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The Cheapest Way To Feed Livestock — Even During Hard Times

growing fodder

Image source: farmtek.wordpress.com

The practice of growing your own fodder has been around for generations. In recent years, though, there has been a resurgence of it due to the rising costs of feeds and hay, and the severe climates now normally seen every winter and summer. More and more farmers, both small homesteaders and big ranchers alike, are looking for ways to feed their livestock without relying on traditional sources and methods. And growing their own fodder is by far proving to be the most viable option.

Hydroponics is often used in growing organic fodder. It entails soaking grain seeds in water for several hours and placing them in growing trays to sprout for 6-8 days, after which a thick mat of green 6- to 7-inch grass is produced. All of it is fed – shoots, seed and roots — to chickens, geese, rabbits, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, cows and alpaca. Many different cereal grains are used — barley, wheat, oats, rye and corn – but legumes like soy, mung beans and alfalfa are also good.  Of these, barley is the most preferred due to its speed of sprouting, thicker mass yield and higher level of nutrients.

The benefits of D-I-Y

Many who grow barley are reporting yields of 4 to 6 times the weight of the seed they sprout. A 50-lb. bag, for example, will produce for them 300 lbs of fodder in a week’s time. It therefore brings down feed costs to just a fourth or sixth of the price they would normally pay for 300lbs. of unsprouted grains or hay.  Other benefits they’re citing of hydro fodder are:

  • Reliability: on-site, on-demand, all-season availability.
  • Sustainability: reduced or removed dependence on hay and feeds; plus, with large stocks of seeds in storage, feed supply is secure for many months and possibly years.
  • Fresh, organic, non-GMO.
  • Ease of digestibility, especially for ruminants which have difficulty digesting grain (less acidity problems).
  • Presents less or no risk of parasitic diseases.
  • Production requires little water and power, and no need for cultivated land or soil of any kind; small farmers can make their own systems at home, at low cost and in very limited space.
  • No need for long-term feed storage and corresponding nutrient loss in standard grains; also, no need for large storage spaces for hay.
  • Very palatable, complements the usual diets of most farm animals.
  • Higher nutritional value.
  • Lower cost.

A Question of Cost

Scientists are quick to question those last two items, however. They say hydroponic fodder provides just a fraction of the nutrients found in unsprouted grains or hay. Since energy and protein density is measured on dry matter (DM) basis, and the DM content of fodder is very low (at 12-15 percent, compared with 90 percent in conventional feeds), the amount of DM that’s needed in fodder to sufficiently meet an animal’s protein and energy requirements will have to be multiplied so many times.

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Since much of the weight gained from sprouting seeds to fodder is just water, they say it would ultimately pull up over-all costs since you’d have to increase your animals’ rations so many times more.

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But farmers beg to disagree. Those who substantially complement their feeds with hydro fodder – or have switched to it entirely — are reporting increases in milk production and butterfat levels, lower parasite counts, elimination of foot problems, better coat/fleece quality and overall better herd health. But despite their glowing and growing reports, nutritionists — as expected — will not acknowledge them unless they’re analyzed, explained and validated by scientific studies.

But one key factor analysts may be neglecting is the biochemistry involved in the process of sprouting. Seeds and grains have “self-preservation systems” called antinutrients that  protect their stored proteins, vitamins, minerals and fats over a long period of time. These are what are said to protect them from pest infestation and being consumed by both animals and humans. But if placed in the right environment, seeds are able to germinate; and in the process, the stored nutrients come to life, multiply and kick into action.

A study shows that barley seed, for example, has a crude protein level of 12.7 percent and fiber level of 5.4 percent. After 7 days of sprouting, these levels rise to 15.5 percent for protein and 14.1 percent for fiber. The digestibility of grain increases from 40 to 80 percent. Livestock then won’t have to consume as much fodder compared to commercial feed because they can obtain the necessary nutrition from a smaller volume of feed.

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Sprouting also produces enzymes, which are responsible for breaking down hard-to-digest proteins into simpler and usable amino acids. There is an increase in fiber and important vitamins, while phytic acid and antinutrient levels are decreased. Starches that usually cause hyper-acidity problems in ruminants are also removed.

Valid explanation or not, farmers are all too happy to grow their own fodder. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The same low DM “problem” can be said of fresh pasture, yet livestock almost always prefer pasture over grains. Need there be further explanation?

Important Considerations

There are indeed a few things that need to be considered when switching or complementing your animals’ diet with hydro fodder. The most commonly reported are:

  • Risk to molds and fungus growth.
  • Time, labor and equipment cost: if setup is small-scale and manually done, the process of soaking, handling, cleaning and feeding can be intensive; if automated, cost of equipment and power requirements should be considered.
  • Sourcing of seeds and consistency of their quality.

But these could all be addressed, and are actually being managed, by both small-scale and large-scale producers.

When pastures have all dried up during another long, dry spell; when water is being rationed; when hay and feed costs are rising well beyond your means; and when you’re facing another Arctic blast during a brutal winter — just how will you feed your animals sustainably? The answer is D-I-Y fodder.

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23 comments

  1. Ralph Max Jefferson

    Own a horse business and am highly interested in alternative feed sources. Have suffered from high heat and humidity in the southern, Illinois area the last several yrs. Driving hay prices and grain prices up.

  2. No humans or animals get full nutritional benefits from any hydroponic foods, herbs etc. Hydroponic grown foods etc. have 2/3 rds less nutrients than soil grown and NO ammino acids the foundation for strong immune systems.

    • Vincent Rodriguez

      Please provide valid links to your information. I am very interested in learning about hydroponics versus ground grown organics. Thank you.

      • Has he answered? I have a background in biology and over that have read a lot about hydroponics and it is well known that a tomato growing with N-P-K from a natural source or an artificial source is the same, all other parameters being equal.
        I grow vegetables in a garden, but think of growing grasses in hydroponic for our flock as this article suggest.

    • Daniel writes: “Hydroponic foods have ‘no ammino (sic) acids”

      That simply is NOT true – “most” plants, no matter how grown, are deficient in one or more essential amino acids. That’s why it is important to eat a variety of plants.

  3. I am definitely starting this my own fodder! Where should I get my seeds?

  4. I must appreciate JD Lara for this wealthy article and would say hydroponics method may help in reducing cost but not full fill ideally nutritional food for our livestocks including small tiny animals or birds. We have to need balance diet with minerals, vitamins and proteins?

  5. While on the surface aquaponics and hydroponics is appealing to many who look for an easier way out, neither of these methods can replace how God designed plants to grow and nourish us.
    Think of this, you put in a few nutrients in a medium for plants to grow. Fine. You have now grown filler for your stomach, but where are the essential minerals your body needs. Common sense here folks.
    Your body needs selenium, chromium, silica, copper, magnesium, europium, manganese, iron, sulfur, and the list goes on. You need over 90 minerals and vitamins for your body to truly be healthy. You will not get that trying to out do God. I have for many years studied nutrition, organic agricultural and some homeopathy/naturopathy.. If your body is healthy it will defeat most if not all diseases. If you are lacking nutrition and/or full of toxins you will , not might, get sick.
    I used to do blog talk radio for over a year talking about this very thing.
    You want plants to create something out of nothing. Unless you are God, it is not going to happen. Sorry, but that is just reality.
    You want a good growing medium, but don’t have it? Here is a good solution to yhe problem using God’s way.
    First take organic matter such as straw, grass clippings from grass NOT grown with any chemicals. Mix 1/4 organic dirt, 1/4 organic peatmoss’, 1/8 aprox. wood ash from old virgin growth hardwoods such as oak, maple and hickory. Crushed egg shells, coffee grounds and organic table scraps. Make your compost. This will give you the best soil you will ever see. And it will give plants what is needed to give YOU the nutrition YOU need. Learn to compost. A healthy compost will not stink. The soil you aaddedwill supply enzymes and bacteria needed for organic matter to break down. You don’t have to turn it every day. Once every 7 days will work. It will keep working through cold Winter. Decaying matter makes heat. Just look at a turkey nest. That is how their eggs incubate. Do not put any animal meat, fat, or bones in compost pile. Use manure only from clean animals such as cows, sheep, chickens and geese.
    Also, feed your animals squash you grow as well as watermelon rinds. The rind is higher in nutrition than the sweet stuff and chickens will love you for it.
    Grow extra so your animals can eat healthy too.
    Forget hydroponics and use God’s way. Remember, God is never wrong, while man is constantly making mistakes.
    If you don’t believe in God that is your choice. I am not here to argue about your folly.
    I have successfully helped many people grow nutritious food for themselves, so I have that as my proof.
    Healthy plants will survive most heat and drought if you do several things.
    1- Prepare the soil. Use the above compost method. Add Diotomacious earth to it while spreading over garden then till the soil.
    2- Plant your presprouted seed and or starter plants and after 6 to 8 inches high start adding straw to the ground as cover. This will help soil retain moisture and greatly reduce weeds.
    3- Study a little before you grow. Not all plants get along with each other and yes there is a science to this.
    Don’t grow nightshade plants such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant together. Spinach and carrots love to grow near each other. Beans and corn grow together to form a symbiotic relationship and also conserve space. Beans will help hold and stablize corn plant so it doesnt blow over. Beans put nitrogen in soil that corn uses. And corn gives your beans a stalk to climb up.
    Dust with DE and that will greatly reduce pests.
    As for birds, hang aluminum foil or mylar strips around and throughout garden. This will keep most birds away. Just look at commercial apple orchards and you will see this.
    Don’t want to kill your back growing potatoes? Good, neither do I. So go vertical. Use wire fencing straw and dirt and grow upwards.. plenty of vids on youtube showing how to do this. I have perfected my own way, but sorry, no vids.
    As for ground animals, I solved that problem with a female Tibetan Mastiff. She is Queen of the property. Hawks, crows, skunks , raccoons and squirrels obey and leave. They pack up their little bug out bags and find safer pastures. Well the squirrels stay, but they live in oak trees and know the rules. Eat garden, you die. She adopted chickens as her babies, so chickens are safe from predators, including hawks. She growls and they fly to next farm down the road.
    Literally. Pretty funny to watch.
    That covers my take on this hydroponic thing for now. Study on how to grow and what is compatible before you grow.
    May you nourish yourselves with God’s food.
    God bless

    • Please, keep your fairy tales to yourself.

    • Thank you for great instructions and sharing your theology on living things.

    • you rock Larry…

    • Keeping this post because of your comment… So true and a great reminder.
      Thanks for all the great tips! God bless!

    • ok, but lets look at how food crops are currently being grown. the lands are quickly becoming depleted of those nutrients it once had and the plowing, tilling, etc… are making it happen at an ever increasing pace. crop residue is removed from the land exposing it even more to wind erosion. in row crop production the crops are harvested and shipped to a processing plant sometimes over 100 miles from the land where they were grown. this removes every nutrient the crop took up from the soil. you yourself just stated that the plants can not produce these themselves. the waste from that harvested crop will end up some where else and not be put back on the land from which it was removed.
      as for chemical fertilizers suplying the needed nutrients, those come mostly from petroleum, and if they are the same as from the soil, i challenge you use your background and list every nutrient etc… that is in just 1 tomato from any source you choose, then get out your catalog and order these exact chemicals from a chemical supply company catalog and combine them in a glass at the exact same ratios as in the tomato, and drink that glass completely. you are not allowed to put anything else in your mouth for 8 hours except pure H2O, and you are not allowed to empty your stomach contents. i do not think you will live the whole 8 hours!

      the food that was processed at the cannery and shipped to your grocery store hundreds of miles away and people will consume it, then either throw away what they do not consume that goes into an landfill, or they eleminate it via the toilet where it is treated and the solids placed on the land thousands of miles from where the nutrients came from. i sir do not have a degree because a degree does not benifit me in any way what so ever. i took the classes but did not take the electives or the stupid crap i had no interest in. i will never have a mortgage and pay 2 times the sale price of my home etc… i will not work a “job” that takes my skills and uses them to make someone else 5 times what i earn every hour i work for them. i hope you have a long and healthy life but you most likely will not as it is clear who you are working for, and being around that lifestyle causes more disease than you realise!

  6. All sprouted seeds are very high in nutrition. Much more than the plant they would become if left to grow up. this topic is not appropriate for the discussion of nutrient value of hydroponics vs soil grown plants. We are not growing plants here. Simply sprouting seeds.

  7. Hekmatullah ZHAKFAR

    Dear Sir,
    If we process to make this barley system for cows, how many kilos of food on daily base is needed for a cow
    thanks for reply, I knwo some cows are big some are with small body, I meen with estimated amount.

  8. Can anyone supply some links, or at least the names of companies that supply equipment & seeds to do this?

  9. Good Morning Vicki:

    Our company is an organic sprouted grain producer and we have patented our own process and equipment, so no longer have a need for the original equipment we purchased. A Trac I sprouting system with 2 Rotatech Drum sprouters and centrifuge. If you are interested in discussing a purchase, we are interested in selling them. 712-449-5522

  10. Hi there, great video. I’ll be getting ducks and I have had chickens before, I’ll be introducing it to them. I also wanted to ask as I’ve noticed my dogs eat grass if you have advice about what I could grow for them, I like that they would be getting the nutrients they need organically. Thanks

  11. I would love more information of growing fodder.

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