MOOSE CREEK - A Moose Creek dairy farmer is set to install Ontario's first innovative system that will grow barley sprouts indoors and use them as the essential ingredient in a revamped feeding ration that entirely replaces corn and most other grain.
Ottawa-based NutraFx has sold a pair of the new "nutraculture wheels" to the Stormont County producer, according to company founder Roland Poirier, each one capable of generating 1,200 pounds of sprouts daily from 120 pounds of barley seed.
"Nutraculture is the age-old practice of growing barley sprouts," said Roland, whose firm began rolling out the systems April 1.
Varying in price from $15,000 to $18,000 (not including the necessary heated building that roughly doubles the cost), the units are 12 feet wide and slightly resemble the paddle wheels on an old-fashioned Mississippi river boat. Instead of paddles, there are large panel trays that contain the seed, which slowly rotate through a large tank of water on the downswing. A one-third horsepower motor drives the works. Six-days of staggered production rests on the unit at any given time, as it takes that long for a tray of seed to turn into luscious green shoots of the desired eight-inch length.
The system's key benefits for the farmer are lower feed costs and improved herd health - in addition to being a less environmentally intensive crop than typical corn or other grain feed supplements, said Poirier.
He said a New York state farmer who recently installed two wheels realized a payback of just six months.
A 100-head milking herd would require the equivalent of 12 to 16 acres of barley seed to supply a pair of wheels for 2,400 pounds of daily sprout output - while effectively displacing a much larger corn acreage. One wheel is said to displace 30 acres of regular corn or grain production in the feed ration.
This then allows the farmer to grow more alfalfa for feed; Poirier also recommends adding some of the leftover barley straw to the mix, to ensure adequate fibre in the animals' diet.
The actual sprouts themselves are 99 per cent digestible, he said, compared to the 68 per cent digestibility of the corn they replace.
"Corn is really too valuable to be feeding to cows anyway," he asserted.
The sprouts also reduce acidity in the cow's gut and eliminate the need for all supplements - except for soybeans. NutraFX recommends 2.5 kg beans daily per cow within the revamped ration.
As part of the system, the farmer is supplied with an Apple iPad, which allows Poirier to remotely monitor the operation to ensure maximum output and measure system benefits across the operation.