Fodder Production Systems

There is a renewed interest in fodder systems for dairy and livestock production systems. As organic grain prices have remained high and organic alfalfa hay in short supply because of drought conditions across the United States, producers are looking for information about fodder sprouting systems to supply essential nutrients to dairy cattle. 

Seven-day sprouts.
Seven-day sprouts

In a fodder system, a grain like barley, wheat or oats is sprouted in plastic trays and allowed to grow for seven days and then fed to livestock. Sprouted grains can be grown indoors without soil. It is essential to begin fodder sprouting with clean seed that is free from mold. The seed is soaked for 12 to 24 hours, spread onto trays, and watered two or three times daily for seven days. Seven-day sprouts are harvested every day and fed to livestock. New, clean seed is then placed in trays for harvest after seven days growth. 

There is very little research done on feeding fodder to dairy animals in the United States; at the present time, most fodder research is being conducted in Australia.

There are many perceived benefits to growing fodder for livestock systems. A fodder system can feed a vast variety of livestock for milk and meat production. Depending on feed costs of hay and grain, fodder may produce a higher quality feed for less money than traditional methods. If there is a drought, a fodder system will provide a small amount of forage for livestock. However, many of these statements have yet to be validated by research with dairy cattle.  

The fodder that is harvested from the system is very digestible. Grain changes as it undergoes the sprouting process. Preliminary analysis of the fodder shows high sugars, high neutral detergent fiber, and comparable net energy to the original grain used. Information on animal performance needs to be researched on how to incorporate fodder into rations for dairy cattle.

FarmTek Fodder Pro System
FarmTek Fodder Pro system

At the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) organic dairy, we have installed a 1,150 pound fodder system to research these emerging forage systems. Our system will produce enough fodder to feed 40 cows. We will evaluate fodder for dairy cattle as part of a three year research project. First, we will evaluate alternative grains (barley, wheat, oats, triticale, rye) harvested at seven days for forage quality to establish their potential benefits of feeding to dairy cattle. For evaluation of fodder in cattle, groups of cows will be fed fodder and TMR compared to a TMR with 10 pounds of corn during the grazing season. A follow-up study will evaluate fodder feeding levels (0, 20, and 40% of the ration), along with pasture during the grazing season. During the third year of the project, fodder will be fed to dairy heifers on pasture to evaluate growth potential and profitability. This study may provide benefits to farmers because fodder may keep livestock healthy during drought or when supplemental feeds are expensive. 

For our first study, we evaluated the performance of varieties of organic barley, oats, wheat, rye, and triticale harvested at seven days after the start of growing. During September and October 2014, every Monday for six weeks, 28 fodder trays from a FarmTek Fodder Pro system were filled with nine pounds of wet grain. Each tray was automatically watered twice a day for four minutes each time. On the seventh day, each tray was harvested, weighed, and scored on a 1 to 5 scale for mold. Ten random samples from each grain each week were saved for dry matter and forage quality analysis.

Triticale and wheat had the greatest crude protein content of the alternative grains. Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) was the greatest for barley and oats, indicating that they have the highest digestible fiber. When the digestible fiber is greater in feeds, there are more benefits to cattle including higher milk production.

The barley and oats had lower values of NFC (Non-fiber carbohydrates). The lower values of NFC indicate that there is less starch in the barley and oat fodder. Higher starch content was found in the rye and triticale. Barley fodder had the highest calcium percentage of any of the fodder samples.

The mineral results of the different grains are quite variable. The results show that barley has the highest forage quality for fodder production systems. However, oats may be another option for fodder production systems in the Upper Midwest. 

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