Drought is the biggest enemy to livestock owners. It causes a scarcity of feed & prices rise to the point that farmers cut way back on how many animals they can carry through the winter. We have had bad years in Michigan where drought has affected the hay crop or too much rain caused the hay to be so stemmy that much was wasted. When quality is low or hay is in short supply, animals must be supplemented with other feed. Grain or pelleted feed is often fed for this reason. We choose not to feed grain to our sheep since it is not a natural feed for them to consume, and is not as digestible as green feed. There is a way to cut your hay consumption in half and feed livestock nutritious green feed even in the dead of a snowy winter.   

For some years I'd been interested in growing fodder as a way to feed livestock well and cheaply and to save space. Hay takes up so much room in the barn. I'd see those ads where the farmer is pulling a grassy mat out of a tray & feeding it to cattle. Most of these ads were for the large systems that are housed in a building or trailer where the temperature is controlled & watering is automated. They come with a hefty price tag & made much more food than I need.

Not only would replacing hay with fodder save space, there is no waste with fodder. The entire plant, root mass and all is consumed. According to Fodder Tech, a fodder systems manufacturer, “Barley grain for example is about 30% digestible, but by sprouting for 7 days, digestibility is increased to as much as 90%.

I wanted to know how I could grow my own fodder and determined to try this myself. I will confess that my first attempt, while not a total failure, did not yield to my expectations for the work involved. In 2012, I became interested again in my quest for non GMO animal feed. This time there was much more helpful information available to make the effort a success.


Years ago I bought about 30 cat litter trays for about $2/each. Drainage holes were punched in the bottom of 15 of them, filled with soil and used to start seedlings. The other 15 pans served as trays to catch the drips. They held up well & in 2012 became fodder trays.


I now use 10x20 nursery trays without holes. I drill three holes in the end of the seed trays for drainage. Some people use boot trays. Go to your dollar store & look around, you might find even better options. You can start with any container you have at hand to run an experiment.


I had to get creative with the stacking arrangements to fit my fodder in one place rather than have it strung all over the house. The first couple of years they were on wide basement window sills. As I began to feed more animals and needed more space, a plastic shelving unit did the trick. When I began harvesting 40# per day for the dairy herd, I used a heavy duty PVC plant stand.

Kinds of Grain

I wanted to buy non GMO grain. Currently, that's all the grains I can think of besides corn & soy. I have successfully grown fodder from barley, oats, wheat & annual rye. Rye grass endophyte is a fungus that negatively impacts animal performance. It is found in perennial rye. You can avoid the danger by using annual rye. Barley is my favorite because it is less problematic to grow in my household conditions.

Sources of Grain

The next thing needed is a source of grain. Barley from the grocery store will not sprout. Neither will any grain that has been heat treated in any way. I've read that you can only use seed grain. If you use seed grain make certain it hasn't been treated. Treated seed could be deadly to your animals. I've mostly used feed grain & it's worked just fine. Grain from your local feed store is an option. Maybe you are feeding whole oats to your animals, try some of that & see how it does.

I already had feed delivered from a mill & just revised my order to include barley. That was the grain I learned on because that is the one that had the most information available. The fodder you see in ads for the larger fodder systems is usually barley grass.
I learned the hard way that barley is not always available in my area & had to switch to oats and/or wheat. Once again I encountered problems because the mill sourced their grain on the open market & the germination rate varied wildly from order to order.

I then decided to forgo the convenience of delivery & drive to a farm in the next county that grows the grain they sell. I can always get oats & wheat and almost always barley. It's clean & germination is consistent. Local Harvest is an excellent resource to find grain farmers.

If you would like to up the protein content in your fodder, field peas are a great option. Make sure they are for feed and not seed. Feed peas are less expensive and not treated. It will seem that the peas are astronomically expensive compared to grain, but they make up a small portion of the ration. There are Pearson Square calculators online that can be used to formulate a mix with specific protein percentages.

If you are just running an experiment you can start with a cup of grain & a container with drainage holes. You can use a Gladware container or something from your recycle bin. If you are jumping right in & hope to feed your animals, you need to know how much hay you are feeding by weight & grow 1/2 that amount of fodder. My yield is about 1:5 ratio. If I feed 30# of feed/day, I will need to grow 15# of fodder a day. That means you will be starting 3# of grain each day.
Now for the how to...finally.