Ever spent lots of your hard-earned cash on yummy treats for your chickens?
Corn, grapes and watermelon in the summer, oats and fish in the winter - we all do it and our girls are definitely worth it!
But there's no need to spend a lot. A little time, a little care and no matter what the weather you can have a huge bowlful of inexpensive, nutritious treats for your chickens that they'll love, love, love you for!
The easiest, quickest and least expensive are lentils, and they're the ones I make most often for my chickens. They're quick to sprout, don't go mouldy and everyone in my flock loves them.
Choose green or brown for the best sprouts; red ones will also grow but not as well in my experience. And don't buy split lentils - they won't sprout at all. Buy the full seeds.
Other seeds which sprout well are mung beans, alfalfa and mustard. Sunflowers are a favourite too but they take longer - about ten days - and they need washing well or they tend to go mouldy. You can also buy a good quality mixed bird seed and use that if you want a bit of variety.
Whichever you choose, try to buy organic. They've not been subjected to pesticides and the fewer chemicals going into your chickens the better - both for their health and for the quality of the eggs they give your family.
Don't use beans for sprouting. They need to be well cooked if you're feeding them to your flock - if you want to know why, use this link (which will open in a new window so you don't lose your place here).
It's so easy, you'll wonder why you haven't done it before. I use a cup of lentils at a time, which keeps twelve chickens very happy for at least two days.
The finished sprouts will keep in the fridge for several days if you don't want to use them all at once.
Firstly, wash your seeds thoroughly. I use a sieve and run ordinary tap water through them for a few minutes.
Then, put them into a large bowl to soak. Cover with water and allow an extra couple of inches of water on top. They will need around eight hours for smaller seeds like lentils, up to twelve hours if you're using larger seeds like sunflowers. It's a good idea to rinse them and change the water once during this soaking process.
At the end of the soaking time you'll find they have swollen in size. Now they're ready to start sprouting.
Now drain, rinse well and drain again. Put the still wet seeds into a jar or bowl and cover it with a piece of light cloth. I use some old net curtains (washed, obviously!) cut to size and tied with an elastic band. You can buy special containers and tops but it's really not necessary and it adds to the cost.
Now tip your soon-to-be sprouts on their side so that any excess water drains away. This is important because if they're too wet they'll grow mouldy - and mouldy food can be fatal to chickens. Find out why here.
Leave them like this until the excess water has drained away and then let them stand, still damp but not soaking wet, for eight or nine hours.
Now you just have to remember to rinse and repeat twice a day for the next few days. I get into a habit of rinsing every morning when I'm making coffee and every evening when we're making dinner.
I do it by emptying the pot of seeds into a mesh sieve, rinsing them under running water, putting them back into the jar and leaving to drain again.
After four or five days, when the sprouts are quite long and beginning to grow leaves, they're ready for the girls to get their beaks into.
It really is that simple.
(Source : Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database).
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