An innovative livestock feed opportunity has gained the attention of local farmers and ranchers, saving some from quitting the business because of drought.
"From seed to feed in six days" is the motto for Fodder Solutions, an indoor hydroponic growing system that produces fresh barley shoots for cattle, goats, sheep, horses and chickens.
The technology is becoming popular nationwide, and has recently been installed by Montezuma County ranchers to counter low hay production and high prices.
The indoor sprouted grain is a supplement to traditional hay, and costs a fraction of the price to produce, running 8 to 10 cents per pound versus 16 to 18 cents a pound for hay.
The self-contained units start out at $11,000, and are about the size of a mini-van.
Inside the growing chamber, trays of seeds are fed by tap water sprayed at timed intervals from overhead misters. Standard electric lights provide the photosynthesis, and the unit is temperature-controlled.
Once sprouted, users rotate trays to the next row of shelves, and then again to the final position where they are ready for the field.
The results are vivid green flats of nutritious, 6-inch-high barley - dubbed "biscuits" - that are ready for livestock anytime of the year.
The indoor system is drought-resistant, and is touted as an affordable solution for lost forage in the field because of water shortages.
"It grows with about 3 percent of the amount of water required for standard forage production," said Fodder Solutions inventor Flavio Raccanello. "It is immune to climate conditions and can be completely non-GMO and organic."
The original Australian technology has been slower to take off in the United States, but is gaining more acceptance as drought conditions persist.
The fresh biomass is reported to be high in nutrients, vitamins and protein, according to published reports, and are efficiently metabolized by livestock during times of drought that cause sub-optimal feed conditions.
For Montezuma County rancher Bob Ower, Fodder Solutions helped keep his operation solvent.
Because of drought conditions and water shortages, Ower's fields did not produce the feed he needed to sustain his herd of Black Angus cows.
"I was looking at paying $4,000 for enough hay to get to spring green-up, or start selling cows," he said.
He researched the technology, purchased a unit, and began producing 200 pounds of fresh feed per day to supplement his herd.
"The cows love it, and they are really healthy. It stretches limited hay supplies and the investment will pay for itself soon," Ower said, adding that hay is still needed in livestock diet to provide roughage.
His midsize unit uses 40 gallons per day of tap water, was delivered ready to go, and runs off home electricity.
The barley seed costs 28 cents per pound, and are available at Geisinger Feed Grains in Cortez. One pound of seed produces 6.5 pounds of fodder.
Part of the fun is watching the animals happily munch on the fresh greens, tossing them around to break apart the green mats of fresh forage.
"The nutritional value is there, they put on weight, and their coats just shined up," Ower said.
For more information go to www.foddersolutions.net or give Bob a call at 565-4178.