Growing Fodder for Your Homestead

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
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When we decided we wanted to raise homegrown meat, such as pork and poultry, I wanted the animals to eat high quality food. After all, you are what your food eats! All of our animals eat non-gmo feed with organic ingredients, and often certified organic, especially when we have no green pasture for them to graze.

So in addition to the lush, green pasture we have in certain months, I supplement our pigs with a fixed amount of ‘hog grower’ feed everyday. Anything ‘organic’ generally carries a higher price tag, but to me the quality of feed is important for the quality of the animal. I kept researching other ways to feed them high quality foods and I came across growing fodder.

Fodder is by definition, is just food grown to feed to livestock. I chose organic barley as the grain I was going to sprout and turn into food for the pigs & the chickens (the goats love it too!). One pound of barley seed when sprouted will turn into six pounds of fodder. That equals a 50 pound bag of barley and turning it into 300 pounds of fodder! The reason for sprouting barley (or any other fodder) is that by allowing the grain to sprout, the vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber & the digestibility for the animals are all increased through the sprouting process. One other huge advantage? Sprouting barley has taken our feed costs from $0.60/lb (certified organic feed) to $0.10/lb (certified organic sprouted barley)! That’s a huge difference!

However, sprouting barley takes a bit more work than just dishing out pig feed from a bag. Each day I feed the pigs their portion of barley fodder & then start a new batch. Starting a fresh batch means soaking the barley in fresh water for 12+ hours. Once it’s soaked overnight, I wash the barley again and spread the seeds evenly in sprouting trays I got from our local hydroponics store. Each tray must have perforations for drainage and be watered twice a day. Within 2-3 days you can see the tiny sprouts beginning to grow!

You can sprout fodder indoors or outside, it just depends on your needs and situation. When it’s nice and warm out, I put the trays outside to get some sunshine. To sprout, light is not required but it definitely seems to help move things along. If sprouting indoors, you will need some type of drain system so that you aren’t flooding your room as the trays drain. If sprouting outdoors, you may need protection from the direct sun to prevent your sprouts from drying out. I typically have between 10-18 trays sprouting at any given time to ensure that I have a constant supply of fodder each day.

After 7-10 days (may be longer in the cooler weather) you will have a mat of sprouts similar to sod. The bottom has a thick root system while the top has lush green shoots similar to grass. The pigs and chickens love the barley sprouts. I’ve never tasted the fodder, but it smells like cucumber when I take the mats out of the trays- so fresh and tasty!

In addition to barley, depending on what you have access to, you can sprout many different seeds and grain. I’ve also used BOSS (black oiled sunflower seeds) to mix things up, you can also use oats, millet or wheat. So if you aren’t afraid of a little DIY project and you’re looking to stretch your feed and lower costs while increasing nutrition- fodder may be for you. It’s a fun and gratifying food supply.

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

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