A dairy farmer at Dowlingville in South Australia knows how to keep his dairy herd well fed during the summer months when rain and feed are scarce. He uses barley grown hydroponically as a supplemental feed. This not only keeps his herd healthy but also gives him premium prices from higher grades of butter fat in the milk he sells. Why barley as opposed to other grains? The farmer thinks this grain germinates better than other grains and is easier to grow with hydroponics. His favorite brand of seed is called Schooner. The barley seed is first soaked in water for twelve hours. Then the grain is moved to polystyrene trays which measure 35.5 inches by 12 inches by 4 inches. The farmer uses sixty trays a day to feed 55 cows. Each tray stays in his hydroponic shed for seven days.
The process is somewhat like growing alfalfa sprouts which are sold in supermarkets in the United States. Requirements for growing the barley are a temperature of 45 degrees F and a humidity level of 75%. Barley does best with 16 hours of light. For awhile the farmer used supplemental lighting but he doubts the extra lighting is worth the added cost.
Problems with summer heat (when the fodder is needed most) are overcome with a sprinkler system which sprays the walls and the ceiling on the outside. Also a wet pad cooling system helps to keep the temperature down. While in the trays, the barley gets watered three times a day, with nutrient mix the first four days and water thereafter. This combination of feeding and watering gives the highest level of protein available in the grass feed. The hydroponic fertilizer mix consists of the following: a total of 1200 Grams which includes 100 grams of chelated iron and 800 grams of calcium nitrate. This is all mixed together in a 600 gallon tank. The mixture lasts for a little over two months.
The shed in which the farmer places the trays measures 40 ft by 15 ft by 9 ft. The trays are placed on racks about 30 feet long and seven tiers high. When the grass is ready to be fed to the cows, the trays are taken outside and tipped over into the feed bin. The farmer is thinking about setting up this operation on a conveyor belt. Seed at one end and feed at the other!
According to the information we have, the shed has walls and a ceiling which are coated with 50 mm of sprayed polurethane which is designed to keep the temperature around 45 degrees F. Evidently light comes through windows and/or skylights. Otherwise the barley wouldn't grow. This idea might work well in the United States and Canada - if you experimented with shade cloth to get the proper amount of light. You might have a difficult time getting the temperature down in the average greenhouse - especially in the summer.
But you could still grow the other three seasons and supplement with other feed you might have on hand. This idea would preserve the other feed you have and hold it for the months when you wouldn't be able to meet the temperature requirements. Perhaps if you used tier shelving you would be better off doing it like an A-frame in order for all the plants to get light.
If you're interested in getting more involved with this subject, contact THE FODDER FACTORY at (http://www.midcoast.com.au/users/fodderpr/factory.html)
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