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PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger
Growing fodder indoors is an easy way to provide a flock with a nutritional boost from living foods throughout the winter. Of course, chickens wouldn’t hesitate to gobble up the seeds, but by sprouting seeds first, we can simultaneously expand the volume of food and release nutrients trapped within the seeds.
Sprouting seeds is easy, and to grow fodder—another word for food, feed or forage—we just grow sprouts a few days longer until the top is covered in dark green leaves and the roots form a thick mat below. For a long time, I sprouted seeds in jars upside down with cheesecloth tied to the jar’s mouth. Then, to grow fodder, I’d transfer the sprouts to a repurposed clamshell food container. Recently, I found a way to grow fodder that’s a lot easier in my limited space.
I was looking for a better way to start transplants for the garden as a rainy day project for my kids. Seed-starting supplies in the seed aisles aren’t very sturdy for moving around often, their sizes are awkward, and they’re flimsy and not very nice to look at, so I browsed the disposable bakeware aisle looking for alternatives. I decided on a sturdy cake pan and two loaf pans with tall lids that would make great mini greenhouses. Not only are they more pleasing to the eye than black plastic trays, they’re reusable and more durable.
I noticed that the lids that come with aluminum baking pans fit perfectly inside the pans, and the pans also fit perfectly inside the lids—they would be perfect for growing fodder at every stage of the process. Now, I soak the seeds in the pans, use the lid to hold the seeds/sprouts in place as I pour rinse water into the sink, and can keep the lid out of the way while the fodder is growing green.
Growing A Fodder Loaf
Choose your seeds. I like to use alfalfa, clover, wheat berries and dried lentils. Seeds packaged for sprouting, or those intended for human consumption from the dry-bean aisle at the grocery store, are appropriate. (Do not use seeds meant for garden planting.)
Pour seeds in a single layer in the pan, add water, and soak overnight. Cover with the lid if you have indoor pets.
The next day, drain the water by inverting the lid to hold down the seeds. Remove the lid, rinse, and drain again. Snap the lid onto the pan, and place it in a windowsill or other convenient place. Rinse twice a day, using the lid to keep the sprouts in place.
When the sprouts begin to show pale-green leaves, remove the lid and put it in a sunny place. Keep rinsing twice a day until you have a nice thick mat of green fodder to feed to your flock.
Fodder Has A Sweet Spot
Fodder will only grow so much before it starts to rot due to excessive moisture at the roots and growing it without a medium. Feed the fodder to the chickens at its peak, and then begin a new batch.
Refrigerate Extra Sprouts
If you sprout too many seeds, refrigerate half of the sprouts to slow the growing process while you grow the other half into fodder. After you feed the fodder, you’ll have already have sprouts to continue growing, saving a few steps for the next batch. Be sure to rinse the refrigerated sprouts once a day to keep them damp.
Wheat fodder is prone to a white, fluffy mold. Prevent it by keeping the roots drier, watering it instead with a 1:1 water-and-vinegar solution in a spray bottle. The vinegar will kill mold spores, but it will also be diluted enough not to damage the wheat sprouts.