Sprouting Barley Fodder mats for our herd is primarily intended to support their winter dietary needs here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch. Our animals may be off pasture for as long as 6 months until Mother Nature cues the pastures to grow long enough to graze again. So, as our Springtime arrives and we start our pattern of rotational grazing with the herd, the need for sprouting barley fodder declines. In fact, as our animals come back from grazing with full bellies, they are less inclined to finish off the entire mat, taking only the sprouts and leaving the roots. So, come Springtime, along with the rising temps, comes the cycle down of our fodder room. This season, however, saw the confluence of a couple of factors that kept our fodder room operating longer than anticipated and in hotter conditions than the ideal. Part of the reason to keep our fodder room going was offering classes on Microgreens production to the public, and having the visual to show them. Mother Nature usually complies by keeping our PacNorWest Spring temps on the cooler side, but not this year! March, April, and May have seen some spectacular days much warmer than the norm. Thus, Mother Nature conspired against us in keeping our fodder room at our ideal temp between 60-65F degrees. Our temps having been ranging up to 84F as the high in the room…yikes! But again, our intent is only to use the fodder feeding strategy during our off-pasture season, cutting our winter hay use in half and assuring good herd health through the winter. If I wanted to produce fodder all year long, I’d be adding some sort of A/C unit to cool the room right now.
With that said, the final trays in our system have brought forth the learning opportunity to see what can go wrong during the delicate dance of creating a live sprout and the decay of the discarded seed hull. Quite simply, it’s the invasion of the molds! Looks can be deceiving. In this picture of a tray ready to harvest, we see what looks like a fairly awesome fodder mat. But it’s really the seed bed, in-between the roots and the sprouts, and where the hulls are at, that we need to take a closer look.
In this picture, one can observe a few things. First, notice that the root mat is not too thick. When temps rise up, the plant focuses more energy on the sprout than the roots, so weaker root mats result, and along with that, more fermentation (because yeasts are activated at higher temps too). Fermentation inhibits germination, so you’ll also notice some grain seeds in the root mat are not sprouting. Finally, there’s evidence of the molds. The obvious one in this picture is a white fuzzy mold. This is most likely Aspergillus, a storage mold that comes along with the barley in the grain bags.
A closer look reveals that this mold tends to spread among the sprouts and starts to cause some brown spots and darkening the color of the seed hull. It’ll spread down into the roots and start turning them brown which leads to root rot.
Note the dingy and dark color of the seed bed. Dark colored seed hulls are an indication that the decay rate has quickened. During our normal operating parameters, we should be harvesting fodder mats whose seed beds still look bright and beige in color. watering methods that pour water into a tray through the seed bed tend to quicken the decay rate of the hulls through agitation. A true flood-and-drain watering method will minimize this by introducing the water at the bottom of the tray and filling from the bottom upwards.
In this picture you can truly see the seed hulls darkening. Also, there is the onset of another type of mold. These blue or green molds are similar to your common household molds you see on old bread. They tend to cluster around a seed hull and are fairly easy to identify given the bright and distinguishing color. Notice also how the roots in this picture appear slimy and mushy. The smell is also starting to move from fermenting smelling to septic smelling. It’s more astringent and sharp, and slightly foul. This is a sign that bacteria is starting to trigger into high gear.
Again you’ll notice that the blue/green molds tend to start around a seed hull and slowly expand from there. This picture is evidence of something we do not want to have our animals ingesting on a regular basis if they are eating the seed bed and roots. This becomes a mycotoxin poison vector that can cause cumulative damage to kidneys and livers.
Flip the mat over and look at the bottom, you can begin to see the discoloration among the roots. What should be bright white is now turning a dingy brown. Root Rot is setting in. In normal operations, another type of root rot is sometimes seen as a circular patch in the roots among an otherwise perfectly looking fodder mat that shows no signs of molds. That can be caused by a different disease, affecting the roots only, called Pythium. It’s still a fungal based outbreak, but when seen as a circular patch only in the roots, can be removed from the mat and fed to animal with little concern.
Our final observation is in the water remaining in the tray. If the internet had Smell-O-Vision, you’d cringe a bit. Unlike smelling fresh bread rising or beer fermenting, this water is turning septic due to the tipping point favoring bacteria. It’s cloudiness is more than just the starch solutes released upon germination. It includes some bio-slimy concoctions that can be seen as swirls of white within the cloudy water. Water that looks this cloudy upon harvest is a clue of something going wrong, but ever before the visual inspection, it’s the smell that will give it away.
So here’s the final rub in all this: whether or not to feed this mat to my animals. If we were in the middle of winter, when the herd would consume the entire mat, roots, seed bed, and sprouts, I’d be discarding this mat. But, in this case, I’ve got some full-bellied alpacas who are only biting off the green sprouts and leaving the root mat and seed bed behind. So, after a quick session of nibbling the sprouts off, I remove the remains of the mat and take them out to cover a mossy spot in the pasture where, as you can see, the flock of garbage disposers, aka chickens, quickly descend upon it to salvage any prize morsels they want. Chickens can handle this level of moldiness, but, much will remain in the pasture as needed organic matter to mulch out the moss.
Here’s a bonus wiki for you to explore and learn more than you ever wanted to know about diseases that can affect barley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_barley_diseases