I've been promising this post for how long now?? Never mind, don't tell me...
So, ahem, *cough, cough*, yes I was a little tardy in getting the pictures taken, but I have them here today! So without further ado, here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to sprout grain for your livestock. Whether you have 3 backyard chickens, or a herd of dairy cattle, this idea offers some unique savings and other benefits. And best of all? It is WAY easier than you think. :)
First off, what do you need to get started? Hang on to your hats folks, because I have a really technical list.
Two 5-gallon buckets
7-14 black plastic gardening trays (these measure 11"x21")
Wheat or barley (whole, and from your local feed store)
No one fainted at the sight of the expensive list, did they? Oh good.
You certainly don't have to use the black plastic trays that I have listed, but they really are the *perfect* size for this. you can fit exactly one pound of soaked grain in them, which will yield roughly 8 lbs. of fodder (I've been getting some 9+ pounders lately!). Most Wilco's, Tractor Supplies, and gardening stores will have these trays and they may or may not have pre-drilled holes in them. If you find trays that already have holes, then consider yourself lucky and know that I am jealous. All my local Wilco has are the solid bottomed ones... If you too have solid bottom trays, then prepare yourself for an afternoon of drilling! I drilled holes roughly every 1/2 inch and only on the lower grooves of the tray. Long, tedious work... Or at least when you have a heavy battery powered drill!
You need between 7 and 14 of these trays; depending on how much you want to sprout. If you only want to be harvesting 8 lbs. of fodder a day, then you'll do fine with filling one tray each day, and thus only need 7 of these things. If you want 16 lbs. of fodder, or two trays worth each day, then you need 14 trays. Obviously, if you need more or less than these figures, then you simply adjust your needs and numbers accordingly.
You may have noticed in the first picture that the bucket on its side had holes in the bottom of it. This is your draining bucket, so once you're done drilling holes in those black trays, get ready to drill more holes in a 5-gallon bucket!!
Now it's time to get down to business. With sprouting, there are two basic rules to this thing: Keep it wet, keep it draining. You can sprout grain any way you can possibly imagine, just make sure that the grain stays wet and draining at all times!
So you have your buckets, you have your trays, and you should have your grain now. Barley is the absolute BEST grain for sprouting (highest yield, highest nutrition, easiest to grow), while wheat is an extremely close second choice. I'm currently sprouting wheat because my feed store was out of barley... Oats are the hardest grain to sprout (bummer... such a cheap grain!), but not entirely impossible. It sprouts erratically, has a low yield (I think I got 3--4 lbs. per lb. of grain), and a lower level of nutrition compared to barley/wheat. You don't need any fancy grains, just tell the the feed store folks that you want whole grains for livestock consumption.
Okey dokey, so assuming you would like to sprout one tray of fodder a day, grab yourself a quart sized mason jar and fill 'er up. This should be pretty darn close to a pound, and even if it's a bit under or over, that's okay. If you want to sprout 2 trays a day, then get 2 scoops of grain. You see where I'm going with this? Three trays equals three scoops, four trays equals four scoops... I think you probably get it.
Now, dump that there pound of grain into your 5-gallon bucket that DOES NOT have holes in it. It's just too hard to keep water in a bucket that has holes in it, so I really wouldn't recommend trying to soak your grain in your second bucket which is riddled with them. (I tease; I'm a teaser)
Cover the grain with a doubled amount of water and let it sit for 12 hours.
Once 12 hours have passed, THEN you get to pull out your holey bucket (notice the 'E' in there... No I did not say your "holy bucket"). I keep my draining bucket propped up on two bricks to aid in drainage.
Pour your bucket of water and soaked grain into the drainage bucket and let 'er rip.
When all the water has drained out, you will be left with plump-looking, squishy grain.
You can do two different things now: You can either pour the grain into your plastic trays and begin sprouting. Or you can leave the grain in the draining bucket for 12 hours with a second bucket stacked inside. Put a couple pounds-worth of water into the second bucket to act as a weight. I think this step gives you a bit of a better germination rate, but I'm not positive on that.
Either way, you'll eventually get to the step where you put the grain into the trays. If you have soaked more than 1 lb. of grain, then you just have to eyeball the amounts to divide into each tray. Rule of thumb though, is that you don't want the grain to be any deeper than 3/4" in each tray. Too shallow, and the grain will dry too quickly. Too deep, and it will rot.
Once the grain is in the trays, your job is to water it thoroughly 2-3x's each day. I'm finding that with this cool, damp weather that we've been having lately, I can easily get away with watering only twice a day. If temps are still in the 70's and up for you, then you need to water 3x's a day. if the grain dries up, then you have yourself a botched batch on your hands.
When I first started sprouting, I kept my trays in the barn. Sprouts don't need direct sunlight, and mine did really well in there. I had an old crib side (so many uses for those things!) that I stacked on top of some old 3.5 gallon buckets, and this became my sprouting area. The crib side allowed free drainage for the sprouts whenever I watered them, but still kept them up off the ground. However, I had to stop doing that a couple weeks ago since the sparrows started mutilating my little crop!!! I kept the grain loosely covered with empty feed bags, but that still wouldn't stop those pesky birds. Grrr.
So plan B. Our raised garden beds are pretty much empty this time around, so I am simply laying some clear plastic over the tops, and keeping my sprout trays inside there. It works nicely since the soil still allows good drainage, and I think I'm getting better yields since the roots are able to wiggle their toes into soil for a short spell.
Your sprouts won't look very impressive for the first 3 days. If you look closely you'll see tiny white threads emerging, but it's not until the 3rd or 4th day that you realize that something is happening here... You're growing fodder!
Once you reach that halfway point where your tray looks like a sea of octopus tentacles, the sprouts take off and grow like -- well -- weeds.
By day 7 or 8, you will have a magnificent tray of sprouts before you, and it will look something like this:
During warm/hot weather, you may have sprouts that are ready by 6 days and can be up to 5-6 inches tall, but I find that in cold weather it takes about 8 days before it's ready and will only be 3-4 inches tall. There's no exact rule as to how long you need to wait before feeding, so just go with a gut instinct on this (or how quickly you need fodder!).
Here's a side shot to show you what it looks like. You can see the sprouted grain in the middle, while the roots are all a tangled web beneath it. Yes, you feed the entire thing; roots and all!
Another look at the root mat...
When feeding sprouts to poultry, I like to shred it up like in the picture below. I find that the birds have an easier time eating the whole plant, whereas if it's in clumps then they may only peck the empty grain shells and leave the greens.
If the sprouts are going to hoofstock, then I cut the rectangle up into chunks with a knife.
Final step: Feeding time! Peaches adores her fodder!
So there you have it. It's pretty basic and simple once you get the hang of it. Keep it wet, keep it draining, and you'll be fine.