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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care December 2012

Hi Folks,

It seems like there’s been a lot of talk about sprouted grains over the past year, starting with last winter’s organic/ecological farm conferences. Being that I’m not a nutritionist, I’ve stayed in the background and simply listened to the chit-chat about it. Probably some of you also have. After seeing my first sprouting system the other week and the gusto with which the animals ate the sprouts, I’m an instant supporter! The system I saw was in the southeast PA region and set up for a 40 cow dairy. I visited the site with Dr. Silvia Abel-Caines, the ruminant nutritionist for Organic Valley, who has previously done work with sprouted grains. Some of the information in this newsletter comes from a recent talk she gave at an extremely well attended meeting (100+ farmers) sponsored by Zeiset Ag (Jonathon Zeiset) and Organic Valley on Friday November 30 in Gratz, PA. The following are some basics about sprouts.

Perhaps most importantly, feeding spouted grains is feeding fresh live food. In a sense it is continuing the grazing season into the winter when the cows are inside. In regular grain, there are anti-nutritional factors, such as phytase and tannins which help the seed protect itself. Even just soaking seeds one overnight will deactivate the phytase and tannins. I remember seeing a few farmers soaking grain overnight in buckets already 10 years ago, the idea being that it would be better when fed out. Now I understand. The other thing is that regular grain brings starch into the rumen, which can cause problems like rumen acidosis, whereas sprouted grains provide sugars. Starch and sugar are both forms of energy, but the sugars are more friendly to the digestion process.

There have been many experiments on how long to grow the sprouted grains. It seems that day 6 is when they should be harvested – this is easy to remember for the 7th day is for rest J. The biological reality is that the starch reserves of the dry grain are used up by that point. Beyond that time you need soil. Also, the composition of the plant changes beyond day 6. In general, 285 pounds of dry grain will yield 1 ton of sprouted grain (with soaked up water). Thinking purely in dry matter, 1 pound of grain will yield 1.4 pounds of sprouts in 6 days and its fresh, green feed.

Let’s look at the nutritional profile of sprouts. Crude protein in barley grain is about 13% whereas when sprouted it’s about 16%. Vitamin E, a vitamin which is universally low in stored feeds, can increase from about 7mg/kg in barley grain to 62 mg/kg when sprouted. Vitamin E is critical to proper immune system functioning. Beta-carotene goes from 4.1 mg/kg in barley grain to 42 mg/kg when sprouted. Beta-carotene is the starting compound for vitamin A and also has important immune system functions. Biotin, which helps glucose production, as well as keratin production for hoof health, increases from 0.16 mg/kg to 1.15mg/kg. Free folic acid, or vitamin B9 goes from .12 mg/kg to 1.05 mg/kg.

Being live feed, sprouts also increase enzyme levels, which give better digestion and absorption. As far as protein considerations, soluble protein is converted to by-pass protein, thus less rumen ammonia and less MUNs. Sprouted grains also have increased amino acids, such as glutamine and proline, which are converted to lysine (an amino acid which cows cannot make on their own and is normally supplemented). The response of the cows on the farm I visited was obvious in just 6 weeks time, with a butterfat level of 4.3% and protein at 3.3% – and these were Holsteins.  

The action of water on regular dry grain is nothing short of miraculous: starch is converted to sugars, proteins are converted to amino acids, and lipids are converted to fatty acids (quality energy). Perhaps most important of all, animals enjoy sprouts, as seen by the yearlings ripping at the mats of squares fed to them. With a TMR, just add to the mixer like the farm I visited does.

However, there is extra labor needed: loading the grain into trays and filling with water, loading the trays onto the shelves, checking fodder growth daily, removing the trays from the shelves and emptying them into a container; washing and rinsing trays, and feeding the green feed to the animals.  Just make this part of your daily feed routine – you do feed your animals everyday anyway, right?

You can make your own unit or you can buy them ready-to-go and apparently they can be financed as a lease (with tax benefits).  If you want to see a ready-to-go unit for small farm use, call Jonathon Zeiset at 717-433-7702. Other commercially ready units go under the names of Green Feed Solutions, Farm Tech, Almighty Fodder, Fodder Tech, Fodder Wheel, Fodder Pro, and Fodder Tech. The unit I saw in PA was designed by a farmer in Washington State. The farmers using sprouts seem to be happy pioneers – their cows, too.

A main consideration is constant temperature and humidity control to make sure growth is optimum and molds are inhibited. Slope of tray is also important for all seeds to germinate properly and not get too water logged. Recycling of used water for further sprout production is not recommended, but recycling the water for other farm uses is fine. Notably, nothing needs to be added to the water for the sprouts - the starting grain has all the reserves it needs to sprout. Simply applying warmth, humidity and water will start the miracle of life from otherwise dormant, hard to digest dry grain.

Sprouting seeds seems like a great opportunity to get fresh high quality feed to your cows year round. I’ve always liked eating sprouts myself and knowing a bit more about them now, I think I’ll ramp up my own intake of them!

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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