For some years I've been interested in growing fodder as a way to feed livestock cheaply & to save space. Hay takes up so much room. I'd see those ads where the farmer is pulling a grassy mat out of a tray & feeding it to cattle. Most of these ads were for the large systems that are housed in a building or trailer where the temperature is controlled & watering is automated. They came with a hefty price tag & made much more food than I needed.
I determined to try this myself. I will confess that my first attempt, while not a total failure, did not yield to my expectations for the work involved. Last year I became interested again in my quest for non GMO animal feed. This time there was much more helpful information available to make the effort a success.
About 7 years ago I bought about 30 cat litter trays for about $2/each. I punched drainage holes in the bottom of 15 of them, filled them with soil and used them to start seedlings. The other 15 pans served as trays to catch the drips. They held up well & last winter became my fodder trays. Some people use the seed flats with drainage holes. They are inexpensive & not as sturdy as litter trays. Others use boot trays. Go to your dollar store & look around, you might find even better options.
I had to get creative with the stacking arrangements to fit my fodder in one place rather than have it strung all over the house.
What kind of grain
I wanted to buy non GMO grain. Currently, that's all the grains I can think of besides corn & soy. I have successfully grown fodder from barley, oats, wheat & rye.
Source of grain for fodder
The next thing needed is a source of grain. Barley from the grocery store will not sprout. Neither will any grain that has been heat treated in any way. I've read that you can only use seed grain. All I've ever used is feed grain & it's worked just fine. Grain from your local feed store is an option. Maybe you are feeding whole oats to your animals, try some of that & see how it does.
I already had feed delivered from a mill & just revised my order to include barley. That was the grain I learned on because that is the one that had the most information available. The fodder you see in ads for the larger fodder systems is usually barley grass.
I learned the hard way that barley is not always available & had to switch to oats. Once again I encountered problems because the mill sourced their grain on the open market & the germination rate varied wildly from order to order.
I then decided to forgo the convenience of delivery & drive to a farm in the next county that grows the grain the sell. I can always get oats & wheat. It's clean & germination is consistent. Local Harvest is an excellent resource to find grain farmers.
If you are just running an experiment you can start with a cup of grain & a container with drainage holes. You can use a Gladware container or something from your recycle bin. If you are jumping right in & hope to feed your animals, you need to know how much hay you are feeding by weight & grow 1/2 that amount of fodder. My yield is about 1:5 ratio. If I feed 30# of feed/day, I will need to grow 15# of fodder a day. That means you will be starting 3# of grain each day.
Now for the how to...finally.
- trays with drainage holes
- trays with solid bottoms to catch the drips
- bucket in which to soak grain
- bucket with drainage holes to drain the grain
- enough space to hold the number of trays you will have on day 7
- Pour the grain into the bucket & cover with water. You want the water level to be a couple of inches above grain. Soak for 12 hours. I do this when I do morning chores.
- Twelve hours later pour into the drain bucket. Rinse & leave until the next morning. You have leeway here. It doesn't have to be exactly 12 hours.
- The following morning, rinse the grains & then spread in an even layer in your containers. I've read that 3/4" is the proper thickness. I don't spread mine nearly that thick, just enough to cover the bottom. Forget about it until evening
- In the evening I water each tray & then tip it on edge to drain it. I return it to the drip pan until the next morning when I repeat the process.
- Continue until your fodder is about 6-8" high & then feed. This can take from 6-8 days after you first spread it in the tray.
- I put the fodder that is the most mature in the window the day before I feed. The extra light makes the grass a deeper green.
Here's a video of another homesteader's system that uses plastic drawers. Be sure to look through her videos for the improvements she made to this simple system.
If you grow fodder, I'd love to know about your system. If you're just starting let us know how it goes...
Next time - Tips for growing healthy fodder.