Hydroponic fodder is an old development but it has been popularized for the last 20 years. It is produced from forage grains having high germinating capacity and fast growing power. These grains are germinated and grown for a short period of time inside special growing rooms, or cabinets, provided with the appropriate growing conditions.
Definition of Terms
(a) Hydroponic fodder production technology
This refers to the growing of fodder without soil but in water (safe water for drinking) or nutrient-rich solution for a maximum of 6 days to produce fodder sprout mat of about 6” to 8”. The fodder sprout mat is completely edible and highly nutritious and livestock eat the entire mat, roots and green growth, which ensures no wastage of feed (plate 1.1).
(a) Nutrient solution:
This is specially formulated liquid with essential mineral nutrients (similar to soil fertilizers) that may be used in addition to tap water to sprout fodder. The minerals enhance crude protein content and dry matter loss resulting from depletion of food reserves within the seed during the germination process, hence increase the final weight of the hydroponics fodder. Various types of the solution exist and maybe sourced from the agro-vets, however be sure to request for nutrient solution specific to the type of hydroponic fodder one intends to sprout. Different types of grains contain varying levels of crude proteins and yield differently as shown in table 1 below:
Barley is the recommended grain of choice for hydroponic production because of the following reasons:
· Rich in vitamins and minerals, enzymes and growth factors.
· It is 80% to 85% digestibility.
· High in crude protein content (higher than that of ordinary grass or Lucerne).
· High in moisture content which helps to prevent occurrence of colic.
· Has the ability to grow to a height of four inches (4’’) by the 4th day of production cycle reaching a maximum of eight inches (8”) on the 6th day with 25% increase in yields.
· Certified barley grain assures 95% germination rate. .
The barley grain provides a business opportunity for the youth and women as either barley seed supplier or multiplier within the livestock feed value chain
1.2 Why hydroponics?
· Ability to produce fodder within a short a time (six days) that is highly nutritious.
· Given the land availability challenge in Kenya, it gives the ability to produce high yield of fodder in a small land area; using hydroponics, 600kg of maize fodder can be produced within six days in 50m<sup>2</sup> area while the same amount would be produced in 1ha of land under conventional system.
· Independent of climatic conditions therefore, one is assured of high quality year-round fodder supply for livestock.
· Water requirement is less and in addition the water can be recycled. To produce 1kg of fodder for 6 days about 1.5 litres (if water is recycled) to 3 litres (if water is not recycled) of water is required. In contrast, using soil to produce 1kg of fresh fodder will require about 30 litres.
· Minimal costs associated with production of fodder in terms of labour, soil preparation, weed control and post-harvest loss.
· Minimal incidences of pests and diseases, as well as reduced use of pesticides.
· Enhances the digestive system of livestock to process the fodder more efficiently and improve on mineral absorption from the fodder.
· Job creation for the youth and women who can produce fodder and sell to livestock producers.