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Our Latest Adventure: Growing Sprouts

Posted 2/19/2013 1:06pm by Renae Schlatter.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, we have embarked on a new adventure. In 2011 we were introduced to the idea of growing sprouts as a source of feed for the livestock. This interested us on many different accounts. For one, sprouts are to be an excellent protein source. They also could be used as a green feed in the winter. We have been using dry hay, but the prices of hay keep climbing and the availability is not always the best. We were also considering using the sprouts as a 'drought insurance'. When we first started researching this we had no idea that the summer of 2012 would be our next drought. We had priced pasture insurance, which would be similar to crop insurance, but it was too expensive to really even consider. Even if we would purchase insurance, it would not provide the physical feed that we needed. So with all of these positives we went ahead in the Spring of 2012 and put our first payment down on a one ton sprouting system.

Time kept going on and we ended up losing over 80 days of grazing this past summer. We didn't get much of a hay crop, and the surrounding areas didn't have much of a hay harvest either. Things were looking pretty bleak as we headed toward the winter feeding months. We started the cement work and building construction in early November. Here they are digging the footer.

 digging the footer

And pouring the footer.

pouring the footer

Construction of the building.

building construction

Homemade scaffolding!

homemade scaffolding

Working on the roof.

roofing

We got word that our sprouting system was next in line and we were to expect delivery in early December. At that time we had hopes of having sprouts growing by Christmas, or at least the New Year and we wouldn't need to seek out expensive, good milk cow hay. That didn't happen. The truck bringing our supplies caught fire in Iowa and part of the load had to be replaced. We ended up getting our shipment on Christmas Day. Not the choicest of days for us to have to unload a truck, but we needed to roll with the punches. This was the long awaited load!

truck loaded

Taking one load back to the Fodder building.

load to fodder building

Brian had to be a counterweight as this load caused it to be heavy on the front end.

front heavy load

The engineer who started with us on this project was not able to be with us as we actually started the assembly. The CEO and a salesman were here to help, but had never actually done and installation before, so it was a learning experience for all.

The trays had ends that needed glued on. This made the whole building smell pretty interesting!

gluing ends

More people gluing ends on.

gluing ends

And the pile at the end!

finished trays

Assembling the racks.

assembling racks

Preparing the utility room.

utility room

Setting the water tank in place.

water tank

The racks standing upright.

racks

We finally got the racks and trays all assembled and plumbed up. The last piece to the puzzle was the control box. This box contained electrical components that controlled the dosing of nutrients into the water and the pumping of water to the trays. It is also supposed to test the water's pH. A technician was sent out to get everything wired up correctly. The inside of the control box is below.

control box

A brief overview of the process as I understand it is, first the seeds are soaked up to 24 hours in these soak tubs.

 soak tubs

emptying soak tubs

Then the seeds are 'planted' on the trays.

 planting

planting

Here the leveler is being used to ensure the seeds are level. Since they get watered by flooding, it is important that the water can flow all the way down the tray.

 leveling

The water comes from this big tank...

water tank

down the pipes and flows into this end of the tray...

 front end of tray

And out the back end and down to the back drain.

 back end of tray

back drain

The drain flows into a sump area and at this point we have the option of recycling the water or discarding it. So far we haven't recycled it as we are not to the point where we have the nutrient levels figured out correctly.

The first day we harvested sprouts was about the best harvest we've had so far. We've been on a major learning curve. We are using well water, and our water is extremely hard. We're thinking the instruments must have been calibrated on city water and we've had to try and figure things out by trial and error. One man we talked to has water at a pH of 7 and is getting along fine, but his water is not near as hard as ours. Other people are telling us our pH needs to be lower, around 6.3 or something. So, we are still trying to work on figuring that out. We haven't been crazy impressed with the nutrients that were supplied to us, so we are also seeking out alternatives in that area. Some days the sprouts look really nice, and some days we might as well just dump the bag of barley to the animals. it's going to take some time and patience and perseverance to get this figured out. What we are excited about is the way the animals are eating what we do have. They are really liking the sprouts and try to eat them out of the bucket before we can get into the pen. So that is encouraging to us. We also see that the milk production has improved some, and we haven't had a large amount of sprouts to feed yet. Again, that is encouraging. We still believe that once we get the bugs worked out of the system that the sprouts will be a cost effective and nutritionally wise feed product. I'll finish here with some pictures of the seeds and sprouts. The motto is seed to feed in 7 days, so you can see the progression over the week. I don't have all the days documented here, but you will get the idea.

seeds

seeds

sprouts

green sprouts

The pictures below are of the first harvest we had.

day 7

first harvest

first harvest

The chickens came up to inspect what was thrown to them. They ate the green off first, but when I went out the next morning the roots and all were gone. The cows did similar, but the pigs just dove in and ate everything all at once.

chickens eating sprouts

This picture is of all the racks.

all racks

I'm sure there is a lot of other technical information that I could talk about, but this gives an overview of what has been going on here. If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

-Renae