How to Grow Fodder to Feed Chickens, Ducks and Rabbits

Growing fodder is a cheap way to feed your chickens, ducks, and rabbits throughout the year.

It’s a simple concept, really. Basically, it’s allowing grains to sprout and grow into their respective grasses for feed supplementation for poultry. The animals then get greens with chlorophyll, as well as the proteins from the grains and the sprouts.

fodder post

What is Fodder?

If you’re raising animals of any kind, you probably already know how the costs can add up in a hurry. Growing fodder is an easy, inexpensive technique that will let you cut costs and feed your chickens, rabbits, and ducks the healthiest diet possible.

Fodder can stretch your animal feed dollar and reduce your overall expenses. In fact, just fifty pounds of grain can be transformed into more than 300 pounds of fodder – all you have to do is sprout it!

Fodder offers a variety of benefits to your chickens. Not only will it provide them with access to year-round grains and greens, regardless of the weather, but it also provides novelty that can help relieve boredom in a flock.

The vitamins, proteins, and minerals in fodder tend to be more bioavailable to the chickens, and fodder is more digestible, too. I’ve even noticed that the egg yolks are darker and arguably more nutritious from my hens that were fed fodder, too.

Not only that but sprouted grains are more nutritious for animals than plain old grain. All you need is a bit of moisture in order to sprout your own feed.

Are Sprouts the Same Thing as Fodder?

Well…yes and no. The terms “sprouts” and “fodder” are often used interchangeably, but the two are not one in the same – the two words refer to various stages in the germinated grains.

While sprouts are germinated seeds that are under four inches tall, fodder is taller than four inches. So at the beginning of your growing experiment you would have sprouts, but when you’re finished, it would be fodder.

Growing sprouts is not the same thing as growing fodder because fodder, of course, takes longer to grow. Therefore, you will have mold and various sanitation procedures to worry about.

How to Build a DIY Fodder System to Feed Chickens, Ducks, and Rabbits

You can either build a fodder system with pie pans, or you can build a fodder wall.

This wall required:

  • 6  8-foot plastic gutters
  • 6 gutter ends
  • a bucket
  • drywall screws
  • a wall you aren’t using with studs-this can be in a garage, a greenhouse or in your kitchen if you want

To make the wall, measure where the studs in the wall are.

  • Make markings on the gutters to position into the studs.
  • Attach one end of the first gutter into the stud, and angle the gutter so the opposite end is 1 1/2 inches lower than the top.
  • Place the gutter end on the higher spot.
  • Attach the second gutter approximately 3 inches lower than the one above and cap the opposite end
  • Angle the OPPOSITE end higher than the first gutter to create a “waterfall” effect.
  • Continue layering the gutters on the wall, positioning the opposite end to allow water to flow.
making the wall
the fodder wall

Prepare the Grains

You can get barley fairly cheap at a farm store, bulk foods store, or online. Any kind of grain can be used, including oats, barley, wheat, and millet.

You will want to soak the grains overnight in a bowl, covered with water and a tablespoon of bleach to retard mold.

Cover your grains with water. Try not to fill them more than half-inch depth for each tray, as the grains have a tendency to mold otherwise.

The next day, rinse the grains and place them about an inch deep, in the top gutter. Start soaking another batch of grains and repeat daily until all the gutters are filled. (6 days)

Watering is simple. Just water the top gutter well enough that the excess water will flow into each gutter, watering all of them. The bucket at the end will catch any remaining water. (BUT, be sure to drain the bucket daily. It does get rather smelly if it sits more than that.)

You should water both morning and night. If you keep your fodder system outside and it dries out quickly, you may need to water even more frequently, as evaporation will occur more rapidly.

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Here they are around day 3:

day 2

And, around day 7, when the barley starts to look like this:


Roots usually start to appear during the first few days, and they’ll be followed shortly after by greens. You can feed the fodder at any stage but it usually takes a week or two to get a nice block of fodder going.

The fodder is peeled from the gutter and cut into squares with a sharp knife to be given to the poultry or rabbits. It’s like a carpet or mat that is all woven together.

Each animal gets a chunk of the fodder daily and it’s split pretty evenly. The rabbits like the greens, but they don’t eat as much of the roots. The chickens and ducks love all the greens AND roots and enjoy their daily treat.

cutting up
eating the fodder

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

When you are growing fodder, you will want to source your grains from a reputable source. Make sure the feed has not been treated and is fresh.

You should always use clean containers and fresh water, and make sure you keep the room temperature between 45 and 69 degrees.

You can sprout fodder outside, too, but these temperatures will be best for the greatest level of success.

You may be able to sprout successfully in colder or warmer conditions, just watch out for mold.

Adopt a Growing Rotation Schedule

By rotating how the gutters are filled, you should need to only soak and grow one gutter at a time, allowing for one day off a week.

The fodder wall will grow very well as long as it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. If you use A/C, it should be fine. Otherwise, try a fan on it to keep it from getting too hot and molding fast.

Alternative Methods of Growing Fodder

I should mention that the method I told you about above is not the only tried-and-true technique for growing fodder. You can also sprout grains in shallow trays as long as you have a shelf to place them on.

Again, you’ll drill a few drainage holes in each tray and follow the same steps to soak your grains.

Have you grown fodder? What are your experiences with it? Be sure to pin this for later!

fodder vertical

this article was updated on March 25th 2020 by Rebekah White

49 thoughts on “How to Grow Fodder to Feed Chickens, Ducks and Rabbits”

  1. My neighbor set up extensive fodder growing trays but his horses didn’t go for it. So he brought it all here for my chickens. Welp, they didn’t really go for it too much, either. But boy, did I love seeing the green in the midst of winter snow! So it was good for my spirits! He decided he wouldn’t go to the trouble again. Good luck with your fodder and your chickens. You are a good farmer!

  2. Merissa @ Little House Living

    We are planning on doing this later this year. I just picked up some peas to start sprouting after we get our birds in a few weeks.

  3. That looks like a great system! I it makes a huge difference in egg quality during the winter when greens are in short supply. We’ve actually been doing something similar with our pigs – fermenting/sprouting grains in whey. they love it!

  4. An interesting article. So far we haven’t felt the need for this step, as our birds free-range during most days and get their greens that way, along with the grains we give them. But you bring up a good point about winter time. Certainly worth further consideration. I do hope you see and quickly fix one thing: “They then get greens with chloroform…” I assume you meant to type “chlorophyll.” Thanks again for the useful info. 🙂

  5. Hi Heather,
    Nice post! I’m not a farmer and don’t raise chickens or other livestock, but I love eating sprouts. Never thought to call them fodder, but hey, why not? Sometimes my eating habits resemble grazing.
    Anyway, I often sprout grains here in the kitchen, but in smaller quantities than you describe. Perhaps it’s time to step it up a notch. 🙂

  6. I am learning all of this because I want to start raising chickens. My questions is this. If there are holes in the pan tso the water drains what about the seeds? Don’t they fall through the holes as well|. I started 2 cups of Red hard wheat in a bowl and soaled it for 24 hours and then drained it and rinsed it well. repeating for another 24 hours. At the end of 48 hours I had a very few tiny sprouts and the batch was starting to smell so I threw it all out. What did I do wrong?

    1. you want to make the holes pretty tiny so the seeds won’t fall through 🙂 after they sprout, they grow pretty fast and their roots will intertwine, making falling through the hole pretty uncommon.

    2. I’ve tried both White and Red wheat and have much better luck with the white. I only soak mine overnight, drain in the morning and leave in cup for day. Put in the first tray that evening. I rinse my trays twice a day to avoid mold. Rabbits get the top haircut and the chickens get the root mat. They all love it.

  7. I just started Laco- fermenting wheat berries for the girls. They eat it but not with the gusto I thought they would after seeing my friends girls go after hers. I may try this sprouting idea with plain water and see if they like it better.
    Thanks for the ideas.

  8. We live in town, so there is not a lot of access to the idea of free ranging outside the large pen, unless we are at constant attention. We love sprouting a mix of wheat/oats/milo. We also sprout barley. The chickens love it. Since we have access to free 5 gallon buckets, we just cut them off with a saw so we have a circle pan. This idea has so far been the best in terms of cost and durability. We started out with seed sprouting trays and quickly realized they won’t hold up. For our 12 chickens, we give them one circle tray every afternoon and their normal feed every morning with snacks as we come by them. It just makes sense. It increases the amount of feed, and quality of feed, in exchange for time spent soaking and watering which doesn’t take that long, so it’s a win. The cost of retail feed dropped dramatically. We still buy the 50 pound bags of all these various grains, but cost wise it has saved us a lot. We keep ours in the same little greenhouse as your picture. Nothing big and fancy but it works great.

  9. Hi – and thanks for the informative post. Question – I hesitate using bleach to retard mold…wondering if the use of vinegar wouldn’t be just as effective. I’m thinking especially apple cider vinegar, which has health benefits of its own.

    1. To the soaking water, I would add some Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide for controlling mold. It is totally healthy and will actually help with germination. Not sure what percentage or amount as I have only seen it mentioned but haven’t used it myself. But I would steer clear of bleach as it is extremely toxic to all life forms.

        1. I soak my seeds/grains overnight in a mason jar, then after the soak I empty the water and have 3% food grade hydrogen peroxide that I spray them with, then rinse that night and drain. I have the hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and keep in the fridge. I do this with all of my sprouts.

  10. Really? Bleach and Aluminum pans? If this is to make healthier eggs than I think I’ll pass. I’ve been doing a fodder system for years and did not use bleach or aluminum. We did plastic (which has it’s own problems) and kept a fan on it to keep the mold off. I am interested in trying ACV for mold. Thanks for the post and getting the word out about fodder.

    1. Actually, she only uses 1/2 capful of bleach and that goes on the grain before it goes into the pans…I am sorry that wasnt’ clear 😉 But you are right, putting it into aluminum pans isn’t the healthiest idea. I think that using plastic along with ACV is what I plan on trying next. Please let me know how yours goes!

  11. You say this fodder system saves on feed cost. How much does the grain cost (for sprouting), vs. the usual feed? When I bought a bag of wheat berries, it was roughly a buck a pound. Chicken feed is significantly less than that. Granted, the greens in winter are a nutrition plus, but does it really “save”?

    Just curious how the total economics play out.

    1. it saves on feed cost (for me anyway) because in my area, a 50 lb. bag of soy free feed is $25, plus the time and gas it takes to drive and get it. I can stretch that with grains that I buy in bulk for $26 for a 50 lb. bucket.

    2. I buy mine in bulk from our local co-op, so it winds up being $.50 a pound. That does save us, not just in feed costs, but in time and gas running to the store, which is over 50 miles one way for us.

    3. Oh my goodness. I just bought a 50 lb. bag of wheat for $10 at Tractor Supply. That’s going to lower our layer pellet expense greatly.

  12. What a great idea! We are planning for chickens next year and my 3-tier greenhouse won’t be used in the winter! I’ll grow some fresh greens. Where do you get the barley from? Is there a way to make sure it’s organic?

    1. I have a place locally that buys it in super bulk 2x a year (like the tune of 10 tons) as a co-op. I get it from her for about $.50 a pound for a 50lb. bucket. I would check with Wheat Montana or Honeyville, which are both online…

  13. Growing Futures Kenya

    I am a bit jealous, your chickens eat better food than we do! At Growing Futures Kenya we make our own food from waste sweet potatoes, coconut, cassava, and msimbi (probiotic sludge that forms as palm wine ferments).

  14. I tried to grow my barley in a greenhouse in May but it gets too hot and all I grew were mold and flies! I gave pans growing well in my living room and will try the greenhouse again in the cooler weather this fall.

  15. We soak and ferment but I don’t have the patience for sprouting. I forget to water them and they end up molding. I need to get better at it because it is fabulous!

  16. Wow! That gutter waterfall system looks awesome. I’ve tried doing fodder in the past, but that looks super easy. Now I’m inspired. 🙂

  17. I have been growing fodder and sprouts for a couple of years now. I ran into a problem this summer. My whole setup got infested with fruit flies. I tried to fight them with traps but no good.
    I quit growing for the summer. I’ll try again when it gets cooler. Any thoughts or ideas.

    1. We have the same problem! I tried putting a lid over my sprouts but it just caused them to mold very quickly. I don’t know how to get rid of the fruit flies!

    2. Try diatomaceous earth! I have hogs and without it my place was swarming with flies. Now i have NONE!

      Look it up in the internet because it really works!

    3. well i am sure glad i read your comment about the fruit flies before i tried it …. we already fight those darned things…. its been a bit better here lately havnt been seeing them but i envisioned the swarm again after reading this

  18. I’d like do to this in my garage but there aren’t many windows so there’s not much natural light, especially in Winter. I’m putting in some electric lights for my rabbits and will probably add a heating source as well. Any tips on lighting for growing fodder? Do any grains work better than others under electric lights?

  19. Mine takes 12 days to grow,some batches get moldy and some times I get a great mat and then sometimes it just stays seeds with green stalks and gets moldy don’t any ideas what I’m doing wrong?

  20. I have an aquaponics system. Can i run the water throughout the day? I want to go large for a wildlife centre. All creatures great and small can eat sprouts. ?????????

  21. I have grown fodder for quite a few years. I have experimented with timing, light, etc, and have kept detailed records (yes, I am a bonificad Nerd). Those little, moving black things in the wheat seeds are not typically fruit flies, they are wheat grain mites. When they eat the germ of the wheat, the seed will not sprout, it just gets mushy. If your wheat smells like honey, it is infested. The wheat can still be sprouted, but not as much will sprout. The mites don’t attack barley. The soaking process, with bleach, typically kills the mites and the eggs, but vinegar does not seem to do as well. One of my concerns was natural light. However, through study and experimentation, I discovered that fodder does not really need light. The sprout (fodder) is the growth of the seed, before it turns to grass, which is when photosynthesis (requiring natural light) starts. Also, the light encourages mold growth, which is reduced noticeably in darker conditions. I have an 8 tray, graduated height, watering system tower. It is watered every 6 hours, by a small submersible pump, attached to an electric timer. In the perfect world, and fir optimum growth, I soak the seeks no less than 10, but no longer than 12 hours (less than 10 hours- less water penetration, fewer sprouts; more than 12 hours- oversaturation/drowning many seeds, fewer sprouts).
    I currently use bleach in the soaking water, because the seeds get rinsed well before being put in the trays. (I got way more mold with vinegar. I am considering trying Hydrogen Peroxide 3%.) Day 0 doesn’t count, as it is just wet seeds (covered- the high humidity, at this stage, causes better sprouting). Day 1 is when little white tips appear. By day 7, I have a solid mat of 6”-8” tall sprouts (optimum growth and nutritional value). Day 7 is optimum because at day 9-10, the sprouts turn to grass, and the high nutrition value begins to diminish (and the mold battle get far worse). My chickens fight over the unsprouted seeds first, while tearing the mat apart, and throwing it everywhere. Then they graze on the green sprouts (pun intended) throughout the day. The next day, a new mat is ready, etc., and on, an on it goes. Sorry, I got carried away there. For us Nerds, experimenting, keeping detailed records to minimize variables, then analyzing the results for optimum production, is exhilarating!

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