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How to cut feed costs by sprouting barley seed for fodder

If you’re anything like me, and I bet you are, you like to save a buck when you can and want to know how to cut feed costs by growing fodder. 

I’m here to tell you how I cut my feed costs by sprouting barley fodder and how you can do it, too!

growing barley fodder

How to save money on feed by sprouting barley fodder. 

It’s no secret that animal feed costs can get you down, quickly. In recent years, I had 24 laying hens, 15 meat chickens, 5 rabbits with two litters on the way, and 10 ducks.

As a small-scale farmer not generating income yet from my land, it was enough to keep feed costs up. The trip a few times a month to the farm store isn’t always a shopping spree I look forward to! When I read about sprouting barley fodder, I knew I had to try it.

I suspected that sprouting pounds of fodder paired with fermenting feed was a great way to start slashing my animal feed bills significantly.

Slashing your farm store bill by growing your own fodder

Barley fodder, part of the cereal grains category, is one of the easiest grains to sprout and is full of essential nutritional value, vitamins, and minerals. Fodder production in small-scale operations is super easy and you don’t need too much room to produce a final product yielding the best results and high cost savings. In fact, some people grow fresh fodder in their living room, laundry room, or even kitchen with their own system, all DIY! 

You also don’t have to use barley seed for your sprouted grains. There is a variety of grain to choose from, including wheat fodder, and other grain your feathered, furred, or fibered friends might enjoy. Barley is the easiest to grow, especially in humid climates. Some folks even like incorporating different grains into their fodder trays, such as whole oats.

Although I’ve only offered barley grain in the form of a mat of fodder to my chickens, ducks and rabbits, I’ve read of homesteaders giving it to more common homestead animals including dairy cows, dairy goats, beef cattle, angora goats (poor milk producers), Irish Dexter cattle (for a specific example of cattle) and even utilizing it for human consumption! Though I do believe that barley sprouts (and other sprouted grain) provide essential nutrients for livestock, I haven’t looked into consuming it myself. I’m sure the potential benefits from certain type of grains could have a significant effect on your diet.

A simple google search might provide more info, but that is for a later day. 

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Now, I try to be 100% “real” throughout my blog so I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s the easiest thing in the world. 

  • Is it easy? YES. 
  • Can there be complications/problems? YES.
  • Can those complications be a real pain in the rear? YES.

But you’re in luck because I’m going to explain the complications I had with my hydroponic fodder system and what I did to correct them. I’ll make fodder easy to grow for you!

That way, you can skip that step and get right to growing nutritious, high quality food for your barnyard beauties!

My simple fodder system setup

fodder

I have a small shed with a window AC unit, a fan, and a grow light as seen above. To the left, you’ll see shelves with trays on top. I purchased my 1020 trays from Bootstrap Farmer and I just love them. 

Recently I found them at a much cheaper price here. I plan to buy more trays without holes in the bottom. I’ll be purchasing these instead to save money, and keeping an eye out at places like the Dollar Store just in case.

They’re a perfect size and form perfect fodder pallets! The majority of folks that sprout fodder use, and recommend, trays like this for your fodder system.

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I also added two small picnic tables below the window/AC unit for more tray space when I need it. I have my barley seed right next to the trays for easy access. I’m well on my way to cut feed costs with fodder! Let’s continue.

You can choose a grow tray with out without drain holes – it’s personal preference. As long as your trays of seeds drain adequately, you’re good to go.

The basics of a home-sprouting setup

Now, everyone who grows fodder will have different ideas on what’s right and wrong, what will work better and worse, etc. I’m here to tell you my personal experience, how I cut my feed costs, and you can take it from there! I wasn’t using a commercial system and still found the best method for my setup that yielded the best quality barley grass I could.

You need trays, such as these perfectly sized and affordable 1020 Trays.  You can purchase them with or without holes. I purchase the trays WITHOUT holes so that I could decide whether I wanted holes in them or not. You can also buy these great 1020 lids to pair with your sprouting trays to use for microgreens or starting seeds for your garden! 

It turns out, I personally did not want or even need them for my setup. Some people use the “flood and drain” method; I do not. I tried it and it just didn’t work out for me so I moved on.

You need a water source. You’ll need to flood and drain, rinse and drain, and/or mist your fodder on a daily basis, so it is convenient to have a sink or hose right next to your operation station.

Optional, you’ll want hydrogen peroxide, apple cider vinegar or bleach. Some folks use a very diluted form of water to rinse their seeds with for the first rinse and drain cycle. This is done in order to prevent mold growth, especially in the summer months when moisture content is at an all-time high. 

I haven’t personally used these methods consistently, but I need to since I often battle mold living here in humid ole’ Florida. 

I’d start by trying the vinegar and use bleach as a last resort.

You don’t need much of any of these dilutions, just enough for that first hour soak and rinse to stunt mold growth. Just make sure your water properly drains each time.

You’ll need seed. The first time I bought my seed from a Hancock Seed near me. I got a 48 pounds of seed (barley) for $25.00. With shipping, it doubles that price so I ended up just driving over an hour whenever I needed a new batch of seeds (and it wasn’t even organic or non-GMO).

I’ve recently found an online seed store called True Leaf Market (mentioned above) that sells great, organic barley seed so I buy from there now! They also sell microgreens and sprouting equipment.

Last you’ll need a spot that will provide a consistent temperature of, ideally, 70 degrees according to what you’ll read on the internet. Since I live in Central Florida and it gets hot as hades here, I keep my fodder room at 73 degrees with a constant fan to circulate the air around. The suggested range is 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. I also keep an eye on weather patterns, such as significant increases in rainfall, and adjust the temperature as needed. It’s a good idea to keep a humidity reader near your system to avoid the adverse effects of sudden changes.

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Sprouting the fodder

Usually, when you read about sprouting fodder to cut the feed bill, people refer to the measurements in weight. Personally, that’s always been a difficult way for me to relate to other’s fodder-sprouting experiences so I’m going to talk to you in measurements such as cups instead of pounds. 

For those like the latter, a pound of barley seed is 3 cups, as a rough estimate.

  1. First day – Soak grain. Soak 2 cups of seed overnight, for at least an hour, in a double 5-gallon bucket system with a capful of hydrogen peroxide, vinegar or bleach. The top bucket has small holes in it so that I can easily drain the water the next morning. If using bleach, it will be long gone by the time you feed it to your livestock, especially since it’s heavily diluted.
  2. Second day – Add your seed to your 1020 tray and spread evenly. I sometimes cover my seeds for the first and last couple of days with a seed tray dome to keep moisture in. This is optional and you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. If you do cover them, you might consider one of the above-mentioned dilutions to prevent mold growth in the seed bed.
  3. Mist twice a day! I mist once in the morning and once at night so that the seeds stay moist, but not wet. Standing water means mold and bugs and y’all don’t want to deal with either of those options, trust me!
  4. Each day, repeat the steps above. By the 7th-9th day you should have beautiful fodder that looks like this:
Sprouted Barley Fodder

I harvest some of the greenery for my rabbits and then throw the entire mat to my chickens. They all LOVE it! You can also offer small pieces of the mat throughout the day.

If you opt for the soak and drain method, make sure you have an adequate drain tray for each set of seeds and an area to catch the used water. This water can be utilized to water your gardens – reduce, reuse, recycle.

My complications

In the beginning, I didn’t soak my seed with any dilution and it resulted in molding by the third day. Soaking your seed gives them a nice head start and kills any mold spores that may have been hanging out.

Along with the mold came bugs, mostly those little gnat looking fruit flies that hang out around rotted, moldy fruit. The molding came from first, not soaking my seed with a dilution of bleach, hydrogen peroxide or vinegar, and second, standing water! 

I originally tried the flood and drain system but I just couldn’t get my setup to drain completely. 

This doesn’t mean I couldn’t have gotten it to drain, but with my space, it would’ve been harder. I’m also not willing to put hundreds of dollars into my setup. I trying to cut feed costs with fodder while not spending a fortune doing so.

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Flies and mold can also be a result of your seed drying out and then becoming wet again. If you notice flies, make sure to avoid letting your trays dry out and check your seed regularly in the beginning. 

This was also an issue of mine during the flood and drain days because I was just assuming my seeds weren’t getting enough moisture. Since the trays were at a draining angle, the seeds at the bottom of the angle were too wet and the seeds at the top, too dry.

Something very important you need to think of, and that I never thought of, when choosing your sprouting location is air circulation. I added an oscillating fan in my shed for air circulation and it’s helped tremendously with the gnats and mold. 

I do sometimes still have gnats, but a few of them won’t hurt anything. You just want to avoid an infestation!

What I’ll change in the future

Right now, my operation is a more hands-on approach than most others. I’m fine with that because I currently have the time to do it. Eventually, I’ll add automatic misters. I’ll also be adding a sink in the shed in the next few weeks so that cleaning the trays between cycles is easier. 

You must always clean your trays after using them or it can promote mold growth. I clean my trays with a water and bleach solution and a scrub brush. 

In the coming months, I will just sprout the seed for my chickens, instead of growing it out the full 7-9 days. Currently, as I mentioned above, I harvest the greenery for my rabbits and give the root mat to the chooks in addition to chicken feed. 

If I just sprout the seed, I will let the seed be in trays for 3-4 days instead of 7-9 days. I’ll also add BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) and other types of grain to sprout as a way to increase the nutrition of the tray.

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Rule of thumb

2lbs of dry barley seed should turn into 6-8lbs of sprouted, green fodder.

You should be feeding each chicken 2-3% of their body weight of fodder.

There are 96 cups of seed in one bag of barley. At 2 cups per tray, a bag should make 48 trays. 48# of dry seed should yield 288-336 pounds of sprouted fodder at its finished product. When bought at $25 for 48 lbs, dry seed if roughly $0.52/lb. When sprouted it should be about $0.10/lb.

Slashing your bill by sprouting barley fodder

You can start feeding fodder to chickens, pigs, rabbits and your dairy cattle in addition to dry matter basis! There have even been studies showing an increase in digestive enzymes and positive immune responses. Though is isn’t a present study, or even recent study, it still yields positive results.

Note: If you’re new to dairy producing livestock, what they eat will affect the taste of their milk. Have you ever drank fresh milk from a dairy cow that got into a wild garlic patch? It’s not great! Fresh grass is almost always a better option than home sprouted grain, but dry feed in addition to sprouted grain is the best for milk production when quality fresh grass is unavailable. Fresh is best and will supply the greatest health benefits. Monitor feed intake of the commercial feeds you’re offering, provide fresh water and you will be fine!

Now that your fodder excitement is in full force, head over to Pinterest for some great DIY setups for both open house and closed house options. And remember, my way isn’t the only right way! It’s just what worked best for me. 

You can also join the Facebook group “Fodder” for all your troubleshooting. That Facebook group is the only reason I figured it all out when starting my sprouting operation. 

Now get out there and sprout some fodder, y’all! And after that, read about cutting your feed costs HERE, too, with a whole new method of saving money on your homestead!

cut feed costs with fodder

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7 Comments

  1. thanks for excellent tips. Can you also help how to cut costs for producing pig food from babies till slaughter
    am in africa i also have goats
    Whah kind of food i can prepare myself

  2. Elaine Kinnear says:

    Hello Chelsea, I am into day 4 of my Barley Fodder project. The method I am trialling calls for the Barley be in sprouting tubs before being transferred to seeding trays. My concern is possibly damaging the little sprouts during this process resulting in a lower yield. Maybe after soaking the Barley is put into the trays and not moved until harvest. Have you any thoughts or advice on this.

    1. Hi Elaine! I wouldn’t worry about damaging the sprouts by moving them once. They’re pretty hardy little sprouts! I hope that helps and is good, accurate advice. I would soak them, moved them to trays and then harvest when they’re ready so you’re only moving them once after they start to sprout. Soaking the seed is mostly to rid the seed of any mold spores, etc. Good luck to you, Elaine!

      1. I grow my fodder with a few scoop of oyster shell flour or granuals. I think the calcium boost helps my lactating does big time

        1. Tip: soak your oyster shells in distilled water for 2 weeks..use it to water your fodder. Double wammy..and put on garden for calcium boost especially tomatoes. Blessings

  3. Linda McDermott says:

    Like your information. Would like more
    Thank you?

    1. Hi Linda! What information are you interested in exactly? I’m happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability!