Livestock feeds contribute over 60 percent of the total cost of production in a profitable enterprise. Green fodder is the natural diet for livestock production. To meet the current demand for green fodder has become a greatest challenge among livestock farmers due to land shortage, poor soils and climate change. Due to increasing intensive system of rearing livestock, the need for green fodder is enormous as the gap between the demand and supply of the green fodder especially during dry season unattainable. Feeding green fodder improves supply of minerals and vitamins to dairy cows, poultry, pigs, goats, chicken and rabbits, hence improves the general health of the animals.
Hydroponic green fodder production is an advantage for farmers whose soil is rocky and infertile. It is a viable farmer friendly alternative technology for landless farmers for fodder production. Fodder including maize, barley, oats, sorghum and alfalfa can be produced using hydroponics system. One of the best reasons for sprouting grains into fodder is that it helps stretch your animal feed budget. Sprouting grains increase their nutritional content and boosts protein content slightly. Hydroponics green fodder can be fed to all types of livestock.
Construction of a low cost hydroponic fodder unit
· The fodder unit should be set up near the livestock unit, making it easy to access and maintain.
· To grow good quality fodder, you need to be able to control the temperature, humidity, too much light and pests.
· To allow ventilation, leave some open space between the roof and side walls when the shed is well ventilated and airy. This allows you to maintain the temperature and humidity.
· You can use timber, iron rods or plastic pipes to make a shed net or a low cost greenhouse. You need shade netting or gunny bags to cover this structure.
· Inside the shed, you can build racks made out of timber or metal to hold these trays.
· Make three to four layers rack but take care rack should not be too high because it becomes difficult to spray water and to remove the trays.
· Keep enough space between two layers so you can easily water the seeds also create slightly slope for each layer to one side of the rack this is helpful for easily and quickly water to drain from the trays.
· 50 square meters can produce 600kg of hydroponic fodder in 8 days.
· Make a small drainage line under the slope side of a rack to properly drain out water.
· You require medium size trays which can be made up of good plastic and strong enough to hold the weight of the fodder.
· Drill several drainage holes in the bottom each tray. Test to make sure water drains sufficiently. A bit of residual water is okay.
Seed quality and seed rate
· The grain should be clean, not infested with diseases or pests, untreated with chemicals. It should be viable and of good variety.
· The seed rate (quantity of seeds loaded per unit surface area) affects the yield of the hydroponics fodder, which varies with the type of seeds.
· Hydroponics maize fodder can be produced with seed rate of 0.5 kg of soaked seed per tray.
· If seed density is high, there is more chance of microbial contamination in the root mat, which affects the growth of the fodder.
Basic steps for growing hydroponics fodder are as follows
· Buy quality maize seed free (not treated with pesticides). Remove broken seeds.
· Wash the seed and remove floating seeds since these will not germinate.
· Soak grain in a bucket of water overnight (12 hours). Cover the grains by about two inches of water. How much grain to soak depends on the size of your trays and how many trays you are filling. Aim for a half-inch depth for each tray. The grains have a tendency to mould if they’re deeper than that.
· In the morning, drain grains and transfer to trays. Spread evenly.
· Water the seeds with clean water 3 times a day (morning, midday and evening) to keep the seed and roots moist all the time.
· You’ll see roots within the first couple of days, followed by greens. The sprouted grains are edible at any point, but it usually takes a week or so to have a nice solid block of fodder that you can lift out of each drawer.
· Maintenance of clean and hygiene is very much important in the production of hydroponics fodder as greenhouse is highly susceptible to microbial contamination, particularly of mould growth due to high humidity. Inside the greenhouse, generally the grains are allowed to sprout for seven days and on day eight, these are fed to the dairy animals.
Yield of the hydroponics green maize fodder
· The yield and feeding value of the hydroponics green maize fodder are influenced by the variety and quality of the seed; degree of drainage of free water prior to weighing; and clean and hygienic condition of the greenhouse.
· About 300-400kgs per day of green fodder can be got from a space of 25 square meters. Only 1 person is needed to produce 400kgs of fodder daily. Green hydroponic fodder has good palatability
· A sprouting tray that takes about 0.5kgm of soaked maize grain, provides about 8 to 10kg of green fodder depending on the variety of the grain. With multiple trays being rotated on a daily basis, one can grow a continuous supply of green fodder with very little space and water requirements.