Hydroponic Fodder Project

I am never better than when I am on my feet. I was not born to sit in
a tractor, I was born to walk in a pasture. I know others are
different but for me, I am best when on my feet. I think this is part
of the reason I like projects; I like to be on my feet, productively
working towards a meaningful goal. I would like to talk about a new
project this week

Hay is crazy-expensive right now. It’s almost impossible to get sugar
beet pulp and grain is beyond most pocketbooks. I have been
researching a replacement for expensive cattle food for about the
last year, it is called hydroponically-raised fodder. Hydroponic
fodder is sprouted grains or legumes that grow quickly in trays. This
process greatly improves the mass and the useability of grains such
as barley or wheat. It is a way to either supplement cattle on
pasture or supply needed energy to the same cattle during the winter.

Now I already have a productive pasture however I cannot finish an
animal for harvest in one summer. I always have to maintain them over
the winter then finish them the following summer. Based on my
research of decades of experience in New Zealand, I believe
hydroponic fodder will allow my cattle to gain weight more quickly
yet still experience the benefits of being grass-fed. They will also
finish by Fall.

Okay, here’s the project. The cheapest manufactured hydroponic fodder
system I could find to fit my needs was over $5000. In 2009, the
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program granted funds
to a fellow from Ohio to create a hydroponic system on the cheap. I
have based my system on the work done by the fellow in Ohio who based
his system on something similar developed in New Mexico.

Many of the hydroponic fodder systems I’ve seen are basically trays
filled with seed, placed in racks and then systematically sprayed
with water. Most of these systems are made to fit in small spaces and
are up to ten feet tall in order to use space efficiently. I have no
interest to harvest fodder on a ladder and therefore plan my system
to rise only neck-high. I also plan to slide the trays of barley seed
in from one side and remove them from the other side. I believe this
will make cleaning and harvesting quite a bit easier.

Like most of my projects, I will probably change and re-build the
fodder unit until it fits my needs. I always say if you’re going to
break trail you have to be allowed some mistakes and I will
undoubtedly error along the way. I suspect the one area that will
demand most of my attention to detail is daily operation of the
fodder unit. I must keep the unit free of mold and consistently
perform the labor of operating the unit.

Last year’s major project took almost eight months and this one will
all take some time too finish, that’s why I started it now. I would
have included some pictures but I have only built the frame so a
picture would not have much to say. When I get some trays built I
will again write of this project and include some pictures. If you
don’t hear more about my dreams of hydroponic fodder within the next
few months, you will know things didn’t work out as I planned. I’m
guessing you’ll hear from me.

One Response to “Hydroponic Fodder Project”

  1. Dale Rose says:

    Looking forward to updates on your fodder system. I have been working with mine since June, after a couple of false starts. My husband calls it “Dale’s water treatment plant,” because that seems to be my main concern: keeping the water sweet without changing it daily. I have added a UV filter and bubblers so far, and it’s working better.

    My even more main concern is getting a better germination rate with the wheat seed i am using (barley is hard to get here). At the moment it ranges from 60 to 75%, not satisfactory.

    My 7 horses love it. They range in age from 6 to 29 years, and in breed from Peruvian Paso to PercheronX. all are in steady work in my riding school and earn their keep.

    I have noticed that their coats have not bleached out this summer, and they generally have not shown the skin issues a humid Mississippi summer brings. More than that it is too soon to say, as at the moment I am only producing about 2 pounds per day for each of them. When the system is operating as I think it should I will expand it.

    I would very much like to hear your experience and what you are learning!

    PS I agree with you about buttermilk!

    Best,

    Dale

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