The Poultry Nutrition Summaries: Part 1 - The Benefits of Sprouted Grains

Update: As of now, I have sold the entirety of this year’s flock of chickens...and had a waitlist too. I’m going to change gears and focus my flock program on Isbars primarily now. I have fallen in love with them: their sweetness, their loving personalities, the way they come up to greet me in their run (when I was in rat/mice extermination mode, and setting the traps at night as I couldn’t have them out in the day or they could catch my dogs, the neighbourhood cats, squirrels, bird-life, etc., the Isbars would jump off their roosting bar in their coop if they heard my voice, even though they can barely see in the dark, in order to come visit!) They lay the most incredible green eggs, ranging from mint with white flecks, to bluey-green, to sage, olive with brown flecks, and all the range of colours in between. They’re the most reliable layers I have, even outdoing the Cream Legbars (who are wickedly good layers too). And I love that they’re “Blue” poultry, with the different shades of blue (a dark to light blueish grey), splash (white with grey and black spots), and black. All in all they’re just lovely. I’ve collaborated with a fabulous heritage chicken breeder at Under the Feather Farms in Roberts Creek, BC, who is hatching some eggs for me from her breeding program and DC Heritage Poultry, and I am just SO excited :) Perhaps only chicken-lovers will understand, but it really feels like Christmas or a birthday!

Now….onto the nutrition series before I get too distracted! Ahhhh nutrition. One of those things that I love to think about,  talk about, read about, learn about, and basically immerse myself in. Whether it be that of humans, dogs and other pets, or chickens, I find a way to dive into the latest research and apply it to my own life and that of my family and pets. And as for today? Part One’s focus is going to be on Sprouting.

“But Urban Homesteader, we already know you sprout your feed!”

Correct, fellow micro farmer, but this series is going to focus more on the technical “why” of what I feed, based on the articles I’ve read and my personal preferences in human and animal nutrition stemming from those, rather than the practicalities of how I go about it.

So what’s the deal on SPROUTING vs. FERMENTING anyway? What should one choose to do, with limited time, space, and resources? What’s the difference so you can make up your own mind?

Personally, I think they're both excellent, and offer some of the same benefits, but in the end I like both because they achieve different aims (at least in my feeding recipe). This is why I do both (sprouting, fermenting, and sprouting then fermenting when I'm feeling truly ambitious). Sprouting and fermenting both improve digestibility (less cellulose/other hard to break down things for monogastrics like us or chickens, fewer anti-nutrients, and in the case of sprouting, the formation of enzymes that help break down some of the grain components). Fermenting does these things too to a certain extent, but through the use of bacterial (or yeast in some cases, though one has to be careful not to make beer by accident) enzymes/bacterial-directed processes rather than seedling-directed processes, but one of the main differences in fermenting is the added benefit of probiotics and their beneficial effect on the gut flora and thus the overall health of the chicken. I think that fermenting (and adding dry brewers yeast to the food directly before they eat it to avoid the creation of alcohols) is great for several reasons (on top of those benefits similar to sprouting). Let’s do things one by one, and focus on the benefits of Sprouting first.


“Until about a hundred years ago, humans harvested their grains, tied them into sheaves, and left them in the field until they were ready to thresh the grain. Inevitably, with this exposure to the weather, at least some of the grain would begin to sprout. While a little sprouting appears to be good for us, there’s a sweet spot. Just the right amount of time, temperature, and moisture are necessary to start the germination process….Sprouting grains increases many of the grains' key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and essential amino acids often lacking in grains, such as lysine.” (Whole Grain Council on Sprouted Grains:, summary of some of their favourite findings below).

Note: Now, these findings below are from all sorts of different species, often rats, not just on laying hens. Thus, take what they say with a grain of salt, in terms of their applicability to layers. For me, my reading has been sufficient. If you’re not convinced, look up more studies in laying hens specifically, to see if you’re convinced/not convinced by that data.

Increasing Antioxidants:
Scientists at the University of Alberta germinated wheat under various conditions to determine how to maximize the production of antioxidants.  First, they steeped the grains in water for 24 or 48 hours, then sprouted them in the dark for 9 days. Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, which were barely detectable in the dry grains, increased steadiily during the germination period. Grains steeped for 48 hours became wet, sticky, discolored and acidic-smelling after germination, leading researchers to conclude that 24 hours of steeping and 7 days of sprouting would produce the best combination of antioxidant concentrations and sensory properties.
International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, July 2001; 52(4):319-30.

Urban Homesteader, why are antioxidants useful in raising laying hens?
Herbal antioxidants increase egg production, fertility, hatchability, oxidative stability (freshness), egg mass, eggshell thickness and egg shape, yolk weight, yolk colour, egg lipid profile and chicken blood lipid profile, and nutrient digestibility.
International Journal of Poultry Science 7 (2): 134-150, 2008,

Better Digestibility, Increased Nutrient Availability:
Sprouting results in better conversion of feed into “product” (in this case we’re aiming for more money in your pocket and eggs in your basket! In layers this product is eggs, in dairy cows it is milk, in rats it is body mass, etc.) and Increasing Enzymatic Breakdown of Complex Surgars into more easily Digestable Sugars: Germinated feeds had the highest feed efficiency ratio (FER), protein efficiency ratio (PER) and diastatic power values and were therefore considered of higher nutritional value. It was therefore concluded that germination was superior to the other processing methods in improving the nutritional and functional qualities of sorghum.
International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, March 2001; 52(2):117-26.

In an experiment at the University of Alberta, barley kernels were sprouted from 2 to 5 days, then oven-dried and milled. Researchers found decreases in dry matter, gross energy (calories) and triglycerides, and increases in fiber and diglyceride content. After the sprouted barley was fed to rats, scientists said that “digestibility data showed an enhancement of digestibility of nutrients in barley… implying that sprouting improved nutritional qualify of barley.”
Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, September 1989; 39(3):267-78.

Increasing Folate (Vitamin B9):
Sprouting rye increases its folate content by 1.7- to 3.8-fold, depending on germination temperature, according to researchers in Finland.
The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, December 13, 2006; 54(25):9522-8.

Decreasing Allergenic Proteins:
While very few people are allergic to rice, when allergies do occur they are usually linked to specific proteins. Japanese researchers found that sprouted brown rice was much lower in two abundant allergens, when compared to non-sprouted brown rice, and that the reduction was probably caused by protease (enzyme) activity during germination.
Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, October 2005; 69(10):1877-83.

Increasing Fiber (a bigger deal for us humans than for our poultry friends):
German researchers sprouted wheat kernels for up to 168 hours (1 week), analyzing them at different stages to learn the effects of germination on different nutrient levels. While different times and temperatures produced different effects, overall the sprouting process decreased gluten proteins substantially, while increasing folate. Longer germination times led to a substantial increase of total dietary fiber, with soluble fiber tripling and insoluble fiber decreasing by 50%.
Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, June 13, 2007; 55(12):4678-83. Epub 2007 May 12.

Increased Lysine (a difficult to fulfill amino acid requirement in poultry diets!):
Researchers in India allowed proso millet to germinate for 1-7 days, then analysed the changes in its composition. They found that sprouting increased lysine (a key amino acid lacking in most grains) and concentrated the protein, as the grain overall lost weight. Increases in tryptophan, albumin and globulin were also observed, along with decreases in prolamins, a plant storage protein that may be difficult for some people to digest. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, February 1994; 45(2):97-102.

Decrease in Anti-nutritional Factors/Anti-nutrients (a BIG deal in commercial, and even more so some home-made poultry diets):
In a 1989 meta-analysis of existing studies, JK Chavan and SS Kadam found evidence that “Sprouting of grains for a limited period causes increased activities of hydrolytic enzymes, improvement in the contents of certain essential amino acids, total sugars, and B-group vitamins, and a decrease in dry matter, starch, and antinutrients. The digestibilities of storage proteins and starch are improved due to their partial hydrolysis during sprouting.”
Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 1989; 28(5):401-37.

Urban Homesteader, what on earth is an anti nutritional factor/antinutrient?
Antinutrients decrease the ability of the hen to absorb important dietary components such as minerals (especially phosphorus and calcium - really important in layers!) and vitamins (Eg: vitamin D), as well as interfering with the hen’s own digestive enzymes, resulting in decreased ability to absorb dietary components like proteins. This also means that the layers excrete the excess, undigested material, resulting in increased environmental impact of poultry waste, and potential respiratory health impact of the waste product ammonia on respiratory health of the hens and their human caretakers. One of the most commonly talked about anti nutritional factors is PHYTATE/PHYTIC ACID, which binds to phosphorus, and causes all the problems listed above.
World's Poultry Science Journal / Volume 54 / Issue 01 / March 1998, pp 27-47

So that’s a Summary so far, I’ll add more as I go along, a lot of my saved files on poultry nutrition (Including my copy of “Commercial Poultry Nutrition” and other useful books were lost in the great computer-meets-water incident. Great meaning greatly impacting my life, not great to experience :) I wish you all the best in your homesteading endeavours, especially as the sun has been shining and the garden is looking fabulous in full bloom!

Coming Up Next in The Poultry Nutrition Summaries Series:

FERMENTING: The Joy of Cooking (with Probiotics)

BREWER’S YEAST: No Drunk Chicks Here Ma’am!

GRAINS & LEGUMES: What does the data really say? Nutrients, Anti-nutrients and more!

PROTEIN IN POULTRY DIETS: The the difficulty in achieving a natural, organic diet with sufficient protein in home-made layer diets. What are my Options?