The owner and operator of Hartell Homestead has figured out a way to grow his own grass to feed his cows in both a timely and cost-effective manner.

It's turned into a great alternative to the expensive hay bales that have been hard to come by.

Shipley explains how he first heard about the fodder unit and started to make his own grass for his cows.

"The whole way we got into it was back in the day when I used to work for a company called Penta. We had customers that were in Australia, and in Australia it's desert. They actually utilized these fodder units quite regularly and the company I bought this off of originated out of Australia. They will grow thousands upon thousands of pounds of fodder," Shipley said.

"When we had the drought and we kept looking at the price of hay, and the availability of hay, and just not being able to find enough to feed our cows during the winter, we needed a new way to do it. That's when I started looking at the fodder units and I looked at the company that I know from Australia because these guys are built specifically for raising cattle feed."

He mentioned that there are all sorts of fodder units that can be used for gardening or growing microgreens, which was another reason he went to the company based out of Australia.

"Those don't work for grains, because you will end up actually not letting the water pass through and end up getting mold and bad things in the grain. So, this unit I ended up going down to Utah, they had a dealer. We picked up this unit, we drove it back last November, and we started playing with it. It took us a little bit to figure out because the information to find online is very few and far between. Fodder is classed as hay in silage, so you really have to read about 500 pages to find two that have the information you are looking for," he said.

"The University of Nebraska did a wonderful study on fodder. We did different soak rates, so we soaked for two hours, six hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours. Which is soaking that grain, making it fatten up. Then we did different lengths and days, we find the seven-day cycle works really well. Unfortunately, our unit only has six trays, so we end up keeping it in a barrel for a day and then we fill it on the trays to do our six-day cycle on the fodder unit."

Shipley also mentioned that he has water that clicks on every six hours to give the fodder unit some H2O. He uses less than 25 gallons per day to water the fodder and explained that it is very sustainable to grow the feed for the cows.

"We are using barley grain, now you can use oats, you can use peas, you can use pretty much any grain that will grow, which is all of them. But we use barely here, we take the barley, and soak it for 24 hours. We then drain it out so it can dry, but that germ inside stays nice and wet and that's when you start to get the sprout and the growth," Shipley explained.

"So, we put it then on long trays, these trays are 10 feet long and 10 inches wide. We spread it out about half an inch thick, and within six days it goes from just straight grain to about 10 inches of fresh green grass with about an inch of root. The cows will literally eat every ounce of it, they will eat the grass, they will eat the little bit of grain that is left, and they will chew that root down. It's got phenomenal health benefits for our animals."

Where the magic happens, Shipley's fodder system.Where the magic happens, Shipley's fodder system.

For those who may not know, almost any farmer will tell you that the best time to feed your cows is during the spring when the fresh grass is sprouting. Shipley said the cows are in "heaven" because of the sugars that are produced from the grass. Now because the grass Shipley is growing fresh every day all year round, the cows are getting the best nutrients from the grass unlike when they are grazing on grass that has been around all summer long.

"Think about when it's minus 20 and there is snow on the ground and they are getting fresh green grass, they are telling the neighbours how spoiled they are. Even right now when we do have fresh green grass out in our pastures, I'm throwing it out there to help rejuvenate those pastures after a hard year last year on them. So, the cows still come running up, they still love their fodder, which kind of surprised me I'll be honest with you. I thought when the grass came out, they wouldn't care two bits about the fodder anymore but, they still love it," he said.

Shipley continued to explain how beneficial it is for his farm to continue to do this as it's only a fourth of the cost compared to the hay prices from today.

"This is with nowadays prices with the $300 a ton of hay we have had in the last couple years but, we are about a fourth of the cost with our animals. We have got it down to $13 a day to feed our whole herd, where if we had to just feed hay we would be at $23 a day. We really dropped that price down for the winter, and then summertime which is I think $4 a day to feed my herd just because all it is, is the grain out there and I don't have to heat the area which makes it much cheaper," Shipley said.

The fodder system has also given Shipley more time to do other things around the farm as he doesn't have to go searching for hay which has become quite the process of just finding hay let alone paying $300 for a bale. Instead, he goes to a place like Viterra and buys the seeds for the grain and gets right back to work. Shipley joked that finding hay has given him grey hairs and adds a lot of unwanted stress.

With potential drought looming this summer, the fodder system can also be used to make sure that the cows are getting the proper nutrients. Shipley said he's most likely going to continue to mix fodder with straw in the winter stating that his cows have never been happier.

"It is very neat, it's really a great way to add nutrition to your system even if you do have hay, or silage, or that. You feed sprouted grain, the study out of the University of Nebraska actually said you gain a 34 per cent growth rate on your cows compared to just feeding grain," he said.

Unfortunately, Shipley can't sell or make enough grass to help feed cows at other farms due to the grass turning a bit rubbery after three hours. He explained once he pulls it out of the system he will go directly to his herd of cows and give it to them to eat.

He added that compared to some farms his homestead is smaller as he feeds 15 cattle but says the fodder systems do come in bigger sizes if that's something that would interest other farmers. Shipley is more than happy to show off his setup to other farmers in the area and teach them how it's been cost-effective and nutritious for his cows.