7 Reasons Why “Hydroponic” Fodder is a Viable Option for Feeding Livestock
On the surface, the concept of producing fodder in a “hydroponic” system is quite appealing to farmers because 1kg of grain provides 6 to 10kgs of fodder in 6 to 10 days. However, when you scratch below the surface, you realize that hydroponic fodder is not quite a viable option for feeding your cattle and especially sheep, cows, and goats.
It is important to know that so-called hydroponics fodder is not Hydroponics. It is only treating the seeds with water without nutrients. The characteristic of Hydroponics is precisely the combination of nutrients in water to allow the plant to grow. You can read real hydroponics fodder in this article. ⇒ Hydroponics fodder
What is Fodder?
Fodder is food given to livestock. Thus, fodder is the livestock food produced using an watersystem.
- The statistics published by Maryland Small Ruminant Page, show that barley sprouts produced “hydroponically” contain 12% DM as compared to soil-grown Orchard grass hay (88% DM) and Alfalfa hay (89% DM). In other words, the hydroponic fodder is 88% water.
Why does the fodder contain less DM content? The seeds used to prepare in the water lose between 7% to 47% DM during soaking and germination.
How do the seeds lose their DM content?
They lose DM during soaking and the subsequent sprouting processes because of the leaching of materials and oxidation of substances from the seed. During soaking, seeds lose their solutes. They lose most of the solutes during the water uptake stage which stops after 24 hours. Perhaps, this is the reason farmers are advised to soak their seed for a similar period. Several studies, for example, Flynn et al. (1986), have found that barley, among other seeds, lose 24% in DM in an eight-day production cycle.
- The solutes that the seeds lose during the soaking stage contain amino acids, organic acids, proteins, sugars, and inorganic ions. There is no sufficient time to regain these nutrients because of the short production cycle.
Therefore, fodder contains not only less DM but also few nutrients.
- Perhaps, the mold is the biggest problem facing farmers who grow fodder. Monitoring the humidity in a greenhouse environment is tough. Humidity promotes fast growth of mold. Moldy fodder reduces the overall animal performance and can result in animal death. Easy (and perhaps not effective) ways of controlling mold
The farmers should sterilize the seeds using a sterilizing agent, for example, hydrogen peroxide. Also, they should ensure proper hygiene in watersystem. Also, they must clean the grow trays thoroughly using a chlorine-based solution before and after using them. Effective way of controlling mold
The farmers should install and use manual or automatic fans to regulate the humidity. These equipment increase the investment and energy costs.
- It requires a high initial capital investment
Perhaps, the biggest challenge that farmers face is the high initial capital investment. They must acquire water fodder units, seeds, and construct a greenhouse. Also, they must have access to considerable energy to grow the fodder successfully. The access to the main grid electricity, especially in most African countries, is limited. Thus, such farmers would have to install solar energy which is again expensive to acquire. Perhaps, this is why governments and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) subsidize the installation of fodder units.
- It is expensive to run and maintain an fodder production
The fodder production requires sufficient skilled labor which is expensive to hire. Labor is required to soak the seeds, transfer them to the grow trays, place the grow trays onto the shelves, monitor the fodder’s daily growth, remove the ready fodder from the grow trays, clean and sterilize the trays, and take the fodder to the livestock. Farmers can automate some of these processes but at a high investment cost. Nowedays you can controle it completely with a App. (asked us for the company)
Also, it is expensive to buy seeds, for example, barley, wheat or oats.
- They watersystem for producing fodder is subject to depreciation
Depreciation reduces the value of the water fodder units. It is expensive to replace or buy new units from time to time.
- Livestock cannot be fed by fodder alone
Livestock cannot be fed by fodder alone because of its low DM content. They still require hay and other dry forage. Perhaps, this is the reason why farmers question the need to produce expensive fodder instead of buying other affordable supplements in the market, and growing livestock fodder on private or leased land.