermenting grains. Each of the posts will be an introduction and will link to relevant pages where the processes are covered in more detail. As I learn more, these pages will be updates, so treat these posts as an intro and follow up on the relevant page. This one links to the fodder page, of course,
Grains and seeds are little spaceships, protecting the embryo and containing everything needed for it to start a new life. That’s why they’re so nutritious. However, some seeds, such as most Legumes have what is called an ‘anti-nutritive factor’ which, as the name suggests, prevents animals from getting the full benefit from the seed when they eat it. It’s a way the plants have evolved to discourage animals from eating them. That little issue is overcome by converting the seed into a plant and we do that through sprouting it. The other option is to cook it but that takes time, energy and resources. Better to let Nature do her thing.
When you a seed germinates, its contents change drastically as the processes that held its life in stasis change to those that stimulate growth. There are many enzymes that start converting chemicals to those needed for growth and in doing so, improve the nutritive content for whoever is going to eat them – and that’s us and our chooks!
Even though they start in the same way and from the same seeds, fodder and sprouts are different. Sprouts are the very early stage when the first root (called a radicle) and the cotleydons emerge. Cotleydons look like tiny leaves but they’re not true leaves, they come after. Botanists use the number of leaves emerging from a seed to to classify the plant into one of two divisions. One cotleydon means it is a grass (monocotleydons), two mean its in the other camp, dicotleydons. It’s not necessary to know this to sprout seeds or grow fodder, but it’s kind of interesting.
We use a simple system to grow fodder for the girls. I watched at a few videos online and blended together what I thought would work, then made a few small changes to suit the situation here at Ligaya Garden. We get new crop every two weeks now in Winter. Hopefully, ity will be faster in Summer. For our fodder crops, we use a Wheat and Barley mix, Black Sunflower seeds and Field Peas. That seems to keep the chickens happy while providing them with a bit of variety.
We buy the Wheat and Barley in 30kg bags (at about $18 a bag, it compares well to $40-ish if we buy it a kilo or two at a time). I’ve got the cycle of those down and can afford to get a lot at once. The others, I’m still experimenting with a little so still buy in smaller quantities.
We found that growing in a small greenhouse is best. I made a little greenhouse out of bits and pieces but any of those cheap, small greenhouses from your garden centre will do the job. Whether you need 3 or 4 tiers will depend on the amount and variety you want to produce. Each tier holds two trays, so four tiers do us nicely for our cycle now that we have a system going.
We use 360° misters as sprays, two per tier. The top and bottom tiers have misters that can be shut off because those are the two tiers where the most variation occurs. The middle two tiers have non-adjustable misters because, being in the middle of the process, they always need the same conditions. You can use whatever you need, as long as whole trays can get watered evenly. You may choose to water by hand or even put an inline tap on each tier for extra customisation of the water flow. I’ve found that to be unnecessary with the adjustable misters.
The process of growing fodder is quite simple but two stages are quite critical and experience will show you exactly what to do. If you follow the steps discussed below, you should do alright.
Washing and soaking the seeds is the first step. Wash the seeds to remove dust and contaminants, possibly including poisons. With Wheat, Barley and Sunflower, it is important to wash away most of the chaff. To do this, simply put the seeds into a bucket of water and stir a bit. Most of the chaff will float to the surface where you can skim it off.
The seeds will swell during soaking, so you may not need as much as you think. Two and a half cups of wheat it Barley is enough to fill two trays once germinated. For the Peas and Sunflowers, I use one cup per desired tray.
Pour away the first lot of water and add enough to your container to cover the seeds. For Wheat and Barley, you will need about twice the volume of water as there is in seeds as they absorb a lot. For Sunflowers and Peas, just make sure they’re well covered.
I created a little double bucket system in which the top bucket holds the grain and sits in the bottom. I simply fill until the top bucket is nearly full, put the lid on and leave it overnight. When the time comes to drain and rinse the grain, I simply remove the top bucket from the bottom and let gravity do its thing. You don’t have to do this, a bucket and a sieve will do the job but I had so many of these little hummus and yoghurt buckets around.
To this new water, add a little bleach – just a teaspoon per litre is more than enough. This will help to kill off any mold spores on the seeds and help stop it growing later. To be honest, our chooks don’t care about a bit of mold but its presence will negatively affect the young growing plants. I find it unaesthetic too.
Let the seeds soak overnight in the water with bleach then, sometime over the next day, pour away that water and give the seeds a good rinse.
Place the rinsed grain or seeds in a sealed container to contain moisture and leave for the rest of the day. During the next day, give them another rinse with plain water.
Depending on the seeds you used and the time of the year, when you look on the third or fourth day, you will see that the seeds have germinated. The first signs of the radicle will be poking out from the seed case. The seeds toward the bottom of your container will be slightly more developed than those at the top.
Rinse again and leave overnight. The next day, if you stir the seeds a little, you will see that true roots have formed. This is the time to move them to the trays.
We use easily available 350 X 290 mm propagating trays, the kind with lots of holes in the bottom. Don’t use those without many holes, we need the water and air to circulate, not stick around because that leads to mold. Moving the seeds onto them once the first roots have formed means that there is enough bulk to stop them from falling through the holes in the trays (though there are always a couple that do so).
Spread the germinated seeds evenly over the surface of the tray. Not too thickly because that will lead to too dense growth and that will retain water and reduce air flow. Just make sure that the entire tray is evenly covered. The roots will form a mat as they grow which will further prevent seeds from falling through the holes. If you get the thickness if the seeds right, you will eventually get a mat of fodder that you can easily peel out of the tray. Spreading the seeds too thinly on the tray will give you patchy growth and too thickly will give you a mat that will be more difficult to remove.
Once the seeds are spread, give them a water with water and a little bleach. This will help protect them while they are getting started. We spray all of the trays with dute bleach whenever we introduce a new set of trays into the system. It’s just an extra precaution we take but is not absolutely neccesary. We do it because we use a mixed rotation that includes Peas which are prone to mold.
After this, give the trays a good misting or hand watering at least twice a day, making sure that all of the seeds are moistened. In hot weather, of course, more water is needed and I found that, during my experimentation, that 4 times a day was necessary.
Once you have good root growth and substantial leaves, you can give the trays a light spray of dilute seaweed solution. This isn’t absolutely necessary as the plants are, mostly, still living off of the nutrients contained in the seeds and a bit of sunlight.
We do a light spray every couple of days, just to boost the health of the plants and hopefully give them a little extra nutrition that they’ll pass on to the chooks. That’s why we use a booster such as seaweed extract rather than a full on fertilizer. I mist it so that some of the nutrients can be absorbed by the leaves.
Because the system is watered from the top down, any unused fertiliser will be washed away, so if you introduce a fertiliser to the system, you will need to mist it on at least every two days.
After the initial soaking stage, bleach is only a precaution and is not absolutely necessary. In the warm weather the cycle can be completed quickly enough to prevent mold from growing, as long as the ventilation and drainage in the system is good.
When your soaking your seeds and while the seeds are germinating and sending out their radicle, they don’t need light. That’s why at this stage, you can stack the trays on top of each other. That helps contain the growth to a horizontal plane which will stop the seeds falling through the holes in the tray and help them to develop a good mat.
Once the roots are established, move the trays into filtered sunlight to encourage them to begin to photosynthese. The newly formed shoots will turn green and start providing energy for the plant.
After this, all you will need to do is to keep the water coming until the plants have grown to a height that you are happy with. If you follow these steps, you’ll end up with a beautiful mat of fodder like the one in the pics below.