Pemathang Dairy Farmers Produces Fodder Using Hydroponic to Meet the Fodder Demand
Over the years, there has been an increase in the cattle population and the demand for green fodder has been increased. Therefore, the search for alternative fodder or fodder production methods is global. With the practice of intensive rearing of livestock which requires huge quantities of green fodder has further deteriorated the existing green fodder shortage during the winter seasons. Therefore, hydroponic fodder is considered as an alternative to supplement the meager pasture resources.
The methods of hydroponic fodder production date back to the 1800s (Kerr et al., 2014), or earlier from the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ era, when European dairy farmers fed sprouted grains to their cows during winter to maintain milk production and improve fertility. Today, hydroponic fodder production has revolutionized green fodder production drastically. Growing green fodder without soil in an ecological environment, the hydroponic fodder production system is gaining momentum among dairy farmers worldwide. Likewise, many dairy farmers in eastern Bhutan have taken an interest in this method of fodder production and are gradually switching from conventional production methods to hydroponic fodder production as hydroponic fodders are highly nutritious and available throughout the year.
Owing to the infertile land, sloppy terrain and limited landholdings along with increasing human priority on crop production (Vegetables, cereals, fruits etc), growing green fodder production has been challenging, subsequently affecting livestock productivity. Therefore, the Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag Livestock Sector (DLS) has initiated the development of an on-farm low-cost hydroponic fodder unit with locally available materials in 2017 with fund support from CARLEP_IFAD. The hydroponic fodder unit was easily adopted by 16 dairy farmers from Pemathang Gewog as it utilizes very little space and water to produce large quantities of green fodder among other benefits. In the hydroponic units, a space of 40 square meters is occupied to produce 510kg green fodder at one cycle. In a year, a unit is capable of 20-25 cycle for fodder production.
Capacity Building on Hydroponic fodder
The gewog livestock extension agents along with the selected dairy farmers are provided hands-on training on the technology. The skills acquired are further imparted to other farmers in their respective gewogs. Today, 16 farmers who have adopted the technology are either progressive or lead farmers in their communities.
Benefits of Hydroponic Fodder Production
1 Kg of maize seeds takes around 12 days to sprout and to grow to a fodder measuring 30 cm during winter with a biomass production of 8.5kg. The overall cost of production of 1 Kg green and tender maize shoots is calculated at Nu.2.50/kg of hydroponic maize fodder. The time required for hydroponic fodder is comparatively lesser than the conventional method. For instance, cutting grass from the pasture fields and carrying it to the cattle shed takes about 2-3 hours per day but the current hydroponic system takes about an hour per day inclusive of cleaning, seeding, harvesting and feeding of 30 trays to a 5 to 10 herd size of dairy cattle. Besides, this technology can help ease the drudgery of the women and help them utilize the saved time for other household activities. Likewise, farmers were able to minimize their dependency on commercial feed, especially during winter. At the same time, the farmers were able to increase the milk yield from 1 to 3 litres a day.
“Our cows used to appear gaunt or unhealthy due to the lack of green fodder but today, thanks to hydroponic fodder, our cows are healthier”, says a 45 years old farmer, Pema Wangdi.
Like Pema, Yangzom feels that she has been also blessed with the technology to meet the fodder demand of her cattle.
“In the light of COVID 19 pandemic, collecting fodder from other places has become very challenging. In such a situation, hydroponic fodder technology came as a savior for my gestating cow. I was able to feed my gestating cow with enough green fodder which has helped the cow in delivering healthy offspring,” says Yangzom.
The hydroponic unit in Pemathang gewog serves as a model unit for hydroponic fodder production technology. Today, dairy farmers from the regions visit the sites to explore and learn on the technology. Most of the farmers are already showing interest in taking up the technology to address the fodder shortage. About 5 farmers have already approached the gewog livestock office to seek support on hydroponic fodder installation in the next financial year.
Submitted by: Yeshey Jatsho, Sr. Livestock Production Officer, Samdrupjongkhar
Edited By: Chhimi Lhamo, GKMO