Sprouting Grains & Seeds for Livestock Feed

Sprouted fodder increases livestock health & saves money.

By Caro Roszell, Bulk Order Coordinator

Have you ever considered making sprouted fodder for your backyard or farm livestock? At first, it may seem like something only folks with a few pampered pet hens would do– but in fact, it can be quite practical. Sprouting grains increases their digestibility as well as the protein content, and (depending on the seed sprouted) can increase the availability of vitamins and nutrients.

A commercial dairyman in New York makes spouted barley fodder for his herd. Cattle health has increased, and daily grain feed dropped from 28# per day per cow to 8#, according to this fact sheet posted by Cornell University. Julie Rawson, Executive Director of NOFA/Mass, feeds her beef cattle sprouted fodder because “like us, cows like their salad in the winter. It will keep them healthy and help them better utilize the dry hay. I know the cows are doing well when they are quiet. A little bit of sprouted grains each day keeps them content out in the cold and snowy field.”

In general, grains are soaked in water for 6-12 hours (less for oats!) drained, and rinsed a few times per day until the grain germinates in 1-4 days. Then they can be fed to the livestock, or can be grown out to a larger size. Rising must be continued until fed– the grains will wither and stop growing if they are not rinsed often enough. Grains must be rinsed more often depending on the humidity of the space where they are grown, so you may need to experiment a bit according to your conditions. Some grains take longer to germinate than others, and colder temperatures slow germination.

The NY dairy farmer mentioned above built a large commercial germination chamber to produce his fodder, but 5-gallon buckets kept near the heaters in a heated greenhouse or heated garage also work, as long as they can be rinsed regularly.

For my backyard flock, I keep a bowl or two on my kitchen counter with grains soaking and sprouting all winter. I cycle through whole oats, barley, wheatberries, sunflower seeds and field peas. They don’t like the field peas until they have green leaves on them, so those take the longest in the house. The sunflower seeds are extremely hard to find as organic seed (and are really expensive when organic!) so I don’t do those very often. I really like this article about sprouted fodder for chickens at Fresh Eggs Daily.

This year we are offering some whole feed grains that can be sprouted, and we have some suggested cover crop grains that are relatively affordable for sprouting. I think you’ll find you can save money and increase your animals’ health with this method. Below you’ll find a list of grains in the bulk order that I recommend, with some information about best soaking length and expected days to germination (at room temperature). Let us know if you decide to try this out, and how it goes! Report back at bulkorder@nofamass.org.

Winter Rye OG: 020 PG, 5# $6/ 25# $22 / 50# $39 Soak 6-12 hours, and rise twice a day. Sprouts in 2-3 days. Continue rinsing and grow as large as you like, but watch out for mold, which is common on corn sprouts.

Spring Barley VNS OG: 028 LAN, 48# $34 NEW Soak 6-12 hours, and rise twice a day. Sprouts in 2-3 days. Continue rinsing until fed to animals, growing them as large as you like.

Organic Shelled Corn: 101 LAN, 50# $23 NEW Soak 8-12 hours, and rise twice a day. Sprouts in 3-4 days. Grow as large as you like, but watch out for mold, which is common on corn sprouts. Rinse a couple times a day until they are desired length.

Organic Feed Oats: 102 LAN, 40# $18 NEW These are the fastest to sprout– you can soak for 3-6 hours (don’t soak longer than 6 hours) and rinse occasionally. They should sprout in 1-2 days! Rinse a few times a day until they are desired length.

Sunflower Seeds104 LAN, 50# $56 NEW This is a conventional variety, so rise really well! Soak overnight, drain for another 8 hours, then rinse a few times a day. Depending on seed vigor, they may sprout within a couple days of soaking. Rinse ocassionally until they are desired length. I find that these sprouts wither easily if I don’t rinse often enough.

Sunflower Seeds Sprouting, Source: Wikimedia Commons