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Growing Your Own Feed For Less

Growing Your Own Feed For Less

Little water—no problem. Learn how farmers can produce their own animal feed year-round.

By Andrew Joseph

The famous literary complaint by poet/artist William Blake “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”, was summarily dismissed by Thierry Perrotin when he discussed “Livestock Nutrition Ag-Tech as a Solution to Land and Water Scarcity” at the Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase held November 16-18, 2021.

Perrotin is the Vice President of Business Development, HydroGreen for CubicFarms, and a pioneer in the usage of automatic milking robots on global dairy farms. 

Within the DeLaval Group, over the past 20 years he held leadership roles in Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and the US. 

With HydroGreen, Perrotin and CubicFarms—a company founded by farmers—help farmers and ranchers grow their own quality animal feed without the need for farmland capable of producing it year-round regardless of weather or season—and all the while utilizing a fraction of the water compared to traditional crop production.

Intrigued? So were we. 

CubicFarms is an automated indoor growing technique capable of producing commercial-scale quantities of animal feed via its HydroGreen nutrition technology business, and also plants and fresh produce for the retail market through its CubicFarms ag tech entity.

Perrotin said that HydroGreen is driven by the perils facing farmers—unpredictability. If it’s too much water, such as the floods that confronted British Columbia in mid November, or it is too little with the drought going on for years now affecting most of the western US, noted Perrotin. Then there is also the scarcity of arable lands, with it getting worse owing to erosion, and the increased dependence on feed suppliers and commodities and being at the whim of economic upheaval affecting pricing. 

And, he said, beside all of that, there is still the need for fresh, nutritious livestock feed—something that is required on a daily basis. 

Perrotin explained that for farmers, sustainability actually means profitability—the type that allows a farm to stay in business now and for generations to come, as well as the use of a limited amount of natural resources. 

“We want to create consistency on the farm,” extolled Perrotin. 

Based on hydroponics, HydroGreen offers two tiers of simple feed growing technology, both of which are automated and scalable to provide the amount of feed an individual farm requires on a daily basis—the six-level DGS 66 and the larger eight level GLS 808 Grow Systems

Each tech can grow feed from seed to super seed sprout in six days, using the hydroponic technology, clean water, air and light. Grown within a controlled environment—yes, you may have to construct a building for it—Perrotin said the system will produce 365 harvests a year that is unaffected by weather and does not require the use of pesticides or herbicides. 

A single unit of the DGS 66 Grow System will be able to feed approximately 100 cows—but because it is scalable, more units mean more feed grown for larger numbers of cows.

However, the use of the GLS 808 Grow System provides feed for up to 2,000 cows—again scalable, so that four units would feed 8,000 cows. Perrotin provided the example of 12 modules of the GLS 808 Grow Systems, capable of producing 25-million lbs (11,339,809.25 kgs) of feed each year for 2,000 cows. 

The Grow Systems create live, green feed of barley or wheat—depending on the farmer preference or budget—that allows the farmer to harvest after just six days. Of course, the idea is to not have to wait six days for the next harvest, but to have a constant daily harvestable feed available to provide the freshest sprouts for the cows. It’s why the HydroGreen systems work best with multiple units. 

But will the cows eat what is grown, and is it nutritious?  High in sugars, low in starch, enzyme-rich to promote digestion, low potassium, the six-day feed is both highly palatable and digestible. 

After several trials at Crosswind Jerseys Inc. jersey dairy farm in Elkton, South Dakota, Perrotin said HydroGreen found data to support favourable increases in milk production, cow health and cow fertility after calving, such as increases of:
•    12 percent rumination activity and dry matter intake; 
•    13 percent milk weights; and 
•    17 percent conception rates.  

Peak nutrition cow feed available in six days—and every day should the farmer seed the units that way—regardless of the weather. Sustainability-wise, he said that HydroGreen sees itself as part of the circular farming program, and is always looking for partners to become even more involved. 

Perrotin summed up: “It’s more than a feed grow system. It’s also about looking to provide net-zero farming (opportunities), and feed is a part of it.”

This article was featured in the December 2021 Precision Agriculture Digital Digest — view it here.

Watch Perrotin's presentation from the 2021 Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase below.

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