LUCILE — Three years ago, the Seth Allen family began feeding barley seed fodder to their livestock and have been pleased with the results.
This ambitious, young family of five – Seth and Raini, and their three teenage kids: Liam, Charise and Rihan — can be found each winter morning at 6:30 a.m. in their homemade fodder facility.
The Allen’s 7U Ranch near Lucile is full of warm smiles, friendly dogs and clucking chickens. This picturesque setting is nestled along Elfers Creek on the west side of Lucile Bluff.
“I was tired of chasing hay,” said Seth, “I didn’t want to have to rely on someone else’s hay crop. The consistency of feeding fodder is a big advantage for us.”
After reading about hydroponics — the growing of plants in nutrient solutions — they decided to grow fodder, a coarse dry food for livestock.
Raini said, “It has been neat to see the kids take an interest in this, with their own ideas and suggestions. They really enjoy doing this.”
Fodder provides livestock with fresh nutrients which have a very high digestibility and a nutritional value of 18- to 23-percent protein.
The Allens purchase approximately 15 tons of grain a year from Camas Prairie producer, Adam Sonnen. Together, Adam and Seth designed an efficient auger system to move grain from the truck up into the barn bin.
From the barn bin a homemade spout, which Seth built, allows the grain seed to flow into a bucket with a scale underneath. The Allens measure out 135 pounds of barley seed and pour into a trough to begin soaking overnight. Any chaff or debris that surfaces is screened off.
Approximately one pound of dry seed equates to six pounds of feed.
A 24-hour soaking period loosens the hard seed hull and triggers the germination process. The seed is soaked in a solution of water and bleach, this solution sanitizes the seed, killing any mold or yeast that may be on the grain hulls.
Adding aerators, often used in aquariums, to the soaking tub seemed to eliminate the mold issue.
The Allens also found using swimming pool bleach tablets mixed with their spring water is beneficial and cheaper than buying gallons of bleach.
Seven days of fodder are being grown at the same time. As day seven is taken out to feed livestock, a new seed start is beginning.
Depending on the weather, Allens feed 75 mats a day to their small herd of Black Angus cattle. This equates to each head receiving between 22 to 31 pounds of fodder per day. A few small bales of barley straw are added for extra dry matter.
A fodder mat weighs approximately 11 pounds with about six inches of tall green fodder and an inch of root systems, which is also palatable to the livestock.
Nutrients start declining in the fodder mats within seven to nine days.
The mats are hand loaded onto a four-wheeler trailer, then hauled to the animals, which include cattle, sheep and a few horses.
“It’s amazing to see the cows eating green when there is snow on the ground,” said Raini.
Tray towers hold two days of fodder not yet requiring light. The other five days of growing fodder are under light and a watering system. Water automatically comes on for 10 minutes every six hours.
“When we decided to get serious about it, we watched a lot of YouTube videos,” Raini said. “It was a challenge to get started when we could only find about 20 percent of the information we needed.”
A construction builder himself, Seth remodeled one side of their old barn to create two rooms for the fodder system.
“It was a disadvantage getting started not knowing the infrastructure needed,” said Seth, “Temperature control was a big learning point. Mold is a real problem if the room is too moist.”
The growing seed emits a lot of heat, requiring air conditioning to maintain proper temperature.
Seventy degrees is the ideal temperature with 70 to 90 percent humidity.
“Insulation was very important,” said Seth, “Re-doing one room with Kydex made a big difference.”
Kydex is a line of thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride materials, which combine the beneficial characteristics of acrylic and PVC, giving the Kydex sheets superior rigidity and formability, toughness and chemical resistance.
“We’ve seen a cost savings for the quality of feed,” said Raini.
“There is still a lot to learn, we can always improve,” Seth said.