Each fall as the weather gets colder, free range opportunities become limited and the availability of fresh greens decreases. For domesticated livestock, this time of year means becoming more and more dependent on grain-based prepared feeds. Not only does the overall cost of caring for animals increase over the winter, but many plant sourced nutrients become difficult to access.
An easy way to provide fresh greens and reduce feed costs is to grow sprouts. When it comes to sprouts, the more the merrier! They are able to be used for a wide range of animals and livestock. By sprouting organic whole grains before consuming, the nutrients within the grains become more bioavailable and digestible, therefore significantly increasing the amount of macro-nutrients (protein) and micro-nutrients (Vitamins A,C E & B complex) the animal is able to absorb and benefit from. Because of the increase in volume created by sprouts, this form of food is also very satisfying and filling. Allowing the grains to germinate creates an inexpensive source of concentrated nutrients. All sorts of grains, seeds, and legumes can be sprouted, including our Cluckin’ Good Organic Sprouting Peas and Barley as well as sunflower seeds and other beans. Compared to dry grain, sprouts produce a much larger volume of food. Just be sure to research which are appropriate and safe to consume for the animals being fed. Our high-quality, organic and Non-GMO Project Verified whole field peas and barley are great options for sprouting.
When getting started, it can be difficult to know exactly how the sprouting experiment will go. Growing sprouts for your animals will add a bit of time to your daily feeding and care routine, so plan accordingly. Trial and error will be necessary as every environment is different and many factors can affect the outcome. Our Cluckin’ Good Sprout-Ferment Starter Kit is a great way to start small and build on your sprouting expertise from there. For chickens, it will be best to stick with sprouting rather than allowing grains to reach the fodder stage as the longer grasses can block the crop causing it to get impacted and sour. See the below chart for the difference between sprouts and fodder:
|4” or less, considered more root than grass||Taller than 4”, looks like grass, creates a “mat”|
|Average of 2-5 days depending on whole grain||Average of 4-7 days depending on seed|
|Less likely to develop mold||More likely to develop mold|
|Endless container options – jars, trays, bowls||Trays recommended|
|Used for a variety of animals||Better for ruminants and larger livestock|
|Recommended for chickens||Not recommended for chickens – crop hazard|
Like most things, you get what you pay for when it comes to whole grain quality. There are grains specific to sprouting for human consumption, others may have a viability guarantee, there are even grains treated with chemicals like antimicrobials or fungicides that should not be used for anything except direct plantings. The best choice for sprouting or growing will always be Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic seeds and whole grains. Be sure to check for freshness as older seeds and whole grains will not germinate as well!
Step 2: Disinfecting – Clean Hands, Grains and Containers
To help prevent mold and fungus issues later on, the most important step is making sure your hands, the containers used and the whole grains themselves are as clean as possible. Before working with them, make sure you are prepped and ready with clean hands and sterilized sprouting containers.
Always sort through the whole grains for any foreign items, even before rinsing or soaking. Look for anything that is not what you are intending to sprout – field debris, other grains, rocks, dirt, broken seeds, etc. Removing these first will help to prevent issues from developing later on. Different grain sources will provide a variety of quality and cleanliness.
Step 3: Hydration – Initial Rinse and Soak
Dry whole grains are considered dormant until exposed to enough water to fully absorb and soften the shell for sprouting. After rinsing and draining them, add them to a container able to fit all the whole grains plus 2-3 times the amount of water, along with providing room for the grains to expand as they absorb water. When rinsing or soaking, too much water will never be a problem – however, issues can occur if not enough water is used or if they are soaked too long. Each grain soaking time will vary, with most ranging between 8-12 hours. For example, legumes like beans and peas are recommended to be soaked 8-12 hours, while the suggestion for grains like barley is about 6-12 hours.
Once the grains have finished soaking, rinse and thoroughly drain before adding to the chosen container. For smaller sprouting projects, a quart mason jar may work just fine, while a larger production will need trays of some sort. Whatever container is chosen, drainage is crucial! You may even choose to drill holes in a flat seed tray or tub with a tray underneath to prevent standing water in your containers. If a mason jar is used, it is best to cover the mouth with cheesecloth and turn it upside down to continue draining in between rinses. When using trays, it is best to keep the grains at a depth no more than ½” to help with air circulation and drainage.
Place your sprouting container in an area with some light, but no direct sunlight at about 60-75 degrees. Do not put the container in a cupboard due to stale air issues – air flow is important to prevent mold and fungus from developing.
Every 8-12 hours, rinse the sprouts with clean, cold water several times and then drain as much water as possible. During this process, it is important to look for any discoloration among the sprouts that may be mold or fungus. Repeat the rinse and drain process until the sprouts reach the desired length – usually 3-5 days depending on seed or whole grain used.
Step 5: Feeding Frenzy – Who’s Hungry?!
Grab a handful of sprouts to take out to your flock. Some people like to use a feeder to keep the sprouts contained – or even just toss them on the ground for your birds to enjoy!
With sprouting grains, the biggest concern is always the potential for mold to develop. Depending on the animal and the mold type, eating grains contaminated with mold can be toxic and potentially fatal when consumed. As such, it is recommended to always discard any sprouts found to contain mold. It is easy to confuse the root hairs on sprouting grains with mold. A simple way to tell the difference between root hair and mold is to rinse and drain the sprouts. If the white fuzz is gone it was just root hairs and if it is still there, you have mold or fungus. The sprouts smell fresh – like a sweet grass – like something you’d want to eat! If the sprouts smell like stinky gym socks, it is an indicator something is not quite right. Always make sure to look over the sprouts when you’re rinsing for any signs of mold or fungus growth.
While many factors can contribute to sprouting issues like mold growth, the main causes are:
- Water contamination or poor sterilization of container
- Whole grains or seeds were not rinsed or soaked properly
- Poor drainage after rinsing
- Environmental temperature is too warm or too cold
- Poor air circulation or high humidity
- Rinsing sprouts infrequently or with warm water instead of cold
- Poor germination due to improper soaking or drainage, or old seeds or grains
Additional Tips & Tricks:
- Ideal environmental temperature is about 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit
- Containers can vary: Trays, jars, tubs, etc – anything can potentially work as long as water is properly drained
- Barley and peas tend to be some of the fastest and easiest to sprout
- Some situations may improve sprouting by including a grow light, fan for better air circulation, or even a sprouting cover
- While you are able to recycle and reuse rinse water, it isn’t ideal as it can contribute to mold or fungus development
- Start a sprouting tray or container every few days to make sure you don’t run out
Whether sprouting for the winter or all year around, the process can be a fun experiment and a great way to add fresh, healthy nutrients into the diet. With the wide variety of seed options available, the possibilities are endless!
Here are a few examples of mold you may find if the sprouts or fodder experiment does not go as planned.
These sprouts were thrown into the compost.