I have been reading great things about making barley fodder for the chickens. After much thinking, I decided to build my own fodder tower out of scrap lumber and Dollar Tree dish bins. I bought 10 dish bins for $10. The scrap wood was free. I put everything together with my 18 gauge nail gun, but you could use any nails or screws.
I was able to turn 1 lb of dry barley seed into about 5 lbs of barley sprouts in about 8 days. A 50# sack of barley costs me about $8. In theory, I could have 250# of delicious green barley sprouts for $8. Not only would that save lots of money, but sprouted greens are more easily digested by the chickens and there is less waste. I have read that chickens only digest about 30% of their dry grains, whereas they digest about 80% of these sprouted greens.
First of all, an over all view of the fodder tower.
You can see I have made a tower out of scrap 2X4's and wood railings which are about 1/2 X 1 inch. This is a flood and fill system, so I fill the top bin which flows down to the bin below, and so on.... The bottom black bin does not have any holes in it as this is my collection bin and I will throw that water out.
Here is a side view of how the bins flow down. The backside of the bin rail is 1 inch higher than the front side of the bin with holes. This provided good water drain flow, but I wonder if 1/2 inch difference would have been enough. The bins alternate, so the close side is about 8 inches apart and the other side is about 10 inches apart. This works best for about 7 days as the sprouts are then 7.5 inches tall. At Day 9, the sprouts were 10.5 inches tall.
Here is picture of how the bins slide on to the rails.
In order for the fill and drain system to work, I drilled 1/8" holes into the bottom of the dish bins.
I tried soaking the barley for a number of different hours in my test to see which germinated best and gave me the best results. I tried a 2 hour soak, a 12 hour soak, and a 24 hour soak. For now, the 12 hour soak gave me the best results. I put about 400 grams of barley (14 oz) into a white bin with holes and placed that whole bin in the black dish bin without holes. After the soaking, I put the soaked barley in the bin with holes on the fodder tower. I filled and flooded the bins twice a day, at 9 am and 9 pm. With this system, I only have to fill one dish bin with water and it just flows from the top to the bottom bin.
Here are some pictures of germination progress by day.
Day 0 - after soaking
Day 1 - not too much to see yet.
Day 2 - starting to see something
Day 3 - little green shoots coming in.
Day 4 - starting to fill out. About 3 inches tall.
Day 5 - growing better. About 4.5 inches tall.
Day 6 - Looking good. 6" tall. Nice dark green. Probably ready to feed to chickens.
I continued to grow some fodder for Day 7 (7.5 inches tall), Day 8 (9 inches tall), and Day 9 (10.5 inches tall). In my experience, Day 6 to Day 8 would work best. On Day 9, I noticed that the sprouts started to turn light green/yellow. So I felt that was too long.
Here are some of my results in numbers (12 hour soak):
Day 0 - 400 grams (14 ounces) of dry barley.
Day 7 - 1766 grams (3.8 lbs) of sprouted wet barley. 1 lb seed to 4.4 lbs sprouts equivalent.
Day 8 - 1851 grams (4.0 lbs) of sprouted wet barley. 1 lb seed to 4.63 lbs sprouts equivalent.
Day 9 - 2013 grams (4.44 lbs) of sprouted wet barley. 1 lb seed to 5 lbs sprouts equivalent.
Germination soaking times results:
2 hour soak = about 75% germination rate. 1 lb seed to 3.29 lbs on Day 7.
12 hour soak = about 95% germination rate. 1 lb seed to 4.42 lbs on Day 7.
24 hour soak = about 25% germination rate. 1 lb seed to 2.79 lbs on Day 7.
The barley was expected to have a 90% germination rate according to the feed store. A 2 hour soaking resulted in about 75% germination, and the 24 hour soak really was bad at about 25% germination (estimates based on observation and unsprouted barely seeds). The 12 hour soak was the best at about 95% germination and provided a nice, solid, root mat holding everything together.
Here is a picture of the 24 hour soaked barley at Day 7 with hardly anything to show. The chickens did eat the barley sprouts and the seeds, so it was not a waste. But there was no root mat to speak of and everything fell apart when I took it out of the bin.
There are a few negative things I think are worth mentioning. My tower system is inside my attached garage. The bottom collection bin holds the water so it does not go all over my garage floor. The fodder tower as built is about 6.5 feet tall, which means I would have to fill the top bin over my head. In my garage, I just put the tower next to my stairs, so it was not a problem. But I would not want to be pouring water above the level of my head so I think I would have to make the tower shorter.
Wet barely has a smell to it. It's not bad for a barn, or even a garage, but I don't think I will be able to grow the fodder in my extra bathroom this winter. I changed the water twice a day, at 9 am and 9 pm. But even in just 12 hours it began to smell. If I try to grow fodder in the house, I think I would have to let the water drain down the bathtub drain or immediately dump the collected water in the bottom bin. I don't want my house to smell like a barn, so I would have to monitor the smell very closely if I decided to grow barley fodder in the house.
I wanted to get this fodder tower system built this summer to try it out. I was very happy with the results. The chickens like the barley fodder, but it's still summer here and they have access to nice, fresh, green grass all day. So they eat the barley sprouts, but they prefer the green grass clippings right now. In the winter, I expect they will really enjoy fresh barley greens.
Here is a picture of the barley sprouts in the garden cart which the chickens are enjoying.