There’s not much else like watching my little chickens in the snow. Poor little things without any shoes, eating smashed grains—cereal, essentially. Yeah, they’ll eat anything, and their grains provide all they need, but they’re animals who eat living things; they’re omnivores just like the people who keep them … trapped under a cold, depressing bell jar of a chicken coop—I’m projecting some Seasonal Affective Disorder onto my pullets—with onlooking dogs who bark and visiting neighborhood felines who hide their salivation with cuddly cuteness. (Hubby’s still working on that fence.)
In Kentucky, the snow often melts within a few days of its falling, so when the temperature reaches 45 degrees for a few days, quite normal in winter here, leaves of grass spring to green. Sometimes even a bug flies by. And, the girls peck around the warmest mounds of earth, seeking tiny bits of living energy.
Sprouts contain higher concentrations of nutrients and protein than their seeds did before sprouting, providing a source of living protein to replace greens or bugs (or bigger unimaginables, like the blue skinks that slither around our property) that chickens would normally eat during the warmer months.
I began sprouting lentils, with the easiest at-home method—cheesecloth, a length of cotton yarn and a Ball canning jar. Here’s how you do it:
Fill a quart-size canning jar about 20% full with dry lentils, and secure the cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar with a string. I like to trim the edges. The cheesecloth makes rinsing easy while avoiding lentil loss.
Rinse the lentils several times, then fill the jar with water and put it in a warm place overnight. By morning, the lentils will have absorbed enough water that they will fill about half the jar, leaving enough space for the sprouts to grow.
Empty and rinse a few more times, then pour out the rest of the water.
By this point, you may notice a few lentils have already begun sprouting. But, don’t get too anxious. Place the jar upside down on a plate, and cover with a kitchen towel. Two to three times a day, rinse your lentils again. Too often is better than not enough; you want to keep them clean.
I recommend not sprouting longer than 48 hours. The smaller the sprout, the more nutrient-packed and sweeter they’ll taste.
Do go ahead and eat them yourself! They’re fantastic, crunchy and sweet, and great in salads and on sandwiches. Between your snacking, the kids’ snacking, and the chicken’s snacking, keep the sprouts in the fridge. The cool environment will slow their growth. Also, once chilled, any bitterness you may find in your lentils will nearly disappear.
When you serve sprouts to your chickens, watch out, especially if you have a ferocious chicken. Chickens will go after sprouts like they have legs … the sprouts, not the chickens.
Sprouts from the Ball jar will send your chickens through the coop roof with joy—the simple kind that makes them so worth keeping—whether you cast the snacks out into the yard for foraging, or serve them à la paper plate.