Sprouting grain and pulses for your flock, where, why, how, what and when?

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

© 2013 Sue Cross


  1. U are just brilliant Sue.. I love the way u explain things..ive learnt the good thing about sprouts ..wow thanks Sue

    1. Hi, Thanks, I appreciate your kind comments. I really enjoy writing these posts and making the films, so it's a bonus if someone takes the time to send me some feedback. All the very best, Sue

    2. Dear Sue

      Love the site. Can you provide a few details for me. I have a 5 Grains Porridge (which has Rolled Brown Rice in it) do you soak that overnight in water or milk before feeding.

      What size holes did Andy drill in your sprouting bucket.

      What type of pasta elbows (or macaroni) are you using Durum Wheat do you just boil it in salty water.

      What fruits are you giving your quail and chickens are there sultanas. What type of bread was it sourdough, baguette or multi grain.

      What legumes are you sprouting Woolly Pod Vetch, Fava Bean, Lupins etc.

      Do you grow perennial sunflowers or what types do you have and use. Many thanks. Cheers

    3. Hi Neil Thanks for your kind words about my site!
      With rolled grains you could just soak them for a hour if not coarsely rolled.
      Holes in the bucket are between 1/16 and 1/8 of an inch or 2mm - 3mm, this is just smaller than the dry grain.
      The pasta is from organic durum wheat - semi-complet in French which is between whole grain and white.
      I give my chickens a wide range of fruit and vegetables and I have filmed a food diary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ95mLOchgA&t=3s
      I sprouted a pack or mixed organic legumes, which included vetch, peas, alfalfa..
      I grow Jerusalem Artichokes which are in the same family as sunflowers - my Polish hens love these!
      Hope this answers you questions and there is a lot of detail in the film. All the very best from Normandie, Sue

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  3. Hi Sue, thank you for your helpful advice. I am following your posts closely while learning to manage a flock of 3 free ranging chickens. I would like to know what you use for prevention and treatment of internal parasites? I know there are garlic, turmeric, wormwood, apple cider and milk mash. What I would like to know is what you are using routinely and how much? I expect the sprouted grain helps a lot and I am starting to sprout!

    Warmly, Fiona

    1. Hi Fiona,

      I usually don't have any specific routine for doing this but now and again in the Winter months, I do put unpasteurised organic apple cider vinegar in their water. This would only be for one day and maybe a couple of times per year just as a general tonic. I also can do a one-off essential oil of oregano treatment per year for the whole flock. This is one drop of organic oregano EO in one dessertspoon of organic virgin coconut oil and then this is mixed into one large saucepan of cooked pasta.

      I tend to treat problems, such as parasites, when and if they occur in individual birds. Prevention for the whole flock would be in just keeping their diet at an optimum, their stress as low as possible, their houses dry and clean and their environment as free-ranging as possible. If I think a individual bird might have a parasite problem, I also use oregano oil but externally, as I always think it is too strong to get the dosage right for one. To this end, I put one drop of EO of oregano into 1 teaspoon of sunflower oil then I put this on a piece of cloth and get the bird to stand on it. This gets the oregano into the system through the soles of the feet, which is most effective. The problem with oregano oil is it will kill everything, so to use it more than a couple of times internally, would mean restocking the flock's gut flora with some pre- and probiotics. I do feed garlic in the Winter, just grated into their general food, as a good source of trace elements to keep the immune system in good order. I tend to use turmeric for stress and shock but on occasion I have given it for a digestive problem, again diluted in coconut oil; per bird I would use just enough powdered turmeric to cover the very end of a teaspoon. I do actually grow my own turmeric and this year have had a very good first harvest, so in future will be able to add some fresh grated rhizome to the chickens' general food as well.

      Good luck with the sprouting, I would never go back to feeding dry grain, as I wrote I never liked the idea of feeding the latter in the first place and this makes me more happy about feeding cultivated grain until we can get more land.

      Hope this helps. All the very best and thanks for reading my posts, much appreciated,


  4. Hi Sue, thank you. I shall add some oregano essential oil to my medicine chest. I look forward to following your blog and the very cute pictures.

    Thanks again, Fiona.

  5. I am very interested in how you feed your pigeons. We are considering adding pigeons to our homestead and there is little to no information out there about feeding them naturally. I'm switching our rabbits over to sprouted wheat fodder, and was wondering if I could sprout grains for pigeons as well. In addition to the sprouted legumes, what else do you feed your pigeons? Thank you!

    1. Hi Phacelia,

      Thanks for your comments. Firstly as you will no doubt have realised my pigeons are free-range so they do tend to forage for quite a lot of their food. The original 5 fantails I re-homed were not, as they had been kept in an aviary but a male I bought taught them all about greenery and what to look for! Pigeons are very bright, supposedly the most intelligent of the birds and that is saying something. If you keep hens, in particular the old breeds, you probably realise how incredible they are in their food choices and ability to find the right balanced diet. That said they do get 2 meals a day, of sprouted organic tritical, some legumes when I sprout them and a variety of fruit and vegetables. I am very lucky in this, in that I have a friend with an organic shop, so I get all the trimmings and debris. I grate root vegetable for all the poultry so the pigeons tend to pick and choose from this. They are also in an apple orchard so they do eat windfalls as well as anything in the fruit line they fancy that comes from the shop. They really like green leaf veg, Swiss chard, kale, turnip and radish green, so if I didn't have the supply from the shop I would grow this for them. One of their real favourite is broccoli though and of course the ubiquitous lettuce. My fantails stay around their dovecote, they were bred to surround sacred sites, so they remain within our garden. On occasions they will fly over the house and venture into the farm lane in front, where there are specific weeds they like. Pigeons are good at grazing and weed control and like hens if they don't get enough greenery, they will start to eat garden plants and flowers, so I make sure they have enough. Here is a film I made on youtube on the subject - I will be following up with a blog, now you have jogged my memory. Thanks! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItXx7Kk-150 Hope this helps and please do ask if you need more help, Sue

    2. Thank you for your reply! That is very helpful. Would a mix of sprouts, including legumes like peas,as well as sprouted wheat or barley fodder (sprouted to day 8 or 9) provide enough protein for breeding pairs, do you think?

    3. Hi Phacelia, with the peas, I would say yes. I had vetch too in my mix and also my main grain was triticale - the rye wheat cross that can have up to 21% protein. Are your pigeons free-ranging because they will pick up a lot of their nutritional requirement just from foraging? When we had road works in the farm lane out side our house, I saw my pigeons eating earthworms from the diggings! Planting a high protein crop for greenery (even in trays) such as alfalfa (lucerne) would help too, that way they have the choice. As I wrote before, mine eat a lot of greenery and I know with quail the levels of vitamin A stored in the liver affect egg laying and as pigeons tend to consume high vitamin A foods like peas and kale (I also give mine grated carrot) I would guess it is equally important for them. I strongly believe that birds know what nutrition they need and when. My pigeons on a high protein diet i.e. sprouted vetch peas and triticale, will produce and hatch 2 eggs per month! In the Winter if I kept protein at that same level, they would still keep sitting, food is definitely the trigger. Hope this helps and good luck, Sue

  6. Does the protein content in the triticale increase even more than the 21% when sprouted?

    1. Hi Ryan, Thank-you for your question it is an interesting one and I have discussed this with the farmers from whom I buy my grain. Technically yes it should but I've never seen any actual figures to confirm this. I do like to provide my birds with access to invertebrate protein as well though. This is because certain amino acids such as methionine, which is essential for growth and cell repair and is often the cause aggression and nervous behaviour when deficient, are not available in grains. There are also different strains of triticale with different percentages of protein but if you are buying directly your farmer should know. All the very best and hope this helps, Sue