Raising backyard chickens is a growing trend, not only for the fun they bring to a family, but also for the added health benefits of fresh eggs.
The eggs from chickens raised at home are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than most factory-produced eggs because they get to eat a rich diet of greens, bugs and grains.
For most of the year, chickens can be let out of the pen to scavenge for greens, but during the winter, or if they are not let out of the pen, it is difficult for chickens to get the greens they need. This is where hydroponics comes in.
Chicken fodder, grown from seeds such as rye grass, millet, buckwheat, clover and kale, can easily and plentifully be grown in an ebb and flow system either indoors under a grow light or in a greenhouse.
Below is my set-up for growing chicken fodder during the winter in my greenhouse. I have two of these systems running to provide for the 10 hens, five ducks, and one rooster that I have.
If you only have one or two chickens, then you can modify all this down to a simpler system using a few 12 ft. by 20 ft. flats and humidity domes and just hand-watering.
- 2 ft. by 4 ft. black flood table
- 50-gal. black reservoir
- 50-gal. reservoir cover
- 2 ft. by 4 ft. tray stand with light kit
- 250 gph submersible pump
- 7-day digital timer
- Fitting kit for flood tables
- ½-in. black tubing
- Humidity dome
- 2 ft. by 4 ft. tray liner
- 48 in. by 20 in. seedling heat mat (optional if your greenhouse or growroom is not heated)
- Digital temperature controller for heat mat (optional)
- 4-ft., 8-tube T5 lighting system with hangers and a timer (optional, if you plan to grow indoors)
- Seeds for fodder. The following are good choices: peas, oats, rye grass, buckwheat, millet, kale, broccoli, clover, sunflower seeds, flax seed and barley
- Grow cubes
- Nutrients – optional if you want to grow out the fodder for a few weeks
Set up your flood table and reservoir with the fittings. You don’t need to use any risers on the fittings since you need only a low flood level.
Place the system on the flood table stand and put the liner in it. You will need to fold the edges of the liner to put the humidity dome over it. If your greenhouse or growroom is not heated, you may need to use a large heat mat that covers the table and then place the liner over the heat mat.
Place the grow cubes as a thin layer over the liner and flood the table for 15 minutes. You can opt out of using grow cubes, but I found the seeds do not germinate as well or grow as fast when grown bare. I also think the rockwool breaks down into sand and grit that helps the chickens with digestion if they consume it.
Let it drain and scatter the mixture of seeds. Use a variety of seeds, including legumes, grasses and cruciferous vegetables.
Place the humidity dome over the tray and turn on the heat mat if you are using one. Depending on your room temperature and humidity, you may not need to flood more than twice a week. Keep an eye on the grow cubes and make sure they are not going dry. I leave the vents open on the dome.
How long you decide to grow the fodder is really up to you. Some people like to feed their chickens seeds at the germination stage, so only one week of growth may be enough. Or you can grow the fodder up to four weeks for a good stand of green growth.
If you do decide to grow it out for a few weeks, it may be good to add some nutrients to the reservoir. I keep my reservoir at around 250 ppm (0.5 EC).
Using the liner keeps the tray clean and makes it easy to transport the fodder out to your chickens.
You may need to scrape the fodder off the liner if you let it grow out too much, as the roots will eventually penetrate through the liner.