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People who prefer hydroponic fodder (sprouted grain) say that it carries nutritional benefits not available in un-sprouted grains, harvested hay, and even fresh pasture grass.
Jerry Brunetti of Agri-Dynamics has been one of those proponents, noting that sprouting removes much of the grain starch that can lead to overly acidic conditions in the rumen. Brunetti also points to research indicating that sprouted barley has higher levels of many vitamins, minerals, and sugars and that these are in highly digestible forms within the sprouted feed.
Another proponent of hydroponic fodder, NY organic dairy farmer John Stoltzfus, noted that butterfat levels in milk have risen with the sprouts, and declined when he stopped feeding them. He also claimed a significant increase in milk production and is excited about a planned expansion of his sprouting room.
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Hydroponic Fodder Advantages
- Superior nutrition and hydration
- No fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides
- Low water consumption; ideal for drought areas
- Most economically feasible for grass-fed milk production, organic-certified operations, and areas where sufficient and consistent pasture production is limited, hay is scarce or expensive, and for drought-prone areas.
Conclusion: Hydroponic fodder systems make the most sense for organic and/or grass-fed livestock operations, smaller family farms, “hobby operations” and horse stables. It can be a major feeding option when pastureland and/or hay are in short supply or adds a highly nutritious and relished supplement to traditional grazing.
(Although products such as barley seed technically are grain, when sprouted grains are fed to cattle, they qualify as “Grassfed Beef” by the American Grassfed Association.)
Hydroponic Fodder Disadvantages
- A high initial cost for the system
- Labor costs to process, maintain, harvest, and feed the fodder, which can be substantial for large operations.
- A typical Hydroponic environment must be maintained (moderate temperatures and humidity); however, the hydroponic solution is NOT necessary, only clean water
- Mold potential
Conclusion: Hydroponic fodder systems do not appear to be an economically feasible option for large-scale livestock farms which already have plenty of consistently productive pasture and access to high quality, reasonably priced hay
For a scientific take on the use of hydroponic fodder for livestock food, you may want to peruse these scientific studies:
Looking into providing sprouted barley to the dairy industry here in the Midwest.
These dairies are competing for alfalfa and hay where prices are up to 300 dollars per ton.