I'm not a great fan of cultivated grain, we like to limit it in our own diet so why not in our poultry's. If you read the average bag of even organic pelleted food, you will find all the protein content made up of dry grain or legumes. If you look back into its history, in particular, to that of wheat, grain was a food cultivated purely as a cheap diet to feed vast armies of slaves.
Mrs Badger in the bucket
From fast food to a nutritious meal - organic triticale as a seasonal supplement.
In an ideal situation I would be giving my poultry no grain, nor additional food, except for organic fruit and vegetables and expecting them to forage for their optimum 'paleo' diet. However, with only 1000m² of forest garden at their disposal, I unfortunately still need to feed it. I worked out recently, when someone asked me, that my birds eat on average the equivalent of 30g (1 oz) of dry weight of grain per day, but this is obviously increased in weight and nutrition because it is sprouted.
Where to find organic grain locally
Most organic farms and in particular dairy farms are mixed arable as well as pasture. Typical crops here include triticale, wheat, barley, oats, vetch and peas grown as fodder or a biomass cover-crop to protect set-aside over the Winter. For poultry-keepers, dairy farms have the added advantage of machinery for rolling grain, which can be handy for starter food for chicks. However, if you are sprouting grain, then you can also start your chicks on them. Even so my ever-careful mother hens still break these up into little bits!
To find your local farm a good starting point is your local organic shop/butcher or organic farmers' association. Here in France we have a most useful on-line directory, annuaire.agencebio.org, which lists all farms under areas and even post codes. You can find your nearest farmer with the crops and livestock he produces and his contact numbers. So take a look at it, even if you don't speak French, you will still get the idea. Furthermore, tell your local organic farmers and producers about it because it makes buying locally so much easier when you know who sells what and where! You would do well to find a couple of organic farmers, as we are mostly talking small family concerns here and depending on their capacity and client base they can run out of grain before the next harvest.
Farmers depend on the weather and can have late sowings and poor harvests but normally they will be sowing around November here and harvesting around August. We have two main farms we buy from, both organic dairy, one further North and one just a few minutes away. There is also the added bonus of being able to buy other organic products directly from source (raw milk, cream, honey, cider, apple cider vinegar...) and to get organic straw and hay for the chicks. Plus like us, you will enjoy making contact with some very positive people, who like yourselves are working hard to redress the balance on this planet.
Oh and you get to pet a few animals!
Why sprout? What happens to grain when you soak or sprout it.
The key to sprouting grain and why it has more and better quality nutrition than when dry seems logical. A dry grain is basically dormant, it is just lying about doing nothing. Many grains have barbs or hairs which physically deter foragers, in addition, they contains enzyme inhibitors, phytic acid and other toxic substances which make them difficult to digest. These are also meant to stop the grain from being consumed, as many of these grains are self dispersed and do not require third-party help! Furthermore, phytic acid, once consumed inhibits the uptake of various trace nutrients such as copper, magnesium, calcium, iron and in particular zinc, which is why a totally dry grain diet can cause deficiency problems. The levels of this acid are reduced by soaking and sprouting.
Also of particular interest to poultry keepers, phytic acid can affect the absorption of Vitamin D3, which is an important factor itself in the absorption of calcium and thus the ability of the hen to make egg shells.
When a grain or seed gets wet it prepares to grow and the enzyme activity within it speeds up and it becomes a 'powerhouse' of energy preparing to turn that seed into a plant. This makes it both more digestible to humans, non-ruminant animals and birds and also enhances its protein, vitamin, mineral and fat content. Ancient man both sprouted and soaked many of his foods before consuming them. Captain James Cook, is known for being instrumental in dealing with the condition of scurvy amongst his sailors on long voyages by, we were taught at school, supplying barrels of citrus fruit on board ship. Recently when surfing the net, I found this was in fact only half the story, for to provide the adequate vitamin C, Cook's ships were actually permanently sprouting grains and legumes too.
You can visit the multitude of sites on sprouting on the web but as a simple rule of thumb I work on this that sprouting increases:
Crude protein and protein quality
Essential fatty acids
Vitamins, in particular A, E and C, plus some of the B complex (in particular B2, B5 and B6)
Minerals functionality due to their chelation with protein.
This is dependent on what poultry you have. Certain birds, such as quail for example, having a higher protein requirement than chickens, you may want to chose your base grains accordingly and/or supplement with some extra legumes. My fantails are particularly partial to peas, whereas my chickens actually eat grain in a specific order and often leave the peas and vetch for the pigeons. Whereas the quail...
Melee at mealtime
As a rule of thumb with if you are thinking of sprouting wheat, or wheat berries, then the older the variety the better the all round nutritional and thus the protein content. Modern wheat is usually 10 - 12% protein but the old varieties, such as Khorasan - Kamut aka Camel's tooth, have better micronutrient content and 15 - 16% protein. Another good ancient wheat to sprout is Einkorn aka Egyptian or The Pharaoh’s wheat with a protein level of 16 - 17% and again good micronutrient content.
My favourite grain is triticale, which is a wheat rye cross developed in the 19th century, it has a high protein content of 21% so even dry is a good enough level of protein for quail. However, I am not feeding just grain as a supplement to foraged food but adding quite a mix of vegetables and fruit, as well as any extras, such as nuts and seeds (sprouted). The fantails and quail also get this but with a higher sprouted grain content.
How we sprout
We sprout using a series of repurposed organic olive buckets. We always have 5 days worth of food sprouting at one time. The grain is first washed and drained through a sieve, which is just one of the olive buckets with holes pierced through the base and lower sides. The grain is then left to soak for 24 hours and then rinsed, drained and covered for the subsequent days. Depending on the weather, the grain sprouts to varying degrees but you should begin to have a good overall germination by the third day.
If I'm sprouting a mix of legumes then I will do this separately, as it needs to sprout for longer than the 5 day cycle of the rest of the grains, normally I would be looking at 7 days. So on the right you can see both mixes added to the pigeons' dinner pail.
Now's the time to start
All grass is not the same, there are specific times of the year mainly early Spring when pasture has its optimum nutritional value. So although your hens do well on pasture they will not be getting the same food value from it all year round. For this reason, if you have limited land like we do, Winter is a great time to be sprouting. You can even go further with your sprouts and produce 'wheat' grass, or sun flower 'lettuce', for example, which is the next stage on from sprouts, often grown in trays, I grow it in soil.
The other problem of this time of year is the limited amount of invertebrate protein. Hens are not vegetarians, they will eat a vast array of insect protein as well as being great hunters of small rodents and even snakes. You only need to look at a hen's profile and the glint in its eye when it catches sight of a tasty wireworm to glimpse the Archaeopteryx beneath. So the protein hunger gap can be filled, at least partially with sprouts.
So if you want to sit back and watch the film:
Thanks for dropping by and if you have found this posts useful, please feel free to share, comment, ask questions and/or relate your own experience of sprouting
All the best, Sue
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© 2013 Sue Cross