Sprouting Bird Seed

A New Way of Sprouting Seed - by Mike Fidler

One of the most exciting things to come out of the Gouldian Research Program sponsored by The Save The Gouldian Fund is a new, safer way of sprouting seed.

With a large number of birds to feed in our research station, it is important to develop management methods which are both quick and safe.  Our problem was that in the warm and often humid climate of Australia it was difficult to sprout seed and guarantee that every time it was perfectly safe to feed (i.e. free from yeast, fungus, bacteria, etc).  We were using the tried and tested method of bleaching that I introduced to aviculture a long time ago, however, to my surprise, we still had random batches ‘go off.’  We tried a number of the different safe disinfectants which were on the market, but none were any better than bleach. Most were worse!

Back in the UK I had used Virkon S exclusively for all general bird room disinfection. Virkon S is a Bactericide, Fungicide and Viricide.  In other words, it kills the lot!  In Europe, I had a friend who was a commercial breeder, who until later years, did not have an automatic drinking water system and had to rely on using the traditional jumbo sized drinking fonts.  With the number of birds they had, changing the drinking water every day was a huge job.  Following a visit to a relative who had a poultry farm, they began to add Virkon S to their drinking water.  This meant that the water would remain uncontaminated by pathogens for up to a week.  When I first saw them doing this I was aghast and convinced it would destroy the natural flora of the gut, which would then lead to problems.  Three months later I was convinced they, would have problems with the rare, difficult to breed nestlings.  Three months after this I could not think of any other objection! In other words, it turned out to be absolutely safe.

One of the first things I did on arriving in Australia to live was to try and find Virkon S, but I was told it was definitely not available in the country.  It was twelve months later, whilst talking to Avian Vet Stacey Gellis that I discovered it was here but hard to get.  The problem was delegated to our supplier, Birds R Us who, after a great deal of pain, was able to locate it and now I am happy to say carries it in their stock.  Once we had the Virkon S, the rest was easy.  We added 5 grams (1 Teaspoon) of Virkon S to 1 Kg of seed and sprouted the two types of seed mix we use in our standard way [described below] and then just left it on the sink top to see what happened.  Other than turning from sprout to green food, nothing happened!  In other words, no fungus, no bad smell.  The next test was to send it away to Dr Mark Simpson, the project Vet for independent laboratory testing. After 4 days in an incubator, absolutely nothing.  It took 11 days before there was enough yeast to start producing toxin.  Even then not enough to kill a bird!  Following this we experimented to see what the minimum volume of VirkonS could be used given our management system and eventually halved it to 2.5 grams (1/2 Teaspoon).

So how do we do it?


  • 2 plastic containers that fit inside each other & one lid.  The container needs to be big enough to hold 1 Kg [1 Litre] of sprouting seed.  Make lots of small holes in the bottom and part way up the sides of one of the plastic containers (1/16th inch or in metric1.59 mm).
  • Put in 1 Kg (1 Litre) of sprouting seed into the container with holes.
  • Put this container with seed inside the container without holes.
  • Add a minimum of ½ teaspoon of Virkon S.
  • Add approx 1.25 Litres of water and stir to disperse the Virkon S.
  • Leave to soak for a minimum of 1½ hours to a maximum of 2 hours.  Soaking for longer makes it soggy, slower to dry & increases the risk of pathogens.
  • Separate the containers and leave the seed to drain, put the lid loosely on the top for about 12 hours to retain humidity & then remove so seed will start drying.

Within 14-30 hours, dependent on the seed-mix type & ambient temperatures, the mix will have ‘chitted.’  This is the correct stage to feed it.  A longer sprout means it has lost a lot of its nutrient value.


The only thing you need to remember if you are going to freeze your sprouted seed, is that it needs to be reasonably dry when you put it in the freezer otherwise it will come out as a solid block of ice!  About half way through the sprouting process, I have the habit of raking the bottom to the top and leave the lid off, so that it will dry out a bit.  It needs to be just moist, not wet and when it comes out of the freezer, if you have got the moisture content right, it will be nice and friable and easily crumble.  Frozen seed may be fed directly to the birds or mixed in with your soft food, it does not need to be defrosted.

And finally let me add. This is a SAFER way, not a FOOLPROOF way to sprout seed. You should still not take liberties or take silly risks.
There are a tremendous number of variables which could not be considered in our trials. How dirty is YOUR seed, what is YOUR local climate compared with mine, how clean are YOUR feed pots compared to ours etc, etc.

To determine the optimum amount of VirkonS you should use under your conditions, we would suggest setting up a little experiment.  Set up a container as explained above and add 2.5 grams (1/2 teaspoon) of VirkonS, leave it on a bench top for 4 days and then take it to your local vet for analysis.  If it fails the test, double the amount of VirkonS to 5 grams (1 Teaspoon), do exactly the same as the first test.  If that one fails the test “I would eat my hat!”  However, if it did, carry on increasing the amount until you reach optimum.  In our management system, we make up a large batch of sprouted seed, enough to last approximately two months, and put it in the FREEZER (not fridge).  This is taken out and mixed into a batch of soft food once a week and again stored in the FREEZER ready for daily use.

Each morning, the ready mixed soft food is taken out of the freezer and fed directly to each cage without first thawing. The birds are fed only enough to last them the day.  The following morning, anything which is left in the feed pots is thrown away and the pots changed for clean ones which have been through the dishwasher and are therefore pathogen free.  The only risk we take (and are getting away with!) is that any surplus we have left after the mornings rounds goes back in the freezer, even though it is partially thawed.

In the good old bleach days, we used to feed it to the wild birds. However, another WARNING, this may not be safe if you use a different brand of soft food to the one I use!

Incidentally, in case you are wondering, why sprout seed anyway ?
Well the reason is that the sprouting process enhances the nutritional value of a seed by up to 300%!  Furthermore, the process increases the amount of fructose and glucose creating a high energy package also making it easier for small nestlings to digest.  We use two different sprouting mixes as both germinate at different speeds.

The Black Mix consists of ‘oil seeds’ and is important as it provides the LIPID content of our diet. Why do we need lipids?  Well, the birds endocrine and hormone system will not work properly without them, so this means, amongst other things, that they would not breed very successfully!

The White Mix consists of a different range of seeds which contain micro nutrients and some of the carotenoids.  Again, all important in the maintenance of healthy, free breeding stock.  To complete the diet supplement, we mix in a concentrated Soft Food which has all the items missing from the rest of the diet, at the ratio of 20% Soft Food to 20% Black Mix sprout and 60% White Mix sprout and feed 5 grams (1 Teaspoon) per day to breeding birds, and as much as can be eaten each day once they have nestlings. The amount offered will increase as the nestlings grow and a continuous supply should be replaced fresh daily until the fledglings have weaned.