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How To Grow Chicken Fodder For More Efficient Winter Feed

Have you heard of fodder?

No, not cannon fodder or media fodder but fodder for livestock, particularly chickens. 

Fodder is plants grown specifically for the winter feeding of livestock, and they are usually fed the whole plant.  It is so easy to grow chicken fodder yourself!

growing sprouts
Radish sprouts

Why Chicken Fodder?

In the winter months of most climates, livestock doesn’t have the same access to fresh green food they typically would other times of the year.  Whether the forage is buried under snow or just dormant for the season, the fresh plants just are not as available.

Growing fodder enables you to give your chickens or any livestock, fresh greens to improve nutrition during the months they cannot forage it for themselves.

For smaller chicken flocks, you can also grow sprouts as a form of fodder, which takes less space to grow.  Since chickens don’t eat as much as larger livestock, say sheep or a cow, it is much more easily done on a small scale.

Pinterest graphic with a chicken and sunflower sprouts

Chickens will do better with broad-leaved plants rather than grasses.  Long grasses like wheat can get stuck in their crop and potentially cause impaction (aka sour crop), which can be fatal.  However, grasses can work if you only let them get a couple of inches tall.

Some of my favorite seeds to grow chicken fodder include sunflowers, clover, buckwheat, and radish.  You can also grow millet, peas, turnips, and parsnips.  Long grasses like wheat, oats, and barley are better suited to ruminants like goats and cows.

How to Grow Chicken Fodder

germinating sunflowers for chicken fodder
Black oil sunflowers just starting to germinate.

For larger flocks, I recommend growing fodder.  Growing chicken fodder is not much different than growing sprouts at first. 

It is best to use seedling trays with small drain holes but any shallow container will work, even a baking dish. 

First, you need to measure out your desired seed amount. In a seedling tray you can use up to 5 cups of seed, but that is likely more than you need for chickens.  If you are feeding larger livestock then go for it.  I started with about 1 cup of seed for our flock of 19.  

Next, soak your seed. Place the seed in a jar or bucket and cover with water for 8-12 hours, or overnight.  You can even go as long as 24 hours if needed. 

The next day, drain off the water and place the seed in a seedling tray or shallow dish, spreading as evenly as you can.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  For sunflowers, I put a thin layer of soil in the bottom of the tray to give the sprouting seeds something to hold on to.  It is not necessary and most seeds will develop their own root mat. 

grow sunflower sprouts for fodder
Sunflower sprouts ready to feed to the chickens

Place the tray in a warm area, ideally 65-70 degrees.  I started ours in the unheated greenhouse so it took a bit longer for the seeds to sprout and flourish.  Make sure the seeds stay damp, watering once or twice a day as necessary.

The fodder is ready when the sprouts are as much as 4 inches tall and, for broad-leaved plants, the second set of leaves are unfurling. 

How to Feed Chickens Fodder

If you grew sprouts as fodder, you can just toss handfuls of it to your chickens once a day.

If you grew it in a tray, you’ll have to separate the root mat into sections.  You can feed up to 2% of the animal’s body mass in fodder per day.  For example, if you estimate the average weight of your chickens is 6 pounds, you would feed approximately 2 ounces per bird, per day.  (6 lbs x 16 oz = 96 ounces (bird weight) x 0.02 (2%) = 1.92 ounces).

Fodder is a great way to improve nutrition and offset some winter feed costs, but it does require a bit of a time and space investment.  Our chickens love sprouts and come running for them!

Do You Grow Chicken Fodder?

Show us your fodder!

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