Question of the Week
Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about sprouting grains for livestock feeds.
It is not considered to be cost effective to sprout grains for livestock feed. Generally, in livestock feeding, the nutritional quality of grains is not improved by sprouting them. A brief section from Cheeke's Applied Animal Nutrition: Feeds and Feeding, points out that the germination of the seed utilizes energy that would have been available to the animal. Since the germinating seed uses up starch (and releases carbon dioxide), the remaining nutrients (protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals) become more concentrated; however, the total amount of these nutrients is not actually higher. However, sprouting can increase the amounts of carotene (vitamin A precursor) (1).
From a sustainable agriculture point of view, livestock should generally be raised in regions where forages can be produced to support their production, with grazing forages, hays, and other sources of fodder instead of sprouting grains for green feed. However, in specialty poultry production such as free-range, sprouted grains can play an important role in providing green forage during winter.
According to Rice’s 1930 book Practical Poultry Management, sprouts must be kept at 60 F in order to sprout; otherwise mold will occur and the room should be well-ventilated. However, modern producer Harvey Ussery sprouts successfully in his basement although he says in winter, the process is slower (see Further Reading section). Grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats, are commonly sprouted as well as legumes such as peas, mungbeans, and lentils. If a green sprout is desired, light needs to be provided.
There are several low-cost methods to producer sprouts, including buckets, bags, trays, or cabinets. High-tech methods can also be used for large quantities of sprouts.
The bucket and/or tank methods is a simple way to produce large quantities of sprouted grains or beans in a small area. Sprouted grains are harvested and fed to livestock when seeds have sprouted and roots have grown 0.5 – 2 in in length. Seed germination and root growth, not top growth, are the goals.
Grains or beans are placed in the bottom of a bucket or tank and soaked in water overnight. After soaking, seeds are drained and rinsed. Thereafter, seeds need to be rinsed with water once to twice daily. After a few days, seed swelling and germination occurs followed by root emergence. Sprouted grains can then be fed directly to livestock. Commercial sprout producers use large stainless steel vats to raised mungbeans sprouts via this method. Milk tanks could also be used. Drainage holes that can be opened and closed, or the ability to tip a tank over to dump water, are important features.
Sprouting can also be done in small muslin bags that are hung; however, the sprouts will be white--not green--due to lack of light.
Tray Method and Cabinets:
The goals of the tray and shallow bed methods are top growth (i.e. wheat grass, barley grass, hydroponic forage, etc. Fresh greens have chlorophyll and vitamins that are not present in sprouted seeds. In either case, soaked seeds are spread very thickly on a flat surface. Seeds are rinsed with water on a daily basis until germination occurs, and thereafter as needed. Sprouts are harvested with leaves are 6-8 inches in height. The whole plant, roots as well as top growth, can be fed to livestock. Other seeds suited to the tray or shallow bed methods include buckwheat, sunflower , and amaranth.
The tray methods is suitable to either vertically –stacked trays inside a growth chamber or single-layer tray on horizontal shelves. Fluorescent lights placed directly over the sprouts can provide sufficient light for indoor production (i.e. barn, storage shed, basement). In the past, sprouting cabinets were sometimes warmed to keep the temperature above 70 F.
Large quantities of grains can be sprouted in a high-tech manner, using a separate room or greenhouse or other method to enclose and control the environment.
Single-layer growing beds which can be located inside a greenhouse during the winter months, or outdoors during the growing season. Shallow beds are adaptable to floor or bench production systems, and may be framed or simply lay flat. They are called shallow beds because they use a shallow layer of compost, peat moss, or potting mix as a starting medium.
Hydroponic grass production can be extended into the winter months through the use of an attached solar greenhouse or a free-standing low-cost hoop house. In really cold weather, root zone heating is an option that can be added to the greenhouse set-up.
For more information on hydroponics and sprouted grain technology (for human consumption), see ATTRA’s Greenhouse and Hydroponic Vegetable Production Resources and ATTRA’s Sprouts and Wheatgrass Production and Marketing, which includes contacts for the International Sprout Growers Association, is an organization of commercial sprout producers.
1) Ensminger, M.E., J.E. Oldfield, and W.W. Heinemann. 1990. Feeds & Nutrition Digest. 2nd Edition. The Ensminger Publishing Co., Clovis, CA. p. 274.
Cheeke, Peter R. 1991. Applied Animal Nutrition: Feeds and Feeding. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. p. 52 53.
Harrison, John Bede. 1993. Growing Food Organically. Waterwheel Press, Seattle, WA. Title page, p. 121-129.
Jackson, Homer W. 1926. Poultry Houses and Fixtures. Reliable Poultry Journal Publishing Company, Dayton, OH. Title page, p.303-305.
Rice, James E. and Harold E. Botsford. 1930. Practical Poultry Management. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY. Title page, p. 95-96.
Ussery, Harvey. 2007. Sprouting to Enhance Poultry Feeds.
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