Fodder Production – Drought-Proof Your Operation

Fodder Production

High grain prices and droughts are driving up interest in alternative feeds. Recently that interest focuses on sprouting barley for fodder production. A number of companies have developed systems for automated or semi-automated sprouted barley production.

Sprouted fodder is not a new idea. There are references to sprouting small grains for fodder dating back at least to the 1600s. What is new is the technology and engineering that makes it economically competitive with other feeding options. Light, moisture and consistent temperatures are critical for sprouted fodder to work

What has revolutionized sprouted barley fodder as a viable feed alternative is high efficiency fluorescent and LED lighting and more affordable climate control systems. LED lighting in particular is very energy efficient with little excess heat generated. Although LED is more expensive to buy upfront, the long-term operating expenses are greatly reduced. LEDs also last much longer than any other option, and do not lose output over time.

Many of the advances made in sprouted barley fodder have come from Australia–several of the systems used here are based on their designs. During Australia’s severe droughts, barely fodder provided valuable nutrition when fresh pasture was not available.

Here in the U.S., the sprouted barley fodder is often brought into the ration to replace protein previously supplied by dry grain. Of course, it is also beneficial in the non-pasture season to bring fresh forage to the animals.

Nutritional Benefits

The main benefit of sprouted fodder in comparison to feeding grain is improved protein, starch and sugar. Nearly all of the starch present in the grain is converted to sugar by sprouting, which is better utilized by the rumen than the dry grain. This reduces acidosis problems, as the rumen pH stays more stable without the constant input of starch.

Mineral and vitamin levels in hydroponically-sprouted barley are significantly increased over those in grain; in addition, they are absorbed more efficiently due to the lack of enzyme inhibitors in sprouted grain.

Sprouts provide a good supply of vitamins A, E, C and B complex. There is very little dry matter in sprouted barley fodder (17%). Feeding fodder must include a source of roughage i.e. dry hay, but the hay does not have to be of highest quality.

Why Barley and Not Other Small Grains?

Barley is the most nutritious of the small grains, stores well and is easy to grow. Wheat and oats will work, but barley sprouts the best, grows the fastest and is most cost-effective of all the grains tried.

To work well for sprouted fodder, the barley seed needs a high germination rate and must be very clean. Some companies recommend mixing seeds; 2 pounds of barley and 2 ounces of sunflower seeds, which yields 20 pounds (on average, a 10:1 ratio). A general rule of thumb is a yield of 1:7–one pound of barley seed will produce seven pounds of sprouted fodder.

Systems for Sprouting Barley

To sprout barley consistently and economically, you need a climate-controlled space, lighting of sufficient brightness (lumens), a soaking vat, a rack and tray system and a watering system.

All systems, regardless of size, must be insulated and climate controlled. The ideal temperature is 70 degrees F, with humidity held high and constant, but not too high that mold becomes an issue. Air movement is necessary to control mold, so many systems incorporate fans or air handling systems.

Choosing the right light, and the right amount of light, is very important to the success of a sprouted barley system. Optimal production requires 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness. Low-light levels and shorter day lengths will slow the process and reduce production.

Racking the sprouting system vertically is the most efficient use of space. Nearly all the systems being sold are racked and then set up with sprouting trays to hold the seed. In fully automated systems, water emitters either spray or flood the trays on a regular basis. The trays must have a drainage system. Seeds need to be kept moist, but they cannot sit in water, or mold and bacteria will become problems.

How the Process Works

The barley seed must be very clean and have a high germination rate. Dirty seed will have mold problems and require a lot of labor time in cleaning both seed and equipment. Low germination rates will decrease the efficiency of the system.

Clean grain must be soaked 8 to 12 hours. Hydrogen peroxide or bleach is sometimes used in the soaking water to kill mold spores (allowed in organic systems) and the soak water is sometimes aerated.

After soaking, the grain is drained and spread onto trays. Temperatures should be kept between 60 and 75 degrees F, with 70 degrees ideal. The grain must be kept moist to sprout.

The sprouted barley is harvested between six and eight days of growth. Nutrition will be lost but weight gained by days seven and eight. At harvest, the barley shoots will be about six inches tall with a two inch mat of interwoven roots.

The sprouted grain is harvested by removing the tray or sliding the mat off the tray in one long sheet. The mats can be cut to the appropriate size and fed to cattle. By starting new grain every day, the system can constantly provide fresh fodder.


Deciphering Through the Bull

Recently, I was looking over a bull sale and noticed the cooperators had gone out and determined how they would base quality rather than using the mainstream tried and proven way to do so. Here are their quality parameters in blue.

Quotes from Powerline Genetics Bull Sale catalog 2/13/2016

When using EPDs it is best to compare the values of potential herd candidates. The difference between two candidates for some trait indicates the potential increase or decrease in that trait. However, profit is rarely based on a single trait and will be based on a combination of performance measures associated with growth, feed efficiency, and carcass value.

Instead of using the tried and proven method already outlined in American Simmental Association using all the traits of economic importance like CE, BW, WW, YW, ADG, MCE, Milk, MWW, DOC, CW, YG, Marb, BF, REA and Shear; Indexes API and TI and based on sound science; this group decided that only WW, Feed Conversion, CW and Carcass Quality are needed to assist you in your buying decisions and preferences.

They go on to explain their Index called the Power Bull Index (PBI):

A powerful tool that simplifies the selection process is the Power Bull Index (PBI), combining the genetic and profit potential for a bull based on his genetic merit for growth, efficiency and carcass. The index value is measured in dollars per calf marketed.

They reiterate their quality parameters associated with their Index.

The relative emphasis put on traits includes weaning weight (25%), feed conversion (20%), carcass weight (30%), and carcass quality (25 %)

They give you how each quality parameter is weighted in the computation of their Index PBI. On to an example below:

As an example in using the PBI, in Table 2 we present three potential herd bull candidates. Last year Buyer A purchased a bull with a 115 PBI and was very pleased with the calves overall performance but would like to see a slight increase in weaning.

He is interested in either Bull A or B. In order to see the increase in WW desired, Bull B would potentially bring higher calf weaning weights for this buyer.

Alternatively, Buyer B retains ownership on his calves through finishing and markets his feeders on the grid. He is looking to maintain a high percentage of calves grading choice with Yield Grades of 1 or 2. With the highest PBI value of the three bulls and superior REA and MARB and with above average WW performance Bull C is likely the best herd sire candidate for Buyer B.

                 Table 2

          Index                  EPD’s
Bull     PBI        WW     REA     Marb
  A        115           30     0.30      0.25
  B        115           35      0.32     0.20
  C        120          30     0.35      0.30

This looks a lot like a common core math problem to me. Now on to their new definitions:


• BIRTH WEIGHT (BW) – in pounds, predicts the weight at birth of the bull’s progeny compared to progeny of other bulls. A bull with a BW EPD of -1 is expected to have progeny which average 3 lb lighter than progeny of a bull with an EPD of +2.


• WEANING WEIGHT (WW) – in pounds is a measure of the weaning growth of a bull’s progeny minus maternal milk production.

This has been altered to fit their needs with the addition of minus Maternal Milk production. You will see later in some of their choices in Sire, with very low MM.

• YEARLING WEIGHT (YW) – evaluates adjusted weight performance to 365 days. Yearling weight is highly correlated to carcass weight and mature size.

This has been altered, as well, with more rhetoric trying to substantiate their Index

• CARCASS WEIGHT (CW) – predictor of an animal’s finish weight in pounds.

 This statement is reaching as well —

• RIBEYE AREA (REA) – measured in square inches between the 12th and 13th rib and adjusted to 365 days. This is a good predictor of the total amount of muscle in the carcass and is highly related to carcass weight.

That, I striked through is an addition to what REA actually stands for, just more rhetoric trying to prove their Index.

• MARBLING (MARB) – This is a 365-day adjusted marbling score measured in USDA marbling degrees. This is the primary factor in USDA quality grades.

More included rhetoric here with adjusted and degrees

• DRY MATTER INTAKE (DMI) – reported in pounds of feed consumed per day with a lower numeric value being associated with less feed consumed on a dry matter basis. When comparing two bulls a lower number indicates lesser feed intake for comparable gains.


• POWER BEEF INDEX (PBI) – provides a balanced indicator of a bull’s profitability based on a combination of weaning performance, carcass weight, carcass quality and feed intake.
Adapted from EPD Basics and Definitions, Matt Spangler, Univ. of Nebraska,

Again a reiteration of what is included in the PBI Index —

For real definitions of the EPD’s and Indexes associated with Simangus™ you can find those here.

Now scrape your boots off as we enter the sale tent — a look at the bulls. I find it quite interesting that all the bulls associated with this sale are not registered with the American Simmental Association (ASA).

Registration numbers would have been really helpful when making bull buying decisions because looking at EPD’s and Indexes based on Sound Science have a higher degree of reliability than a set of made up quality parameters that only further the agendas of a few co-operating chuckleheads. 

Also, interesting, the Dam’s side of the genetics aren’t published, so there is no way of finding the genetics of the Maternal Grand Sire (MGS). Bulls are made genetically by their Sire and MGS. More smoke and mirrors. 

Lastly, we as potential bull buyers are left with the Reference Sires as we try to determine the worth of the bulls in question. A person would have to travel the world over to find this many low quality, low grade reference sires, sons —  assembled under one tent. 

Here are the Reference Sires:

W/C UNITED 956Y; Carcass Merits in the Abyss Low API and TI
QUAKER HILLRAMPAGE 0A3; Carcass Merits in the Abyss Low API and TI for a PBAN
GAR-EGL PROTEGE; ok Carcass Merits, Lots of Negative fat, mediocre CE and MCE, red gene carrier and lower API and TI
V A R GENERATION 2100; More mediocre genetics – weak API and TI carcass merits in the abyss
K C F BENNETT ABSOLUTE; No MM pretty weak carcass merits, we used him a little this year, but better Sires out there
CCRCOWBOY CUT; I saw this bull and just laughed Double Legacy Inbred Garbage
A A R TEN X 7008 S A; excellent PBAN Bull –only 1 calf in the sale — sadly – at least someone knows a good bull when they see it.
PROTEGE PROFIT; unknown — I’m sure a real Prize.
THOMAS UP RIVER; never heard of this bull looked him up Carcass Merits in the Abyss LOW API and TI
CONNEALYCOUNSELOR; lots of negative fat found 43 head of progeny out there — not too impressive
TSN PROTEGE; never heard of this bull / more Legacy crap genetics and WLE Power Stroke junk; more low API and TI stuff
CONNEALY FINAL PRODUCT; never heard of this bull API and TI in the abyss — not worth my time
V A R RESERVE; never heard of this bull either — look at that MM wow — low API and TI negative fat —
EF COMPLEMENT;never heard of this bull — terrible carcass merits to make a low PBI – poor choice
EXAR UPSHOT; more third tier Angus — some Program risk on Genetic defects and more really weak API and TI stuff
SA V BRUISER;never heard of this bull more dismal carcass merits again for what you are trying to prove in PBI
IRONWOOD NEW ERA;never heard of this bull — wow fabulous numbers perhaps to fill a slot
HOOKS ACHILLES; 600U four times in his background; not bad numbers just an inbred mongrel
HLVW TIDE MASTER; Upgrade who is vastly inbred garbage on top of Grandmaster garbage, terrible choice in a bull
R5 MONUMENT;never heard of this bull — terrible API and TI another interesting choice in a herd sire low IMF negative fat
TJSHARPER IMAGE; dismal CE  BW MM Carcass merits low APi and TI for 2016
GLS FRONTIER; more mediocre crap genetics from 2003
Scalebuster11-383; unknown
TRAXS VELOCITY Y7;more Legacy crap genetics – carcass merits in the abyss
ELLINGSONLEGACY M229;more Legacy crap genetics, crap for growth, Stay, WW, YW — terrible choice and inbred 600U
JF RANCHER 222Z; terrible in so many ways – CE BW ADG MCE MM DOC CW Marb Shr API – sad
REMINGTON LOCK N LOAD54U; of CNS DO fame – more Legacy – terrible EPD’s and Indexes
HLVW CHANGING TIMES; just down right Pathetic with a capital P
GLS COMBINATIONR2;never heard of this bull below average API mostly due to terrible CE BW and Marb
CNS DREAM ON L186; more Legacy — all we really had in 2004 have some semen in my tank if ya know anyone wanting it
YON FUTURE FOCUS T21;may be a typo in your sale sheet T219 maybe — more mediocrity, negative fat
S A V 004 TRAVELER;all these 004’s were terrible
HC HUMMER 12M; the essence of Mediocrity from 2002
S6-1000; unknown

My advice to bull buyers is to purchase your Simangus™ bulls based on the quality parameters within American Simmental Association.

Seedstock Selection

I will never understand the mentality of the seed stock producer that refuses to raise the kind of cattle that will help others improve their cattle. This is inherently the function of all seed stock producers.

I see cattle sales all the time and really have to wonder how these people stay in business raising the kind of junk they do. Evidently their buyers are even more ignorant than they are. Here is an example:


Deficient in CE, BW, Stay (conveniently left out; (bottom 25%)), YG, Marb, BF, REA, Shr (conveniently left out, is -0.07 (bottom 1%)), and API. A terrible BW at 93 lbs and a terrible Frame Score at 6.9; which, by the way, only increases the cost of production of his daughters. Touting a 4.4 ADG is no big deal most of my bulls are around 4.7. Last but not least, more Legacy inbred genetics–    I just have to shake my head.

Lets do a planned mating using this bull and one of my Top 1% heifers — we will prove why this bull is so bad for a cross breeding program or any program for that matter.


60C brings down an 18 CE to 13.9 –still a trait leader, but some kind of destruction there.

60C kills my BW EPD.

60C helps the WW by 4 lbs, but when we look at what he destroys we’ll see it’s not much.

60C doesn’t help the YW at all

60C brings my ADG down.

60C improves my MCE by 0.4, which is insignificant.

60C keeps MM moderate which is good.

60C brings up my MWW up by 2.3, which is insignificant.

60C brings my Docility down.

60C brings my CW up 4 points, which is insignificant.

60C brings my YG down , which isn’t good; normally stronger in PBSM

60C brings my Marbling way down from 1.24 to 0.72 — a huge drop

60C brings my BF down by 33%, which isn’t good.

60C improves my REA by 0.03, which is insignificant.

60C destroys my API Index of 197 down to 161– a 35.6 point drop

60C destroys my TI Index of 101.8 down to 87.8 — a 14 point drop

60C destroys most of my traits of economic importance while adding frame score and increasing my annual cost of production –all of which are deleterious to my business.