Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sprouted Grains for Chickens

In order to avoid buying conventional chicken feeds, I've been simply buying organic whole grains ("feed quality") from our natural foods distributor, Azure Standard. They are the same grains as what they sell for people, only these haven't been cleaned of bugs & dust so they're a little too funky for human consumption. They may even be the grains that have been swept off the floor of the grainery ;)

Chicken Wheat, before sprouting
Chickens will just get fat and malnourished on a diet high in grains (sound like any other species?) so what I do is sprout the grains for a few days. The sprouting process makes the wheat, or whatever grain you're using, become essentially more vegetable than grain. Each grain is a seed, which starts to grow a leaf and roots. I let the sprouts green up on a windowsill, and then the chickens gobble them up. Our eggs benefit nutritionally from the bit of my time spent rinsing sprouts every morning.

Ready for the chickens to eat
It's definitely more work than just tossing the hens store bought feed, but I think it's healthier, and I just feel better about doing things myself, rather than wondering what the heck they put in the feed. I have read about kids getting arsenic poisoning after eating the eggs from their own hens, who were given feed that was insanely high in arsenic. Why would anyone ever put arsenic in chicken feed? I can only guess that it somehow brings the cost down... but I like being able to safely say that there is no junk in what I feed my hens.

The Sprouting Instructions are simple:

Fill a jar (I use a two-quart jar for my 7 chickens) 1/3 full of wheat berries
Soak grains overnight in water (read here about how I dechlorinate my water for better germination of sprouts.)
Drain and rinse wheat once a day, letting as much water as possible drain out to allow sprouts to grow (they shouldn't be immersed after the initial soak)

I generally have 5 or 6 jars going, at different stages of development, in order to give them time to green up before the chickens eat them. I feed the hens one jar every morning, rinse the 5 remaining jars, and start a new jar soaking that night. I store them on a cabinet shelf until the last two days of sprouting, when I put them on a sunny windowsill to produce chlorophyl. I give my chickens a second meal each afternoon, which is usually some combination of kitchen scraps. See my earlier post for making your kitchen scraps into something the hens will actually eat.


I have also used feed quality oats for sprouting, which sprout faster than the wheat so you don't need to have as many jars going before they're green. When using oats you can fill the jar about 2/5 full, since they don't grow quite as much as the wheat. Any other whole grains or edible seeds will do for sprouted chicken feed, but oats & wheat are the least expensive organic grains I can find.

Any seeds or grains that you sprout for human consumption should be rinsed twice a day. This prevents bacterial and mold growth. For the chicken food, I don't think a bit of mold and bacteria bothers them, but if you want to keep their sprouts fresher feel free to rinse twice a day!

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55 comments:

  1. You said you keep them in the cabinet until the last two days of sprouting. How many days are they in the cabinet?

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  2. They grow at different rates depending on temperature and the type of grain. Even different varieties of wheat sprout at their own paces. Soft spring wheat is very quick, while hard red wheat takes an extra day before it's ready for the windowsill. I just keep them on a shelf until they grow tiny little grass stems, which will start out white or pale green and will turn darker after a few days of decent daylight. Direct sun may be too hot for them. With the wheat that I'm currently sprouting, they are on a shelf for about two days before they are ready for the windowsill. Having 4 or 5 jars allows me to feed one jar of greened-up wheat sprouts to the hens each day.

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  3. You said that your grain comes from Azure Standard - I did a search on their website, but did not come up with anything like "feed quality" grains. Can you tell me the item/order number ? Thanks !

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    1. Sure, it's under GP073, and it's called "chicken wheat". The latest batches I've been buying have actually been a mix of tons of grains, which I think is great, though it's still called chicken wheat.

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    2. Thank you so much. We are just getting ready to raise meat chickens and we wanted to feed them something that was not the standard chicken feed. Blessings to you and your family.

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  4. Congrats! I chose this as my featured post this week at the Barn Hop! Great idea and thanks for sharing! ;)

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  5. Do you cover the jars or leave them open?

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    1. I would cover the jars loosely with their metal caps. This is definitely not the best environment for sprouts- they grow fine, but they also harbor bacteria this way. I don't think the bacteria affects the chickens, but I certainly wouldn't grow our own sprouts with the lid on. It just made it easier to deal with all the chicken sprout jars when I could pop the metal lid on them.
      However, I haven't posted about it yet, but I'm actually sprouting them in mesh produce bags now. We have rabbits, in addition to the hens now, and so I have to make a larger quantity than the jars would hold. I sprout 3 cups of grains per day for 9 chickens and 11 rabbits (9 are babies). The grains sprout way better when they can breathe. When I do sprouts for people I do cover the jars with a cloth, and tip them at an angle in my dish drainer.
      Does that answer your question? My methods are always changing, as our little farm changes. Ideally, sprouts should stay moist but be able to breathe. They are growing way faster in the mesh bags.

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    2. Thanks for the reply. I covered my jar with a mesh produce bag, held on with the metal ring. It makes sense that they need to breathe.

      I'll have to look around for a supply of feed grain as I order mine from Bread Beckers. I'm guessing it's too expensive to feed to the chickens. I'm currently paying around $48 for 43lbs of millet and $33 for 45lbs of hard red wheat.

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    3. See if you can get "feed quality" grains from your distributor. It's a bit cheaper. From Azure Standard, we can get 50 lbs of organic hard red wheat for $19, but their organic "chicken wheat" is 50 lbs for $14. It's definitely cheaper than actual chicken feed (40 lbs for $22, or $24 for soy free) and I feel a lot better about feeding them this whole food than whatever's in the pellets.

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  6. I hadn't thought of sprouting seeds for my girls. Good idea! We have a chicken bowl on the counter for their scraps. Mine devour certain things raw no matter what size. They prefer some foods (like asparagus stems) cooked so I've got a new skill as Chicken Caterer!

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    1. That's funny. My friend bakes bread for her chickens from old grains and the leftover powder at the bottom of the feed bag.

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  7. I will have to try this for my sweet frizzles!

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  8. My girls love the sprouted seeds! Thanks for posting this.

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  9. We searched high and low for organic soy free feed and even ventured to make some when it dawned on me that birds are not vegetarians. they love bugs. they really love when we slaughter a pig or goat. they will fight for morsels. our girls have free range of our 3 acres and the surrounding 100 or so wooded acres. we dont feed them. well... i did start growing mealworms for the winter since I anticipate a decrease in bugs as the snow falls. this is a great post though. I had no idea they could have just one type of grain. this will be a great source of greens as winter strikes! Thanks!

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    1. Leah, it sounds like your chickens have an ideal life! Our chickens also devour any scraps after a slaughter- but first we let our cat have his pick of the leavings. I wish our hens could free range, but they've destroyed too much of my garden when I tried it. We plan to build some fencing so they can have a bigger daytime range, because they really do need bugs & foraged greens!
      I tried raising meal worms but they got grain mites, and I just hate infestations. I dumped the whole bin in the chicken run. Hopefully yours is more successful! Yes, the sprouts are a great source of greens in the winter, and my rabbits love them too.

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  10. Thanks for sharing this on my Blog Fest. I have only tried sprouting mung beans so far but plan on trying some grains also.

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  11. I am so glad that I'm following you! I LOVE your blog and I'm learning so much. Thank you!

    Katie
    www.funhomethings.com

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    1. Thanks Katie, that's so nice to hear!

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  12. Thanks for sharing this. We're researching alternatives to regualar pellets for our hens. Can you tell me how many hens you have? We have 30 so I'm trying to figure out how many qts we would need to give them a day. Thanks!

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    1. Over the summer, we were feeding 14 chickens and 11 rabbits. In order to make this much food, I switched from using jars to using mesh produce bags, the reusable kind that you can buy in the produce section. They hold a lot more, and actually make rinsing a lot easier, since you can just run water through the bags. We're down to 6 chickens & 6 rabbits (an easier number to feed!) but I'm sticking with the mesh sprouting bags because they work so well. I still soak the grains (I used 3 1/2 cups of wheat for 25 animals' breakfast) for 8 hours or so in a jar, but then they get poured into a mesh bag and placed in a colander, over a bowl, and rinsed twice a day for 3 days or so.

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  13. Beautiful post!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Hope to see you on my blog:)

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  14. Mellow, this is another wonderful post! Once again you are one of our featured posts on Natural Living Monday! :) http://mexicanwildflower.blogspot.mx/2012/11/natural-living-mondays-10.html

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    1. Great, thanks for the feature, Katie!

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  15. Thanks for the great information!

    You were featured on Natural Living Monday! I am excited to see what you have to share this week :)

    http://www.naturallivingmamma.com/2012/11/11/natural-living-monday-10/

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    1. Cool! Thanks for the feature Amanda!

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  16. Hi, Mellow,
    I was just wondering if the sprouted grains are the only breakfast your chickens get, aside from kitchen scraps? When I research online, I find all these complicated-looking formulas for chickens involving peas, soybeans, and worms. But are the sprouted grains enough? I'd like to stop using bagged chicken feed (the ingredients list is terrifying), but I'm afraid of my chickens not getting the nutrition they need.

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    1. I do think it's important that they get variety, but not necessarily at breakfast. The live in a "deep mulch" run, so they can wake up and dig for worms every morning. The sprouted grains are similar to the grass they would be eating if they were free ranging. I wish I could actually let them out to free range, but they're a terror to my yard! Then in the afternoon, I give them my processed kitchen scraps and some crushed eggshells for calcium, so they end up with a good variety of foods.
      Yes, the ingredient list on most feeds is not stuff we want our chickens to be eating, and I can tell you that we've been feeding our chickens this way for years and they seem to do fine. I think feeding them the same UNsprouted grains every morning would not be great for them. Sprouting makes such a big difference, nutritionally. I DO keep organic commercial chicken feed on hand for when we leave town, to make feeding them easier for our chicken sitter!

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  17. Hi Mellow- Thanks for sharing your experiences! Arsenic is used in non-organic chicken feed to kill intestinal parasites. Healthy chickens can carry a normal parasite load, but, kill the parasites and the bird potentially grows faster and plumper. Arsenic seems to accumulate more in the eggs than the meat, but is probably added to broiler feed more often than layer pellets. Here's an article from 2007 with a lot of detail: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/government/85/8515gov2.html

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    1. Thanks! I had wondered why the arsenic was there, in standard feeds, in the first place.

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  18. Wow, I never thought to feed sprouted grain to chickens before. I really enjoyed this post.

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  19.  Hi, great post. I found you through the blog hop. Please stop  by and say hi when you get a chance.  .Be sure and check out my new Blog Hop that started. It's Weekly Goals Link Up. It's a great way to stay on track. Have a great day. :) Now following you.  Here's the link for it if you would like to check it out.
    http://lenettacarnes.blogspot.com/2013/01/weekly-goals-linkup-1.html Lenetta

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    1. Thank you Lenetta, I'll check it out!

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  20. so you are able to feed your chickens no commercial feed at all? are your egg numbers up? I have been researching doing this for awhile but am never able to get an answer regarding production rates when feeding this way, we already sprout for us so I would just be doing it on a little larger scale and I am wondering if my chickens are used to three scoops of regular feed each day would I feed the same amount of sprouts?

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    1. So, we feed our chickens twice a day. They get just the sprouts for breakfast, and then in the afternoons I give kitchen scraps. These days I often supplement their lunch with feed, if I don't have enough scraps. Before we got rabbits, our chickens were actually "pellet free", but now most of our kitchen scraps go right to the bunnies and the chickens are eating pellets at lunch more regularly. We have six 3-4 year old hens, and we get 1-3 eggs daily. They would lay better if they were younger! I think the sprouts are a great substitute for commercial feed, as long as they are also getting variety from kitchen waste and occasional foraging in the yard for bugs. If you feed 3 scoops, I would try sprouting 3 scoops of grains. They grow quite a bit during the sprouting! If it turns into too much food for them to finish, just sprout less. You will be able to tell if they need more or less. I don't like there to be food left unfinished in the run because I don't want to attract pests. Good luck!

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  21. Mellow- what lucky chickens you have- sprouted grains, I'm quite sure your eggs will be even healthier too? Thanks so much for sharing at Wednesday's Seasonal Celebration! Rebecca@ Natural Mothers Network x

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  22. Thank you for your post, I am also trying to replace our commercial feed. Your system seems to be the easiest I've found, using the jars should be simple! Do you ever vary the type of grain? Do you ever sprout beans or seeds or anything else for the chickens? I'm just wondering if doing a variety would be better or not.

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    1. I do think variety is a great way to go. If you have several grains and legumes you want to use, you could start a different type every day, so each day they have a different source of vitamins. Or, you could mix them all together, so each day they get the variety.
      The "chicken wheat" I used to buy often came with a variety of grains mixed in, which I felt really good about. My supplier hasn't carried chicken wheat in a long time, so they chickens are just getting wheat lately. I might try to add in some variety like you suggest! However, they really seem to do fine on it, and I get pretty good eggs from my old hens.
      I should add that I moved to sprouting in mesh produce bags instead of jars. I still soak in the jars overnight, but then all the rinsing and sprouting happens in a mesh bag. It's way easier and the sprouts grow better in the "fresh air" than inside a jar. Good luck!

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  23. I didn't realize that Azure had feed quality grain, and I never would have thought of sprouting it for the chickens, but it makes sense! Thank you for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday! :)

    ~ Kathy
    http://mindbodyandsoleonline.com/herbal-information/72nd-wildcrafting-wednesday/

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    1. Azure USED to have feed grains. Sadly, they seem to have stopped carrying them in the last few months. However, it's only a couple dollars more for the organic, people-quality, wheat we've been buying instead.

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  24. Hello Im newer to raising chickens and ducks. I really dont want to really feed my flock commercial feed i want to try to feed them sprouts but my question to you is your sprouts is all you feed yours and how much would i need to make to feed 30 chickens and 10 ducks twice a day. Also what do you feed them to sub for layers feed and oyster shells. I know this may be some stupid questions to some people but like i said im newer to raising my flock. If anyone has any advice Im willing to listen to anyone. Im alos looking to raise rabbits in a few months or so and was wondering if it would be good to ffed them sprouts too and what else you would feed them instead of commercial feed. Thanks in advance for all the help.

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    1. We do have rabbits as well, and both our rabbits and chickens enjoy sprouts every morning. In the afternoons, the chickens get to forage in the yard for bugs and rocks and greens, and I feed them kitchen scraps and occasionally an organic commercial feed when we don't have anything else for them. For lunch, the rabbits get weeds, pine branches, and hay, and alfalfa pellets for the growing babies and pregnant does.
      Our flock and rabbit population is always growing and shrinking, so I vary how much I sprout and feed them, depending on how much they seem to need. I really don't have any technical measurements, but if I see there are still sprouts left at lunchtime, then I know that I've been sprouting too much, and I make less next time.
      For 40 birds, you might need a sprouting bucket! There is definitely a way to do this on a large scale, but you need to have an effective way to rinse the sprouts twice a day, and then a place they can drain and grow to maturity. I'm sure there are people who have done sprouting on a large scale like this; you can probably find them with a google search. I had over 20 animals last summer, and I switched from sprouting in jars to using reusable mesh produce bags, which would hold a lot more and allow air flow while they grew. They might work for you as well. Good luck Joe!

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  25. I bet your chickens love you!!

    Thanks for sharing with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday!! Hope you stop by again today! http://likemamalikedaughter.blogspot.com/2013/03/nifty-thrifting-at-eco-kids-tuesday.html

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  26. Hope you are having a great weekend and thank you so much for sharing this awesome recipe with Full Plate Thursday.
    Hope to see you soon!
    Miz Helen

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  27. Looks like a great treat for your chickens! Thanks for sharing on Tuesday Greens.

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  28. I just put some of our organic chicken scratch in a jar. I'm curious to see what it has. I see the azure feed is supposedly out short term. Do you order online and is the shipping expensive or do you buy locally?

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    1. I do order online, and Azure doesn't charge for shipping as long as you have a minimum group order of $550.

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  29. Sounds like a great idea. I have been feeding an Organic Layer Crumble but was a bit bent out of shape when I saw there was soy in it. I have checked all around my area and everyone looks at me like I'm crazy for wanting so free...personally, I don't really want the corn in it either. I am wondering how truly organic the feed is. Anyways, I am planning on growing meal worms...seems easy but I want to start something like this or maybe fermented feed. Do you have any experience with fermenting for you flock?

    Thanks

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    1. I've never intentionally fermented chicken food- though I love fermenting people food! We just feed them sprouts and kitchen scraps and random yard waste. Yes, corn is iffy too, unfortunately.
      We tried raising meal worms for some time, but we could not get rid of the grain mites and didn't find it worth the mess. Our chickens do get plenty of bugs from their outdoorsy life, I hope.

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  30. I love it! We are getting chickens soon. I already sprout for us it'll be easy to sprout for them too!

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  31. Organic whole grains like wheat and oats after sprouting is a nutritious feed for chicken.Fermenting is also a good option.
    Different types of poultry feeds are available as bulk or bagged feeds.

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  32. When we clean our tilapia the hens can't wait to eat the scales. We have given them crushed crawfish shells and boy in a few days their yolks are bright orange.

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