I’ve recently become enamored with the concept of growing fodder for animals. Not only is it simple enough for even the smallest-scale homesteader to accomplish, but it’s also incredibly cost-effective.
If you’re needing an economical, highly nutritious way to feed your homestead critters, a small-scale fodder system may be just what you’re looking for. I’m thrilled to have my homesteading neighbor, Jana from Celtic Prairie Farm sharing her fodder system knowledge with us today!
What Exactly is Fodder?
Fodder is simply any food grown for livestock. In this case, the word fodder is referring to sprouted seeds that are fed to livestock. So when we needed a way to supplement our animals’ nutrition during the long Wyoming winter, growing our own fodder became the obvious solution, particularly when the hay we purchase may not be the best quality.
Pros and Cons of a Fodder System
Just like everything else you have considered adding to your homestead, a fodder system has its pros and cons. You should look into both to figure out if a fodder system is right for your situation.
Pros of Having a Fodder System
- Fodder is nearly completely digestible, so your feed budget benefits the animal instead of going straight through the ground!
- When the grain is sprouted, and grown hydroponically, nearly all the starch in the grain is converted to sugar and is better utilized by the animal’s rumen.
- The best part is that the whole process, from sprout to ready-to-feed-fodder only takes 6-8 days. Quick!
- The animals eat everything, the sprouts, the seeds, and the roots so nothing is wasted!
- You control part of your animals’ feed source
- Adds extra nutrients to your livestock feed routine
Bonus: Having a fodder system growing in the dining room also takes care of my gardener’s need to be growing something year-round.
Cons of Having a Fodder System
- You still rely on an outside seed source
- This helps supplement your feed but doesn’t replace the main diet
- A fodder system if bought can cost a lot for small operations
- Can be very time-consuming depending on the number of animals you feed
- Need ideal growing conditions, which could mean a greenhouse
There are pros and cons to everything that is added to a homestead, you need to weigh and compare them to your specific situation. This is how we came to the conclusion that we would try and build our own version of a fodder system.
How We Built Our DIY Fodder System
Unless you have a large budget and a lot of animals, there aren’t many affordable fodder systems available for the small family farm. Since we didn’t want to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a fodder system, we started searching the hive-mind of the internet for ways to make our own.
There are several websites and YouTube videos out there that show you how to build your own fodder system, but we eventually settled on a hybrid version. It isn’t perfect and we still do some tweaking every now and then to suit our growing situation and the animal’s needs.
Our Fodder System Setup
Our fodder system is a pretty simple rack that was built with PVC pipe. It was made to fit the standard black heavy-duty 10″x 20″ seedling gardening trays. Each garden tray has 12-16 small holes drilled evenly in the bottom and then placed on the rack.
Note: The standard trays that you normally get are pretty flimsy and won’t hold up to several pounds of fodder without cracking on the corners after only a few uses. Try to find heavy-duty trays, either at your local garden center or online.
Starting Fodder In Your Fodder System
What Grains Can You Use?
Many different types of grain can be grown for fodder including barley, oats, wheat, and even sunflower seeds. We use wheat since it happens to be readily available for us. One of our neighbors is an organic wheat farmer.
Not everyone will have a neighbor that happens to grow fodder grains that are readily available. You will have to go to local mills, farmers, or online to source the best grains for your fodder system. One great place to look online is True Leaf Market. They are my go-to online gardening super-store, they have everything you need. Seeds cover crops, sprouting grains, and gardening supplies.
Steps We Use to Grow Fodder
Step 1: Soaking Your Fodder
We drilled a bunch of tiny holes into the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket, then put that bucket inside another. That way, when you lift the first bucket at the end of the soaking period, the water drains easily. start soaking the wheat in a bucket for 12-24 hrs.
Note: If you agitate the wheat after it settles and sinks into the water, the chaff will float to the top. Skim that off since it won’t sprout and you don’t want that in your trays.
Step 2: Spread Soaked Grain in Tray
Spread about 5 cups of soaked grain in a tray. I use a 3″ putty knife as a seed spreader rather than my hands, so the natural oils on my skin don’t come in contact with the wheat seed. You can spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get it all even in the tray, but just do the best you can.
The goal is to get the grain to a depth of about 1/4″-1/2″ in the bottom of the tray. Too much and it won’t all sprout. Too little and you won’t have the yield that you want for your growing time.
Step 3: Watering Your Fodder
Our fodder is watered gently, 4 times per day, enough so that the seeds stay moist, but there isn’t any standing water in the trays. Standing water will cause mold and odors.
Many sources suggest using a small pond pump in the catch basin at the bottom of the rack to recycle the water back up through the plastic tubing to drip through the trays more than once. However, we found that recycling the water caused mold, slimy fodder mats, and a foul odor.
Instead, we are currently using a 5-gallon bucket filled with clean water for the pump to deliver water to the top of the rack and drip throughout the trays, down to the basin at the bottom. About once per week, we pump out the used water into the lilac bushes in the yard.
Is a Fodder System Right For You and Your Animals?
About 5 pounds of dry wheat yields approximately 25 pounds of finished fodder depending upon how clean the grain is, the temperature of your growing area, watering, etc. The animals love it! A general rule of thumb is to feed 1-2% of an animal’s body weight in fodder. So you’d feed a 500# steer between 5-10 pounds of fodder, or 1-2 trays.
It took a few days for the animals to catch on to the fact that wheat fodder is sweet and yummy, but now they wait at the fence for fodder delivery! Even the chickens like it. It’s important also, to keep plenty of hay available. Fodder isn’t meant to be fed by itself since ruminants still need hay for roughage.
The sheep crowd around and jostle for the best feeding position!
And the cattle munch it right down!
A small-scale fodder system might be a great option for your small homestead livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, and even guinea pigs!
Other Posts You Might Enjoy:
- 15+ Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed
- DIY Suet Cakes for Chickens
- Herbs for Chicken Nesting Boxes
- How to Feed Kelp to Livestock
You can find Jana over at Celtic Prairie Farm, where she and her family work toward self-sufficiency by gardening, preserving food, raising Irish Dexter cattle as well as Icelandic sheep and chickens. She also knits obsessively while binge-watching Netflix in the middle of the night. You can also follow Celtic Prairie Farm on Facebook and Instagram.
HPH 18 tray Hydroponic Fodder System Plans and Growing Instructions (Half-Pint Homestead Plans and Instructions Series Book 4)