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Beating the Fodder Crisis: Hydroponic Barley Sprouting

20 August 2013

The Irish fodder crisis gave one quick witted producer in Ireland the opportunity to experiment with a contemporary solution - hydroponic barley sprouting.

Dr Steve Collins, a beef farmer from West Cork has found an innovative way to avoid the Irish feeding crisis. Steve, a founder of the Dingle Dexter Beef Company feeds his herd of 50 Dexter cattle, hydroponically grown barley seeds courtesy of British company, Fodder Solutions.

The feed is grown from barley seeds, which are placed in the Fodder Solutions, climatically controlled hydroponic unit.

It takes 6 days for the seeds to germinate into a mat of nutritious fresh green barley shoots. The unit is operated on a rotational system producing 350-400kg of fresh green fodder each day.

Feed costs in Ireland have escalated in dramatic proportions and in some cases farmers are struggling to be able to acquire feed at all. The Irish department for Agriculture has set up a welfare line to help farmers source feed for starving animals.

The feeding crisis was brought about by a very wet summer last year and a long wet winter followed by one of the coldest springs on record. It has led to shipments of hay being brought in from the UK and France.

These irish Dexter cattle in Cork have been successfully sustained on barley,  sprouted on mats for six days to produce as much as 400 kg of forage a day. 

The Dingle Dexter Beef Company in West Cork who feed their cattle on Fodder Solutions hydroponic feed have not had to worry about the welfare of their cattle. Company founder, Dr Steve Collins said “Our cattle are very healthy, and their general vitality and fertility is great. I wouldn’t be able to have 50 cattle on our land without the Fodder Solutions system”.

Steve said, “As spring was so late this year there are no stores of silage and hay left. Feed for the coming winter is dependent on the harvest. There was a reasonable first cut, but everything is drying out fast and many people are going to be reliant on a healthy second cut for the winter.

The climate is changing and becoming increasingly unpredictable, paying £60 for a round bale of silage is unsustainable. Without the Fodder Solutions system my feed bill for the past winter would have been around double if I was reliant on feeding silage to the cattle”.

Barley is not easily digested by cattle but, feed efficiency can be increased through sprouting.

"It enables us to rest areas at certain times of the year so we are turning what was rocky, boggy mountain land into much better quality grazing land"
Dr Steve Collins - Dexter beef farmer

Steve went on to say “the Fodder Solutions system helps our land thrive as it enables us to rest areas at certain times of the year so we are turning what was rocky, boggy mountain land into much better quality grazing land”.

Dr Steve Collins, MBE is both a medical doctor and has a doctorate in nutrition. He is a director of Valid International and Valid Nutrition, companies which help provide nutritional food to people in deprived areas of the world.

His in-depth knowledge of nutrition attracted him to the Fodder Solutions system because he understood that much of the nutrition from grain is indigestible and passes straight through an animals gut.

This makes grain or grain based concentrates relatively inefficient at nourishing animals. As a result farmers have found that buying in costly orders of concentrate feed for their cattle does not solve the problem of feeding.

Cattle are reliant on some forage and the highly bio-available nutrients that fodder contains in their diet, without this the cattle often do not thrive. With the shortage of silage this is increasingly a problem. The Fodder Solutions hydroponically grown feed eliminates the need to feed silage or costly concentrates to cattle.

Barley seeds are placed in a growing tray in the Fodder Solutions hydroponic growing system, they grow in 6 days and are ready for harvest as a 15 to 20cm high grass mat.

The system provides a consistent, daily supply of fresh feed. Fodder Solutions hydroponic feed provides a highly nutritious and cost effective living feed for all foraging livestock from beef and dairy cattle to horses and sheep. The feed contains high protein levels, but with very little starch. Over 90 per cent of the feed is digestible and the entire mat of feed is edible so there is no waste.

Owing to the climatically controlled Fodder Solutions system, the feed is not reliant on any weather patterns and will produce the same quantity of feed year on year so it is possible for farmers to accurately forecast their feed costs.

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