Answer: Growing fodder for livestock using hydroponics is being used throughout the country, giving farmers in drought-prone areas the ability to grow feed for livestock and also as an alternative high-protein food source for livestock.
Hydroponics is the production of plants in a soil-less medium whereby all of the nutrients supplied to the crop are dissolved in water. Using hydroponics to grow fodder for livestock involves sprouting grains, usually using tray systems.
The hydroponic feed is comparable in protein content with commercially available feed containing animal products. This method of feed production requires less land when using vertical trays and also uses less water than most conventional irrigation systems for pasture.
Donnelly Farms in McClure, Ohio developed a hydroponic fodder system to produce feed for pigs using a SARE grant. Their goal was to produce sustainably raised hogs for a comparable price to conventionally raised pigs. The protein content in commercial feed grows pigs much faster than pigs raised on a diet of corn and hay, considered to be a more natural or sustainable method of farming. But using hydroponic feed allows farmers to grow pigs at the same rate because of the high protein content.
Donnelly Farms was able to grow high-quality fodder in 5-10 days by watering wheat trays once per day, without any special lighting or temperature controls. They were able to produce pigs ready for market in six to eight months with improved taste, reduced costs, consistent and weight gains. The trade off is increased labor for the farmer or rancher.
A YouTube video entitled Vertical farming: 60 sq meters producing 2000kg fodder a week features a vertical hydroponic farming operation produces two tons of barley grass fodder every week. The system is designed to operate 24-hours a day. The system includes a rotating tray system that sprays seed trays for 20 minutes every two hours. The fodder is high in protein and very nutritious.
To learn more, see the ATTRA publication Vertical Farming. This publication introduces commercial-scale vertical farming and discusses the recent growth of vertical farms in urban areas.
You can buy pre-built hydroponic fodder systems to begin producing or build a simple system like the one Donnelly Farms uses. An online search will present a variety of sources.
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