Issue 70: Green Feed – Livestock Fodder Shed

Issue 70
May/June – 2003
Story Title: GREEN FEED – Livestock Fodder Shed
by: Steven Carruthers

Caught in the worst drought in living memory, Australian farmers are looking beyond short-term aid to sustain their livestock. Not surpris-ingly, much interest has been focused on hydroponic fodder production which offers long-term, cost-effective solutions for drought-stricken farmers.

Over recent years, Australia has experienced one of theworst droughts in a century, and it hasn’t been restricted to typical drought prone areas. It has spread across every State and into areas never before considered at risk. Graphic media coverage has highlighted not only the devastation on the landscape and livestock, but also the despair experienced by farmers and their families. In November 2002, the Reserve Bank forescast that the drought would wipe $7 billion off the year’s crop production and reduce domestic growth by 1%. So, it’s not surprising that many farmers are turning to hydroponic and greenhouse technologies as a risk management strategy,especially hydroponic fodder production to feed livestock.

The Australian farmer is famously resourceful and the emergence of hydroponic fodder production can be seen as a classic manifestation of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention”. These fodder sheds are,for the most part, the products of desperate need and homespun inventiveness.

The concept of producing fodder hydroponically is not new.In his visionary book, The ABC of NFT, Dr Allen Cooper introduces the concept of hydroponic fodder production in areas of the world where adverse conditions of climate and/or soil make it difficult to produce milk or even meat. Providing temperature and light needs are adequate,regular output of hydroponic green feed is possible all year round,whatever local weather conditions may be. Although the methods date back to the 1930’s, it is only in recent times that we have seen significant improvements in greenhouse materials and environmental control technology that make hydroponic fodder production an economic reality.

In Australia,severe drought, water shortages and the failure of grain crops,has driven the development of the ‘Livestock Fodder Shed’ (Patent Pending), a collaboration between industry consultant Peter Doyle and computer specialist John McDevitt from Peter Doyle Consultancy Pty Ltd, and livestock farmers Peter and Eliza Galvin.As a working farmer, Peter Galvin had an “of-necessity” professional interest in alternative stock feed sources.This drove him to develop, together with the assistance of Peter Doyle, a full working plant on his property at Kootingal, NSW. The Galvins’ were dedicated to getting it right and have greatly contributed practical, hands-on advice in bringing the Livestock Fodder Shed to the market “for the benefit of the farm community around Australia”. The consortium realised quite early, that the most effective way to make the Livestock Fodder Shed available at a reasonable price,was to undertake full commercial production to achieve economies of scale for both production and installation.

The end result is the Livestock Fodder Shed, which has been specifically designed for durability and low maintenance utilising high quality materials with up to 25-year guarantees. While the production unit requires daily attention, state-of-the-art environmental control equipment markedly reduces labour inputs and running costs. According to Peter Doyle,the unit is designed for continuous on-site green feed production, it is easy to operate, cost effective, and adaptable.

How does it work?
The shed uses refined hydroponic and greenhouse technologies to produce high protein green fodder in small spaces 365 days of the year. Grain seeds such as barley, oats, wheat, rye or sorghum, are germinated into sprouts that are grown on to form a thick mass of green feed with interwoven roots high in both nutrients and enzymes. Hydroponic technologies promote fast production with a growing cycle typically ranging from 7-10 days under controlled conditions in enclosed structures, often in locations where harsh environmental conditions are prohibitive for plant growth. Over this duration, the green feed grows to a height of approximately 250-300mm.

Unlike other fodder systems that use run-to-waste mist and overhead irrigation practices, the Livestock Fodder Shed uses an NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) recirculation system, thus reducing fertiliser costs and waste water. The fodder is grown in UV-stabilised, food quality PVC channels arranged on stands, and layered seven channels high. The key features of the system are climate control and a recirculating flow system. Advantages of the recirculating system are:

– Water wise – marked reduction in water usage.
– Reduced nutrient usage.
– Nutrient ‘dumping’ is significantly reduced,minimising impacts on the local water table and environment.
– No overhead spraying means reduced humidity, mould and disease.
– The ‘Growtemp’ reverse cycle air-conditioner reduces humidity and provides efficient cooling and heating.
– The PVC channel is easy to clean and maintain.
– The steel shed has a terrain category rating to withstand winds up to 44m/sec.

According to Peter Doyle, the short growing time to produce green fodder releases the farmer from long-term storage of large quantities of feed, particularly over winter, and the substantive nutrient loss associated therewith. The controlled environment inside the production shed allows growers to monitor and control the feed output to meet livestock demands. Additionally, the relatively small area required to grow green feed results in a production facility that is both labour and cost effective. “The Livestock Fodder Shed produces a reliable harvest of feed-quality barley every 7-8 days using remarkably small quantities of recirculated water,” said Peter Doyle.” One kilogram of dry grain produces between 7kg and 8.5kg of harvested barley,” he added.

Fodder shed
Constructed of long-life fibreglass panels,the basic Livestock Fodder Shed measures 12 x 8.4m (100.8sqm). The shed houses both the growing and pump area under the one roofline – the growing area measures 8.55m x 8.4m (71.8sqm). Inside, thermal screens above the crop are used to insulate the fodder from excessive heat during the day,and helps retain heat inside the facility during the night and in cold weather. The inner walls are covered with ‘Solaweave’ cloth to help with insulation. The reverse cycle air-conditioning unit (Daikin) has been specially designed to optimise the internal environment. The automatic climate controller utilises the latest invertors to provide efficient cooling and heating. Further automation controls the EC, pH and temperature of the nutrient solution. Optimal water quality is achieved and maintained with the Calclear water-conditioning unit, which also minimises calcification and blockages in irrigation lines, among other proven benefits. The feeding regime is based on time and volume.

The basic Livestock Fodder Shed is supplied and installed under contract by Steel & Stuff Pty Ltd, a national supplier based in Albury, NSW. Installation by a three-person team usually takes around seven days. The fodder shed is available in three sizes based on production capacity – one, two and three tonne per day. Erected on standard concrete slabs, the shed has an 8-year structural guarantee,10-year steel guarantee, and meets terrain Categories Two and Three (41 and 33 metres per second of wind velocity, respectively). The fibreglass outer covering comes with a 25-year guarantee.

As Australia reels under the pressure of one of the worst droughts on record, hydroponic fodder production has become an economic alternative to trucking in costly feed from afar. The failure of grain crops reflects and exacerbates the situation, where pastures have been all but wiped out across much of the country. Substitute fodder has been difficult to find and expensive to provide.For the first time, farmers in the eastern states have been forced to buy hay from as far away as Western Australia. On top of the cost of the feed, they are paying $130 a tonne in freight to truck the hay across the Nullarbor. The Livestock Fodder Shed and systems like it, presents a practical, cost-effective solution to the most critical consequences of drought – the incapacity to sustain livestock, or even keep animals alive.On an industrial scale, green feed units such as the Livestock Fodder Shed offer a realistic alternative to stock reductions including culling, and/or premature sale.

Clearly, the driver that lies behind the system’s market appeal is the current drought conditions, however, it is envisaged that the Livestock Fodder Shed will not be seen solely as a “drought-breaking” product. More than this, the system is designed to meet a broader market need for the intensive production of year-round green feed under circumstances that will extend well beyond the duration of the current drought conditions. For example, hydroponic fodder has been found to increase milk yields in dairy cows appreciably, as well as improving the vigour and performance of racehorses and brood mares. In arid and drought-affected regions of the world such as Australia, hydroponic fodder production has much to commend it as a viable solution for farmers.

For further information contact:
Peter Doyle Consultancy Pty Ltd
PO Box 130, Grantville, Victoria 3984
Ph:+61 (03) 5678-1012 Fax:+61 (03) 5678-0803