By Peyam Barghassa, Hydrofarm Territory Manager, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic
Raising backyard chickens is growing in popularity, 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’s than most factory produced eggs because they get to eat a rich diet of greens and bugs, as well as grains. During most of the year, chickens can be let out of the pen to scavenge for greens. However, during the winter or if they are kept in a pen, for protection from predators or other reasons, it is difficult for chickens to get the greens that they need. This is where hydroponics comes in.
Chicken fodder, grown from seeds such as rye grass, millet, buckwheat, clover, kale, etc., can easily and plentifully be grown in an ebb and flow system either indoors under a grow light or in a greenhouse.
I’ll detail 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, 5 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 12×20 flats/humidity domes and just hand watering.
Flood table set up –
- 2×4 black flood table
- 50 gal black reservoir
- 50 gal reservoir cover
- 2×4 tray stand with light kit
- Active Aqua submersible pump 250 GPH
- 7 day dual outlet digital timer
- American Hydroponics fitting kit for flood tables
- ½” black tubing
- Smart Pot tray liner 2×4 (Special order item)
- Seedling heat mat 48”x20”; optional if your greenhouse or grow room is not heated
- Digital temperature controller for heat mat; optional
- Designer T5 4ft/8-tube with hangers and a timer; optional, if you plan to grow indoors.
- Seeds for fodder. The following are good choices: peas, oats, ryegrass, buckwheat, millet, kale, broccoli, clover, sunflowers, flaxseed, barley and others.
- Grodan Mini Cubes – about half of a 5 gal bucket or about ½ cubic foot.
- GH FLoraDuo A – optional if you want to grow out the fodder for a few weeks.
Set up -
1) 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.
2) Place the system on the flood table stand and put the Smart Pot Liner in it. You will need to fold the edges of the liner in order to put the Humidome over it. If your greenhouse or grow room is not heated, you may need to use a large heat mat that covers the 2×4 table; and then place the smart pot liner over the heat mat.
3) Place the Grodan Mini Cubes as a thin layer over the Smart Pot Liner and flood the table for 15 minutes. You can opt out of using the Mini Cubes, but I found that 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.
4) Let it drain and scatter the mixture of seeds over the Mini Cubes. Use a variety of seeds that includes legumes, grasses and cruciferous vegetables.
5 Place the Humidome 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 Mini Cubes and make sure they are not going dry. I leave the vents open on the Humidome.
6) 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 it out up to 4 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 like to use FloraDuo A since it already has micronutrients mixed in. I keep my reservoir at around 250ppm (0.5 EC).
7) Using the Smart Pot 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, since the roots will eventually penetrate the liner.
8) And happy chickens make for plentiful eggs!