Evaluating the feasibility, effectiveness and challenges of sprouted grains on grazing dairy farms
In 2014 the USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Unit, University Park, PA was awarded a NE-SARE grant to evaluate the use of sprouted grains on grazing dairy farms. Two dairy farms in Pennsylvania participated in this study designed to evaluate the feasibility, effectiveness and challenges of using a sprouted grain system with a third providing technical input and data as someone who used but has discontinued use of fodder. Data was collected monthly for 12 months on both farms actively using fodder. One farm had a homemade system, the other had a purchased sprouting system. However, one farm discontinued use of fodder at pasture turnout and decided not to use fodder anymore (we are documenting the reasons, including cost and labor, and continued collecting milk and feed samples). We learned that increased milk production is not the only reason to implement a sprouted grain system, in fact, in some cases milk production does not increase with fodder usage. Other perceived animal health benefits (such as reduced somatic cell counts) make sprouted grains more attractive to farmers to improve milk pay price. However, we are trying to determine whether the increased cost of sprout production, especially labor, makes these systems feasible. Each farm has resource challenges and opportunities that impact their ability to utilize sprouts in their rations. Our goal was to collect data and later interview the farmers to understand their reasoning for utilizing sprouted grains as well as to analyze feed and milk production/composition as well as evaluate the economic feasibility of these systems. Data collection and summarization are completed and the final manuscript is being prepared.
- Monthly farm visits were made to each of the 2 fodder-feeding farms in 2015 and early 2016. Data collected included: milk sample from the bulk tank; sample of all feeds/pasture/fodder fed to the cows for nutritional analyses; milk production data from bulk tank receipts; and information from the farmer on feed ration, herd management, fodder management and any other pertinent information.
- The third farm (that no longer feeds fodder) was visited in early 2016 to collect economic and production information. Milk and feed samples from this farm were analyzed per the protocol for the samples collected from the other 2 farms.
- In 2016 the data was summarized to develop an educational case study narrative of the farms for distribution to farmers and farm professionals. A peer-reviewed journal article is in progress for dissemination to the scientific community.
- The peer-reviewed manuscript is currently being written for submission to the Journal of Dairy Science.
- Due to the waning interest in fodder systems, in lieu of a field day (we were having difficulty finding a farm to host the field day as our study farms were from the plain sect and not open to a field day, plus the fact that we were concerned about low attendance due to decreased interest), the funding that was targeted for the field day was re-directed to travel so that researchers could travel to regional conferences and meetings to disseminate the information. For example, Dr. Soder will present results of this research at the American Forage and Grassland Council in Roanoke, VA in Jan. 2017.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Fodder systems may be a very costly method of producing feed for dairy farmers. However, sprouted barley fodder may have application in small-scale livestock operations, farms those with high lands values where tillable acreage can produce high-value crops, or for producers experiencing severe extended drought. Additionally, farms that have an excess of labor may benefit with a sprouted fodder system. Each farm must put pencil to paper to determine if implementing fodder in feeding management is a good idea, making sure to include all costs in deciding whether the money could be better spent growing or purchasing higher-quality forage.
- A Penn State Extension Grazing Guide Webinar was presented on “Alternative supplementation strategies for grazing dairy cows” which included fodder.
- A technical article on this project was published in the Oct. 2016 issue of GRAZE magazine (graze-mag-fodder-oct-2016).
- An eOrganic webinar on this project was presented (soder-fodder-eorganic-webinar-apr-2016).
- A fact sheet was developed on the nutritional composition and digestibility of sprouted barley fodder (sb-factsheet-final).
The authors are grateful to NE-SARE for supplying financial support to provide objective information to this farmer-driven question to help farmers make more informed decisions on implementing a fodder system on their farm.
Allensville, PA 17002
Allensville, PA 17002
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