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Fodder systems are hydroponic growing systems that usually have a rack or shelf system, growing trays and some pumps and filters and timers. The basic idea is that you put seeds into these systems, allow them to sprout, and then feed the sprouted seeds to your animals. Oats, barley, wheat, alfalfa - you can sprout any kind of feed.
They're touted as being a cheaper alternative to feeding your farm animals, and come complete with pretty big claims -- here's an example: "The amount of feed that can be produced in a 200 acre field can be
produced in a 2,000 square foot fodder room"
There are a couple of problems with this idea. First, nothing comes for free. The seed contains all of the calories it will ever have when you put it into the tray; it may gain a little bit of energy from the grow lights - and theres no question that sprouted seeds are bigger than unsprouted. But I am skeptical that the produced feed is any more calories than the grain itself. In fact, there's an argument for sprouted grains being less nutricious -- it takes energy to sprout, and the sprouts generate compounds that try to defend against it being eaten, slowing/retarding digestion and making them taste bad, potentially limiting quantity consumed..
The second problem is that when you try to compare production numbers, the system manufacturers are pretty darned shy about that. Farmtek.com, a reputable dealer that I've purchased product from in the past is pretty coy about the production numbers. Here's what farmtek says:
"3. How much of the fodder is water weight? It depends on the type of seed and how you spread it in the channels. If you contact us we can provide you with some feed and forage reports on some of the trials we've done"
Summary? If you don't read carefully, you don't realize that "125lbs of feed a day" may actually be 2lbs of seeds and 123lbs of water. And water isn't feed; water has no calories.
Show me the feed!
Lets go back to the 2,000 square foot room producing as much as 200 acres claim. First, lets compare wet feed production to wet feed production. So hydroponically grown grass against green chopped field grass.
How much feed wold you get from 200 acres?
200 acres of ground will produce between 10 and 15 tons of wet grass chop per year per acre. at the low end of the range, we're talking about 2,000 tons of grass silage per year, or an average of 5.4 tons of grass per day over 200 acres; that's what I'd get around here. Your area may vary, but grass grows in 3 seasons here, and it grows pretty darned fast.
I have no idea what size of grow setup you'd have to have to produce 5.4 tons per day, but farmtek
helpfully provides that to harvest 125lbs of feed per day, you'd need two 12' trays planted every day.
To produce 5.4 tons you, need...
2000 / 125 = number of 24' trays per ton needed = 16
16*5.4 = 86.4 trays to produce 5.4 tons, or 2073' of tray space.
A little under half a mile of tray space. Trays look to be about 12" across, so you'd need 2073 square feet of trays to produce 5.4 tons per day.
Oh wait -- it takes 6 to 8 days for the seeds to sprout. So you'd need at least 12,000 square feet of tray space, and you'd be planting 2073' of tray each day, and harvesting 2073' of tray every day. And you're doing that by hand, because theres no way to get a tractor in to do this work.
And you're going to need a pretty big climate controlled building to put this mile and a half of tray space in.
WAIT. WAIT. They said it would only take 2,000 square feet!
Yes, they did. To be fair, the claim for the 2,000 square feet was made by another company, but they're even more shy about their production numbers. At least with farmtek they give me enough information to figure out that there's no way that this checks out, in my opinion.
Folks, there's nothing cheaper than dirt and sunlight. And when you look at these systems in the light of day, well, manure is great fertilizer. And that's what these systems are.