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Sprouting (aka "Soaked") Seed


Offering your birds "sprouted" or "soaked" seed is an excellent way of providing a naturally protein rich food source during periods of time which require additional protein in the diet, such as breeding and molting.

My birds that are breeding or molting get sprouts every day. Birds that are not breeding or molting get sprouts 2-3 times weekly.

Most people hear the word "sprouts" and immediately think of the sprouts you buy in the grocery store, or that come in salads (alfafa sprouts). This is not the kind of sprouts you should feed your birds!

Not only are there risks of food borne pathogens (E.coli in particular) in the pre-packaged sprouts available in your grocery store, but they also offer surprisingly little, if any, nutrition to your birds.

The other thing you do not want to do is attempt to sprout your seed by planting it in potting soil. Although these shoots can be fed to your birds, again - the purpose for which you are doing this is defeated by physically growing the plants in this way. While the shoots offer dietary enrichment, they are not as nutritionally packed as the "sprouts" I am talking about!

The main goal when sprouting or soaking is to feed the seed when the shoot has just begun to split through the seed hull (called a "chit"). This is when the seed is at its most nutritious (some estimates are that it is 400x more nutritious this way than fed dry!).
It is important to stop the sprouting process (explained below) once you see seeds beginning to chit. The reason for this? As the sprout grows, the seed puts all of its protein and energy (nutrition) into producing the sprout. So, the longer the "tail" on the sprout is, the less nutritious the sprout becomes. I personally do not feed sprouts with tails any longer than 1/8".

How do you sprout seed?

Below you will find easy step by step instructions on how I sprout seed for my finches. Sprouting seed is actually not that difficult provided you have the right ingredients and equipment on hand.
At the bottom of this page you will also find video instructions from Mike Fidler himself on his sprouting method!

To begin sprouting, you will need the following:
Quart size or larger glass jar(s)
A quality water sanitizer
Fresh, High Germination rate Seeds

I prefer to sprout in quart sized mason jars, but individuals sprouting seeds for a large number of birds might prefer to use a larger size jar. I also prefer to use glass jars, because it is my opinion they are easier to keep clean.
In terms of the products I use to sprout, some might think I have an agenda because I sell the products, but this is not the case at all. While I will give you the information on the products I use - you are free to use which ever products you like - these instructions are simply a guide.
However, I will say, I have tried many/most of the products out there geared towards sprouting, and the reason I use the products I do is simply because they have worked the best for me.

Step 1: Choosing a "Disinfectant"

The first step of sprouting is soaking the seed in your choice of water sanitizer. I hesitate to use the word "disinfectant" because that sounds harsh, chemically speaking. But really, the purpose for this is to prevent any bacteria, virus, or mold/fungus from developing while the seeds are soaking and subsequently while they are sprouting. This is especially important in hot/humid areas.

There are a variety of different methods out there that individuals use for sanitizing the water: Bleach, KD Water Cleaner (Dr. Marshall), Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV), Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE), and Sparkle (Morning Bird) to name a few.

I use Virkon-S, and again, without meaning to sound like I am pitching something - I use it because I feel it is simply the best product available on the market for sprouting. That being said! People have their preferences. Like Bleach, Sparkle and KD, Virkon-S is a chemical; as opposed to GSE and ACV which are natural products. Individuals who are approaching husbandry holistically might prefer to use GSE or ACV over something chemically based.

I have tried all of the above with the exception of the KD Water Cleaner because it is astronomically expensive for the purposes of sprouting seed effectively (i.e., used as a disinfectant). It is my understanding that KD works similar to Virkon-S, but is not effective or proven against viruses, where Virkon-S is a proven virucide.

The ones I did use were not as effective as Virkon-S - plain and simple. Over a period of days using Bleach, Sparkle, ACV or GSE, my glass jar would develop a brown layer of what I can only assume was some sort of algae. This is not good! However, using the Virkon-S, my glass jar stays crystal clear throughout multiple uses without ever needing to be washed (I do wash them, of course!). I now use the Virkon-S not only for sprouting, but also for cleaning and sanitizing food and water dishes, hand feeding utensils, and also for cleaning perches and cage grates.

Step 2: Selecting your Seed

So - once you've selected the disinfectant you are going to use, you will need to decide what type of seeds you will be sprouting. The most important thing here is to not use any seed blends that contain anything other than just plain ole' seed. So - no pellets, and no fortified or colored seeds or oats.

The other important aspect of the seed you are using is that it needs to be as fresh as possible. The older the seed, the lower the sprouting potential. Old seed has a much lower sprouting percentage and also takes much longer to sprout than fresh, high germination seeds.

Again - while I have my preferences, I am not in any way going to say you must you this or that brand or blend.
I use the Birds R Us White and Black Sprouting mixes exclusively for a few of reasons:

  • They are an integral part of the Save the Gouldian Fund diet program; i.e., the nutrition is researched and proven

  • The seeds are extremely high germination rate quality and typically sprout in less than 24 hours

  • My birds love it!

Would this seed work for finches besides Gouldians? Sure! Do you HAVE to use these seeds? Absolutely not - use what works best for you.

Step 3: Soaking your Seed

Once you have selected the seed blend you will sprout, it is time to begin the process!
For me, since I am using Virkon-S and following the STGF diet, this is what I do:

  • Per the STGF diet, I add the White and Black Sprout mix to the empty sprouting jar at a ratio of 2:1 White:Black. For 1 quart, this means I am generally adding 1 cup of White Sprout mix and 1/2 cup Black Sprout Mix

  • Mix 1/4 teaspoon powdered Virkon-S (the dose is different for the tablets, follow the instructions for whatever you decide to use!) with 1 quart of water and pour over the seeds

  • Let the seeds soak for at least 4 hours. I generally prepare my sprouts in the morning, and rinse them in the evening when I get home from work, so they are soaking for a good 12 hours. ( Note: In the "At Home with Mike Fidler" DVD, he says to rinse after 4 hours. For me, this in unrealistic because I have a day job. I have never noticed anything negative coming from letting them soak that extra time).

Step 4: To Rinse or Not To Rinse

Here is why my methods start to stray from the Mike Fidler method of sprouting. After the seeds have soaked for their 4+ hours, the seeds are drained. I use a hand-held strainer:

I then place the seeds back into the mason jar without rinsing them. Some people rinse at this stage - I do not rinse so as not to wash off the residual Virkon-S.

At this point I let the seeds sit for 12-24 hours. Then I rinse the seeds in a fresh solution of Virkon-S, rather than rinsing in fresh clean water. The reason I do this, is usually at this stage the seeds are at the proper chit phase and I can either feed them or store them in the fridge. By rinsing them with Virkon-S I am trying to further prevent any sort of bacterial, fungal or viral nasties from accumulating in the sprouts once they are fed to the birds.
Ingesting the Virkon-S on the sprouts in this diluted state has never caused a problem in my birds for me.

If this is your first time sprouting, let the seeds sit for 24 hours and then take a close look at them. You should be able to see the hulls splitting, especially on any millet in the mix, which means it's time to stop the sprouting process. All of the seeds may not necessarily have a chit, but don't worry - when you see others chitting, it means the rest are not far behind. The seeds will continue to germinate (albeit much slower) in the refrigerator, so you want to make sure you pull at this stage otherwise the first seeds to sprout will grow too long while you are waiting for the others.

The image below represents what you should see around the 12-24 hour mark after the seeds have been drained from soaking. You can click on the image for a larger size to see more detail.

The longer it takes your seeds to chit, the greater the risk for contamination - this is another reason why high germination rate seeds are extremely important for sprouting.

Step 5: Feed to Birds!

Generally, I rinse my seeds with a fresh solution of diluted Virkon-S the following morning after having set them up to soak. Again, because I am following the STGF diet, this is also the point at which I add the Mike Fidler Complete Soft Food.

This is what makes the sprouts "complete" for my Gouldians. If you are not using the Complete Soft Food and you do not use vitamin fortified seed, this is a good time to sprinkle on vitamins and minerals for your birds because it will stick to the sprouts.
I give my birds their sprouts + softfood before I leave for work. Most people say that sprouts should be left no longer than 4 hours to prevent risk of contamination.
As long as you make sure to only put enough seed on the dish so that it can dry out during the day, I have never had a problem with this. Besides - when I get home from work there are never any remnants left to spoil anyway! My birds love their sprouts!

So - to recap:

  • Combine seeds and disinfectant and allow the seeds to soak for 4+ hours

  • Drain the seeds, without rinsing and then put them back in your sprout jar

  • In 12-24 hours, rinse the seed with a fresh diluted disinfectant wash and observe the seeds for signs of chitting - if you see none, allow the seeds to sit another 8-12 hours and then rinse and check again (if it takes longer than this, I would advise trying a different sprout mix)

  • Feed to birds - any sprouts that are left over can be stored in the fridge for 3 days. After 3 days, I would throw them out.

Step 1: Mike Filder Sprouting Video:

Step 2: Mike Filder Sprouting Video:

Step 3: Mike Filder Sprouting Video:



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