Evaluating the feasibility, effectiveness and challenges of sprouted grains on grazing dairy farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,503.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    The main goal of this study is to evaluate the feasibility, effectiveness and challenges of implementing a sprouted grain system on dairy farms in the Northeast. Farmer success stories and commercial distributors provide glowing testimonials as to the perceived benefits of implementing sprouted grain into their rations. However, many farmers have questions that can’t be satisfactorily answered by these claims, such as animal productivity and return on investment of a significant capital expense or whether feeding sprouted grains in the non-grazing season maintains greater levels of beneficial fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, researchers and farm consultants field frequent calls on this topic but do not have objective recommendations to provide to farmers to make informed decisions. This project will address this lack of information by conducting a case study on two dairy farms that have implemented a sprouted grain system. Farm data (animal productivity, feed information, economic data) will be collected on a monthly basis for one year to develop science-based, objective recommendations that can be used by farmers, consultants and researchers in making educated decisions on a case-by-case basis on whether to implement a sprouted grain system on their farm. Additionally, feeding recommendations (based on nutritional analysis of the fodder and rations) will be developed to guide farmers on how to incorporate sprouted grain into their rations.

    Information from this study will be disseminated in the following ways:
    a)    Presentation of research results at grazing conferences and field days (i.e., Northeast Pasture Consortium; American Forage and Grassland Council meeting; PA Project Grass conference/pasture walks; Cooperative Extension; NRCS and GLCI pasture walks/field days; NODPA and NOFA field days).
    b)    Technical articles will be generated for producer access through technical journals (i.e., Hoard’s Dairyman; Foraging Around; Graze Magazine), internet websites (i.e., Northeast Pasture Consortium; Northeast Grazing Guide; UNH Organic Dairy; eOrganic; NODPA and NOFA websites and electronic newsletters) and fact sheets will be distributed at field days and events.
    c)    One scientific manuscript will be submitted for publication to peer-reviewed journals (Journal of Dairy Science or Professional Animal Scientist).
    d)    Field days/open house will allow producers interested in using sprouted grain to observe and ask questions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The authors of this proposal have been fielding frequent questions regarding sprouting systems, ranging from economic feasibility to the nutritional value of sprouted grains in order to balance rations to utilize sprouted grains in both grazing and confinement rations. However, despite overwhelming farmer interest in this technology, little scientific and economic evidence is currently available that evaluates the feasibility and effectiveness of sprouted grains. Despite a number of glowing testimonials, there a number of struggles/failures with sprouted grains as well. Objective information is needed to advise and educate dairy farmers in the Northeast to make informed decisions on whether to implement a sprouted grain system on their farms.

    Conducting a controlled research study that evaluates the effects of a sprouted grain system on productivity of dairy cows is not feasible as currently no university in the Northeast has a fodder system installed on their research farm. However, a number of commercial dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and New York have installed systems on their farms (some commercially available systems, some homemade systems) and are willing to share information relative to costs and animal productivity. Practical information can be obtained by collecting observational and economic data from such farms to provide realistic results and recommendations for other farmers interested in implementing this technology. Therefore, a case study will be conducted on two dairy farms that are currently utilizing a sprouted grain system.

     This proposal will concentrate on three areas to improve the knowledge and education of implementing a sprouted grain system on dairy farms in the Northeast. These areas are:


    1. Nutritional value of sprouted grains- We will evaluate monthly nutritional value of the sprouted grain as well as any other feeds fed during the year-long study. This information will help us quantify nutritional intake of the animals to relate this information to animal productivity and economics below, as well as to evaluate how sprouted grains fit into the rations being used.
    2. Animal Production- Milk production, milk composition, and body condition will be monitored on a monthly basis using farm records and bulk tank receipts to evaluate animal productivity. Comparisons of milk production and composition (including beneficial fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids) will be made seasonally (grazing vs. non-grazing season) as well as for changes in ration (i.e. if sprouted grains are only fed during certain portions of the year or if the percentage of sprouted grain in the ration changes seasonally). This information will also be used to calculate economic impact and feasibility of implementing a sprouted grain system.
    3. Implementation and Economics- Information collected will include opportunities and challenges that the participating dairy farmers faced as they made the decision to implement sprouted grains, the actual process of installing the system, learning to grow the sprouted grain, and incorporating sprouted grain into the dairy rations for various animal groups and throughout the year as ration components change (i.e. grazing during the summer months). Additionally, economic information, including income over feed costs and return on investment information will be collected from the farmer and summarized.

    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.