Sunday, February 13, 2011

Decided on Sprouting Grain for Goats

 This is a picture I dug up from last spring, Xanadu and her first doeling, Avalon

I have been wanting to break away from our COB (rolled corn, rolled oats and rolled barley) dependence for sometime now. However, I have not wanted to be hasty, impulsive or drastic in the changes we make to our goats diet. Nor did I want to make any changes without thoroughly researching first. During these slow February days I've had some time to think about our goats diet, assess their conditions, come to the conclusion that I should be doing better, and finally get around to finding some reliable sources and examples of studies and individuals sprouting grains for goats or other livestock. I am sharing this post now before I've even changed my current practices because I am this exited about the concept of feeding living sprouts to our goats in place of their dried rolled grains - especially this time of year when all is dark and dead or dormant around us.

First let me back up and explain why we are feeding COB in the first place. When we first got our goats we fed goat chow, because that is what everyone we know and read about fed their goats. Goat Chow is a processed pelleted goat feed with a few crushed or rolled grains and added vitamins and minerals. On the ingredient list for Purina goat chow which is what was available to us through the local feed store, the first ingredient is processed grain by products. The list does not even say which grains are used. The main reason I could think of to feed Chow over COB was:
  1. Higher protein content 
  2. "Scientifically" formulated for goats.
  3. Everybody does it - not a good reason but it must work right?
The main drawback for me was:
  1. A long list of ingredients I didn't understand.
  2. The grains were ground up then compressed into pellets, during which process lots of significant nutrients are lost. 
Well, after our first year of raising goats, I felt comfortable enough to try feeding something else. I picked cob because at least there were just three ingredients, corn, oats and barley which provide energy, some fat and a protein level around 13%, which is less than chow by 2-3% if I remember correctly. My concern was that while these grains are not ground up with preservatives added, they are rolled and thus will still have lost a lot of their nutritive value, which they are not high in to begin with. Corn, oats and barley don't provide much goodies compared to wheat berries, lesser known but high protein grains like quinuoa and millet, seeds and legumes. So why are they fed as staple animal feeds? I suspect it has something to do with what crops are easy to grown on large scale, and cheap to grow? Before the twentieth century livestock was fed various legumes and root crops in addition to a wider range of grains. Why has this practice died off? Marketing? Cost? Ignorance?

When it comes to feeding whole vs. crushed or rolled grains to livestock. The opinions are completely contradictory:
  1. One side holds the position that goats, chickens and other livestock can not digest whole grains, that whole grains will pass through intact and therefor not be used by the animal. Crushing and rolling grains makes them more digestible.
  2. The other side says that once grains are crushed, ground, rolled etc. that valuable and significant nutrients are lost, that the seeds rapidly go stale and rancid and the result is a significantly reduced source of vitamins and minerals. This side argues that whole grains are intact and nutritionally superior to processed grain feeds.
In the wild, chickens and goats might eat some grains on their own, but no where near the amount we try to feed them. As healthy as whole grains are, even humans don't process them very well and can have a difficult time digesting large amounts of whole grains. Once grains are soaked and sprouted they are easier to digest. I often add whey to our whole grain flours when making breads and crackers so that they will be easier to digest. The other alternative is sprouting and then grinding grains before baking with them. So, while goats digestive systems are very different then our own, they were not meant to consume such high levels of whole or crushed grains either. Feeding whole grains to goats and chickens and then looking at their stools is one way to see if they are digesting their grains. Our chickens have done fine on their whole grain diet, better when their grain is sprouted.
    So for the last couple years as I've fed COB to the goats, I've felt like it was a stepping stone, something to hold me over till we moved on to better things, but I've felt guilty about it as corn, oats and barley are not that nutritious. Last summer I had a farm helper that milked goats and did farm chores a couple days a week. He said that the last couple winters he has milked goats for a farm in Colorado that sprouts their grains. This farm has similar husbandry practices as I do, feeding similar herbal supplements, herbal wormers and when needed, herbal remedies and tinctures. I can say that a seed of inspiration was planted in my mind at hearing about this healthy herd of goats eating sprouted grains. Since then I've been intending to research sprouted grains for goats. Just thinking of the amount of work involved in the idea of sprouted grains in large quantities was such that research on the subject has been on the back burner.

    I have known for a while the health benefits of sprouting grains for human consumption. When we buy bread we choose sprouted grain products. I go through phases of sprouted beans and seeds for our own salads and sandwiches.  I sprout grains for the chickens from time to time in the winter. They love them, and we notice an immediate effect on the color of the egg yolks, they get brighter orange within just a few days of eating sprouts. This week I finally got around to doing some research. I was looking for sources that have goats and have been sprouting for a while with successful results. I also wanted to find some more scientific studies dealing with feeding sprouts to livestock. I found both, and while I am obviously inspired and excited about these few sources, I would still like to delve deeper into the subject.

    Here is the most scientific or scholarly article I found:

    This article focuses on feeding barley sprouts to cattle and horses and the health benefits derived from the sprouts. The article points to a study where barley sprouts were experimentally fed to cattle with impressive results in energy levels and weight gain. The main health benefits of feeding sprouts as opposed to whole grains are such:
    1. Sprouting increases enzyme activity which tends to enhance the levels of beneficial nutrients while decreasing the negative aspects of dry grains such as phytic acids which are high in cereal grains and prevent the absorption of vital minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
    2. Sprouting makes whole grains easier to digest and more palatable.
    3. Sprouting increases protein, fiber and essential fatty acid levels in grains.
    4. Sprouting increases vitamin levels of grains, some of the most significant vitamins that are increased are B, C, A and E vitamins. It also helps with the absorption of the vitamins that may be present.
    5. Sprouting increases Antioxidants, Chlorophyll and has an alkalizing effect on body cells.
     Here are a few examples of individuals who are sprouting grains for their goats. I've included the original source that first inspired me to begin sprouting for chickens as well:

    The above sources provide examples of various methods used to sprout whole grains. The first link contains recipes for whole grain and seed sprout mixes, in addition to the quantity she feeds her goats and the protein content of the initial product. So her protein content given is that of the whole grains before sprouting, so that would be the minimum protein content, we can probably assume that the final protein content will be at least a little higher.

    So, I'm feeling pretty confident that at least sprouting grains can only be much healthier for the goats than their present grain rations. But what about cost and labor involved? Here is a little math. Last I checked I'm paying $15.99 for a fifty pound bag of dry COB. Here is one of the basic recipes, tweaked just a bit to make use of ingredients that I'm already ordering in bulk for the chickens. I've broken it down to what I'm paying a pound for each grain or seed. Ten pounds is more dry grain than what I'm feeding currently. However, once the goats are in milk, I'll be feeding that much or more.

    1. 5 # Whole Barley,  9.99 per 50lb. (.19 lb)          .95
    2. 1# Austrian Winter Peas  39.99 50lb. (.79 lb.)    .79
    3. 1# Winter Wheat Berries 38.00 50lb.  (.76 lb.)   .76
    4. 2# Whole Oats  9.99 50lb.  (.19lb)                     .38
    5. 1# Black Oil Sunflower Seeds 24.99 50lb. (.49) .49
             10# of dry grains costs 3.37, so 50lb. costs 16.85, less than a dollar more than COB
              $23.59 in grain per week, not including alfalfa pellets or other supplements, but not bad

    As far as local or organic ingredients, the whole oats and barley are from Delta, I don't know if the seed is treated? The Wheat berries are organic and from far away via Azure Standard. I don't know anything about the whole peas or sunflower seeds.

    My conclusion, without yet venturing into the world of sprouting grains for goats, is that this practice is going to be much healthier for the goats, surprisingly not much more expensive, but undoubtedly much more work.

    I've been waiting till our milking and grain area is heated, to begin sprouting for the chickens and goats. However, as that may be a while yet, I'm going to start sprouting on a small scale and see how it goes. I already purchase all of these ingredients, so no special trips to the feed store are required yet, although I'll be buying more whole grains in the place of rolled COB. Of course rule number one in feeding goats is make all diet changes gradually. So I'll begin by just adding a handful of sprouts to everyone's existing grain rations and we will increase the amount of sprouts and decrease the COB over the space of a couple weeks. I think that despite having several very pregnant goats, now is not a bad time for a feed switch. I'm sure their bodies have got to be craving some green living food. Soon we will be too busy with kid care and milking to experiment.  Once we are milking, the does will be eating two to three times as much grain as they are now, so we'll start the transition now and work our way forward. I'll keep you posted.


      keren said...

      Hi Emily! Thank you for your answers to my questions. Joshua Strickland is from Fox and is only 23 so I don't think it is the same Joshua that you went to school with. Joshua is from PA and has been living in AK for the last four years and loves living there. I have been feeding my goats barley, oats and BOSS for a while and the goats are doing very well on it. I have been interested in sprouting the grain but have not taken the time to do it. I will be very interested in hearing how it works for you. I have had 3 does and one buck born in the last week and have six does still to kid! If I do move to Alaska I will need a friend and hope that maybe we could become friends. I am 25 years old and love the lifestyle you are living. Keren

      Emily said...

      Certainly not the same guy. I looked up in my yearbook and it was a Jason Strickland. Congratulations on the kids, nice doeling ratio so far. I'd love to see some pictures sometime. I love seeing other people's goats, udders and fresh kids. We are close to Ester, and love the area. Lets keep in touch. Emily

      Jewel said...

      Hi Emily,
      Love these last 2 informative posts on how your feeding your goats. I'll be getting mine in a couple months, so to have this information beforehand is a real gift for me and in the future for our goats.

      It also inspired me to begin sprouting again for our family, I go in sprouting, and juicing kicks, and need to be more consistant. Especially now during late winter when we all need a chlorophyl, vitamin and enzyme boost.

      I have 15 chickens, and now want to sprout different grains for them too, we've been letting them out alot lately to pasture, but still could do better with their feed.I need to find a good source for buying in bulk flax seeds and peas.

      I know we're warmer down here, we're not quite an hour NE of Seattle, with temps today around 45degrees, my bees have even been flying on nice days for the last couple weeks.

      I spent 7 of my growing up years in Juneau, never been to Fairbanks though. Love reading your blog, Thanks for sharing all this great info.

      Emily said...

      Jewell, I go in sprouting and juicing kicks too. I am sure that you should be able to find some good sources for bulk seeds and grains down there. I buy an occasional fifty pound bag of flax seeds from the feed store- it is cheaper than bulk at the supermarket but not by much, also it is not suppose to be for human consumption - but I can't tell a difference - we don't eat them but they look fine. I've never been to Juneau, but from what I've seen it is gorgeous. I love the mountains right up against the ocean - not a lot of farm land I'd think. Take care, There should be a lot of goat posts over the next couple months with kidding season and all. Emily

      Unknown said...

      Hi Emily, you are on the same journey as I am in regards to what to feed my goats. I've looked at sprouting grains, but not there yet. Did the same as you in changing goat ration to COB. Something we will try this growing season is growing root crops traditionally used as animal forage in the 1800s - beets, turnips, carrots, and also drying all our pea vines and gathering lots of forage to dry for winter feeding, especially pregnant does. I'm considering sprouting grains for my 16 goats. Two does have kidded already - 2 doelings, 2 bucklings (one we'll keep for breeding). Three more does due in April and May, and trying to breed three others for late summer kiddings.

      Emily said...

      Denise, We've been feeding the goats extra root vegetables as well. They like the three you mentioned. The dilemma for me right now is storage room, and the fact that I'm barely growing enough beets and carrots to get us through the winter- and the effort it takes to clean and shred or slice them. The turnips grow the best in our regular soil, whereas the carrots and beets need fertile garden soil. I bought some mangel seed last year, but it needs good soil too. Keep me posted on your feeding experiments.I think we are headed in the right direction!

      Unknown said...

      Hi Emily,
      We own an organic (not USDA cert.) and holistic Grade A Raw Dairy farm. We are experimenting with sprouts also with our goats and Jersey. Will let you know how it goes.
      Ellie at

      Angie said...

      I'm thinking of sprouting our goat's ration, too! We now feed whole grains which are soaked with raw apple cider vinegar. The corn, oats and barley are actually very nutritious grains. Barley is one of the best grains, according to Pat Coleby. The millet and quinoa are high in oxalates and phytic acid and other phytotoxins which can be toxic in excess and bind up their nutrients.

      crobot337 said...

      Starting sprouts here as well for my small herd of 8 in Kansas. Here is the setup and seed mixes I am using with good results so far. (no specific percentages because I don't feel precision is necessary here. As long as the mixes are a good variety and safe). Effort is only about 10 mins in morning and 10 at night.
      Mix A: wheat and oats (or whatever grain you have available). Mix B: lentils, peas, beans (make sure bean varieties are edible sprouted), and a small amount of fenugreek. Mix C: radishes, turnips, and other mustards, alfalfa, clover, quinoa, and amaranth. I avoided flax as it is a pain to sprout with mixes because of the muscilage.
      3 buckets. 5 pizza dough trays ( has them cheapest.) (4 perforated along one short side. I drilled 3 closely spaced rows of 1/8 inch holes. Bottom Unperforated tray catches all the drained liquid. Alternate sides of perforation so the water drains in a "switchback" when stacking). 3 large cafeteria type trays (for last few days sprouting for air circulation.) I also use shredded compressed coconut intended for seed starting as my growing medium.

      Night 1- soak 1.5 lb mix A in top bucket. Morning 2- drain and dump top bucket into middle bucket. Night 2-repeat night 1. Rinse and drain middle bucket. Morning 3: rinse and drain middle bucket, dump in bottom bucket. repeat for top bucket. Night 3: repeat night 1. Rinse and drain middle and bottom bucket. Morning 4: repeat morning 3. Rinse and dump bottom bucket into bottom perforated dough tray. Cover very lightly with moistened coconut growing medium. Soak 1/4 cup mix B in a separate jar. Night 4: repeat night 3. Sprinkle 1/8 cup mix C over bottom perforated tray. Drain jar of mix B and sprinkle over same tray. Water tray lightly. Morning 5-7: repeat morning 4, with each new tray going at the bottom of the stack, until oldest tray is exposed on top of stack. Lightly water each tray. Night 5-9: repeat night 4. Lightly water each tray only if needed. Morning 8-9: repeat morning 7. Transfer "mat" to cafeteria tray to increase airflow. May come up in 1 piece or several large hunks. Here I also place under a grow light for days 8-10. Water cafeteria tray with weak organic fertilizer. I actually use very diluted urine. Make sure a small amount of liquid remains but not soggy. Night 9: water (no fertilizer) and drain off final tray. You want the sprouts almost dry at time of feeding. Morning 10: feed your goats!!!! (oh, and don't forget to do all those other steps too...)

      Emily said...

      Wow, thanks so much for sharing your sprouting regime. If you've been feeding sprouted grains for a while now,I'd be interested in knowing if you've noticed improved health or milk production? Also, when I sprouted the grains and they grew roots, I couldn't get my does to eat them. Currently I am just soaking grains for twelve hours and then draining and letting them dry for twelve hours, so they aren't sprouted. Once my grain area is heated, I'm hoping to have a few bucket system, and get the grains to the sprouting stage. I'm wondering if the grains actually sprout and grow green grass, if the goats eat that better than just sprouted grains? My husband is growing wheat grass for our chickens right now. It would take a lot of trays and organization to do the same for the goats. But once I have more heated space, I may have to do just that. thanks again. Emily

      Meg said...

      Emily, I realize this is an older thread, so I don't how you're doing with your sprouting, but if you would update us, that would be great! We are getting our first two goats in May. A freshened doe and a doeling. Since finding this and doing my own research, I think I have time and space to get everything ready to start feeding sprouted grains immediately. I realize with the freshened doe, I will need to make a slow transition, but do you think it would be okay to go 100% sprouted with the doeling? She will be 4-6 weeks old and just starting on grain.

      I love reading what you're doing and plan to follow some of your practices here in Wisconsin.

      Emily said...

      Meg, I am still sprouting grains. I need to make a couple improvements to my routine, one being that I need to drain my grains in a container that allows them more air so they don't get funky while sitting. Adding a little vinegar or kombucha helps keep the grains from getting funky as well. If I were you I would keep the feed the same as whatever the freshened doe has been getting for the first couple weeks. Then slowly transition. As far as the kid goes, I don't think 4 -6 week olds are ready to eat grain yet - other than nibble a few bites here and there. Are you planning on bottle feeding her milk? Milk should make up most of her diet for the first few months at least. I have stopped feeding kids grain until they are bred. Otherwise they can get too fat which affects their heat cycles and ability to be bred. Hope this helps. Best wishes

      Kristy Tillman said...

      I started sprouting black oiled sunflower seeds for my goats & ducks and they LOVE it!! I fes them at different stages throughout this week. They loved it all, but perhaps the greener the better. I use a 2 bucket/day method. I got 2 mop type buckets...the ones with the bump in the bottom. I drill holes in the inner bucket. On the bottom and sides. I soak the first night then after i rinse and let them drain i can spin the bucket around so it's not nesting anymore and thus raised up a couple of inches to allow drainage and sprouts not sitting in water. You could also put a rock or marble or something to raise up a bucket as well.
      How are things going with sprouting for you now? I've thought about trying thistle seeds, but they are sooo tiny!!!

      Meg said...

      I could have sworn I was going to get notification if you answered my post but never did. So glad I came back and checked. :) Yep, I've realized since I wrote that the doeling won't be getting grain until she's bred and milking. It's been a four month crash course in goat keeping for me! Thanks for the advice on keeping it in a large enough container to allow air. I've got my recipe all ready to start after I've had the freshened doe a couple of weeks. Thanks!

      James Sturgill said...

      Thank you so much for posting this. How has it worked? I am debating feeding my chickens and goats sprouts.

      Emily said...

      James, we've had some successes and failures. I wanted the grains to be fully sprouted but the goats just won't eat them - the chickens will. I soak the grains for twelve hours and let them sit for twelve. They usually aren't visibly sprouted by this time, but I hear that they are still more digestible and nutritious than if they are not soaked. When I leave the sprouts to sit an extra day and are visibly sprouted the goats don't like them - they do get a bit funky and I have been thinking that if I can rinse them or get them in trays and out of buckets that maybe they wouldn't get funky. I do soak them in some kombucha to try and battle the funk. Otherwise everyone looks good and seems to be getting what they need.

      An At Home Daughter said...

      I just found your blog. I was searching the www for info on feeding goats soaked grain and your blog popped up. What an interesting post. I live with my parents and my mom raises chickens. I will have to talk to her about sprouting grains for her chickens. We have known about GMOs for quite a while, and my mom belongs to the Weston A Price Foundation, but after watching Genetic Roulette last night, we have been discussing what we can do to feed our livestock a better diet. I don't like feeding the goats the GMO grains from the feed store. So was thinking about feeding soaked whole organic grains.
      Thanks for doing such an informative post.

      Kimberly in sunny California ; )

      Anonymous said...

      I just got three goats and they were also on cobb from the previous owner. I ignored what everyone says about not changing their feed immediately because they were in milk and I wanted the milk to be better quality if I was going to drink it. I sprout organic feed grade barley from azure standard. I have a set up of seed trays on shelf racks that I rinse each tray once a day and put 2lbs of seeds in. Your article has made me now want to buy some organic animal feed field peas to sprout for extra protein since I just bred them. Maybe I'll be nice and give them some radishes from my garden too.

      Julie Hanauer said...

      Hi Emily, May I talk with you on the phone or via e-mail about feeding goats herbs?, or text 907-888-8401.

      Julie Hanauer said...

      Hi Emily,
      What do you think of sprouted seeds, like sesame and sunflower, for the copper?