The ‘step by step’ of how to grow hydroponic barley/wheat fodder.
Hydroponic farming is the art of growing plants without the use of soil .This technology is old as history and was used in famous hanging gardens of Babylon. For commercial purposes to feed livestock, it started in 1960s in Australia and has spread to the rest of the world ever since.
Hydroponics technology can be adopted using locally available materials to control temperature thereby making hydroponic farming a reality. A farmer can construct a 3m by 4m house unit which can support to feed two dairy cows or (10 pigs, goats, sheep) and over 400 birds. The amount of fodder from this unit is equivalent to two acres of Napier grass.
Hydroponic fodder for livestock is the main meal but not supplement. Actually it completely eliminates dairy meal, maize germ, pollard, poultry fed and even sow and weaner.
The ‘step by step’ of how to grow hydroponic barley/wheat fodder.
I will not waste your time with introductions or pleasantries. I know what it is you want. So what is it you do to grow fodder? What are the steps involved? Without any further ado, here are the steps of planting hydroponics barley/wheat fodder.
1: weighing and soaking.
Weigh the exact amount that is stipulated for the tray that you use. For example, the trays that we use at Homestead Farm Ltd can handle anything up to 4.5kg of seed. We weigh 4kg as part of our protocol. Weigh the 4kgs of seed, put it in a bucket e.g. 10L bucket, soak them in water for not more than 4 hours. The amount of water you put in does not matter, as long as all the seeds are submerged under water.
Image 1: Weigh scale for measuring quantity of seed.
Step 2: Drain and Incubate
After the soaking is done, drain all the water from the bucket. Ensure you drain all of it as some water is usually observed to stagnate at the bottom of the bucket. Once this is done replace the lid of the bucket. It is best if you would pierce some holes in the lid as the germinating seeds require oxygen. Let the seeds incubate for 2 days in the bucket. One should inspect the seeds atleast once a day and ensure they are moist. You do this by sprinkling a handful of water into the bucket. You will soon notice that they will begin to sprout. This will continue for 48 hours.
Image 2: Sprouted seeds during incubation process
Step 3: ‘Plant’ on clean trays.
Once the 48 hours of incubation are done, transfer the seeds to a clean aluminum or plastic tray. The tray should be cleaned first, using soap or bleach at best. Clean it well. Transfer the seeds to the tray and ensure that you spread them into an even mat with your hands. Be gentle. The trays should be placed on a slope, with the perforated end of the trays on the lower side of the slope.
Image 3: Sprouted seeds spread evenly on an aluminium tray.
Step 4: watering
Watering should be done at least three times a day. There is no need for watering at night. Be generous with the water, as any excess water will drain out and may be recycled. Ensure that you water the entire tray and all seeds come into contact with the water.
Step 5: Harvesting
Harvest on the appropriate day.
Day 4 for poultry,
Day 6 for pigs
Day 8 for ruminants e.g. cow.
Poultry feed is expensive and farmers know that too well. That‘s why a cheap and equally good option is great news. Mr.Mose, a poultry farmer from Gayaza Rd - Kampala is using hydroponics to grow his affordable chicken feed.
“I have always been a poultry farmer so I know how expensive the chicken mash can be. Tired of buying the mash, I embraced hydroponics which saves me a lot,” says the farmer who keeps 1900 birds which comprise chicken and Turkeys on a 40 by 50 feet size plot.
Hydroponics he says cuts down his feeding cost by 70 per cent. He explains: “I used to buy one sack of growers mash feed at USh100,500 which would last for two to three days. Now for the same amount (the sack), we can make feed that can last two weeks,” he says.
“The water we use for irrigation is little and the same can be recycled for four days,” he adds. “The good thing is that the feed is completely organic and contains high protein content. The feed also makes our birds mature faster, they produce higher quality eggs and the birds have good weight,” he says at his farm in Gayaza Rd, Kampala.
So how does he do it? “I soak the 15-20 kilos of seeds in water for some hours then drain in perforated containers. I then put them on the trays. The moisture that the seeds sucked in triggers the germination process. Within two days, the sprouts start appearing. Within six days, it’s a thick carpet with green foliage. I disintegrate, comb and give to the poultry,” he explains. Mr. Mose orders for the barley seeds from Narok or Nairobi. He buys a kilo of the grains at USh3000 which in turns yields up to six kilograms of fodder.
ITS TIME TO TRY SOMETHING NEW
The place where he grows the foliage is enclosed within a shade net (sourced from Amiran Kenya) to regulate temperature, mimicking a small greenhouse. “Doing so prevents the growth of moulds and fungi,” explains Mr.Mose. The aluminum trays he uses can be improvised or bought at USh25,000 and then a farmer will require racks which are inclined to allow the water to drain free. The nutritional value of hydroponic fodder is also unrivaled as the fodder is rich in protein, B-carotene, trace elements and enzymes and the fodder is also 95 per cent digestible as compared to other commercial feed. He sells the chicken at between USh35,000 to USh75,000 because they are ornamental, and their eggs for USh600 each.
“My chicken fetches very good money because they are of good weight and the meat is nutritious. There is a high market for organic chicken,” he says. This feed also ensures the birds mature in four to five months instead of the conventional seven to nine months. They also begin laying eggs at 5 months.
Mr.Mose’s Kroiler chicken can be fed on hydroponic fodder as three quarters of their daily feed requirement while layers and broilers (exotic) can be fed on hydroponic fodder as a third of their meal. The farmer also uses hydroponics to plant strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce. Thanks to the convenience this method allows him (light labour and minimal attention), Mr.Mose, who quit employment to do farming business, says he ,there is lots of money in farming. “With this technology, farming is enjoyable as it makes work easier,” he says.
USING WATER AS THE MEDIA
Here soil is replaced by water which has the nutrients. This method is used to grow hydroponic fodder for livestock and barley grass for human.
ADVANTAGES OF PLANTS GROWN HYDROPONICALLY
1) Fast growth and early maturity; this is because the seed does not use a lot of energy and time to break the soil.
2) Increase in yield; plants do not invest too much on root system and the extra energy is used to increase the yield.
3) Elimination of soil-borne diseases like bacterial wilts and nematodes
4) Increase in harvesting period.
5) Minimal use of fertilizer, water and space
HYDROPONIC FODDER FOR LIVESTOCK (COWS, SHEEP, GOAT, PIGS, CHICKEN(broilers, layers, kenbro, dorep, quail, kuroilers E.T.C)
1) HOUSING;the structure should have a temperature range of between 17-25oc. This is because below 17oc there may be slow growth and above 25oc barley may start fermenting.
ii) SEED;barley /white sorghum (Gadam) is the best to sprout because of its nutrients and energy, other seeds like wheat, sorghum, millet, maize etc can also be sprouted.
iii) WATER;water should be clean and free from impurities.
iv) SUPPORT SURFACE;Treated aluminum trays are the best but they are costly and they require washing with chlorine after every harvest.
v) FERTILIZER;due to early harvesting period of fodder for livestock e.g. 4 days for the poultry, fertilizer (nutrient) is not recommended. Some farmers use it to increase weight of the fodder but its safety to animals is not scientifically documented.