Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fodder Project

Growing fodder is my latest step to giving my rabbits and chickens great nutrition while stretching the feed bill. Especially in the winter when weeds and garden trimmings are not available to feed them, having something green and fresh is a very good thing. Fodder, in it's broadest definition, is any food gathered and brought to the animal rather than what the animal can graze. So, technically, gathered weeds, garden trimmings, hay, silage, and pellets are all "fodder".  But, for the purposes of this discussion, my Fodder Project involves growing wheatgrass for the rabbits and chickens.

Finding the grains for sprouting was the most challenging part. I wanted barley as everyone says that barleygrass is even better than wheatgrass for rabbits. (The Organic Chicken folks tell me barley is not good for chickens, though.) But, sproutable barley is just not available to me. All the local "mills" are just glorified Purina Peddlers and you don't want to know what I think of Purina! I was beginning to think I just wasn't going to be able to affordably grow wheatgrass for the rabbits. Then, a google search landed me at a source for "feed grade" wheat to grow wheatgrass.

Coker's Feed Mill, Inc of Goldsboro, NC
Not only did I locate a source for wheat, I located a fabulous feed mill, to boot! The mill is Coker's Feed Mill, in Goldsboro, NC. They mill feed for livestock, including chickens and rabbits. An email query was promptly answered assuring me that I could purchase feed grade wheat from them through a local distributor.  Another bonus! A local source of feed not from the evil empire!  Clemmons' Hardware in Shallotte is just starting up and the owners are very eager to please. I ordered my wheat through Clemmon's and it came in their next order. Since it was "feed grade" wheat, I expected a good bit of chaff. Was I pleasantly surprised! There is very little chaff at all. My next concern was -- will it sprout well? It sure does! It has a high percentage of germination. This is good wheat, folks!

I was so impressed with the wheat, that I decided to purchase their rabbit pellets as well. (I'd already purchased a bag of their chicken feed.) Now, this was big because I was quite hooked on the MannaPro. But, since I could see that Coker's was using really good quality ingredients in their feeds, I figured this was a win-win -- I can support two local companies while providing my rabbits good feed. The ingredient label on the rabbit pellets was vague, so I emailed Coker's and asked. They are protective of their formulas for good reason but they were able to assure me that corn is not an ingredient in their rabbit pellets. From that fact, and the way they explained why it isn't, I knew I was dealing with a company who cared about the nutritional needs of the animals who would be eating the feed. This really impressed me. You just don't find folks like this very often. And, it isn't often that I give a company such high praises but I think Coker's deserves it! But, then, they are North Carolinian's!

So, anyway, back to the Fodder Project. With good wheat in hand, it was time to start sprouting. I have two buckets, one of which I put drain holes in. Day one, the grains go in the bucket without drain holes. Day two, it is transferred to the other bucket. Day three, it goes into a flat. I purchased four black plastic baskets (upper left-hand corner of picture) and put drain holes in the bottoms. These are working well but I don't think they will produce enough grass. The other flats, the long narrow trays, are actually the "saucers" for planters. I did not put drain holes in those. They will hold almost twice the grains that the black baskets will hold so I'll probably switch to those and save the black baskets for some other project. I will need more of the trays. Essentially, I need seven trays in rotation as it takes between seven and nine days to get the grass to the stage to feed to the animals. The first week, I stuck to just wheat. Then, I started adding in some odds and ends from my old sprouting projects (for me) to see how they will do in the system....and to get rid of them. I'd like to regularly add BOSS (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds) and Flax to the mix but I am going to wait until I use up the other stuff.

If you do a google search on fodder systems, you will see that folks will use different frequencies of rinsing the trays of grains/grass. Some use pumps to recycle water over their trays every two hours. Others only rinse twice a day. I would love an automatic system but that ain't happening anytime soon. I also don't have the time to be rinsing every few hours! I started out rinsing twice a day. I'm finding that most days, twice is not necessary. One must be very careful not to over water as that can lead to mold. So, I watch, rinse when necessary, and make sure I drain well! The biggest key to the system working and getting high germination is initial soak time for the grains. 6 Hours. No more. No less. Well, if you go longer you aren't lost but it will mean the grains have to sit in the bucket longer before you get good germination. You really want to stay as close to the 6 hour mark as possible. The other decision to make is "soil" or "no soil". I've gone with "no soil" but may try the soil option to see if it makes a difference at all.

Once the grass reaches a good size, between seven and nine days from the start of the process, it is time to feed it to the rabbits. The rabbits are taking a little time deciding if they like the wheatgrass but each day I see that they have eaten more of their grass. The Chickens get the rabbits' leftovers and they also get some of the sprouted grains from the bucket after I put most of the bucket load into a tray. So, the chickens get both sprouted grains and grass. They like this deal, very much! I've offered wheatgrass to the ducks and they say "thanks, but no thanks". Silly ducks!

Folks say they get roughly a 1:6 or even 1:7 return from fodder growing. That means for every one pound of grain used, they get 6 to 7 pounds of fodder at the end of the week's growing. A few folks claim even greater returns but I'll be happy with 6-7 pounds of fodder from 1 pound of grain. It is a bit labor intensive unless you set up an automatic system but so far, not too unweldy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I too have been taking advantage of the benefits of Fodder. I use feed wheat from the local feed store. However, I designed an automated system which quickly became a little business. You can see them at