What the Fodder?

Have you seen the new biggest craze in livestock feed?

It takes just about a week to grow and increases your feed by up to 6x* by weight. It’s highly nutritious and provides 20% protein by dry weight. You can feed it to poultry, rabbits, ruminants, horses, just about any grass-loving livestock animal around.

When my friend, Brande, first told me about it I wasn’t so sure. I had heard great things about it but had only seen these huge, incredibly expensive setups for large livestock operations. I hadn’t even thought that it was possible to do fodder without one of these setups.

What in the hell was I thinking? Nowadays everything can be done DIY so why couldn’t making fodder? It would just require a bit more labor on my part.

There are really only about 3 things you absolutely have to have: seed, water and planting trays with drainage holes. There’s no need for soil or fertilizer. Because we have a mild climate I’m just growing mine outside on a table. The best seed to use is barley as it has the highest nutrition and protein of all the other grain seeds. I can get an 80lb bag of barley for just over $18. You can try to find hulled barley but I find that unhulled seems to work fine. When watering, I recapture the water that drains to reuse.

You only want to put about a 1/2″ of barley in your tray. It really does swell up and I found that with 3lbs of barley the tray was busting out at the walls. Before you start with making fodder you need to soak the barley for 6-8 hours in water. This degrades germination inhibitors in the seeds (this is why you should also soak peas and legumes before planting). You want to cover the barley with enough water so that when it expands it remains covered.

Once your soaking is over pour the seed and water into your tray and then rinse the seed. Cover your tray so that it remains dark to help encourage germination. Above is the day after soaking. Small root tips begin to show up at the ends of the seed.

Water your seed 2-3 times a day. You want to keep it from drying out too much. By the second day after soaking you’ll start to see more of the roots.

The following day small bits of green will poke their heads out of the layer of seeds and roots. It will soon be growing so fast you can almost watch it. By now you can take the cover off because you want the grass blades to develop chlorophyll and energy.

On the fourth day after soaking you’ll be seeing the beginning of a nice little green carpet. It’s not much yet but the following day you’ll be amazed.

Day 5 and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

By day 6 you’re almost ready to feed it. Supposedly this is when the nutrition of the grass begins to peak.

On day 7 it’s time to feed the fodder. You can see here the awesome layer of roots, seeds and grass. Poultry and ruminants will consume all these parts. Rabbits generally only like the greens. I started with 3lbs of seed and produced nearly 15lbs of fodder. It took my hens a couple of days to eat one tray’s worth of fodder. If you start a new tray ever day or every couple of days you’ll have a constant supply of fodder to feed.

*I’ve only seen about a 5x increase but I’ve heard that 6x is also possible.

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  1. What type of tray are you using to hold the seeds in place, we are trying buckwheat in recycle bread delivery trays and are wondering if they would work to same way…

    • Brendan, you can use pretty much any tray that has drainage holes. I was using the standard nursery trays like this one. I’m also using the plastic bottom of an old hamster cage that we drilled holes into. It’s larger so I can make more fodder at a time.

  2. That is awesome, Rachel. I am definitely going to try this!

  3. Kymberly says:

    Thank you for this post, thus far it is the highlight of my day. I can’t wait to start!!!!

  4. Kymberly says:

    real quick, it this sufficient enough to be the only feed provided?

    • Since it’s not high in calcium and some other vital nutrients I would use this more as a supplement to normal feed. However, it will reduce your feed costs substantially.

  5. Hi Rachel, This is awesome, thanks so much for the info.

    Where do you get your barley seeds?



    • Ann, I buy it at Hunt & Behrens in Petaluma.

      • Wow, I know exactly where they are…I used to live in Petaluma before moving to Vallejo. DO you use their poultry feed? I’ve been buying Modesto Milling Organic pellets at Powells and taking a beating on the prices. Hunt and Behrens mills their own and it’s half the cost…Modesto Milling is too at their mill, but Modesto is a bit far. :) I get to Petaluma regularly, so this could be a real boon!



        • It’s where I get all my feed except for goat, which I get from Modesto Milling. If you join the East Bay Urban Ag Alliance ($25/year per household) you can get in on our monthly feed order through Modesto Milling, which is their wholesale price plus $0.05/lb for freight. Pick up is in Berkeley on the 4th Wednesday of the month.

          • THX Rachel…no goats for me (yet) Ill try the Petaluma store…it’ll cut my chicken feed costs in half. Plus it’ll give me an excuse to visit my friend Karen. This is so great!

  6. Great tutorial! I’ve been sprouting wheat as treats for my chickens for awhile now, but in *much* smaller quantities (1/3 to 1/2 cup per day). We’ve doubled the size of our flock this year (though it’s still small, at 11 birds), so I think I’ll be starting with larger quantities soon!

  7. I’ve considered doing this, in my ‘spare time’, LOL. I really have though, primarily because if I seed outside, straight into soil, I have to remember to fence it off with the portable electric fence, or the turkeys would wipe everything out in seconds. They’re very efficient, my back yard currently looks like a weedless wasteland (yay, no weeds), but it means NOTHING is given a chance to grow. Right now the fence is protecting some dairy pasture mix, but at least this way I could grow a few trays in the greenhouse, especially when there’s not much surplus coming out of the gardens. Might be fun to try.

  8. Would this work with other grains and legumes? I am thinking Camilina, Millet, or other GF grains.

    • You can probably do any grains with this, however, legumes can be toxic to poultry unless cooked, and barley is considered the most nutritious sprouted grain.

      • Good to know thanks! We have only ever fed them cooked lentils. I started some millet and oats sprouting today. Can’t wait to give it a try

    • I do trays of half oats, half barley and I’ve given them wheat, spelt and rye before too. My hens and ducks love it, the ducks particularly. In fact Milly or biggest and friendliest drake (we named our 3 ducks Milly Molly and Mandy and only Mandy is a girl ;) ) will come up to me and eat straight out of the tray. They love it!

  9. Oh, I was doing this for the animals all winter and then stopped because I had a couple trays get moldy. Thanks for the reminder I need to start again!

  10. Hi. The link to the trays you use did not work could you repost? Also, I was wanting to try this for my horse. I live in an apartment and do not get any sunlight in my back “yard” does it require a lot of sun? Thanks!

    • Heidi, I fixed the link below but here hit is again. You can certainly try it in the shade (my first batch I grew under a canopy and it did fine). If it doesn’t work you can try growing it under grow lights.

  11. Greta in Kansas says:

    How many chickens do you have? Wondering how much of this I’d need to supplement feed for my itty-bitty flock of five hens.

    • Greta, I have more than I’d like to admit. :) Actually the number is always changing but you could probably do 1 tray a week for 5 hens. We toss ours out and what they don’t eat in one day gets watered while on the ground to keep it going until they finish it.

  12. I know you are out west but I didn’t think the prices would be so different. I am in Upstate NY and just went ot my local feed store to see about buying the barley and it is .81 cents per lb. That is not cheap by any means. I saw this and thought it was a great idea to grow for our chickens but can’t seem to find the barley at a reasonable cost. Anyone else come across this or have any suggestions?

    • Kathy, wow! That price is insane! You might want to try contacting the mill directly where they get the feed they sell. Usually you can purchase directly from the mill at wholesale cost. That’s actually my biggest secret to saving money on feed. A bag of organic feed there is $18-25 vs. $50 at the retail feed store. If the mill is too far for you to drive to you can do what we do and get a large group of friends together to go in on an order and have it delivered. For us delivery is about $0.05 a pound.

  13. This post inspired me so much that I just bought some barley seeds! I’ve also got some red clover, which I planned to use as part living cover crop in my beds/part chicken yums. Gotta plant those seeds!

  14. Hello,
    Great post, fantastic idea!
    We went straight out and bought a bag of barley. Here in London England it cost us £8 for 20kg. We followed your instructions but ours grew much slower….four days to germinate and two weeks to reach your ‘day six’ picture! The second batch is taking even longer. The chooks really loved it. One would only eat the seed and another only the green (spoilt, fussy hens!) but the rest of the flock scoffed the lot in seconds.
    I think with the time it’s taking and our limits on space (no room to have fourteen trays on the go) this will have to be a weekly treat rather than a daily supplement but even so, My chickens and I thank you for a wonderful idea!

    • Rachel says:

      Tara, sounds to me that it might be a bit too cold still in London. If you can find a warmer place for them that should help get them growing faster.

  15. Love this! I have chickens and rabbits so a win-win here. I also live in upstate NY. McDowell&Walker is a local mill that ordered it for me when I asked. Was about $25 for 50lb. So very reasonable for the quality of feed.

  16. A great way to grow fodder continuously is to use 5 gallon plastic buckets. You will need 7 or 8 and drill small holes in the bottom of all but one- which you use to soak the seeds. When I water, I stack them up and use the water from the soaking seeds to drain through the other buckets and water the growing fodder. Comes out of the buckets easily, and I can get buckets for free.

    • Great tip! It’s easier for me to get trays for free than buckets. They usually cost about $5 plus $1 if you want a lid.

      • debbie schmidt says:

        You can get buckets free at a lot of places like bakeries or canneries. Sometimes they are 50 cents to a dollar. Yard sales are a great source, as well. I love the bucket idea! My hubby works at a cannery and I can stack buckets in the barn without worrying about critters getting into the growing bottoms – tho the deer seem to have figured out how to get into everything else :)


  1. [...] the time of year when feed costs go down because of extra ranging. I’m also going to try this Grow Your Own Fodder technique to further minimize my feed [...]

  2. [...] http://www.dogislandfarm.com/2013/03/what-fodder.html This is the link I came across about fodder. She recommends barley as the best sorce. She also says day 7 is the best most nutrious day to feed? I would like to try this as a treat for my horse, but I don't get any sun at my apartment :-/ so not sure if it will grow. I need to start watching clearence for trays. Thanks for the heads up on looking for flat bottoms! Heidi googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1354167519740-7'); [...]

  3. [...] a flat of sweet clover and started my own barley fodder trays to give the chickens some nice, fresh things to eat until we have the garden fence firmly in place. [...]

  4. [...] the barley fodder tray has begun to green up. Soon, the chickens will be munching on delicious barley greens (and in a few [...]

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