Sustainable Alternative Livestock Feed System for Small-Scale Ranchers

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Chelsie Largent
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Chelise Largent
Chelise Largent


  • Agronomic: barley
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed management, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, youth education
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: farmers' markets/farm stands
  • Production Systems: hydroponics
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures, urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    This two-year project has three primary objectives: first, to design and build a seed-sprouting fodder system that can provide an economical, environmentally friendly, and healthy, alternative livestock feed system (ALFS) for small-scale ranchers; second, to research the effectiveness of this ALFS by conducting an onsite experiment raising two sets of four Black Angus calves to marketable maturity comparing the fodder system with the current standard feeding system; and third, to document the building and implementation of the system and share the results of our research with current and aspiring small-scale ranchers.

    During the last decade, science and the health industry are increasingly recognizing that how animal food is raised has a direct correlation with the preservation of the environment and the quality of human health. As a result of the ever-increasing dissemination of this information through TV, movies, publications and the Internet, more and more people are seeking local sources of grass fed animals out of concern for their own health and desire to protect our natural resources.

    My ranch, the Diamond L located in Camp Verde, AZ, sells grass fed beef to a growing base of local customers and at a large Farmer’s Market in the greater Phoenix, AZ valley. I have been selling beef now for three years. As I have talked with my customers and other local residents in our rural area, I have encountered a growing interest from people wanting to raise their own grass fed beef on a small scale but don’t think it is economically feasible. They envision having to purchase the same expensive equipment, manage heavy bales of hay, and provide many acres of grazing pasture, the same as larger enterprises. This is especially true for women who mistakenly think they would not be able to raise cattle (or any other kind of larger livestock) themselves.

    Feeding livestock sprouted seed has been dabbled with in this country and the world for centuries. However, our preliminary research showed that not until 2012-13, when hay and grain prices increased, was there a renewed interest in experimenting with sprouted-seed fodder as an alternative to feeding hay. Since then, the experimentation with seed-sprouting systems has grown slowly, although mainly for organic dairy producers in the Midwest. Other recent forces driving the exploration of alternative feed are growing concerns for the negative impacts of feeding ruminant animals grain and growing hay using herbicides and soil-depleting industrial fertilizers. What has changed and made seed-sprouting systems suddenly more feasible and sustainable is advanced technology providing efficient LED lighting and automation that can control water, humidity and heat. Sprouted fodder grows in three to six days and provides a continuous, superior-quality food for livestock year-round. Because the demand is growing for healthier food, a small-scale producer could potentially realize extra income by raising several additional cows. Also, people are increasingly interested in innovative practices that preserve our natural resources, and support their local ecology and environment.

    Educating the public and providing “how-to” instructions and supporting data, would remove many roadblocks that are keeping people from entering the rewarding and satisfying world of small-scale ranching.

    Because my ranch raises cattle and there’s growing interest in people wanting to raise their own grass fed beef, my research and educational outreach will focus on using the fodder ALFS for small-scale cattle ranching. The data available to date has shown positive results, such as, conservation of water usage through less use and recycling; long-term sustainable feeding system; functional in most weather conditions; efficient use of resources (98% of the seeds are sprouted using only water and are fully consumed by the cattle); and higher, more nutritious quality of meat produced.

    To implement my plan, the first year I will design and build the sprouting container. The design and how-to instructions will be made available through our educational outreach activities and publications. Next, my research study will compare two sets of four calves: one set raised using the fodder ALFS and the other using my current protocol of grass, hay, wet brewery grain (WBG) and vitamin supplements. Calf starting weight will be approximately 600 pounds and the research will continue to marketable maturity at 1200 pounds. Data collected will include: weight gain measured every 30 days; dependability of the seed-sprouting system; detailed costs of all feed and water resources utilized; quality and exact yield of processed meat between the two control groups; and customer feedback on meat quality (taste and tenderness). Our outreach activities will include two publicized onsite demonstrations of the system for current and interest producers and ongoing prearranged tours for anyone interested.

    Throughout the project we will capture the important stages of building the system and the actual day-to-day operations using videos and photographs made available on our blog and website. Finally, along with the final, detailed SARE report, we will prepare a user-friendly, non-technical presentation and brochure to show current and potential small-scale ranchers how they can build and use this system to raise their own grass fed beef. Additionally, we believe that ranchers and farmers will apply the knowledge they’ve gained through our outreach information to raise other livestock of their choice using the same system. Because this ALFS for raising beef cattle is an innovative approach, we will submit articles to a minimum of 10 well-known publications and organizations such as, Graze and Progressive Cattleman magazines, and the Gelbvieh Association, to reach a nationwide audience with our findings.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. To research and design a seed-sprouting fodder system using current best practices (we will visit a producer in Utah who will show us his system and the improvements he has made). (Year 1)
    2. To build the seed-sprouting system as designed above, implementing and documenting any innovations we discover during construction.

    (Year 1)

    1. To conduct a comparison study raising four calves using the fodder ALFS and four using the standard feeding system documenting; growth rate; total operating costs of each system; quality and exact yield of processed meat; water usage; and quality of beef based on customer feedback. (data collected in Years 1-2, results published in Year 2)
    2. To quantify the efficacy of implementing a sustainable ALFS for small-scale producers based on: cost and practicality of building the system; daily time required to prepare and feed; performance during various weather conditions; and problems encountered and remedy costs.

    (Years 1-2)

    1. To quantify the adoption impacts of this project via evaluation techniques such as before-and-after questionnaires, follow-up surveys, and site visit follow ups. (Years 1- 2 and beyond)

    To accomplish the first two objectives we will design and build a seed-sprouting fodder system. Our design research will include a visit to Glen Taft’s ranch in Bicknell, Utah, to study his currently operating system. Blueprints and detailed instructions will be made available for duplication.

    For the project research we will raise two sets of four Black Angus calves to marketable maturity comparing the seed fodder system with the current standard feeding system. The calves will come from Twin Arrows Ranch in Winslow, AZ. We will record data from starting weight of approximately 600 pounds to processing at 1200 pounds (about eight months). Calves will be raised in adjoining or similar pastures on the Diamond L Ranch. The ALFS calves will receive sprouted barley seed, irrigated pasture grass and hay, and calves raised using the current standard feeding system will receive hay, WBS and mineral supplements.

    We will quantify the efficacy of implementing a fodder ALFS compared to the current feeding system by recording both statistical and observational data including weight gain, water usage, operating costs, dependability, time involved, ease of use, and notes on the reaction of the cattle to fodder feed.

    Outreach will include: two workshops (one post-construction, one post-cattle processing); farm tours; articles for the Graze and Progressive Cattleman magazines; social media and farmer’s markets. We will organize two on-site workshop: in mid-November 2017 we will introduce the project and give a tour and hands-on demonstration of the ALFS; in June 2018, we will present a summary of the project including data collected, problems encountered, final Livestock Inspection Report and feasibility conclusions.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.