Fodder Trials, Pt. 1

Early fodder trials.

Wow! It seems like forever ago that I sat down at the computer and typed up a post for the Crowded Acre! Not only did we have computer issues to deal with, but it seems that summer is both winding up and winding down at the same time….which makes it doubly time-consuming. Let me start by saying all is well here on the Acre. For the first time since the Acre’s inception, we are starting to see real returns on our investments. We slaughtered our first cow, have a few pigs on the way after that, and a flock of meat chickens and turkeys as well as an elk license for this fall. Basically, we will produce more than enough meat for our family of five this year. I’m not gonna lie, it feels pretty damn good! We are also less than one month away from providing ALL of our dairy needs from the Acre. We currently have a goat in milk, but the big swing to total self-reliance will come when our Jersey calves in early September. I have everything ready to go for milking time as well as all of the cultures and equipment for hard and soft cheese making, yogurt, butter, sour cream, ice cream….anything and everything dairy. I have to give credit to the goats, though. If we hadn’t spent a couple of years milking goats and producing very simple, basic dairy items, we never would have been confident enough to get a cow. Our garden has been going, though I have focused most of my energy on our meat/dairy prospects. And, like many ‘first year’ garden plots, I have learned much, plan on changing a few aspects, and am ready to go full-fledged next spring….I can hardly wait.

We have spent the past couple of weeks seeking out good deals on hay and good deals on barley. Here’s the deal: We live in a desert region in the mountains of Colorado. The hay produced in these mountains is beautiful, though lately it is hard to come by. When we do find hay, it is increasingly more expensive. I should say that we are well below the average median income for the US, even lower for those in Colorado, and being that we are a family of five, this makes things even tighter. So…how do we manage to feed our family of five, plus our livestock? I can honestly say that it mostly revolves around two things: feeding our cows and sprouting barley. Here’s how it all works: 1. We sprout barley in a controlled environment inside our house, turning about 1.5 lbs of barley seed into 6.5-7 lbs of fodder for the livestock. This means I can produce organic feed at about $0.05-0.06/lb….while conventional hay is running around $0.17-0.20/lb. 2. We feed this fodder to our horse, beef cow, dairy cow, and dairy goat. 3. The beef cow grows approx one year’s worth of beef for our family. 4. The dairy cow produces enough milk to satisfy ALL of our family’s dairy needs as well as feed milk/whey/buttermilk to our entire flock of layer chickens, meat chickens, turkeys, and pigs. This, in turn, provides us with eggs, chicken, turkey, and pork for our fridge and freezer for the year. 5. The horse is basically useless as far as food goes….he is fun to ride and he poops a lot. That’s pretty much it. I should also point out that I DO NOT feed moldy sprouts to my large livestock. IT”S NOT SAFE!!! I will feed the moldy sprouts to my chickens and pigs – I have not had HUGE problems with mold which is why I feel safe feeding it to the smaller animals. But it can be a big problem for cows and horses, so take the time to learn as much as you can before venturing into the sprouting world for yourself.

Now, if we were feeding all of our animals hay for the entire year, we would probably be spending about $5000+ per year on hay and $1800+ per year on grains. We cannot even come close to affording that! So, I started researching more efficient ways to feed animals for a lower cost and I came across only one answer: sprouting. It’s actually an old way of feeding animals, this is not new technology. My only guess as to why it isn’t super-popular is due to  two things: it’s a bit labor intensive, and it’s a bit finicky. If you’ve ever sprouted grains for yourself, you know that environment plays a big part in success and a big part in failure. There are a few variables that require strict control in order to be successful and a fair amount of ‘keeping your eye on the ball’ in order to ensure consistency in that success. With that said, due to the efficiency of feeding sprouted barley (aka: the animal’s ability to obtain nutrient from the feed), we can feed 1/3-1/2 the amount of hay and about 2/3 the amount of grain…meaning we are spending around $3000/year instead of around$7000/year on feed. Yeppers.

The chickens don’t mind being my ‘guinea pigs.’

So, how does one sprout barley, you ask? First things first, do a ton of research. Our research began when we started looking at buying a sprouting system online. We were very gung-ho about the whole thing until we saw the price tag….ouch! We only came across one company who was willing to give a ‘mold-free’ guarantee on their product, and even that was dependent on several variables outside of the initial $12000 price tag. No thank you. After doing enough research on my own, I decided that the easiest thing to do was to do some trial and error on our own and see if we could gain enough confidence in moving forward and investing more into a system. Here is what I quickly discovered: you can sprout barley on your own very easily if you are willing to pay attention to the process and go through some failures. The three most important factors in our trials have been: seed quality, environment, and technique. Seed quality is kind of a no-brainer, you get what you pay for. If seed is old, dusty, or improperly dried and stored, it is more likely to grow mold. Environment has the most variables to it; temperature, humidity, air circulation, and light are all big factors to the process. And technique has a few variables as well, though you should keep in mind that just because something works well for someone else, doesn’t mean it will be the best option for you.

The best thing I can say to do is to experiment. Seriously, it has taken us almost a year to get to where we are in this process, with about six months of research and six months of trials/adjustments. We did start this process when there was little-to-no information on the web as far as home fodder sprouting was concerned…there has been a lot more info posted on this topic in recent months, all of which I am grateful for because each one I came across offered me a different viewpoint, a different idea, always leading to a new success. In my next post, I will detail our process as well as provide pictures of the process. For now, all I can say is this; if you are interested, research both the positives and negatives of sprouting fodder for livestock. Get informed before making the decision about whether or not it is right for you.


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