Sprouted Barley – “It Actually Works”

With drought conditions and high feed prices creating havoc for many dairies, some producers are finding an innovative and cost-effective solution with sprouted barley fodder.

Calvin Nash has a Jersey farm he operates with his wife, Julie. He started growing and feeding sprouted barley fodder to his herd in December 2012.

His advice to fellow dairy farmers considering a hydroponic unit to grow sprouting fodder for dairy cows is simple: “Don’t believe the nutritionists, this actually does work!”

The hydroponic units are typically loaded with barley seeds, and within about six to seven days, there is 200mm of luscious cattle feed that is high in protein. Other seeds such as alfalfa do work, but barley is known to quickly produce the highest-quality fodder.

Nash purchases all the feed for his 200-cow dairy, which is located in the high desert. He estimates he was losing about $35,000 a month, and the lack of affordable hay was a huge problem.

“I couldn’t afford any other option,” Nash says.

He spent $160,000 on his hydroponic setup, doing much of the work himself. “It was about what you would spend on a tractor and mower,” he notes.

Nash and his wife, children and/or two high school students work together for about two hours in the morning tending to the seeding and harvesting. He harvests about four tons a day.

Dairy farmer Tom White was so impressed with the hydroponic system he put in last summer that he sold his 500-cow dairy to an organic producer and is now working as a consultant for producers interested in setting up hydroponic fodder systems.

He started out cynical that the system could work – now he is “convinced that this is the future.”

 “The beauty of this system is that it is not affected by drought,” he says. “The cows always get fresh feed in the form they are meant to eat.”

He says the system will pay for itself in less than five years with no problem.

White is impressed with the water conservation, which is important because they pump water from a 170m deep aquifer.

Based on his calculations, it takes a 2 litres of water to grow 1kg of fodder, versus using 500 litres to produce 1kg of hay.

Both Nash and White commented that nutritionists are traditionally taught to calculate the feed value on a dry matter basis, and that doesn’t work with fodder.

“This is a new way of thinking and it has big benefits,” White says.

The rule of thumb for dairy cows is to have 3 percent of their bodyweight of fodder in their daily ration.

White also points out that since no chemicals or soils are used to grow the fodder, it can also work well for organic producers.

“This is one feed for organic farms that will not cost more,” White notes.

There are different ways to prevent mould in the sprouts; Nash uses a chlorine solution and White uses a hydrogen peroxide solution.  The Agritom Fodder Systems also include an Ozone Generator which converts Oxygen into Ozone thus sterilising the system.

White has been doing small-scale tests and studies on his own animals and others, and he is now working on additional tests.

He says that it takes him about 45 minutes to harvest the fodder in the morning, but the average producer would likely take less time because he keeps meticulous records.

The dairy cows on both the Nash and White farms love the fodder, will eat it before other foods, and Nash notes the cows will even pull it out of each other’s mouths if they can.

White says that the fodder is “like candy” to the cows. Nash notes that the fodder smells like fresh-cut grass. It is truly the way of the future.

Click the following link for more info on the range of Agritom Fodder Systems – www.agritom.com.au/fodder-systems/

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