Our bunnies eat a fair amount of green stuff over the warm months of the year. As cooler weather started moving in, my sweetie and I considered what kind of food would carry them over the winter.
I had done some reading about sprouting grain and growing fodder, so my husband went out and bought half a ton of barley. (He rarely does anything in a small way.) 😉 Actually, we were creating our own rabbit feed mix by then so it’s not quite as crazy as it might sound.
I went to the local dollar store and bought several plastic trays and started one tray each night until we had an ongoing supply of lovely green fodder.
On day seven, we excitedly cut up the first tray and set the bits out for the bunnies. They sniffed it and then … hopped away.
We’re like what?! It’s green. You’re supposed to love it!
Well, my hubby man is a bit on the stubborn side and kept serving it up each day, and eventually, a few rabbits tasted it and came back for more. Now all the rabbits love it and come running when it’s set out. During the winter, it’s the only fresh green food available (except for the occasional kitchen scraps), so it’s especially appreciated.
What We Did
Here’s how we set up our first simple system for creating fodder. Keep in mind that we are a bit space-challenged because we live in a fifth-wheel. (Next year we’ll create a rack for trays with automated watering in our soon-to-be mudroom.)
- 7 plastic trays (I used 8″ x 12″ containers from my local Dollar Tree)
- whole barley seeds (try a local feed store)
- serrated knife and cutting board
A Bit of Prep
On the weekends I would bag 3 cups of barley seed in each of 7 ziplock baggies (quart size). Doing this meant I only had to walk down to the grain shed once a week to measure and bag the barley. (When there’s snow on the ground, it’s nice to make as few trips as possible. Brrrr.)
Starting a Tray
Each evening before bed, I would dump one bag of barley into a tray and cover it with water. (I mixed in a teaspoon of bleach to kill any mold spores.)
The Next Morning
In the morning I’d dump the barley into a strainer, rinse well, and then put the seed back in the tray and smooth it out. The layer of seed was about half an inch deep.
This is the basic start and after that the trays are all treated the same by watering/draining each morning and evening.
This article contains affiliate links. If you click and buy, I make a commission. My rabbits thank you for helping to pay for their barley fodder. ❤
- Rinse the seed that was soaked overnight and spread it out in the tray.
- Water and drain any existing trays. (My sink faucet has a spray function and I just thoroughly water the tray with it. Then I tilt the tray and let the water drain out. The first few days all the seed is loose so you need the strainer to catch it all. Once you get a root mat started you won’t need it. Just lightly hold the mat in place with your hand as you drain off the water.)
- Cut up the most mature tray of fodder and feed it to the hungry bunnies.
- Start a new batch of seed soaking in water.
- Water and drain any existing trays.
We booted out most of our house plants and used the window shelf for the fodder. Because we are short on space we stacked trays 1-3. They are just in the sprouting stage and aren’t particular about the light.
Window light would have been enough (I have read), but since we had the plant lights, we went ahead and ran them for the barley. We don’t know how the grow lights impacted the growth compared to window light, but it obviously didn’t hurt anything. (I would suggest grow lights if your fodder is not getting the growth you need by day 7 or 8.)
The goal is to have about 1½”-2″ of root mat and 5″-6″ of grass.
The other consideration is temperature (the ideal is 60-70° F). During a cold spell, because our shelf is up against a window, the fodder growth slowed. We didn’t have any other place to put it, so we just started up an extra tray one night and let the trays have eight days to mature. It worked just fine.
Around day 7, the fodder is ready to cut and serve. Use a serrated knife and saw through the root mat on a cutting board. (My hubby uses the yellow knife below.)
If you are raising in cages you will need little chunks to hand out to individual rabbits. If you are raising in a colony, you can just set out the whole mat if your bunnies play nice. (Our younger kits turn into a swarm. We have dubbed them “the piranhas.”)
You can cut the fodder into small chunks if you have a couple of bunnies that don’t want to share.
Clean-Up and Repeat
After you cut up the fodder, wash the tray with hot soapy water and set it aside for the evening’s new batch of seed.
All in all, we are very happy with our experiment. The fodder was a healthy addition to our rabbit’s winter diet. It was economical and relatively easy. We want to do this again next winter, but grow more and have an automated watering system. (Yes, I’m tired of watering the fodder morning and night. It was worth it for the experiment, but I don’t want to do this if it can be automated.) That would reduce our workload to cutting and serving the fodder with a bit of prep and clean-up time.
Related Reading: Setting Sane Homesteading Goals - 'Cause we want to do it all!
piranhas © Paul / Dandelion Hill Homestead
all other images © Lori / Dandelion Hill Homestead