During the winter months, our farm animals lose access to the nutrient-rich greens of the spring and summer. To supplement the loss of greens, we grow hydroponic fodder to give to our livestock the nutrients they are missing out on.
Here’s what you need to know about growing hydroponic fodder for your livestock.
What Is Hydroponic Fodder?
Fodder is basically microgreens that are grown for livestock.
There are many different types of seeds that can be used to grow fodder. People typically use cereal grains to grow fodder, such as barley, oats, wheat, sorghum, and corn, or legumes. They don’t have to be special seeds, below is some leftover mixed bird seen I grew into fodder.
The most common seed grown, and the primary one I grow in my hydroponic systems is barley. I think it produces the best overall bang for your buck. You can pick up barley online, but you can get a better deal at a local feed store.
Fodder is great for livestock all year round. It’s easy to digest, providing more nutrients to your animals while decreasing feed cost. Livestock that is fed fodder produces better than those that are not. Chicken eggs yolks are darker, tasting eggier, cows will have higher milk production and butterfat content, and the meat from your livestock will be of a higher quality and texture.
Hydroponic Fodder Systems: Building vs. Buying
You don’t need a fancy system to grow hydroponic fodder. Depending on how much fodder you’re looking to grow and your DIY skills you may be able to build a simple hydroponic fodder system for pretty cheap.
There are many ways to build a hydroponic fodder system. To build my system I picked up some small plastic totes to grow in and placed them in a small 2x3x5 greenhouse to help maintain moisture. I didn’t have an automatic water system and instead used a spray bottle to mist the seeds/fodder a few times a day.
Of course, the quickest and easiest way to get started growing fodder is to purchase a hydroponic fodder system. It’s an upfront investment that pays you back with reduced feed costs, healthier animals, and better quality animal production.
The added bonus of buying a system is that it often is easier to grow your fodder as you’re using a system specifically to do so. I only have a small number of animals so I don’t need to grow enough to justify the purchase… yet lol.
How To Start Growing Hydroponic Fodder For Your Livestock
When beginning to grow fodder you should start a small amount each day instead of all at once. By doing so you will eventually have a cycle of having fresh fodder to harvest on a daily. As your harvesting one tray then the next batch of seeds is getting started.
Gathering the seeds
The first step to growing fodder is choosing your seed. Unless your animals have some special nutrient needs that you’re trying to meet I would recommend using barley seed. You can purchase barley seed online or pick some up at your local feed store.
Soaking your seeds
After picking out the type of seeds you’re going to sprout, the next thing to do is soak them in water. For barley I soak the seed for 4-6 hours. When beginning to grow fodder you should start a small amount each day instead of all at once. By doing so you will eventually have a cycle of having fresh fodder to harvest on a daily basis. As your harvesting one tray then the next batch of seeds is getting started.
Sprouting the seeds
After soaking, spread the seeds out in the bottom of your hydroponic system tray. Seeds should be spread about a 1/2 inch thick to help maintain their moisture. If you spread them too thick there’s not enough airflow and the seeds tend to mold.
Sprouting seeds should be kept in a place that is warm and low light. Seeds should start sprouting within a couple of days.
Letting the fodder grow
The key to growing fodder is maintaining proper moisture, airflow, and light. With my set up I typically misted my fodder with a spray bottle a few times a day. You could also set up a timer or automatic waterer to provide water to your fodder periodically throughout the day.
Harvesting the fodder mat
While you can harvest your fodder at any time, I suggest letting them grow for 7 or 8 days. For me this time span allowed the fodder to grow to a good length for my chickens and also worked with the schedule of having a harvest a day.
Harvesting the fodder is not only easy but super cool. The roots of the fodder grow together, creating a root mat. With smaller systems like mine you just pull out the whole fodder mat or with long trays just roll the fodder up.
Growing hydroponic fodder is extremely easy and more than worth it. Farm animals love the fresh greens and the nutrients do them good, especially during the winter. In addition to saving on feed costs, you will notice the quality difference come butcher time!