If you’ve ever visited North Dakota in the winter its plain to see that we don’t have a green sprig of anything in existence. This can make free ranging chickens during the snowy months nearly impossible. Let me rephrase that, it simply IS impossible.
Due to our snow volumes my poor birds haven’t been able to spend much time outside their coop and attached covered run. With no bugs or grass to pluck and with 3+ feet of snow I recognized right away I needed to do some supplementation to keep my ladies happy.
The topic of seed sprouting would repeatedly pop up in various chicken forums I was reading online. At first it seemed a bit doting and time consuming but research showed the nutritional value of sprouted seed verses the non-sprouted version increased immensely. Not only that, birds would supposedly go hog wild over this food source.
The facts? The gist of it and in not-so-scientific terms; when seeds sprout they naturally start to germinate and in this process they use up some of the starch/carbohydrates that naturally exist in the seed. It has been found that through this process the natural fiber and protein content of the sprout increases. More of the seed becomes digestible, chlorophyll and vitamins pop onto the scene and next thing you know you have a nutritious powerhouse enclosed in a neat little package AND they are tasty to boot!
This past fall I decided to run a little experiment to see exactly how my birds would react to sprouts. Because I wasn’t completely convinced the time and effort was worth it I ended up ordering organic alfalfa and green lentils to sprout. I figured this way, I could at least enjoy them on salads or cooked into soups if my birds decided to turn up their beaks at them.
I also ordered some screw on strainer tops to use with my canning jar sprout system. Each lid has different size drainage holes which come in handy depending on the seed size you may be sprouting (found on Amazon).
In quart jars I added 1 Tbsp of alfalfa seed to Jar 1 and 2-3 Tbsp of lentils to Jar 2. After a brief soaking (1-2 hours) they were drained and set aside. As seen in the following photo, I made a makeshift rack to tilt my jars so they could retain more moisture and the sprouts would have a larger area stretch their legs.
Each day I rinsed my seeds/sprouts with luke warm water and drained. Not only does rinsing keep the seeds moist but it will keep things “fresh” as you don’t want bacteria growing in this high protein heaven you are creating.
After a couple days you begin to see a few changes as sprouting begins. In 7-10 days your volume can double, triple and even quadruple…especially in the case of alfalfa. Once you start seeing green, it’s time to eat!
At first, my chickens were a little shy to try something new. Of course at that time they still had grass and bugs available to them so sprouts just didn’t appeal. However, as the snowbanks grew, so did their appetite for these beautiful green shoots. My hens quickly frenzied, hopping around and grabbing up this chicken candy like children after a solid piñata hit!
For the time being I’m still using the countertop method of sprouting. I sprout in small amounts as a supplemental treat for my birds who are currently in the midst of their first year of egg laying. I’ve considered converting things to the bucket method, utilizing different grains in larger amounts. With this method, I could potentially reduce the dependency on pellet feed during the winter.
Another feasible option for the future might be feed fermentation via the bucket method. I have a bit more research to do on this but the overall goal would be maintaining the health of my flock while reducing feed costs.