Traditionally, livestock are fed fodder that is grown in fields such as hay, corn and other grains. It is possible, however, to grow livestock fodder in small spaces, making use of sheds and other areas to produce fresh food to supplement the diet for cattle, sheep, goats or other livestock on a regular basis. The best way to grow such food is to use a simple hydroponic system that sprouts seeds and adds nutrients to the sprouts before they are fed to the animals.
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Things you need
- Waterproof tray, 3 to 4 inches deep
- Foam rubber, 1-inch thick and cut to fit the waterproof tray
- Seeds, such as alfalfa, oats or other grass or grain
- Hydroponic nutrient solution
Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. All of the seeds must be totally submerged for this length of time.
Put the foam rubber in the tray. Make a weak nutrient solution by mixing it at half the strength called for on the package. Pour enough of this solution in the tray to get the foam rubber wet on the bottom, but not so much that it is completely soaked.
Cover the foam rubber with a thin layer of seeds. The entire surface of the foam rubber should be well-covered so that when the seeds sprout they will grow together in a mat.
Set the tray in the shed. At this stage the seeds need to be kept warm -- about 18.3 to 21.1 degrees Celsius -- and dark. If the shed is not dark you can cover the tray loosely with a piece of dark plastic until the seeds sprout.
Water the seeds as needed with more of the weak nutrient solution. They should be slightly damp but not too wet, since if they are overly wet they will rot. Check them daily and when they are ½ inch tall, put them in bright light. This can either be sunlight that comes in through a shed door or a window, or you can hang a fluorescent light about 4 inches above the plants.
Add plain water to the sprouts beginning on the sixth day, and stop using nutrient solution for watering them. This prevents the nutrient solution from building up too many salts and possibly killing the plants.
Harvest the fodder when the plants are about 7 or 8 inches tall, which should be after about a week to 10 days. All you need to do to harvest them is to peel the mat of greens off of the piece of foam rubber and feed it to your animals. They will eagerly consume everything, seeds and greens. Repeat this process as often as desired to get plenty of fodder for your animals on a regular basis.
Tips and warnings
- You can make a weak nutrient solution by adding 2 tsp of water-soluble fertiliser and 1 tsp of Epsom salts to 2 gallons of water. Mix this as needed, as it is best made fresh and used right away.
- If the shed gets too cold you will either need to add heat or move your fodder growing operation elsewhere, since the seeds won't sprout or grow in colder temperatures.
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