Feed cost is the biggest ongoing expense for a farmer. So any time he/she can reduce feed costs, even by a little, he/she will do so, if he/she is smart.
I’ve been researching ways to cut our feed costs, and have achieved a breakthrough.
It’s not new, but it’s new for us, and I think it’s probably underemployed by most small homesteaders – even though they’re the ones who could use it the most.
- Decrease or eliminate your farm’s dependence on GMO grains, such as corn and soy
- Keep a good source of protein coming to farm animals who need it (dairy cows/goats, feeder pigs, meat chickens), again, without using soy (which, besides the problems of it being GMO, poses other health risks, listed here), and without using grains, which are not ideal for ruminants.
- Cut feed costs in half
- Be very easy to grow
Fodder is essentially sprouted grains – typically barley. It can be grown hydroponically – just in water, without soil, and in one week, can more than quadruple in weight!
It also has a high protein content.
In seven days, we went from one pound of barley seeds, to 4.3 pounds of fodder. With just the addition of water and light.
Here’s how we did it…
The shower in our guest bathroom was the perfect spot for our fodder operation, since it’s not the greatest shower and we usually tell guests to use our main shower anyways. Also, the bathroom has separate heating, and a built-in fluorescent light. And the rest of the bathroom is still usable; it will just feel like answering nature’s call… in a natural setting!
I purchased 100 lbs of barley seed from a local feed store, at the rate of $16 for a 50-lb bag. That’s $0.32/lb. For a point of reference, cracked corn right now is about $0.16/lb (cracked corn is one of the staples we feed to our chickens and pigs… when we’re richer, we’ll buy non-GMO corn, but we can’t afford it now – it literally can cost at least twice as much!)
- We first soaked one pound of barley, overnight (12 hrs), in a plastic tub. We soaked it in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water – just a little peroxide, because it helps kill any mold spores that may cause problems later. The room temperature must be between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- We then rinsed the seeds, and put them in a plastic tub with holes drilled in the bottom (obviously small enough where the seeds can’t fall through!).
- We kept the tub in a dark environment (to simulate underground), and watered the seeds twice per day (morning and evening). Before watering, we made sure to mix the seeds by hand, just to aerate them and prohibit the growth of mold/mildew.
- After Day 3, we began exposing the seeds to light. We found a 2-ft fluorescent ballast in the basement, and installed a “daylight” bulb and a “soft white” bulb in it, to try to provide different light spectra. The ballast plugs into the wall. For now, we just set the ballast on top of the growing tray. We’ll set up a permanent arrangement soon. By this point, they had sprouted little roots that were at least 1/2-inch long.
- On Day 5, we stopped aerating the seeds, and transferred them to a bigger tray (with holes in the bottom)
- By the end of Day 7, we had a big green mat of fodder, that had more than quadrupled in weight! It weighed in at 4.3 lbs!
- I fed the fodder to the pigs and chickens. They first went for the corn I put out, but by the day’s end, the fodder was gone.
Here are a couple of videos and a photo record of our results:
Lessons Learned, and Future Plans…
- I think our containers were too small, even for the one pound of seed. By Day 7, some seeds had still barely sprouted, and I think it’s because some of them got smothered by their brothers and sisters. We need a bigger growing surface. The growing trays are 12″x14″. For the one pound of seed, we probably should have had something like 16″x16″.
- The holes in the trays worked for the first few days, but by Day 5, the root system was covering the holes to the point where the fodder was in standing water, which is not ideal. Solutions could be to always have the trays on a slight angle, or drill bigger holes for the trays that will hold the Day 5-7 seeds.
- We’ve decided to rig up a system in the shower that will allow more space. We have some (water resistant) tileboard left over from another project, and are planning on using some schedule 40 pvc for the structure. We’ll get photos up once it’s done. The new surface will be approx. 24″x24″, nearly quadrupling the surface area for our growing. So we should be able to grow about 2-3 lbs of seed at a time. We can do this every day, as we’ll have 7 layers to the new setup, and so we should be generating upwards of 12 lbs of feed per day. That doesn’t quite meet our full farm feed needs, but it will definitely make a dent in our feed costs over time!
- Ultimately, we’ll be at least quadrupling the weight of our barley, with minimal effort, generating high-quality, high-protein feed for our animals. This fodder is more nutrient-dense than cracked corn (at least in the protein realm). And if we quadruple the weight, we’ll be essentially getting 200 lbs of feed from a 50-lb bag of barley. So that’s $16 for 200lbs, which comes out to $0.08/lb. Exactly half of what we currently pay for cracked corn.