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Growing your own fodder indoors

By David Mason-Jones

The simple step of germinating grain before feeding it to livestock, is an effective way of boosting the nutrient value and providing abundant fodder. This logic does not just apply when times are tough, it is true in average seasons and good times too. The step of producing fodder using this method, can reduce dependence on seasonal factors such as Spring feed. The act of germinating grain can produce Spring feed all year round.

It is the compelling force of this logic which led Matthew and Annette Atack, of Luskintyre, NSW, to invest in a process to germinate grain on a large scale prior to the drought.

Matthew and Annette own Luskintyre Angus - a beef production unit. The 46ha property contains 11.5ha river flats with an irrigation license and the remainder is typical undulating cattle grazing country. Prior to ownership by Matthew and Annette the property was used as a dairy. In its original state, at the time of purchase, the year round carrying capacity in an average year was 30 cows with calves. In a drought this was much reduced.

Using grain germination technology, the Atacks have been able to sell prime cattle during the drought. Due to their guaranteed availability of green feed,they have also been able to buy cattle at opportunity prices.

Matthew comments, “We were looking at ways to maximise a small holding, for beef production. We developed a business plan and the aim was to turn over cattle at a higher rate than once a year. But the big problem in this area was that we could not go past the weaner stage because of the lack of fodder. This limited our beef production potential,” he says.

The on-farm grain germination technology acquired by Matthew and Annette has enabled them to form three separate commercial Angus breeding groups with 15 - 18 cows in each group. The cows are joined at different times of the year and, therefore, drop at different times of the year. This enables a steady stream of beef cattle to be turned off the property year round.

Matthew and Annette produce weaners at six to seven months with 240kg Live Weight - drought or no drought. The fodder enables the couple to take the weaners through to the 360kg - 380kg domestic market and sometimes further to supply feed steers to feedlots at 420kg regard-less of seasonal conditions.

The couple turn off 50 - 60 steers and heifers annually from their own production. It also gives them the option of buying-in cattle for finishing when no progeny from their own breeders are on the ground. Matthew and Annette currently have 60 bought-in steers in the age range of 11 - 13 months. They obtained the steers at an opportunity price at the height of the drought and the cattle are now faring well.

The technology used by Matthew and Annette comes down to some pretty simple facts about biology. The digestibility of dry grain is poor. Therefore, although a farmer can buy-in grain in a tough season, the full nutrient benefit is poor and grain feeding becomes an expensive survival strategy. The digestibility of a newly germinated grain of barley is way higher than it was just before germination. The grain has turned from a hard gritty nut to a soft and luxuriant growth of green shoots and tender roots.

When schooner barley has been germinated for eight days the nutritional values of the feed are:-
Protein - 21%,
Metabolisable energy - 11 megajoules per kg,
Net energy lactation - 7.1 megajoules per kg,
Net energy gain - 4.8 megajoules per kg.

Some general aspects of the technology include:-

Optimum germination conditions.
The technology is housed in a controlled building with a woven plastic outer cover and thermal insulation qualities. The optimum temperature for the process is 23˚C and the aim is to keep the temperature steady throughout the eight day process. Sensors monitor temperature and automatic-ally engage a gas heater or a cooling fan system when required.

Water efficiency.
Matthew states, “This system uses 1000 litres of water per day to produce around 1000kg fresh fodder per day. The water is supplied using a 22,500 litre water reservoir which can be fed from a dam, river, rain water tank or ground water. We refill this reservoir every 22 days. We also add nutrients when we fill the tank. A system of micro sprays above the growing trays come on for 60 seconds every four hours to keep the grain wet the entire time. This is an efficient water use and compares with figures that show the water needed to produce 1000kg fodder in a broadacre lucerne setting can be as much as 266,000 litres in average conditions.

Evaporation control.
In broadacre irrigation settings the losses to irrigation from evaporation can be enormous and farmers pay for every litre that evaporates. Controlled germination reduces the evaporation losses to zero.

Eight day cycle.

The germination process is continuous and lasts for an eight day cycle. On the first day around .8kg - 1 kg of barley is added to each tray. In the system at Luskintyre there a 112 trays per day. Each kilogram of barley seed will germinate to around 10kg of feed. On the eighth day the fully germinated schooner barley is taken out and fed to stock. The empty trays are then re-seeded with new grain and the cycle starts again. The technology can produce larger quantities.

Feed production and land use efficiency.
The ability to produce one tonne of fodder a day leads to the reliable availability of 365 tonnes per year. This has a huge food value and compares favourably with one study which has shown that the productive capacity of 1ha of land area is 8 tonnes of dry fodder per annum. This means that the grain germination technology can be thought of as having an equivalence in terms of owning a bigger farm. It is hard to determine the exact equivalence between having the technology on a farm and the larger area of land this represents due to the difference between dry fodder and green fodder. However, the fact remains that grain germination technology saves the small farmer from buying a much bigger farm to achieve the same production of fodder. In a small farming area, where land values are often high, it makes better financial sense to limit the farm size, employ grain germination technology, and buy the grain from broadacre grain producing areas.

Need for roughage.

Despite all the advantages of the grain germination technology, cattle and other stock still require roughage in their diet. Thus it still remains essential that live-stock producers using grain germination technology still have a series of normal paddocks where stock can graze. It is not an option to have a series of germination units producing a vast amount of fodder to feed a large herd on a small plot of land.

Need for sunlight.

The system will not work without sunlight. Therefore the conversion of an old hay shed is not an option. The units which house the technology are usually purpose built with materials which allow the Sun’s energy through.

Electricity and gas.
The units require electricity and gas to maintain the optimum temperature year round.

Foraging pressure.
Grain germination reduces the extreme foraging of stock in times of drought. Without the technology it is a simple matter for every paddock to become flogged out by extreme grazing pressure. This is damaging to the long term productivity of the land. The use of the technology enables the farmer to close off paddocks and rest them while feeding the stock with germinated grain and hay for roughage. In this way the long term health of the farm can be protected through droughts and dry spells.

Matthew and Annette’s experience is that grain germination has helped them farm profitably during the drought. It has enabled them to take a quantum leap in the management and productivity of their small farm.


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