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Could growing feed indoors be a solution for your cattle operation?

What if every day on the farm were a perfect day for seeds to grow and reach their full potential? By creating a system that produces nutritious livestock feed ingredients indoors, it’s an environment HydroGreen is making a reality.

Ahead of his session, Localizing and Scaling Sustainable, Nutritious Animal Feed at the 2022 Animal AgTech Innovation Summit, HydroGreen’s Thierry Perrotin shares how technology is revolutionizing the way producers grow feed for their animals. Now in its fourth year, the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit returns to San Francisco on March 21, 2022. The day-long event will focus on innovation in animal health, nutrition, and precision farming, addressing the pain points and opportunities at the core of the livestock and dairy industries. 

Born out of necessity

Like many innovations, HydroGreen was born out of necessity. When limited precipitation made supplying feed for his cattle a challenge, especially when competing with neighboring dairies for quality feed, Dihl Grohs developed a low-maintenance, sustainable substitute for producing feed.

Powered by hydroponics, the rancher’s fully automated system grows nutrient-rich feed ingredients, like barley and wheat, year-round in a controlled environment with minimal use of land, labor, and water. With the push of a button, HydroGreen performs all growing functions including seeding, watering, lighting, harvesting, and reseeding. Automated Vertical Pastures with 12 modules occupying less than 1 acre produce the same amount of fresh forage as 500 acres of traditional growing.

Currently, the system can produce barley or wheat from seed to feed within six days. “Many people ask why we don’t wait seven days,” says Perrotin, vice president of business development at HydroGreen. “At six days, the sprouting grain reaches its peak nutritional value.”

Because complex starches are converted into easily digestible sugars and starches, HydroGreen also supports better ration digestibility. “Hydrolytic enzymes occurring naturally in the plant dramatically improve the digestibility and absorption of nutrients, as well as the overall diet,” he explains. “For example, HydroGreen helps cows increase fiber digestion by 10% from typical performance levels, which results in less waste because feed is utilized more efficiently.”

Modular and scalable

The company’s Automated Vertical Pastures are modular and scalable for smaller and larger herd sizes. Both must be installed in a controlled, indoor environment. The model and number of units you need will depend on the size of your operation and the amount of feed required daily by each animal.

For smaller herds, the DGS 66 module is six levels high and designed to harvest one level per day, with each level producing about 650 pounds of dry matter per day, year-round, in any climate. This module is best for medium-size dairy farms and ranches with approximately 100 to 300 head of cattle.

For larger herds, the GLS 808 has eight levels designed to be fully harvested each day. This unit supports the needs of large, commercial-scale dairy farms and ranches (1,000-plus cows). Depending on the configuration, Perrotin says it takes approximately two hours to unload feed from an entire GLS 808. Modules are planned in multiples of six, and six GLS 808 modules can produce about 8,000 pounds of dry matter per day.

Not only does the company provide indoor growing technology, but it also assists with all aspects of installation. From the building design to HVAC requirements, Perrotin says experts will be with you every step of the way.

“Installed, a GLS 808 costs around $300,000, but you also need the envelope (infrastructure) to go around it,” he says. “Depending on the existing buildings an operation has, it takes about five to seven years to see a return on your investment.”

Creating Automated Vertical Pastures

By combining 12 GLS 808 modules, the company is helping Burnett Land & Livestock in Wyoming produce enough fresh feed to supplement the ration of up to 2,000 cows. 

“The 12 modules of our Automated Vertical Pastures replace 500 acres of farmland, while using 95% less water than traditional livestock feed grown in irrigated fields,” Perrotin says.

The setup will also be equipped with a recycling system that will conserve the water it uses. “It will give that water two to three more uses on the farm,” he says. 

As HydroGreen continues to grow, it is building its dealership network as well. “We are partnering with channel partners to distribute our products,” Perrotin says. “We are focusing on the western side of the United States because that’s where a lot of the headaches with water are. We currently have about 100 units under agreement with these dealers.”

While the technology offers myriad benefits, like anything that requires change, there is resistance. “Ag-tech is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity, and HydroGreen is a meaningful technology for farmers and ranchers,” he says. “Not only are we creating a nutritious feed rich in enzymes, but we are also following the latest protocols with laser methane devices to measure emissions. We saw around 20% less methane emissions from cows fed with HydroGreen compared with ones fed a traditional ration.”

Beyond change management, Perrotin says finding the right people to grow and scale the business can also be challenging. “An event like the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit has great value to a company like ours because it allows us to build stronger connections and introductions we may not have found on our own,” he says. “I invite anyone interested in learning about our technology and growing team to visit”

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