Many livestock producers are on the lookout for feed solutions that will increase the productivity and performance of their animals while consumers increasingly demand high-quality, locally sourced food options. One potential solution to meet the needs of both can be found in the growing field of hydroponics. Hydroponic systems allow for the cultivation of plants in soil-less environments while also controlling for optimal plant growth. In the case of hydroponic systems targeted to feed livestock, that plant production—usually referred to as sprouts or fodder—can happen in as short a span as six days, transforming a few pounds of seed into several pounds of edible green matter with just a little water, ideal temperatures, and light.
The actual setup of a hydroponic system can vary, though the general idea is the same. The process starts with vertical racks where plastic trays can be placed and pushed through from one end to the other. Grain is placed on the tray, evenly distributed, and then left to sprout over the course of 5-8 days . At regular intervals throughout the day, the grain is watered as well as subjected to light, facilitating the seed’s germination. The process of watering and lighting continues over 5-8 days as the tray of sprouting grain moves closer to the end of the system. By the final day, what started out as a bed of loose grain has grown into a mat of roots and sprouts ready to be fed.
As a feed, hydroponic sprouts offer several advantages. In terms of resource usage, growing hydroponic sprouts significantly reduces the amount of land and water necessary to produce fresh green feed. In just a few vertical square feet, more fresh feed can be produced than the equivalent seed planted in a field. Hydroponic systems also use up to 90% less water than conventional crop production, a significant advantage particularly in areas prone to drought. The optimized environment within which the sprouts grow also means that the final product consistently meets the same high quality standard regardless of the time of year or environmental conditions outside the hydroponic system. That optimized system also eliminates the need for fertilizer or pesticides. And unlike other conventional feeds that are subject to shrink and other losses during and after harvesting, hydroponic sprouts are not susceptible to the same kind of waste and consequently profit loss in the producing or harvesting process.
- Contained box system
- Open system in contained environment
- Low quality seed
1 (Sneath & McIntosh, 2003)
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