Hydroponic Fodder: Cost and Nutritional value

With hay and grain prices reaching record highs and unpredictable weather patterns damaging pasture lands, farmers and ranchers across the country are in need of a dependable and affordable feed for their livestock. Due to the nonavailability of quality green fodder throughout the year, milk producers are forced to utilize extra concentrates for optimum milk production. On account of this cost of milk production is higher. The nonavailability of irrigated lands for fodder production, higher labor cost, and small landholdings has left the dairy farmer with many challenges for milk production.

It is quite evident that with decreasing cultivable land and depleting natural resources, sustainable technology would be the key driver of the dairy industry.

The word hydroponics has been derived from the Greek word ‘water working’.It is a science of growing plants in nutrients rich solutions instead of soil and can be efficiently used to take the pressure off the land to grow green feed for the livestock. Plants require three things to flourish, water, nutrients, and sunlight. Hydroponics is a straight forward way of providing all these nutrients without the need of soil under controlled environment conditions to optimize the growth of plants.

The digestibility of the feed greatly increases—the energy content of barley sprouted in a hydroponic system increases up to 125% and the crude protein can be increased to over 200% that of the dry seed.

In fact, it is often recommended that hydroponic fodder is mixed with dry roughage to ensure proper gut health, especially in ruminant animals.

Construction of Hydroponic Fodder System

We at LearnNaturalFarming.com, do promote cost-effective Hydroponic fodder system. This should be affordable even for a small farmer who owns just 2 cows to 5 cows or few sheep/goats/chickens/pigs.

Most of the commercial hydroponic systems are highly efficient but the capital cost of these machines was so large, and electricity operating expenses made the operational cost of these devices uneconomical to produce fodder.

The main objectives to grow fodder hydroponically  are

  1. To design a low technology system that can be the cheapest hydroponic fodder production system.
  2. To Reduce the operating costs by using natural sunlight for photosynthesis, instead of controlled electric lights.
  3. To maintain an optimal temperature around 30 degree Celsius.
  4. To eliminate air conditioning, which takes the bulk of electricity.
  5. To utilize growth promoters like Jeevamrutham 

Considering the project is for Dairy, where a farmer owns 10 cows. Let’s plan the Hydroponic fodder system :

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Hydroponic Fodder system for 10 cows

Considering each cow requires around 6 kg to 8 kg of green fodder required for the day.  In our hydroponic system, each tray of seeds produces approximately 6 kg to 8 kg which is sufficient for 1 cow. Thus one tray is sufficient for one cow. Choose the right size of the tray from Amazon.

Hence for a week, one cow requires seven trays (approx) in rotation. Thus a farmer with ten cows will require 70 to 80 trays(approx) with him. With proper planning and seed growth cycles farmer can achieve around 100 kg green fodder/day.

Considering the size of the plastic tray is 2 ft x 1.5 ft x 3 inches. Based on tray size and the number we should plan the size of Hydroponic fodder system which can accommodate feed for 10 cows.

  1. The Hydroponic shed should be 20 ft x 10 ft to meet the fodder quantity demand.
  2. The structure can be built using HDPE pipe, wood or metal.
  3. For maintaining optimum temperature and humidity, shade net is used to cover the shed. Also shade net is good to allow natural light(sunlight) and block unnecessary insects.
  4. Build the racks using plastic, metal or wood, for carrying trays.
  5. The rack should be around 4 to 5 layers. If it goes more than 5 layers, it will be difficult to water and also access trays.
  6. Make sure to leave enough space between layers in the rack, for better ventilation, sunlight and watering(if doing manually, this is a crucial step)
  7. The size of the plastic tray is 2 ft x 1.5 ft x 3 inches is used. (Based on the tray size, the structure should be planned). Using a metal tray requires a lot of maintenance, so use the best quality plastic trays instead.
  8. Each tray is drilled with small holes at the bottom and even on the sides(if they are not perforated)
  9. Makes sure the trays are on a gentle gradient(slope). If it too steep, the fodder at the end of the slop will grow tall, but the ones at the start of the slope will be considerably shorter.  Again do not make it flat, as water will well up, creating a swamp-like environment and result in the death of the seeds.
  10. At the bottom of the layer(below the trays), have a half cut plastic pipe to drain water out. Water should not stagnate inside the shed, it should be collected into a drum or bucket at the end. You can reuse water for not more than 3 consecutive days.
Also Read  What are Fodder Crops?

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How to grow Hydroponic Fodder

One of the most important considerations for starting a fodder hydroponically is the kind and availability of the seeds. Choose the seed based on animal dietary needs, availability and weather condition. In summer maize(corn) and barley is best suitable crop but in winter oats and wheat.

The process of growing Hydroponic fodder:

  1. Dry the seeds under direct sunlight one day prior to seed washing. Remove broken seeds and dirt’s from the seeds. Store seeds in a dry and safe place.
  2. Weigh the seeds accordingly for each tray. As our fodder tray, 2 ft x 1.5 ft x 3 inches can take 1 kg of seeds, weigh it and then add to a plastic bucket. The seeds should be submerged in water, all the seeds which are floating would not germinate, remove them. Wash the seeds till the dirt is gone.
  3. Leave the seeds in the bucket for 12 hours. To prevent any contaminates add 50 gm of salt or dilute bleach or a horticultural-grade hydrogen peroxide solution.
  4. After soaking in water for 12 hours, drain all the water in the bucket. Next process is germination, you can do it in two ways. One way is clear all the water in the buckets, add the soaked seeds and allow the bucket to open air. The second way is to add these soaked seeds into a gunny bag. Both processes require 12 hours. If the germination doesn’t happen, due to weather leave it for 24 hours. If the seeds are sprinkled some water over the seeds.
  5. After a total of 24 hours ( 1 day) transfer the seeds to the clean plastic tray as measured(1 kg of seeds). The plastic trays should not have any blockage for the drain holes and also clean from fungal infection. Its good practice to clean the plastic tray once used with any bleaching agent.
  6. The partially germinated seed is regularly sprinkled with water. For effective & uniform water application, sprinklers & timer assembly is used. The timer is useful for periodically switching on fogger.  You can manually sprinkle the water 3 to 4 times a day.
  7. All seeds should come in contact with water, as the extra water is drained out through holes in the tray.
  8. Within a period of 7 to 8 days, there is profuse growth of fodder which is ready for feeding to the animals.
  9. The technique has its utility because of the high ratio of seed to fodder. One kg of seed can yield 6 to 8 kg of green fodder within a limited time span of 7 days. Harvest on the appropriate day: day 4 for poultry, day 6 for pigs and day 8 for cow
  10. The cost of production of maize fodder works out to be Rs 2 per kg. 
  11. Do not keep the fodder for more than 9 days, the nutrient contents will be low
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  12. Along with this green fodder, also give dry fodder in the same ratio for better yields.

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What kind of seed is used for Hydroponic Fodder

The most popular grain used in hydroponic fodder applications is barley, but many people are experimenting with seed mixes to cater to specific animal dietary needs. Grains such as oats, corn, and wheat are sometimes used, but the possibilities are vast.

Hydroponic technology has been tested on various crops like Maize, Sorghum, Barley, Oats for producing high quality of nutritious green fodder for dairy animals. Fodder obtained from hydroponics consists of grass with grains, roots, stem, and leaves as compared to the only stem and leaves the part in conventionally grown fodder

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Sl No Attributes Conventional Green fodder Hydroponics Green Fodder Savings on
1 Area 1000 sq mt 50 sq mt Land
2 Fodder Production in days 60 to 70 days 7 days Times saved on the growth period
3 Water and electricity requirement very high very low Water and power saving
4 Land fertility Essential Not essential Soil conditioning.
5 Fertilizers Required Not required Saving on fertilizers
6 Fodder yield dependency On climate rain, water In a controlled environment No dependency
7 Fodder utilization by animals Partial complete Reduction in fodder waste
8 Labor requirement More Less Savings labor
9 Fencing and protection Required Not required Saving on fencing cost
10 Fodder feeding practices By chopping Not required Saves chopping time and labor

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NUTRIENTS COMPARISON CHEMICAL COMPOSITION (ON % DRY MATTER BASIS) OF MAIZE GREEN FODDER

Nutrients Conventional Green fodder(Maize) Hydroponics Green Fodder Maize)
Protein 10.67 13.57
Ether extract 2.27 3.49
Crude Fiber 25.92 14.07
Nitrogen-free extract 51.78 66.72
Total Ash 9.36 3.84
Acid-insoluble ash 1.40 0.33

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Best Practices in growing Hydroponic fodder

Practices to be followed while growing fodder in Hydroponic system, small steps towards best results:

1. Measure according to tray size

1 kg of seeds (maize, barley, oat or wheat) is used in 2 ft tray to produce 6 kg to 8 kg (approx). Sometimes even 10 kg will be the yield.   Measuring accurately will keep the fodder output consistent. For faster work, a measuring cup can be used to fill the tray. 

2. Be extra cautious on Soaking period

Seeds are completely submerged in a bucket of water for 12 hours and then the soaked seeds are transferred to gunny bag for another 12 hours. If you soak for less time or leave it for more time, the seeds will not germinate. After 24 hours you should see germination, if not leave it for another 24 hours.

3. Seed quality

If the seeds start to float during the first 12 hours in the bucket. Remove these seeds, they do not germinate. It will be a waste of resources to carry them forward in the system.

4. Spread evenly on the tray

When spreading the germinated seeds on the tray, keep them flat and even. Use the palm of your hands to do this and be gentle. Heaps of seeds on the tray will result in uneven growth and poor results. This is a simple move but will produce fine results.

5. Water at least 3 times a day

The plants need water and because of the lack of soil in hydroponics, water retention is almost zero. Thus the farmer should find a way to water the fodder at least 3 times a day. Morning, noon and evening. Doing this will produce large and green fodder. Also never disturb the seeds once they are on the tray.

6. Harvest on the appropriate day

We grow hydroponic fodder using water alone. We do not use nutrient solutions. But if you are using just water, you should know that the seed is surviving on the food reserves it has in the seed. Thus, the nutritional value of the fodder tends to decrease with age. You should not grow the fodder for more than 8 days. This includes the 1-day soaking period. After 8 days there is a sharp decrease in the nutritional value of the fodder. Keep time, manage time, and reap the benefits.

Fodder production using Hydroponic can be tricky initially, but once you are used to this process, it will reduce a lot of work involved in growing conventional fodder.

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Advantages of Hydroponics fodder

  • Minimal labor
  •  High yield in a small area
  •  Control over feed quality
  •  Less manure to handle
  •  Lower operating costs
  •  Less feed waste
  •  Reduced feed storage costs
  •  Minimized veterinary costs
  •  No fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides
  •  Lower water consumption
  •  Reduced impact of transporting feed
  •  Greater self-sustainability

1. Water usage

The hydroponic system requires a fraction of the water usage of conventional farming while still supplying high-quality stock feed. It takes around 1 liter of water to produce one kilogram of fodder as compared with 80 – 90 liters of water to grow a kilogram of green grass.

Also Read  What is the use of Kadaknath chicken?

2. Marginal land use

This type of fodder production provides huge ecological and economical advantages For example fodder grown in 20 ft x 10 ft, can produce enough food for 10 cattle.

3. Constant food supply

Farmers using this type of fodder production are guaranteed a  consistent supply of quality fodder 365 days of the year.

4. Reduced labor requirement

This process of growing cattle fodder requires minimal man-hours per day.  A minimum of 1 hr a day is enough for a person to look after the system. Less transport cost too, as the system will be on the farm.

5. Cost-effective

For example a farmer spending Rs. 16000 on concentrated feed which has now come down to Rs. 4000 per month.  Cost as reduced by 75%, which is significant if you have a number of cows.

6. Reduction in growth time of green fodder

To obtain nutritious fodder requires just over 7 days from seed germination to fully grown plant of 25 – 30 cm height. The biomass conversion ratio is as high as 7-8 times to traditional fodder grown for 60-80 days. 5.

7. Increasing of nutritive value of fodder

Through hydroponics, it is possible to enhance the nutritive value by adding additional growth promoters, nutrients, etc to have quality milk from the dairy animals. Due to its increased digestibility and the availability of nutrients, there is a wide range of benefits to feeding fodder over grains and concentrates.

8. Enhancement of milk production

By providing green fodder to milch animals it can compensate the concentrate feed so as to have an economically viable milk producing industry.

9. Minimizing loss of fodder

Green fodder produced from hydroponics will be fully utilized as there won’t ‘be loss of the fodder during feeding as compared to wastage of chopped traditional grasses during consumption by the animal.

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Below are the advantages seen in Livestock

  • Faster weaning and less stress on mothers and young stock
  •  Less manure due to increased digestibility of fodder
  •  Boosted immune system
  •  Increased longevity and lifespan
  •  Earlier heat cycles
  •  Improved fertility
  •  Stimulated appetite during heat stress
  •  Better behavior and temperament
  • The natural diet for animals.
  • Improves fat percentage in milk.
  • Rich in beta carotene and helps in the synthesis of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin A has a greater impact on reproduction

Hydroponic fodder disadvantages

  • The high initial cost is incurred while installing the system
  • It cannot be stored for a longer time
  • A controlled humid and moist environment must be maintained all the time. Failure to do so can cause mold, fungi, and bacteria to develop.

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9 thoughts on “Hydroponic Fodder: Cost and Nutritional value”

    • I’m really grateful for the enlightenment given by the way you analyzed the practice of hydroponic fodder raising, it shall be of tremendous help in assisting me to set up on a smaller scale. I look forward to more of this kind of information from you, thank you once again.

      Reply
      • Thank you Akeem, let me know what help you required? I can write on a specific topic. I will try to add small hydroponic setup instructions here.

        Reply
  1. Judging from the green index of the hydroponic plants, fertilizer was definitely utilized and yet the comparison table says no fertilizer is necessary. Plants require balanced diet of nutrients from the substrate. The table compared barley hydroponic feed with maize green fodder at different stages of growth hence the disparity in nutrient profile. I would have compared like to like. I wonder what is the optimal age or stage of maturity for hydroponic maize/barley/oats for feeding goats or dairy cows. Has that comparative research work done?

    Learning is ongoing and questioning is the best way of adding to the knowledge

    I wonder what is the optima

    Reply
    • Hi Reneth,

      Here we have worked extensively on Maize(corn) – so I can reply on this. The fertilizers we haven’t used. The cycle of hydroponic fodder we keep is around 7 to 9 days maximum. In this period the plants do grow on the seed stored nutrients only. Hence you do not need any additional fertilizers. But if we extend the cycle even after 9 days, it does require fertilizer which doesn’t have utilization merit over hydroponics.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for this work. I will like to link up for more information on maize fodder in the tropics region. Will like to know if you are on Instagram or LinkedIn.

    Reply

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