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Hydroponic Sprouts Hyped as Animal Feed

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As grain and hay prices soar, a Northern California company says it has a way to feed livestock for a fraction of the cost.

Grow your own.

It's hardly an original idea. But this model, called Fodder Solutions, doesn't require vast amounts of land, good weather, field hands or even a tractor - just a large shipping container, plastic trays, grow lights and an automated climate system. And it only takes six days to grow a crop of grain sprouts large enough to feed 300 dairy cattle a day, or 800 horses, or 400,000 chickens. The grower can choose organic or conventional seeds, and the process is chemical free.

It sounds too good to be true, and scientists say it is still unproven. "But it holds promise," said Cindy Daley, an agriculture professor at Chico State University who specializes in organic dairy production.

The technology was invented in Australia. Simply Country Inc., located near Sacramento, is one of only two companies in the United States licensed to manufacture and sell the systems - hydroponic growing rooms specifically designed to sprout grain and legume seeds in trays. Simply Country's owner, Curt Chittock, whose family has been in the feed business for 48 years, admits that he was dubious in the beginning.

"In midsummer 2009 a sales guy drove into my feed store and showed me the system," he said. "My first reaction was uh, they're sprouts. They look pretty, but what are they going to do?"

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