The Benefits of Feeding Fodder to Livestock

 

When raising cattle or poultry for milk, meat or eggs, it is important that they kept adequately fed and watered. Proper nutrition will help your cattle to grow strong and healthy. However, it can sometimes be hard to find the right foods for your cattle. Farmers must find the right balance between cost-effective foodstuffs, healthy foodstuffs and foodstuffs that have a reduced environmental impact. Including fresh green fodder as part of your nutritional mix may be the right choice for your livestock.

What is fodder?

The traditional definition of fodder is normally given as “any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock”, however farmers and producers are increasingly using the term “fodder” to refer to sprouted grain feeds. Sprouting grain feeds may alternatively be known as “green fodder”. The word fodder is normally used to describe foods which are provided directly to the livestock, as opposed to plant materials and food that the animal has been out to collect for themselves. The latter concept is normally referred to as “forage”. In some cases, fodder and forage can actually be the same type of plant or food; however the method by which the livestock received the food differs. For example, fresh grass can be both fodder and forage, depending on the circumstances. Most animals need to be provided with fodder at some point during their lives, because it is not always possible for animals to get the required nutrients from foraging alone. Even animals that are free range and have the capability to search for forage will be supplemented with fodder at certain times, to ensure that they grow quickly and healthily. What is more, fodder provides an essential part of the diets of livestock during the winter months when pastures and forage areas are less fruitful. For a long time, farmers have been intensively farming their land to produce dried fodder which could be given to their animals during less fruitful periods. However, improvements in agriculture now mean that farmers are looking for alternative choices.

Is sprouting grain fodder a new idea?

Sprouting grain fodder has been used for hundreds of years, especially in mainland Europe and North America. Dairy farmers in nineteenth century Europe believed that feeding their cattle fresh sprouting grain during the winter months helped to maintain milk quantity and quality whilst the weather was too poor for outdoor pasturing. The idea was not widely used by large scale producers because it was very difficult to implement on a large scale. However, advances in growing technology mean that it is now easier to grow sprouting grain fodder on a much larger scale. Biologists also have a greater understanding of how sprouting grains grow. Working with hydroponic technology means that farmers are now able to control things that historic farmers could not. Whereas sprouting grain had previously been a labour intensive way of growing fodder, it is now easier than ever to grow fodder with minimal effort. Although it is possible to build your own sprouting grain growing system, it is likely that you will have to spend more time working out the best configuration for your system and finding the most efficient growing patterns. Hydroponic fodder growing systems are now on sale across Australia and around the world. Buying a ready-made hydroponic system allows farmers to access additional support and guidance about how this type of system works. This is beneficial to most farmers, as it means that they will be able to get growing almost straight away.

How is green fodder grown?

The best way to grow green fodder is using a hydroponic growing system. These systems involve the creation of a micro-growing climate which can be carefully controlled to enable maximum yield. Hydroponic technology can be used to create sprouting grain grass, micro-leaf plants and many other types of food.

In order to grow sprouting grain fodder, barley grains are washed and soaked in water. The grains are then spread out across special plastic trays which can be stacked up on mobile shelf trolley units. These trolleys are put into a growing shed or tent where the conditions are being controlled to encourage maximum growth in a minimal time period. By the end of day 2, the grains should have started to produce tiny sprouts and a visible root system. In the next couple of days, a thick, healthy root bed will develop underneath the grains. This root bed will develop a mat-like appearance. Once the root bed is well established, the seedlings will start to put all of their energy into upwards growth. By day 7 of the growing cycle, the plant should be between 8in and 10in in height. These shoots will be ready for “harvest” and will offer maximum nutritional benefits to the livestock.

With this type of hydroponically grown green fodder, the whole product can simply be lifted out of the tray and delivered to the livestock. They will consume everything from the roots to the shoots! This means that the process creates very little mess and leaves behind very little waste. Most farmers either lay the mats down in front of their animals for the animals to eat or the break mats up into the animal feeding trays.

It is important that the plastic trays are properly washed and cleaned before the next batch of grains is laid to grow. Without following proper hygiene practices, the trays can become hotbeds for mould and bacterial growth. However, the proper cleaning process is quick and easy.

Nutritional Benefits of Sprouting Grain Fodder

Sprouting barley fodder produces a grain grass which is high in protein and high in energy. This is an ideal combination to create a healthy, strong and heavy animal. The grown produce has a digestibility rating of around 90%, meaning that it is easy to digest and is unlikely to cause any form if digestive issue in healthy livestock. This compares to some other feed types which contain indigestible portions. Grain grass is also high in Vitamin A, E, Folic Acid, Biotin and Beta-Carotene. It is recommended that animals are fed a mixture of foods which include a healthy portion of sprouting grain fodder. The mixture that should be used will depend on a range of factors and is unique to the livestock in question.

What are the benefits of offering sprouting grain fodder to animals?

Knowing what to feed your animals during the winter months can be difficult, in part due to the reduction in locally-available, fresh produce. Livestock need to be given nutritious food all year round to maintain their health and to ensure the quality of their produce. Sudden changes in diet during winter can have an effect on the health of your animals, in the same way that suddenly changing a human diet can have a profound effect on the human digestive system. If it is not possible to leave the animals out in a pasture all year round or if the pasture areas are not productive at certain times in the annual cycle, dietary changes should be made gradually. Feeding the animal with fresh sprouting grain fodder is one way of doing this, because fodder grown using a controlled growing system actually mimics the nutritional values fresh pasture forage.

The nutritional benefits of eating green fodder really depend on the species of animal which is being fed. That being said, all of the major land-based animals which are farmed in Australia will receive some benefits from consuming sprouting grain fodder in their diet, as opposed to a diet that consists solely of dried fodder or pellet-based feeds.

Cattle

Feeding cattle sprouting grain fodder when they are unable to gain access to fresh pasture has been shown to increase the milk yield of the animals. Animals have also been found to gain weight more easily when they are fed fresh fodder. Both of these factors help to increase the profitability of the cattle, regardless of whether they are being kept as meat or diary animals. Trials in America have shown that dairy cattle which have been fed fresh fodder on a daily basis actually produced a 28% higher milk yield that cows which had been fed dried grass. This particular piece of research studied yields over a 29 year period, in order to gain an accurate picture of the effects of different food types. An alternative study that was conducted in New Zealand showed that beef cattle which were fed 15kg of green fodder per day over a twelve week period showed a weight gain of 41% compared to the same breed of cattle which were being fed using normal non-fresh feed. Finally, sprouting barley feed is known to alter the pH balance of the rumen in such a way that digestion occurs more easily. This means that the animals are able to conserve energy during digestion, which can help to improve fertility levels.

Pigs

Green fodder has been shown to improve the growth rate of pigs, with pigs that have fed on green fodder being shown to reach their final target weight at least 2 weeks before their counterparts. In terms of fertility and child-rearing potential, green fodder-fed pigs come into heat much quicker and then continue to produce milk for a much longer period after giving birth. For piglets, being able to feed from their mother for much longer encourages a faster early growth rate and improves their ability to resist certain diseases.

Poultry

The feed that farmers give to their poultry can have a huge effect on the quality of the eggs that they produce. One visible sign is that sprouting grain fed birds also lay eggs with a richer and deeper yolk colour.  Whilst yolk colour tends to be a personal consumer preference, blind taste testing has suggested that poultry which have been given sprouting grain fodder produce eggs that taste better than eggs that have been laid by pellet-fed chickens. They also produce a better quality egg. Fewer shell irregularities are noted in eggs which are laid by fodder fed birds. Farmers who grow green fodder to feed to chickens will find that the grains will be suitable to give to their chickens before the seventh day of the growing cycle.

What are the benefits to farmers?

A fodder growing system is an excellent investment for farmers, because it can continue to reduce food costs for years to come. Although the farmer will be required to pay initial outlay costs to set the system up, these costs should be covered by financial savings on feed purchase costs within a relatively short amount of time. Depending on the size and scale of the fodder growing system, most livestock farmers fully cover the costs of their initial investment within 9 to 18 months of getting the system up and running. Once the farmer has covered the initial investment costs of the system, any further financial savings made on the cost of animal feed (as compared to the cost of other types of livestock feed) start to translate as profit. These savings can be invested straight back into the business to help to improve other areas of the farm or smallholding.

One of the brilliant things about using sprouting grain fodder is that it is a suitable choice whatever size the business it. This type of fodder has been in use for a long time by homesteaders and other small business owners. Previously, larger farm owners may have discounted fresh seed options like this, because of the amount of space that they may have thought that they needed to sustain growth. However, revolutions in growing technology mean that farmers can use hydroponic systems to grow large amounts of sprouting grain fodder using a relatively small amount of space. Whereas this type of fodder was previously only a viable option for small scale producers, it is now a suitable choice for medium-large scale livestock producers.

The modern brands of fodder system make it very easy to grow sprouting grain fodder.  These systems are intended to make fodder production as easy as possible for small and medium scale livestock farmers. As long as a farmer takes the time to understand the system in the first instance, they will actually be required to put a comparatively small amount of time into continued production. Depending on the system that is being used and the scale of fodder production, most green fodder producers only need to spend an average of 30 minutes to 1 hour per day working with their system in order to produce a yield of 150-200 tons of fresh feed per year. Reducing the amount of time that is required for fodder production, collection and refining means that farmers are able to spend much more time on other important things. Great fodder production systems can help to improve animal welfare by allowing livestock farmers enough time to concentrate on other issues. Sprouting grain fodder and other types of micro-leaf fodder are also incredibly cost-effective. The grain that is used to grow sprouting grasses is low cost for the yield that its produces.  Some modern leaf growing systems are able to produce cut-and-come-again crops, depending on what type of produce is being grown. After harvesting, these cut-and-come-again will continue to produce edible new growth. Although cut-and-come-again crops will not continue to produce edible fodder indefinitely, they can produce a lot of food for the amount of time and effort which is input into the process. Farmers who choose to grow cut-and-come-again crops spend even less on their outlay costs, because they have to replenish their growing seeds less frequently.

Hydroponic fodder growing systems require farmers to hire, buy and maintain less pasture land during the winter months. Growing tents, sheds and greenhouses allow farmers to utilise vertical spaces as well as the horizontal space that is available to them. Using stacked or shelf supported growing beds for fodder is a great way to use all of the space available without draining the natural resources of the area. Farmers who already own existing pastures which have previously been used for overwintering animals can now use their land for alternative purposes, including growing other produce.

Although there are electricity and rates costs associated with running a green fodder growing system, these costs tend to be less than the costs that would be associated with working a pasture for food. The costs should be far less than the fuel costs and the vehicle maintenance costs that would be associated with intense pasture farming. It may also be possible to reduce your growing costs even further by introducing some form of micro-power generation system into the equation. A small, renewable electricity generation system, such as a wind turbine, solar system or biomass generator could be fixed up to the hydroponic systems to help to reduce your running costs even further. If you are already using one of these generation systems on your farm, it is an excellent idea to connect it up to your fodder growing system to boost the sustainability of the system.

With a green fodder growing system, farmers will find that they are no longer need to rely on the weather for good quality feed. Because every aspect of a growing system can be controlled, it is no longer necessary to pray for the right amount of rain or sunshine during the growing period. Likewise, farmers do not have to worry about the risks flash-flooding or the effects that too much rain can have on dry growing grounds. Artificial sunlight can be controlled in the growing area to provide all of the sprouting grains with exactly the right amount of light. The hydroponic system helps to give all of the grain the right amount of water, so that the produce is neither under-watered nor overwatered. It is also possible to control heat and humidity levels

Using green fodder as a source of food for livestock can also help you to save money on veterinary bills. The health benefits of using green fodder are numerous (see above) which can help to reduce the likelihood of animals becoming ill. Strengthening their immune systems via careful dietary controls can also help to reduce the spread of disease if an animal does become unwell. As long as farmers continue to maintain good hygiene practices and positive nutrition in other areas of diet for their livestock, they could start to see a reduction in seasonal veterinary bills.
The way that the growing system works also means that farmers are able to make big savings on stocking and transporting costs that are associated with dried fodder produce. Because fresh fodder is available on a rolling program, there is no need to have buy or store fodder for use more than 7 days in advance. This compares with traditional dried feed systems, where many farmers would actually buy and store grain for the whole winter period. Mass storage areas like these were previously considered to be a necessary risk for farmers, although most farmers were aware that the consequences could be huge if something were to happen to the sheds which might result in the crops being spoilt. The risks are far smaller in a system where there is less than 10 days food stored at any given time during the growing and production rotation cycle.

If a farmer does decide that they wish to feed their livestock on home-grown sprouting bean fodder, they are able to get themselves up and running in next to no time at all.  Once the growing system is in place, green fodder can be ready to eat in less than 1 week. By this time, the sprouted grain grass should be a healthy green colour and between 200mm and 250mm long. Using a well-planned growing schedule, farmers are able to end up with fresh pallets of ready-to-harvest sprouting grain fodder every single day. This allows the farmer to use every blade of grain grass at the optimal moment for the maximum level of nutritional benefit. For more info on the benefits of feeding fodder to your livestock, please contact Agritom Australia.

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