imageAnother class I enjoyed at last week’s Focus on Farming conference was one taught by David Capocci, who owns Paca Pride Guest Ranch in Arlington- a small alpaca farm and camping destination. David talked about his experimentation with sprouted grains as fodder. David is an engineer and farmer- right up my alley! Smile

A while back, I had attended a class somewhere, where a pastured pork farmer talked about purchasing a turnkey trailer system which could grow large volumes of sprouted seed fodder for livestock. It sounded really cool, except for the price tag- around $30K! David wondered if he could do something like that with simple plastic grow trays on a wooden bookshelf with a light bulb and a basic water pump on a timer. And proved that yes, you can! No fancy trailer required!

His blog details his experiment, so I won’t repeat it here. The bottom line is that he can convert 6 pounds of barley seed into 25 pounds of forage in nine days, for $1.20. It creates a handy, carpet- like mat 9” thick, which can then be tossed into a feeder. His initial experiment proved good enough that he invested in building a modest, closet-sized, insulated and heated room in his barn to grow fodder all winter. The room has wood shelves, and the trays overhang a half-pipe PVC for drainage. He floods them three times per day with fresh water then lets them drain. The light bulb isn’t technically required, but does get the sprouts to green up (think mung bean sprouts in a mason jar in your kitchen cabinet- they stay white in the dark).

David says that the ideal temperature for growing barley is 50-60 degrees; so during winter it’s easy to maintain that temperature with a small heater. In summer, one would have to cool the air to prevent mold and fermentation. But usually we’re grazing animals during the summer, so this is more of a winter feed solution to reduce the cost of purchased feed.

The fodder is 18% crude protein (whereas the dry grain is probably only about 8% CP), so you can really see the advantage to sprouting grains for releasing their pent-up nutrients. He feeds his alpacas 2% of their bodyweight in the fodder, plus 1% more in hay (and the hay is mostly for roughage, so it can be very inexpensive hay). David briefly showed the full lab analysis- it sounded like the fodder was somewhat low in minerals, but that’s easily overcome with a good supplement.

In my last post, I talked about the so-far, somewhat fruitless search for alternative poultry feeds in our region. This would be one, but I think you would want to feed the sprouts to birds much earlier- on day two or three, when they are still mostly seed, some sprout. This nine-day rotation David is using creates a very tall “grass” which is best for ruminants and pseudo-ruminants to digest.

A pretty cool solution, at least for small herds. David has fourteen alpacas. I considered what it would take for me to do this; my current flock size would require about 100 lbs per day at the same feeding rate of 2%. So I’d have to have four trays ready each day, for a total of 36 in rotation. That would require a bit of infrastructure, but is still pretty do-able. Given the rising cost of hay, a worthy thing to consider!