It’s a Small World – Hydroponic Sprouts

by Catherine Haug

Updated May 5: See also “Shelli’s Sprouts: Round Two.”

Sometimes we at ESP wonder if anyone can find our EssentiaList website via Google, even though we don’t allow advertising on our site. This funny little story provides the answer.

This post also includes a discussion of hydroponic sprouts as livestock feed.

Shelli R, a member of our ESP community, learned about an intensive, hydroponic method for growing green livestock feed year-round, invented by a man from Australia (from The Prairie Star e-zine). Sun Roads Farmory in Cut Bank, Montana sells his method and equipment.

She wanted to learn more – concerning feed for her goats –  and started a web search on the method, starting with the website of that Montana company. She ended up finding stuff from all over the world (literally). Her trail led her to the name of a man who raises goats near Lakeside, and this file: How to Keep a Goat.

When Shelli selected that link, it brought up the ESP gathering summary: “Keeping a Family Goat” by Gayle Prunhuber, from our first year. This was the first of our events that both Shelli and the man from Lakeside attended.

Shelli couldn’t stop laughing at the amazing coincidence – and the less-than-7 degrees of separation. It is, indeed, a large, and small world.


The April 8, 2010 article in the Prairie Star that started this story can be found online at Green, nutritional feed can be there year round – for less than you think. And the Flathead Beacon featured a similar story on the front page of their April 21, 2010 issue: Through Hydroponics, a Potential ‘Paradigm Shift’ for Agriculture.

These sprouts are grown on hydroponic trays in a temperature controlled system, long enough to form a dense mass of green shoots. When ready, the green mass, now called a ‘biscuit,’ is removed from the tray and fed to the livestock.

For more on hydroponic growing, see:

Shelli’s Srouts

Meanwhile, Shelli is experimenting with growing sprouts in her home, as feed for her dairy goats. She sprouts them as she would for her own use, by wetting, then keeping them in a dark space (such as under a bucket), until they sprout. She rinses them twice a day while the sprout is growing, then harvests them after they have a good strong green shoot. She writes:

“I’m on day two of my sprouts and tomorrow going to start the second batch.  I had to run around and find all the correct [seeds] to sprout with.  So far I have sunflower seeds, oats and barley in the mix.”

I’ll update with more information as Shelli gains more experience.

Why sprouts?

Dairy animals such as cows and goats need highly nutritional greens to produce the most nutritious milk. In the spring, it is normal for them to pull young grasses and other pasture vegetation, roots and all. Such greens are at their most nutritious stage shortly after sprouting: high in bio-available vitamins (especially D and beta-carotene), enzymes, proteins, minerals, and essential fats.

Many dairy operations feed their livestock on unsprouted grains and legumes, such as corn and soy. But all seeds prior to germination offer very little nutrition beyond carbohydrates and oils, because the nutrients are bound by inhibitors to keep the seed from sprouting before conditions are optimal for growth of the plant. These inhibitors also keep the nutrients from being absorbed during digestion. This is true not only for livestock feed, but also grains nuts and seeds for human consumption.

Providing the conditions for germination breaks down the inhibitors, and the seed begins the sprouting process, adding to the vitamin and other nutritional components of the plant. First the root forms, and then the green shoot that provides healthful chorophyll.

While grazing on natural prairie or pasture is the best feed for your livestock, providing young, green sprouts is a close contender, and they are good for humans, too (in moderation). See our post: Sprouting and Juicing for more.

The Down Side to Hydroponics

The following is my own opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the ESP core team nor individual members of our ESP community.

There’s a nagging persistence in the back of my mind. Something about this mega-size hydroponic growing and feeding system is not right for Mother Earth. While some plants, such as water lilies and seaweed, are meant to grow on a body of water, the kinds of plants being grown as livestock feed are meant to grow in soil.

There is a sacred symbiotic relationship between earth-bound plants and the soil that supports them. Micro-flora including bacteria, fungi, mushrooms, truffles, and molds, not to mention earthworms, all supply vital nutrients to the vegetation, that in turn provide vital nutrients to the soil-bound life. And the animals that graze upon this vegetation also live in symbiotic relationship with the plants that feed them. For example, their manure helps distribute seeds and provides partially-digested nutrients that feed the soil-dwellers.

Disruption of a Natural Symbiotic System

When you disrupt this symbiotic cycle by removing the animal feed from the soil to a hydroponic chamber, then feed it to animals in confinement, you disrupt the natural cycle of life.

Hydroponic methods require provision of all the nutrients required for growth via a nutritional supplement mix. But this mix is, by its very nature, synthetic, and doesn’t even begin to approach the bio-availability of soil-bound nutrients. This is especially true for minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.

In nature’s system, minerals are all provided ultimately by the soil. Some of them in inorganic form as mineral salts (such as calcium carbonate or iron oxide), but many of them as organic salts, in which the mineral is bound by a protein or carbohydrate. These organic salts are formed by the micro-nutrients living in the soil, and by the larger plants that grow upon the soil.

Hydroponic nutrient mix cannot, by its very soil-less nature, provide the same quality of nutrition to the growing plants. It can only approximate.

Now, don’t get me wrong, here. Using hydroponics to provide PART of the animal feed is probably a good idea, as it saves our precious soil for other things such as vegetable gardens and carbon-sequestering natural prairie and forests.

But what worries me is that hydroponics will become the ONLY feed for livestock kept in confinement. Yes, such feed will certainly be a step up from unsprouted grains and legumes currently used in confinement operations. But confinement feeding leads to an environmental disaster including groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (primarily methane).

See my posts: Industrial vs Local Dairy Farms and Earth-Friendly Livestock Production for more.

One Response to “It’s a Small World – Hydroponic Sprouts”

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