With hay running at $10-12 per bale in Alaska combined with low snowfall in the winters and dry summers, the cost of hay can get pricey for livestock owners across the state. Given this, introducing new forms of feeding might be the answer for livestock growers across the state. Local livestock producer, hay farmer, and rancher, Sloan Sunderland designed his own fodder system with the help of his father Wick Sunderland, on his family’s ranch on Lazy Mountain.
The ranch, located just outside of Palmer, Alaska, was a perfect scenario for a fodder system.
Home to 13 cattle, 10 horses, and a growing elk herd of 15, the Sunderland’s often windy location meant that they went through a lot of grain and hay during the winter. This was both costly and stressful on the animals.
A fodder system is a hydroponic system where grain is sprouted using water flushed through a series of trays. The result is delicious sprouted greens ready to serve to livestock.
“My wife, Katie came up with the idea,” said Sloan Sunderland. “I did the research and looked at buying a commercial setup but realized costs were going be two-thirds higher than building my own.”
Sunderland did what many Alaskan do, he improvised and innovated with what he could get his hands on. From his job on the North Slope, Sunderland was able to find and buy an insulated oilfield trailer that could be heated with oil year-round. From Oregon, he ordered high quality trays that Sloan says will last for years. With the help of shelving he installed a lot of hose and a few strands of LED lights. And so, Sloan was able to come up with a high functioning fodder system.
How a Fodder System Works
“Each tray gets five pounds of barley seed, which then sprouts and becomes 25-30 pounds of fodder,” said Sloan.
From seed to edible sprout takes eight days, with the sprouts being flooded and drained twice a day. It takes 300-500 gallons a day to run the system and requires about two hours of manual labor per day, which on the Sunderland Ranch is done by Wick Sunderland. In the middle of winter, the ranch produces 13,500 pounds of fodder per month for their animals. The cost of the barley plus labor comes to about .10/pound for the animals. This may seem like a lot, but for the Sunderland’s the benefits outweight the costs. The increased labor is outweighed by the increased nutrient value of the fodder.
Benefits of the Fodder System In Alaska
“Barley grain is only 20% digestible, but when you sprout it your are going to 80% digestible for the livestock,” said Sloan, adding that beyond digestibility, fodder systems also provide limestone with greater nutrients. “Our animals are eating fresh barley grass and roots all winter long.”
This change in nutrients showed in the animals. They’ve cut the horses hay consumption back by two-thirds and the elk are more filled out in the middle of winter with healthier coats. The health of his animals makes all the difference to Sloan.
“As long as you have the time to do, I would recommend it,” said Sloan, who can’t wait to expand production in the heated trailer. “We plan on putting lights in to start growing year-round greens.”
About Sunderland Ranch:
This 100 acre ranch is located on Lazy Mountain. The ranch offers trail rides, AirBNB rentals and special events. Contact Sunderland Ranch if you are interested in staying or taking part in their scenic trail rides.0