Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blog Moved!

In order to expand this blog with more topics, and keep it up to date we have moved this blog HERE.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Grass Fed Beef

Grass Fed Beef
By: Maxwell Salinger

In my opinion one of the preeminent benefits of utilizing a hydroponic fodder feed system is the ability to more closely re-create our animal’s natural diets. This is especially true when considering a ruminant animal such as a cow. A cow’s digestive system has specially evolved to efficiently digest and convert grasses into a food source; a feat that those of us with only one stomach cannot accomplish. Traditionally all beef was grass fed, but with a skyrocketing population a need to speed up production time became evident; this is where grain-feeding came into play. Although grain feeding is a much more efficient way to take our baby calves to their 1200 pound finish weight, there is much to be said about an increase in the quality of life of our animals when fed a higher quality food source. This is where hydroponic fodder comes into play. Although our animals are still consuming a grain based product, the increased digestibility rate more closely imitates their natural diet. This natural diet aids in our animals ability to put on weight in a more healthy and a less physically taxing manner.

If we simply take a look at the function of a seed from a plants perspective we can gain a little bit of insight on how it may react with the digestive system of an animal built to eat grass. Large starch and sugar compounds are deposited within the seed to prolong the time in which the seed can be preserved before germination. These compounds are later broken down and utilized by the germinating plant over the course of several weeks to ensure the plants survival. This storage mechanism that the plant depends on to distribute its genetics is actually an obstacle for our animals to overcome. Instead of immediately fermenting and digesting organic grass compounds, our ruminant animals have to spend more energy breaking down the seed’s coat and storage compounds into a usable form. By sprouting a high quality seed and feeding it directly after germination we are able to give our animals a fodder that is in its prime nutritional state.

The premise of grass-fed beef can also lend to adding value to your animal’s meat and other products. Not only does a grass-fed certification increase the value of your meat but it has also been shown to drastically change its composition. Grass-fed beef has been shown to be leaner, contain more omega-3-fatty acids and also be higher in many other vitamins that are important to the human digestive system. Another important benefit that can be achieved utilizing a hydroponic fodder feeding system is a higher consistency of feed. One of the major obstacles that face many grass-fed beef producers is the variability of plant species within their pasture as well as seasonal fluctuation. By making a large portion of our cattle’s diet hydroponic fodder, we can be assured of the quality and quantity of grass that is being consumed. This consistency can lead to a better tasting end product, which is one of our major goals. This premise is not limited to cattle; consistency in feed can also increase the quality of meat and other by-products of animals such as swine and poultry. Hydroponic Fodder production is a great way to drastically improve both the quality of your animal products as well as their quality of life!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Selecting a Growing Structure for Fodder Production

Selecting a Growing Structure for Fodder Production
By Maxwell Salinger

One of the common questions often heard at CropKing is the optimal environment for hydroponic fodder production. To begin to address this topic, one of the first catch phrases that come to mind is “controlled germination.” This term fits well with hydroponic fodder production because we are only concerned with the first seven to fourteen days of growth. These plants are relying very little on the sun to provide the energy they need to develop, and more on their “food” stores within the seed. This “food” or endosperm inside of the seed is most often in the form of starch. Starch can be 
converted to a more easily digested form for our livestock to consume through the process of germination. These facts alone can certainly influence the way we approach our environmental control.

Like any other crop, the grain seeds we use in a hydroponic fodder system germinate best in high humidity environments. In vegetable crops we often use a humidity dome or a propagation greenhouse for the first couple of days before emergence to keep our relative humidity at 90% or above. This is where our fodder starts to stray from normal germination conditions. Although having humidity levels close to this 90% range may speed up germination, it also speeds up the growth of many molds that can be extremely detrimental to production as well as animal health. It is for this reason we look for a humidity range that encourages germination to a satisfactory rate but does not aid in the proliferation of these molds. Having precise control of these humidity levels is thus of paramount importance.

CropKing's research fodder building
Having solid control of this humidity can be more challenging task in some buildings more than others. Here at CropKing I am fortunate to have a 30’x40’ steel structure that is heavily insulated with a spray foam material with a high R-Value. This means that my heat and humidity are well conserved and it is generally not difficult to keep my relative humidity above the minimum of 60%. It is rare for the relative humidity to drop to a level unacceptable for germination when at least one of my fodder units is up and running. Dehumidification though can definitely become a necessity. There are many equipment options when looking into dehumidification such as “heat pumps” to the more cost effective “at-home” dehumidifier made for keeping your basement less muggy. Heaters can also go a long way to reducing ambient humidity, but regardless of how you do it; the humidity must be kept below 80%.

If these facts are kept in mind while deciding where to put your fodder rack some basic questions arise; Such as, how much will it cost me to heat/ cool this structure and what will my dehumidification needs be? When answering these questions it becomes apparent that it is much more cost effective to run this type of system in an enclosed and heavily insulated structure such as my steel building. It seems that it is becoming more common for people to start growing in
structures such as greenhouses or poly-huts. The main benefit to growing anything in a greenhouse structure is the accumulation of “free” sun energy, which as stated before is not the main concern
CropKing's research greenhouse
while producing fodder. So are there actually any benefits of growing in a Greenhouse versus an enclosed structure? With this question in mind I ran a couple of trials comparing the growth speed, morphology, wet weight accumulation and nutrient quality of Fodder grown in a high light/ medium humidity situation in a lettuce greenhouse verse that grown in our low light/ high humidity fodder

The results were fairly surprising, the average wet weight and overall height of both sets were almost identical in both replications. Where I saw the biggest differences was in the actual grass morphology. The greenhouse grown set allocated more energy toward the production of roots than shoots, opposite from that of the fodder building group. These greenhouse shoots were shorter but the blades were wider and more expanded, implying that they were actively photosynthesizing at a higher rate than the closed blades of the fodder building’s shoots. These results led to the question of protein and fat allocation; “Is it better nutritionally to have more shoots or roots?”

After getting samples of both groups sent to Clemson University to be analyzed it became apparent that much more of the protein and fat within the plant is stored at the shoots of the fodder than the roots. Of these shoot samples within this study, on a 100% dry-matter basis it was also shown that the fodder grown in the enclosed structure had a higher protein content of 21.9% verse the 17.6% of the greenhouse. Similar results could also be seen in the comparison of the two sets of root samples.
While comparing these two growing environment systems it seems as though in reference to production and economics it is more advantageous to grow hydroponic fodder sprouts in an enclosed and more controlled environment. This is not to say that greenhouse production is out of the question, especially if hydroponic fodder is the sole crop being grown. Like any protected agriculture crop, the benefits of hydroponic fodder must be weighed against the cost of the operation of the equipment as well as the cost of environmental control.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Maxwell's Fodder Intro

Maxwell originally wrote this article as a feature in Maximum Yield magazine to introduce the concept of hydroponically sprouting cereal
grains for animal fodder. We thought that this would be a great first blog entry and hope you enjoy!

With hay and grain costs on the rise and continuing drought immanent, many farmers and ranchers are looking to developing technology to assure the survival of their businesses.  Although slightly counterintuitive, hydroponic food production has proven to be a great way to reduce overall water usage and still harvest a wonderful crop. CropKing’s hydroponic fodder system has been steadily gaining more interest as a feasible method for farmers to grow their own feed in order to greatly reduce their overall feed costs.

CropKing is a family owned company based in Lodi, Ohio that has specialized in hydroponic greenhouse production for almost thirty years and pride themselves on being on the forefront of hydroponic technology. Although hydroponic fodder doesn’t necessarily need to be grown in a greenhouse the growing concepts remain the same. This hydroponic fodder system utilizes a NFT style channel very similar to CropKing’s lettuce systems, but much wider. In this type of system a small film of water is dripped into one end of the channel and moved over the plants roots via the slope of the system. For fodder production, barley seed is spread along each channel without the use of any sort of growing media and after seven to eight days these seeds emerge as barley spouts weighing nearly  seven times their dry counterparts!

This process starts with the soaking of a high quality and contaminate free barley seed for eight to twelve hours.  By utilizing a clean seed the risks of future mold infestations are reduced. After the first couple of days roots and shoots have started to emerge from the seeds and by day four the barley leaf blades start to expand. At this point the grass begins to use its ambient light to start a little photosynthesis and really start to get going. The light levels required by barley at this stage are no nearly as high as many other hydroponic crops, making this system easily accessible for a range of growers. A pump recirclates the water throughout the system on a predetermined schedule, dependent on the crop and the growing environment. At harvest the barley forms such a dense matt that it is easily removed from the channel in smaller sections and then rolled for easier transportation to the feeding location.

Hydroponic fodder sprouts are extremely nutritious and can be used to feed a huge range of animals from cows, sheep and goats to chickens and alpacas! Because much of the nutrition within the sprouts is so readily available it is often recommended that it be paired with a roughage type feed in order to assure a healthy animal gut. That being said, the quality of the roughage can be greatly decreased by virtue of the hydroponic fodder’s richness. The ability of a farmer to produce such a high quality feed while saving water and reducing the land requirements can go a long way to “drought-proofing” an operation as well as means to increase animal stocking density. CropKing is currently conducting research on the nutritional aspects of hydroponic fodder as well as engineering new ways to maximize the productivity of their systems.