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Hydroponic Fodder Production
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. Only moisture and nutrients are provided to the growing plants. There are many advantages to hydroponics. Hydroponic growing systems produce a greater yield over a shorter period of time in a smaller area than traditionally-grown crops.
There is a reduction or exclusion of pesticides and herbicides because the plants are in a more protected growing environment. Hydroponics is a year-round growing system that produces a consistent quantity and quality of plant material, regardless of outside weather.
Fodder (livestock feed) can be grown hydroponically much the same as vegetables, flowers, and other plants. Hydroponic fodder systems are usually used to sprout cereal grains, such as barley, oats, wheat, sorghum, and corn, or legumes, such as alfalfa, clover, or cow peas. Barley is the most commonly grown forage, because it usually gives the best yield of nutrients (4). Forage mixtures are another option.
A hydroponic fodder system usually consists of a framework of shelves on which metal or plastic trays are stacked. After soaking overnight, a layer of seeds is spread over the base of the trays. During the growing period, the seeds are kept moist, but not saturated. They are supplied with moisture and (sometimes) nutrients, usually via drip or spray irrigation. Holes in the trays facilitate drainage and the waste water is collected in a tank.
The seeds will usually sprout within 24 hours and in 5 to 8 days have produced a 6 to 8 inch high grass mat. After the mat is removed from the tray, it can go into a feed mixer or be hand-fed to livestock. Livestock will eat the whole thing: seeds, roots, and grass. There is minimal waste. Livestock may not eat the fodder initially because it is novel, but should soon learn to eat it with relish.
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