Growing Hydroponic FoDder as Feed
Sprouting seeds (barley, wheat, corn, peas...) for animal feed has been around since the 1920's, first cultivated during times of drought and shortages of hay and other water dependent field crops.
Our journey began 3 years into growing Tamworth pigs on the pastures of Wild Plum Farm. We recognized the need for additional nutrition that wasn't coming from our pasture forage and wanted to avoid processed feeds, without compromising the health and well being of the pigs. Lo and behold...the wonders of the internet and it's wisdom (crack pott-er-y and general time-suck-ness)...we happened upon farmers growing hydroponic fodder for their livestock.
We started with a Fodder Pro 2.0 System from FarmTek, purchased with a generous grant from Tilth Alliance/Humanlinks Foundation,...including metal racking, plastic grow channels and an irrigation system to plumb into an existing water source. From the picture at right....you'd think the system worked beautifully...it didn't. The growth was terribly inconsistent and the channels difficult to load/unload. More importantly, under the beautiful green fodder was a bed of toxic mold. No go....re-group.
We kept the racking system and replaced the plastic channels with Sterilite bins...each with drain holes drilled in the bottoms. The smaller bins are easier to manage and allow for more consistent water application and drainage.
Additionally we use a couple of retired bakery racks with smaller seedling trays...see slide show below.
BASIC EQUIPMENT NEEDED:
1. A climate controlled room that can maintain 65 degrees F. (heated garage, shop, insulated room of a barn...)
2. Water source (hot & cold water) and drain. Water used on fodder should be 60 degrees.
3. LED lights
4. Circulating fan to maintain air flow in room
5. Ability to maintain a humidity level of 45 (we use a de-humidifier)
6. A racking system to hold the trays of seed (wood, plastic, metal shelving)
7. Trays for seed (plastic bins or seedling trays in which you can drills drain holes)
8. A water catchment system (our trays drain down to a catchment channel that flows to a central drain)
The following photos show equipment as well as a progression of seedling growth.
GROWING FODDER IN 7 DAYS - quantities gauged for Sterilite 28 Qt. underbed box 23.5"L x 167/8"w x 57/8"H.
1. Set up racking so that you have 7 tiers of trays. You'll harvest 1 tier/day. (We have 14 bins/tier and average 170# of fodder daily.)
2. Each day plant 1 tier.
3. Place 2 lbs. dry barley seed in each bin per that day's tier.
Day #1 = Thoroughly drench seed in the AM and PM, making sure to wet all seeds. We use a gentle "shower" setting on a garden spray nozzle.
Day #2 = In AM, use a ruler or spatula (not your bare hands) to gently even out the damp seed in bottom of tray. You should have about a 1/4" of seed overall.
Lightly drench AM and PM, making sure all seeds are at least damp.
Days #3-7 -Lightly drench AM and PM
Day #7 - green grass should be about 5"-8" tall with a 2" root mass underneath. Remove mat from bin and feed to critters. Hmm hmm good!
Fermenting odor (sort of like yeast or beer) = can mean too much water or inadequate drainage of seed trays.
Ungerminated seeds = can mean not enough water OR poor seed quality. If we allow our seed to freeze (store in barn during winter months) germination improves.
Mold = black mold in trays can be caused by any number if factors (water, dirty seeds, humidity, temperature, etc...). We've found that cleaning away mold with a mild detergent or vinegar inhibits further growth.