Sprouting whole grains for your chickens

Any grain can be sprouted.
Any grain can be sprouted.

What’s it all a-sprout?

Sprouting seeds has great nutritional benefits for we humans and it has similar benefits for chickens too. If you’ve seen the other posts and pages I’ve written on this website about growing fodder and fermenting grains, you will already know many of those benefits.

Like fermenting the grain or growing it into fodder, sprouting changes the nature of the seed and is the result of many changes within that small capsule. Sprouting your chicken’s grain also reduces the Phytic Acid in the seeds which actually impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and some other minerals. Its presence is why we must cook or at least soak so many types of grain before we can eat them and is why Phytic Acid is called an ‘anti-nutritive’ factor.

Sprouting also adds moisture and fibre to your chicken’s diets and gives added variety if you alternate or otherwise mix sprouts in with your girl’s other food. Because the sprouted grain is has more bulk than unsprouted grain, your chooks (should) eat less of it and this will translate into welcome savings on their food bill too.

Rather than bog you down with tables about the benefits of sprouting grain, I’ll share with you this link to the Penn State Extension which is a site with an amazing amount of practical agricultural knowledge on it. If you take a look at our ‘References‘ page, you will see that it is one of our go-to sites for information.

Differences between sprouting, fermenting and growing grain into fodder

Sprouting is the first stage of growing fodder and sprouts will become the green growth that we feed to the chickens. Sprouting of the grain is kept under control in fermentation by keeping it in an oxygen deprived space below the water level so that the combination of moisture and oxygen that signals the seeds to start germinating isn’t achieved.

A little wheat sprout
A little Wheat sprout!

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.

What you’ll need to sprout grain

Making a DIY sprouting bucket system

All you need is two buckets. You can use any size bucket you want but for our purpose, I’ve found these 2kg haloumi or yoghurt buckets are big enough to sprout 2 days worth of sprouted grain. You will need two buckets and one lid.

All you need to do is to drill holes in the base of one of the buckets. Make the holes smaller than the grain you will be sprouting but not so small that they get clogged easily. 3 mm – 5 mm is fine for larger grains. This is the bucket sieve. The holes in the base allow the water to drain through after wetting the seeds and allow oxygen to reach them too. The lid helps keep it all moist and pest free.

The other bucket is the soaking bucket is just a bucket with a lid.

Using your sprouting bucket

To sprout grain using this system, rinse your grain and fill your soaking bucket with water. Your grain will swell a lot as it absorbs water. For grains like Wheat and Barley, make sure that you’ve got roughly twice the volume of water to grain because they’ll absorb lots of water.

Leave the grain to soak overnight. I leave the lid on the bucket to deter possible pests but you can use a bucket without a lid if you want.

Empty the contents of the soaking bucket into the bucket sieve and rinse at least twice a day for the next 2 – 3 days, depending on the variety of grain you are sprouting (for example, wheat takes 2 – 3 days to be ready to go in Spring ).

After the first day, you will notice small white tips growing from the seeds, this is great and is the radical forming – exactly what you want to see! These will keep growing and become longer.

Note: You don’t need to use a sprouting bucket system like this. If you have a container with a lid and a sieve you can get the same results. All you need to do is tip the soaked grain out into the sieve before rinsing it and then return it to your container. The sprouts will grow just as well. I just had idle hands and a heap of these buckets laying around!

Just starting to 'pop' as the radicals start to grow.
Just starting to ‘pop’ as the radicals start to grow.

After another day or so, fine roots can be seen coming off of the radicals and after that white leaf shoots will start to appear. This is the time that you can feed it to your chooks. You can wait another day or so for the shoots and roots to get bigger but the idea is to feed the sprouts to the chickens just as the leaves start to turn green. Turning green marks another change in the nutritional content of the grain.

Radicals growing nicely.
Radicals growing nicely.
Roots forming so they're ready to go!
The roots are growing and there’s a touch of green so they’re ready to go!
Nicely sprouted Sunflower seeds. Your girls will love them!
Nicely sprouted Sunflower seeds. Your girls will love them!

Here’s a tip, especially for the hot weather. If you’re growing your sprouts to a larger size, it is a good trick to reach in and mix them up a bit. If you’re not rinsing them thoroughly enough, those towards the base of your container may start to go soft and break down. A daily stir will help a lot.

My preferred mix of grains for sprouting.
My preferred mix of grains for sprouting.
Dig in and give them an occasional stir.
Dig in and give them an occasional stir.

The mix our girls love the most

Different grains add variety in size and nutrition to the chicken's diet.
Different grains add variety in size and nutrition to the chicken’s diet.

Our flock is a fussy bunch but over a little time, I’ve worked out a sprouting mix that they love and I’ll share it here with you.

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Field Peas
  • Lupins
  • Sunflower seeds as an occasional bonus!

I mix in an equal amount of each into a bucket. They don’t get Sunflower seeds every time because they will gorge on them and forget everything else and I add in any extra Corn or Mung Beans if I have any left over from other things.


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