Enhancing Your Flock’s Diet with Homegrown Sprouted Grains

Here in Minnesota the Avian Flu outbreak is hitting us hard. Backyard farmers have been advised to limit outside foraging to covered or enclosed runs to protect their chickens from infection from wild birds. Keeping our flocks safe is everyone’s top priority, but it’s hard not to feel guilty for cooping them up even longer after an extended winter.

Lots of folks have asked us about enrichment or dietary enhancements to keep their hens happy and healthy when they can’t forage freely outdoors. Home sprouted grains is any easy way to give your gals an extra boost while they’re still stuck inside.

Why Sprouted Grains as Chicken Feed?

Sprouted grains are an option when it comes to adding variety and nutrition to the girls’ diet when outside foraging is difficult. While this may seem daunting to some, it can be a very simple process to provide sprouts for chickens when fresh fodder isn’t available outside. 

Sprouted wheat grains form a heart shape on a white plate
Sprouted wheat grains are packet with nutrients.

What we call grains are the seeds of cereal grasses (ie, wheat, barley, oats), composed of germ, the starchy endosperm, and the outer bran layer. The germ of the whole grain is actually the embryo; it contains the oils and nutrients necessary for the grain to become a sprout, which then uses the starchy endosperm to sustain its growth as it pushes into the soil and up towards the sky.  Research has shown massive increases in Vitamin A & C in the sprout during this process, and the carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, and proteins to amino acids. If want to add some sprouted grains into the feeding mix for enhanced vitamins and a varied diet, follow this simple guide to get started cultivating your own sprouted grains.

Step One: Choose your grain.

A variety of wooden bowls filled with different grains and seeds are arranged in a circle on a blue background. Each type of grain is a different color and a different size, showing the broad range in grain types.
Different grains sprout at different rates. (Photo Credit: Ramin Talebi)

Different grains take different amounts of time to sprout, so you might want to choose your grain based on when you want to treat your chickens. 

Quick Sprouters (2-3 Days):

Buckwheat is the quickest option, as most people prefer to only take buckwheat to the earliest stage of root emergence due to concerns over oxalic acids in the leaves. Buckwheat will be sprouted and ready to feed to your chickens in 2-3 days.

Medium Sprouters (3-4 Days):

Lentils, mung beans and field peas are great options to sprout out to the root/early-cotyledon stage, taking about 3-4 days. Be sure to feed them to your chickens before green leaves appear on the sprouts.

Lush Sprouters (5-7 Days): 

Have more time and want to put a little extra color in your flock’s diet? Wheat, oats and barley can all easily be sprouted and grown out to a lush, green mat in about 5-7 days. (Note: While sprouted barley is a great source of nutrients for chickens, be sure to avoid feeding intact, unsprouted barley seed to your flock.)

Step Two: Gather your materials.

You will need:

  • Two buckets (be sure one can nest inside the other)
  • A power drill or hammer and nail
  • 4-6 cups of dried grain
  • Water
  • Plant flat tray with small drainage holes in the bottom
  • Spray mister
  • Optional: large tray for collecting runoff

Step Three: Soak your grain.

Three hand-labeled buckets sit on a table, illustrating how to properly soak grains for sprouting. One bucket is labeled FIELD PEAS. Another is labeled BARLEY. The final bucket is labeled BUCKWHEAT.
Soak your grain in a double bucket for 24 hours to help it begin to sprout.
  1. Using your power drill or a hammer and nail, drill 6-8 small holes in the bottom of one bucket. Be sure the holes are smaller than your grains so that you don’t lose any grain through the bottom. (Leave the other bucket alone! You don’t want holes in that one.)
  2. Pour your grain seed into the bucket you just drilled.
  3. Nest the drilled grain bucket into the second bucket. Now you should have a holey, grain-filled bucket sitting inside a regular bucket.
  4. Pour water into the grain bucket. As you’re pouring water in, you should hear it going through the holes and filling the bucket below. Keep adding water until there are at least 2 inches of water sitting above your grains. (Leave at least 3 inches of water if you’re using field peas.) 
  5. Soak your grain for about 24 hours, checking the water periodically to see that your grains have stayed wet. You’ll know it’s working if your grains start to swell, especially field peas. They will double in size!
The photo shows an overhead view of three buckets of grain that has soaked overnight. The bucket containing the small, dark buckwheat grains has soaked up all or most of the water. The bucket of large, round field peas has soaked up all or most of the water. The bucket of buckwheat still contains an inch or so of water above the soaked grains, with a few grains of buckwheat floating at the surface.
Your grains should soak up most of the water overnight.

Step Four: Drain your grain.

Standing over a sink, lift the grain bucket up and out of the water bucket and set in the sink. Let the water drain out of the holes in the bottom for a few minutes while you set up your seed tray.

A close-up of a white, middle-aged woman's hand holding up a palmful of soaked field peas. The hand is heavily lined, and the cuff of a black chunky-knit sweater is visible. In the background is the interior of the field pea bucket, containing the rest of the soaked field peas.
Field peas double in size after soaking.

Step Five: Spread and sprout!

  1. Set up your space where you’d like to sprout your grains. It could be on a table near a sunny window, near a radiator, or someplace out of the way. They key is to find someplace warm enough to encourage the seeds to germinate, but not so hot that the seeds will cook or dry out. Your grains should sprout fine anywhere in your home, so don’t overthink it!
  2. Optional: Place your plant flat tray on a towel or kitchen tray to catch any overspill or leaking water from your sprouting grains. We used an old boot tray, and it worked great for us.
  3. Pour and spread your soaked grains into the plant flat tray, making a layer ½” – ¾” deep.
  4. Mist your grain seed heavily with water several times a day. Dry seed won’t sprout!
  5. Use all of your senses to check for mold or slime as your grains sprout. Moldy or slimy grains are not safe for chickens! Healthy, sprouted grains should smell pleasant and feel robust, not slimy. Get to know what each healthy sprouted grain smells and feels like as a key indicator of quality.
Small, dark brown buckwheat seeds are spread evenly across a large, black plastic plant tray. The sees are damp from soaking overnight, and sit in an even layer between one and two inches thick.
Spread your grains across a large plant tray and mist with water several times a day to keep it damp.

Step Six: Feed your chickens!

Two chickens eat grain out of a white person's hand, while another chicken looks on. A fourth chicken pecks at the ground near the person's denim-clad knee.
Feed most sprouted grains before any leaves develop on the sprout.
  • Sprouting buckwheat? Feed flock after 2-3 days, before any leaves develop on your sprouts
  • Sprouting lentils, mung beans, or field peas? Feed your flock after 3-4 days, before any leaves develop on your sprouts.
  • Sprouting wheat, oats, or barley? Take your time! Let these form a beautiful, green mat about 4” high before you feed your flock, about 5-7 days.

Are your chickens unimpressed with your efforts?

A black and white chicken with a marbled feather pattern suspiciously side-eyes the camera. The chicken has a bright red comb and stands dramatically against a plain black background.
Your chickens may give you side eye the first time you offer them sprouts. (Photo credit: John Towner)

It happens to all of us: we plan something special, only to find our efforts met with a complete lack of enthusiasm. Don’t be discouraged! It’s perfectly normal if at first your flock seems suspicious, and or doesn’t seem to like them. Remember that chickens are prey animals, constantly on the alert for new threats or danger, so anything new may seem scary to them at first. Chickens have habits too. Give them time, and they’ll soon be just as excited as you are!

Ready to try this at home? Stop in at Jack’s, and we’ll help get you started. Leave us a comment to let us know how it’s going!

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Stefan Meyer

Stefan Meyer

From the Family Farm to the Urban Farm, to an Agroforestry Center in the Minnesota North Shore, Stefan has explored many facets of farming over the course of his life. A strong love of working with soils, plants and animals, mixed with an ethos of ecological balance and regenerative farming practices, continue to guide him on this journey.

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