Growing the much essential green fodder for farm animals is not an easy task, especially during droughts. But one of the latest developments in veterinary science, called hydroponics, has made growing fodder easy and eco-friendly. Here, with minimum usage of water, time, space and absolutely no soil, fresh green fodder can be produced. Generally, one needs at least 60-80 litres of water, sufficient labour, agricultural land and about 45 days to produce one kg of green fodder. But through hydroponics, it would take only 10 days, very less manual work and only about 12-18 litres of water to get the same amount of grass!

How it works
First, seeds are treated with fungicides and soaked in water for a day and then transferred to gunny bags that are pre-wetted with water. They are left alone for four days so that seeds can sprout. On the fifth day, seeds are transferred to plastic trays and spread evenly. Inside the unit, iron frames are fitted in such a way that trays could be arranged like railway bogies. If one tray is pushed from one end, the last tray comes out from the other end. Calculated amount of sprouted seeds are spread on the trays and loaded everyday. The amount of seeds used depends on the quantity of target fodder production. Though crops like wheat, finger millet, oats, sunhemp, cowpea, horse gram can be grown using this method, yellow maize is the most suitable option.

Hydroponic fodder has good amount of nutrients and is relatively free from chemicals and pesticides. Through hydroponics, every kilogram of yellow maize will yield about six kg of green fodder (8-12 inches) in 10 days. As the whole plant including the roots is fed, wastage is minimal. Up to 20 kg of this fodder can be fed to a crossbreed cow daily and around half a kilo for a sheep or a goat. After this, one can expect an increase in milk production and improvement in the fertility of the cattle. This method also helps farmer save a lot of money on commercial cattle feed as the production cost of each kg of hydroponic fodder comes to only about Rs 2.20.

Hydroponic fodder
Hydroponic fodder

Hydroponic fodder is more relevant in sustainable dairy farming, especially in the event of inadequate land and water, or poor soil fertility. This technology comes extremely handy in the event of severe drought like the one we are witnessing this year.

Hydroponic fodder machines with production capacities ranging from 20 kg to 1,000 kg are available commercially and the cost would be about five lakh for a 100 kg machine. For those interested, Maruthi Engineering, Bengaluru (080-41949798) sells such units.

Apart from this, a scientist from National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Siddharamanna (9845015534) has also designed a ready-to-install unit, which is based on the concept of a greenhouse and costs around one lakh for a 100 kg unit.

One such model is installed on the rooftop of his house. This unit is made of two layers of shade nets supported by poles and houses an iron framework to hold plastic trays that are arranged at a slight inclination. The unit is fitted with micro sprinklers (controlled by an electronic sensor), which sprinkles microbe-free RO water on the trays containing growing fodder.