Growing hydroponic fodder for dairy goats on a limited acreage farm

2014 Annual Report for FNC13-905

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Linda DuShane
Heart's Quest Dairy Goats

Growing hydroponic fodder for dairy goats on a limited acreage farm


Grant funds this year were used to construct our hydroponics system and to provide the necessary labor to grow fodder for our animals to provide them with a year-round supply of fresh greens to suppliment their normal diet of stored hay and grains.

The purpose of the Grant was to establish funding for this experimental project.

Grant funds this year were used to provide a source of money to construct phase one of our hydroponics system and to purchase labor to implement and maintain it.

This year, $2,750.00 was spent on labor and $1,000.00 on parts and supples for the system, for a total of $3,750.00 in grant funds spent.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Our overall objective is to provide a year-round source of fresh, healthy feed for our herd of dairy and breeder-quality registered goats.

We have entered this challenge by embracing an experimental technique commonly known as hydroponic ‘fodder’ production. The purpose of this method is to provide animals a similar healthy diet supplement that has been popular with humans for many decades: the sprouting of certain seeds and the consumption of those sprouts for their beneficial nutrients.

We constructed, and today operate, thanks to the SARE Grant, a hydroponic system consisting of trays that contain a mixture of non-GMO wheat, soybean and black oil sunflower seeds. These seeds are placed in greenhouse flats and kept hydrated via an automatic watering system. The temperature in the grow-house is relatively stable throughout the winter and summer.

The result is that the seeds begin to sprout within a day or two and are fully sprouted within 8 to 10 days of growth. Approximately 10 inches in height of green sprouts grow from the seeds utilizing no other nutrients or fertilizers other than those that are naturally inherent in the seed themselves, with some help from the preprogrammed genetics provided by Mother Nature contained in the DNA. The only added ingredient within the system other than the seeds themselves, is water.

We will have reached this overall objective when we are producing enough fodder to provide a primary food source for the entire herd and one that is only supplemented by grazing and occasional hay supplements.


Today, after much experimentation, we are successfully feeding approximately 35 pounds of green fodder to our animals on a per day average and hope to increase this to 100 pounds per day average by our 2015 report deadline. The latter figure will fully meet the needs of our herd with some hay supplementation as is helpful to the digestion of all ruminants.

Although we house our fodder system in a converted, insulated trailer house, the winter of 2013/2014 was particularly difficult for our hydroponics. When the temperatures began to drop to 30, 40 and even 50 degree below zero with the added wind-chill factors, it seemed we could not keep enough heaters in the little grow-house to provide a comfortable growing environment. Plant growth stopped on several occasions throughout the winter. However, we continued the operation by simply feeding the unsprouted or semi-sprouted seeds, waiting a few days for a weather change, then reseeding the trays for another try. Using this method, we managed to feed our animals greens for the entire winter, albeit not at the level we had hoped for.

We have successfully overcome other obstacles via experimentation.

One problem was labor intensive maintenance to the system, especially in providing the seeds a constant source of fresh water, yet being watchful not to over water them. We thus constructed a laborsaving automatic watering system.

We have discovered that two brief waterings per day will provide the moisture necessary for healthy growth. So we actualized an elementary system wherein a hose feeds a tank through a water-level regulator. Into the tank we placed a water pump plumbed to piping above the growing trays and hooked it to a timer. The timer is set to come on for ten minutes each morning and again each evening.

Although not yet perfect, this watering system is working out well and we intend to revise it and make it more efficient as we expand the hydroponics system during the summer of 2014.

Another obstacle we have fought is keeping the seeds growing well in a high-humidity environment, yet, not allowing other organisms that enjoy this same environment, such as molds and fungi to take it over. Indeed, floral pests became a problem.

We began to sterilize everything within the growing house that the seeds could possibly come into contact with using chlorine when appropriate and a solution of 60% Hydrogen Peroxide diluted in water where the more harmful chemical, chlorine, might cause a problem to sprout growth.

We quickly discovered that the particular fungus giving us many headaches and causing stunted seed sprouts was coming into the growth environment on the wheat seeds themselves. Today, we soak the seeds at least overnight in that same diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide, sterilize the trays the seeds are placed in, and the problem with overgrowth of unwanted flora seems to be largely eliminated.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We are happy to announce that this project is thus far a successful one.

Our intention is to perfect it and we are close. We will then make an impact by beginning to educate students and other small farmers and ranchers as to the most efficient way to implement a similar system within their own agricultural projects.

Even today, although perhaps a little early, we are active in the latter area. We announced the project to our local Future Farmer’s of America (FFA) group some time back, and students were sent out to observe. One student became a sort of intern to the project and today is a part-time employee at Heart’s Quest Farms as his schoolwork allows.

We have posted some data on our Web Site. However, in just a few weeks, a new and expanded Web Site will be up giving advice and step-by-step instructions as to how one can construct their own hydroponic sprouting house. They will learn to operate it successfully and save money on feed in the process by more than doubling the feed quantity of purchased seeds with the addition of little more than water.

They will learn to feed healthy greens to their animals not just during the growing season, but year round.

We also get regular contact from people who have heard of our project and want to learn more about it. We are always happy to oblige them.

Good food makes for happy and healthy animals. We have seen this in our herd as we have watched this project progress. The sprouted seeds are their preferred food choice and who would be surprised that they prefer and thrive on healthy, naturally produced seed sprouts over the alternatives available to them.