Fodder System for Wool Producing Small Ruminants

2014 Annual Report for FNC14-981

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,481.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Brian Willsey
Rockin' W Alpaca Ranch

Fodder System for Wool Producing Small Ruminants


2014 Results – Production

We began production trials prior to having the grant funded. 

While barley is our primary forage type, we also trialed field wheat and forage wheat. Our initial barley was sourced from MN. However, we were able to locate a local barley producer and sourced 300 BU of barley for our production.

We found that in an elevated hydroponic system, the ambient greenhouse temperature becomes the “soil temperature” as far as barley is concerned. In production, when ambient temperatures fell below 40 degrees for extended periods of time, the barley became dormant. However, with marginal sun, the daytime temperatures would climb high enough that the barley would continue to grow. We did determine that the published growth rates from FarmTek were more optimistic than we were able to achieve. As we had multiple fodder systems, we increased the number of trays in production and were able to meet our minimum feed requirements. 

Our system includes 12′ trays that are 9″ wide. One system includes a racking system that will hold 28 trays (4 wide, 7 racks).

However, we found that the top 4 trays constently “scorched” due to higher temperatures as well as the amount of sunlight. We decided to take the top 4 trays out of production to prevent mold from contaminating other trays.

We started out using the recommended volume of seed per tray (9 lbs). However, in doing so, we found it difficult to break the fodder into bite-sized chunks for the livestock. When fed out as a mat, we noticed increased waste as the livestock would not consume the entire mat. If broken into chunks, livestock would consume both blade and root mat. As the roots contain additional nutrition, we decided to decrease the amount of seed per tray, eventully balancing to 6 lbs. We were able to consistantly produce a 500% increase in initial seed weight. 6 lbs of seed would generate 30 lbs of fodder per tray.

While labor has been increased to chunk the fodder, we have less spoilage and overall better feed to the livestock.

From April to June, as the daytime temperature increased, there was a decrease in germination rates and overall production. We added a 30% shade cloth over the greenhouse roof and were able to decrease the ambient temperature during sunny, warm days by 10 degrees. This allowed production to continue until June 7. 

Once the sytem was taken out of regular production, we chose to run warm season forage trials. We tested sorgum-sudan, haybeans and pearl millet. While the growth rates for sorgum-sudan would be viable for summer production, discussions with agronomists raised concerns about prussic acid levels. We removed the sorgum-sudan from the trial. Pearl Millet was not able to produce blade quick enough to be a viable option. Haybeans, however, seemed to thrive in the system and were very palatible to the livestock. Cows, alpacas and sheep all readily consumed the forage.

We found that haybeans generated a 600% increase in initial seed weight – 6 lbs of seed produced 36 lbs of fodder.

On September 1, we resumed cool season production. With the shade cloth still in place, we have been able to maintain production rates similar to our spring production, utilizing locally-source barley. We reduced the amount per tray to 5 lbs of seed and have seen production consistantly at 28 lbs of fodder per tray. As we move further into winter, we will increase the seed weight back to 6 lbs.

2015 production wll again stop in June for barley. Warm-season production will be determined by weather. If 2015 is a dry year, we will go into full production with haybeans.

Objectives/Performance Targets

2014 Results – Livestock

We began our trials while our ewes were in their last half of pregnancy. We feel that there was an increase in fetal growth rates. Typically, Tunis sheep require no assistance in birthing. However, 2014 production did require assistance with 3 of our ewes. This could be an anomaly as all of our ewes singled this year. 

We found higher than expected daily weight gains on all of our lambs. In fact, 3 weeks after weaning, the majority of our lambs were prime market weight, 50-65 lbs. We typically wean at 6 weeks. As we are looking to capture first year wool from our ram lambs, we chose not to take them to market. However, we may rethink this plan for 2015, depending on lamb production rates.

We did notice that fodder can assist in increasing the health of lambs wormed after a parasite load was determined. 

As there were no crias (baby alpacas) produced during the same time span, we chose a number of alpacas for a “baseline” grade of fiber. We will compare 2014 fiber results with 2015 fiber results to determine if fodder production has an affect on micron diameter.


Alpaca Baseline Fiber Grades

S = secondary micron grade, P = primary micron grade H = hairy, WL = woolen length (<3.75″ staple)
1 = <=20m, 2 = 20-22m, 3=23-25m, 4=26-28m, 5=29-31m, 6=32-35m

Aramis – S4P5 HWL4
Stetson – S5P6 HWL5
Slice – S3P6 HWL3
Domingo – S5P6 HWL6
Fulmine – S3P5 HWL3
Nero – S5P6 HWL6
Chaak – S3P4 WL4

ie – Chaak has grade 3 secondary fibers, grade 4 primary fibers, a staple of less than 3.75″ and grades at WL4, fine enough to be next to the skin and bold enough to withstand being used for sock production or heavy use items like gloves and sweaters.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Lamb DWG

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Theresa Hoon
Ranch Manager
Rockin' W Alpaca Ranch
2177 Highway Zz
Owensville, MO 65066
Office Phone: 3305407892