See that beauty right up there? Yep, I took thirty seconds to create a new and more fitting logo to announce my pinch hitting here on Midwestern Bite. I know… I know… you’re impressed by my graphic design skills. I amaze myself as well. Bye bye overplayed Man Cave logo!
I’m stepping in today to talk about chicken feed. Specifically, we’re going to walk through growing your own supplemental backyard livestock food via a very simple Barley Fodder System.
Why go through the (extremely minimal) effort?
1. Fodder is nutritious and healthy. Chickens are natural foragers. As true omnivores, they evolved eating plenty of protein (bugs and such) in addition to green plants. Just like us humans, they’re not designed to thrive on a grain based diet. So when weather and other conditions permit I let the ladies free range inside our 100’x50′ fenced grassy garden area, pecking around to their hearts’ content. The barley fodder I grow for them gives them something fresh and green for the times they have to stay secured in the (freaking awesome) coop and run I built… or when their lawn is covered in six inches of snow.
2. Fodder is cheap. Chicken feed is expensive. Chickens eat a lot of it. Providing something nutritious like barley fodder helps stretch their primary feed and keeps a few more pennies in this guy’s pocket. I’ll do some math later that really drives this point home.
3. Fodder is freakin’ fun! Yeah, maybe not in the traditional way. But hear me out. What kind of a Gentleman Farmer doesn’t grow a crop for his livestock? Pssshhh, not this kind. Once in the morning on my way to work, and once more before bed, I don my large (freaking awesome) Homestead hat and tell the wife I’m “Off to do the Farm Chores!” of watering my tiny tubs of barley. Yes, I do that every time. Yes, that little routine annoys her every time. See… fun!
How easy is it? I say stupidly easy, but you be the judge. The below steps might seem a tad complicated, but reading it is a lot more complicated than doing it. Growing fodder is a two-minute-per-day job. Sixty seconds sometime in the AM. Then sixty seconds sometime in the PM.
I’ve organized the instructions based on what you do each day. The pic below gives you an idea of the full progression. Each bin below represents two days of growth. Starting on the left is Day 0, then Day 2, Day 4, Day 6, Day 8, and finally Day 10 on the right (not in a bin) ready to be carried to the chickens.
- Barley Seed – I found a source on Craigslist that grows his own organic barley. It’s nice knowing there are no pesticides or herbicides since this feeds the chickens and the chickens feed us. You can find barley in most feed stores, by contacting local mills, or even in a human health food store (although the latter is much, much pricier to feed to livestock). Make sure your barley isn’t processed or crushed. You want true seed. Other seeds (black oil sunflower, rye, wheat, etc.) can be sprouted, but barley is great for chickens and easy to grow.
- Grow Bins – Poke holes in the bottom of these so water can slowly drain. I used a small soldering iron to melt holes through the plastic. The number of bins you need depends on how quickly your fodder grows. Each bin represents a day (unless you combine like I do). Bin size depends on how much fodder you’re feeding to your animals. I find for my seven chickens, five 6-quart tubs work perfectly. I introduced my system to a buddy down the lane and he then set up a MUCH larger operation to feed his 14 chickens, 12 turkeys, and 3 sheep. So this scales up or down as needed. Just get bigger or smaller tubs (or more of them).
- Soak Bin – You need one bin or other container with no holes where seed can soak. I use this same bin to water the other holey Grow Bins.
- Water – Duh.
I’ll outline each day’s chores below, but in a nutshell all you do is water everything in a Grow Bin once in the morning and once at night. Also, start a new batch to soak for 12 hours each night in the Soak Bin. That’s it.
Day 0 PM – soak one Grow Bin’s worth of barley seed for 12 hours in your Soak Bin. I find it’s easiest to do this during my PM visit, so I let it soak overnight.
Day 1 AM – Dump the barley that soaked for 12 hours into a Grow Bin so it can drain. It grows in that same Grow Bin until it’s time to feed to the chickens.
Day 1 PM – Water the barley in the Grow Bin. Start a new batch to soak overnight in the Soak Bin.
Day 2 AM – Dump the barley that soaked for 12 hours into another Grow Bin. Water the barley in all the Grow Bins.
Day 2 PM – Water the barley in all the Grow Bins. Start a new batch to soak overnight in the Soak Bin.
Day 3 and Onward – Repeat the process outlined above! As a Grow Bin’s contents get fed to the chickens, you use that now empty bin to house a new soaked batch.
Here’s what each day’s growth will look like. Note that for my system, I start a new batch to soak every two days. I had these bins laying around and was too cheap to go buy others. They’re the same ones I used to hold my seed cubes during spring sprouting. They hold too much fodder for my seven chickens. So I feed half a bin to the birds each day.
If I had fourteen chickens instead of seven and needed twice as much barley, I would start a new batch every day as I outlined above. Instead, I work five bins and my barley is ready to feed on Day 10.
The system is also fairly forgiving. For example, last weekend I attended the Midwest Sustainable Education Conference in Indianapolis. While there learning more about Gentlemanly Farmer type things – like Permaculture designs, Sustainable Homesteading, and Backyard Gardens & Livestock… my fodder sat neglected for two days. It didn’t seem to stunt the growth much and picked right back up when I got back on my routine and watered it Monday morning.
Many people around the interwebs seem to grow theirs quicker than I do, taking five or six days to get the height I get in ten days. Maybe it’s because I keep my operation in a finished room off the garage that’s probably only in the high 50’s this time of year. Maybe when summer rolls around or if I had this somewhere warmer inside the house I’d speed up. Who knows. However, my foddering friend I mentioned before also takes about ten days for his to grow.
But when it looks like this, it’s ready for chickens.
You can find industrial, commercial barley a little cheaper than my local, organic Craigslist guy. He charges $25 for a 50 pound bag. I could feed those barley seeds right to the girls at $0.50 per pound of feed. Incidentally, that is almost exactly the cost of the non-GMO primary feed I give them.
However, if I water that fitty-centage barley until it becomes fodder, that same pound of seed grows to weigh four or five pounds when it’s the right height for chickens.
So I could either throw one pound of barley seed at them for 50 cents.
Or I could throw one pound of grown barley fodder at them for 10 cents. (Since the same seed make five times as much food).
That’s a tidy little difference. Let alone the fact they fill up on 10 cent barley and eat a little less of their primary feed, meaning I buy it less often.
Unfortunately I don’t have good hard numbers for how this practice has helped my bottom line in regards to savings on the primary feed cost. There are just too many variables I couldn’t nail down over the past few months. Sometimes they free range in the garden, eating stuff there. Sometimes they can’t. Temperature changes meant they eat more or less. Sometimes all of them scarf the fodder down. For a few weeks in the beginning two chickens just weren’t interested, then they hopped on the pro-barley bandwagon with the rest of their soul sistahs. Each day sees a different amount of kitchen scraps they get.
Just too many variables for my Engineer’s head to put a firm bottom line on it.
I do know it makes their mash feed last longer. Just not comfortable with hard numbers yet. Anecdotally, before I grew the fodder, I was refilling their feeder every third day. Now, the feeder easily goes four full days, and I could maybe stretch a little longer into a fifth.
But most important, it’s a healthy supplement and they happily chow down the whole thing – green shoots, white root mat, and any split seed shells that remain.
Here’s another look at the root mat.
Looks yummy doesn’t it? The wife and I sampled a few sprouts once and she definitively declared it tastes exactly like grass.
If only we had some other food critics around…
I know… How about these guys? Let’s see if they like it.
In case you’re too lazy to watch, I’ll spoil it – They Approve. It makes me smile every morning when I watch them run to the coop door, hopping all over each other waiting for me to toss in their snack.
So there it is. In my not-so-humble opinion, every chicken owner should start a fodder system. It’s just too easy. Sure, some people go big or go home and set up automatic hydroponic systems with pvc tube sprinklers and submersible pumps that automatically waters their fodder trays every so often. They’re really neat to check out. For my small time operation, and because I like to do these projects as cheaply as possible, I don’t mind dumping some water in a tub twice a day.
And oh by the way, this isn’t the only supplemental feed I grow for the chickens. And also by the way, the other food is protein and much, much creepier. I’ll show you sometime. The wife is still not pleased.
Question of the Day: How much trouble would I be in if I spread a bunch of barley on our marital bed chambers and brought a few chickens in to surprise the wife at night? I don’t know why, but I can’t get that practical joke out of my head.