We’re currently feeding our goats and chickens organically for 6 cents a pound. This is how we’re doing it:
I have friends who are SO much smarter than I am!
This is a hydroponic fodder system (“hydroponic” basically means growing plants in water, without soil.) Using this system, we are growing roughly 6lbs of edible – and more nutritious – barley grass for every pound of barley seed. Other people have written about this, before (just do a quick google search for “fodder system”) but I’ll run through the basics of how it works before I explain how we set our system up (or rather, how our awesome friend Patrick set it up with a little bit of help from us!)
To do this simply (without the really cool shelf and pump system pictured above), you can get 15 appropriately sized tupperware bins (the size will depend on how much seed you’re sprouting,) and drill small holes into 7 of them. The holes should be just a bit smaller than the seed your using, so it won’t fall through. I drilled my holes along the front of the bin, so that I could saturate the seeds and tip the containers up in order to drain them. I did this by setting them up inside the second set of bins (the ones without holes) and tipping them forward a bit so the water would drain toward the front and out the holes, into the second set of bins (I then re-used this water, later.) The last bin is used for your pre-soak.
Day 1: Pre-soak your sprouting seed in water (if you have problems with mold, a solution of bleach water is recommended.) This is left to soak for 12 hours (I usually start these in the morning and soak mine in a bleach solution [I'm currently experimenting with apple cider vinegar] until bedtime, and then rinse well and soak in plain water until morning.
Day 2: Drain your soaking seeds and spread them evenly into one of the plastic tupperware bins that have holes in the bottom, and set this up inside a bin without holes, for drainage. The common recommendation is to spread them roughly 3/4 inches thick. Start a new bin of seeds to soak. From this point on, you’ll be watering your seeds four times each day.
Day 3-7: Each day, you’ll start a new bin of seeds to soak, and water the rest of your bins approximately every four hours. The easiest way I’ve found to water them is through “flood and drain.” Just pour enough water in to wet the seeds, let it soak for a little while, and then drain it off.
Day 8: Harvest your grass. Just lift it out of the container, cut or tear it up into smaller chunks or pieces, and feed it to your animals! Wash out your container with soap and water and use that container for the seeds coming out of the pre-soak.
In this way, you’re harvesting feed every day and starting a new set of seeds each day!
Now, this system has one major downfall. As much as I love a good excuse to stay home, it just wasn’t very practical for me to water my barley every four hours. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t come to visit, I have to water my barley.” So my husband and our friend Patrick built me an automated barley sprouting system!!! Using wood, PVC pipe, zip ties, and a few other simple things, they built a shelf that would hold my bins at a slight angle, pipes that would run water to each bin, and gutters to catch the excess (which ends up in the large bin at the bottom, and is pumped back through with a submersible fountain pump.) It’s plugged in to an automatic timer, so it turns itself on every 4 hours, and turns itself off after running for fifteen minutes.
I don’t have expect specifications for anything, but here is a picture run through of how it works:
In this picture is the tube that comes out from the pump and attaches to the PVC pipe, to take it up to each pipes that run over the bins.
Here’s a full length shot, and you can see the pipes coming off and over the bins:
The flow of water is “regulated” with valves:
(I use the word “regulated” loosely here… we have some learning to do, regarding plumbing, as it took quite a bit of fenagling to get the pressure right… too much or too little on any of the bottom three made the top turn off altogether!)
Here’s a picture of it, running:
Each bin sits on top of the lid it came with, which is screwed into the wood, to stay in place. This keeps the bins from sliding and also works to catch excess water if the bins get too full (I don’t have a picture of it, but we drilled large holes near the top of the bins, for overflow.) The front of the bins and the lids both have holes for drainage, and PVC pipe cut in half acts as a gutter for the water to drain into, and vinyl tubing takes the water from one gutter to the next, and finally into the bottom reservoir:
And I thought I should probably mention one of the most important parts – the overflow pipe:
See how the pipe goes just above the last line of sprinklers, and water can bypass the sprinkler and go into tubing (which also drains into the bin at the bottom)? This is so that any water that doesn’t go through the pipes to water the barley can still make it back to the reservoir (and my system doesn’t explode.)
Here is a picture of the barley in various stages of development:
Day 2 (just out of the soaking bin)
(Notice our bins are much larger than what we need right now. We did this so that we’d have plenty of room to expand when we get our meat birds, and when the baby goats come.)
We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of lighting is best (which is why I have a couple of baby blankets covering the bottom half of the windows), and I’m still trying to make it fool-proof so it can be left automated even when I’m not home (today I accidentally put one of the bins in backwards, so it wasn’t draining! SO glad my daughter caught that before 110 quarts of water ended up all over the kitchen floor!!!)
But all in all I am absolutely THRILLED with it! It makes things so incredibly easy and the best thing is that I’m going to be able to feed ALL of our animals organically for even LESS than what we’d pay for non-organic feed! Pretty cool, huh?