Reflections on Using a DIY Fodder System
Growing fodder for animal feed is starting to catch on, and many homesteading families and small farm operations are exploring the possibilities of what this type of feed can do for the health of their animals and cost of feeding them. If you haven’t yet read the first two articles on growing fodder and building a simple DIY fodder system, you can find them here: http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/growing-sprouted-fodder/72618 and here: http://www.peakprosperity.com/wsidblog/80359/diy-home-fodder-system.
It has been a few months since I wrote the DIY fodder system article for Peak Prosperity. It turns out that a lot of people are interested in growing their own fodder, as this article has been extremely popular. With the combination of all of the valuable feedback (thank you!) and a few more months of experience, we have some additional thoughts to share.
Observations and Questions
“My goats are so picky! They won’t touch the fodder!”
Your animals may or may not like the fodder when they are first introduced to it. Don’t be discouraged! Our goats wanted nothing to do with the fodder the first couple of times we fed it to them. We were persistent and kept offering it to them. We also fed it to them alone and before offering anything else. They soon loved it. Now they gobble it up before eating any of their other food. I’ve heard the analogy of feeding someone a fast-food hamburger every day, and then suddenly offering a plate of kale and expecting them to love it.
One thing to keep in mind – make sure your fodder is not dripping wet when you offer it to your animals. Our goats definitely seem to prefer it on the drier side.
“Can I just put the seeds directly into the trays and skip the pre-sprouting tubs?”
We have had some people ask about going directly to the trays and skipping the pre-sprouting step in the tubs. If you are using a flood-and-drain type approach, as we do, then the pre-sprouting is essential. The initial root formation allows for the trays to be tipped for the “drain” part of the flood-and-drain. The root mat is what holds the growing fodder together in the trays when the trays are gently tipped to let the water drain out. Prior to about the fourth day, the seeds would just float around all over the place and would spill out. Putting the seed directly into the trays (after an initial 12-hour soak) would be possible if the system was set up using trays with drainage holes. The trays could be watered just from the very top (manually, or with an automated pump), and then the upper trays would drip down to water the lower trays underneath them.
One important thing to keep in mind with this system is that the trays would not be able to have domed lids. The domed lids keep the moisture level high enough to keep things growing when they are only watered once a day. If the system didn't use domes, the fodder trays would need to be watered much more frequently, maybe four times a day or so. Also, the design would have to allow for drainage at the bottom of all of the trays. A catch basin underneath all of the trays could hold water to be pumped up for watering. We have even thought about dedicating one of our showers to setting up our fodder system.
“My seed is so dirty. I am having mold issues.”
While there can be multiple reasons for mold issues, the quality of seed is definitely one of them. At one time we tried to cut costs by purchasing barley seed from a different source. The seed had a much higher percentage of chaff (empty seed hulls) and general dust than the better, more expensive seed. We spent a lot more time rinsing, rinsing, rinsing the seed, and we still sometimes had a few mold issues. We don’t have any mold issues with the cleaner seed.
“I have had success sprouting other seeds, too.”
Sprouting seeds definitely does not have to be limited to barley. Other seeds can be mixed with the barley and can be grown together directly in the trays. Or try sprouting using traditional sprouting jars, buckets, or tubs. We have successfully sprouted a large variety of other seeds. This list includes sunflower seeds, Austrian peas, wheat, buckwheat, oats, ryegrass, millet, alfalfa, and a variety of clovers. See what is available to you locally, experiment, and find what works well for you. A diversity of sprouts enhances the nutritional value of your animal feed even more.
“Our food buying co-op offers great deals!”
Always be on the look out for new sources for seed. Immediately after writing this article, the price of barley seed at the local feed and ranch store rose by 20%. We have now found a source for organic barley seed through a food co-op at less than we could purchase conventionally grown barley seed. Look for buying clubs and co-ops in your area. We now use Azure Standard, a distributor out of Oregon. They offer routes all over the western part of the country. Check out the resources section at the end of this article for a link to their website.
“We want to expand our production, but we are limited on space.”
Almost immediately after writing the initial article, we installed a shelf in our laundry room that allowed us to expand our system. We now soak enough seeds for two trays at one time. After the initial pre-soak, we split the contents of one tub into two. With just a little bit more time involved, we have doubled our production. We can now harvest two trays of fodder every day, thereby reducing our feed costs even more.