Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Yummy sprouts for dairy cows

Alisa Anderson Published on 30 October 2009

This article features California dairyman Bill Van Ryn discussing a Fodder Solutions sprout-growing technology. to jump to the article. Van Ryn estimated his grain costs for shipping at $500 a ton. He can grow a ton of supplemental feed using the sprout-growing system for $128.

We noticed the Facebook group Raw Milk posted a link to this article in August 2012 with the comment: "Now this actually makes some sense: Instead of feeding cows grain, sprout the grain and feed them the grasses from those grains."



While that could explain some recent pageviews, this article received more than 1,500 views since it was published in 2009.

Because this article was so popular, we asked Curt Chittock of Simply Country, Inc., the licensed agent for Fodder Solutions, to provide an update.

There have been several changes and refinements to the system since our involvement. Many of the changes are subtle but add to improved energy and water efficiency, improved control of the sprouting process, and improvements in being more "user friendly." The system even has organic certification capability.

Future plans include the addition of a "smaller" unit called the Igro, which produces 55 lbs per day for the small backyard farm. It is in preproduction test mode now, and deposits have been taken from early purchasers.

Curt Chittock
(530) 277-3455


Sprouts aren’t just for your salad anymore. A new Australian technology has made them an economical supplemental feed for livestock.

Bill Van Ryn, a dairyman in Manteca, California, is the first U.S. producer to use a Fodder Solutions sprout-growing technology to feed his cows. Van Ryn saw the growing unit at the World Ag Expo.

He’d been reading about it and decided to experiment with it. So he asked if he could field-test it and brought it home. He started using it to feed a few steers and a couple of nurse cows to see if he could implement it in his organic operation.

“I’d been reading about how there is an optimum enzyme and feed value in young sprouts, and then I realized that it has the energy and the protein possibly to supplement a grain ration in an animal diet,” Van Ryn says.

The nutrient and energy levels are not as high as grain, but the nutrient values in the sprouts are 82 percent more digestible than what is in grain, according to Terry Colless, a director at Fodder Solutions.

Colless also says that there is an enzyme in the sprouts that “benefits the rumen microflora and makes the rest of the ration more efficient as well.”


Van Ryn started his experiment of the sprouts on one of his nurse cows – a retired milk cow that was only producing a gallon a day. He measured the milk every day, and within two to three weeks of the new ration – which was barley sprouts and alfalfa hay – the cow started producing three-and-a-half gallons a day. He tested it on a second nurse cow, and his steers, and saw similar results in increased productivity and health.

“If you have the feed laboratory tested, the nutrient levels are not high enough compared to grain. But as you feed it, the fit and finish, the muscle-building, the general health of the animal, its vigor and its energy – go way up,” Van Ryn says.

The sprout-growing units range in size and can produce from about 100 pounds to over three tons of feed. The smaller, standard units have to be emptied, disinfected and reseeded by hand, but there are large, automatic units that complete the process without any manpower. The units are growing in popularity around the world, particularly in areas that have limited land or water available.

“This system can grow the feed with so much less water – 750 gallons a ton versus 180,000 to 360,000 gallons a ton. That’s a tremendous difference. And the one small unit that I have is capable of growing up to 110 tons of barley sprouts per year. The unit is 18 ½ feet long by 8 ½ feet wide by 7 feet tall. You can never grow that amount of feed on an acre per year,” Van Ryn says.

Van Ryn has had to ship grain in at a cost of about $500 a ton. With the sprout-growing system, he can grow a ton of supplemental feed for $128. Time requirements are minimal as well. It requires a total of about 20 minutes twice a day to feed the sprouts, wash and reseed the trays. Van Ryn sprouts barley seed; barley is the kind of feed that is most commonly grown.

“We use barley because the price we buy the seed for produces the highest protein, the highest energy and the best feed value for the money. But if you really wanted to increase the protein and energy, you would sprout 70 percent barley, 20 percent soybean and 10 percent corn,” Colless says.

These systems are used around the world with many different combinations of grains designed for the economic and energy needs of the farm. The units remove the weather factor involved in forage production, creating a steady supply of feed at a fixed cost.

Van Ryn says he was so pleased with how the unit worked that he is going through the process to certify it as organic. Once he has done that, he will use it as supplemental feed for his herd of 300 Jerseys and Holsteins. PD

Would a sprout-feeding unit be a good fit for your operation? The following checklist can be used to see if this new technology might work for you:

  1. Is water availability for growing forages a concern for your operation?
  2. Do you have a limited amount of land to grow forages?
  3. Do you have to outsource your supplemental feed?
  4. Would you like to produce your own forage?
  5. Are you looking for a viable, organic feed source for supplemental feeding?
  6. Does your climate make it difficult to put up quality feed?

If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, this technology may be one for you to consider.