Everyone has heard the phrase, “Hay is for horses,” right? Well, here at Cherokee Park Ranch, “Fodder is for horses!” What? Among the many questions you might have now, the first is probably, “What is fodder?” Fodder is fresh green grass grown in just 7 days from barley seeds in Cherokee Park Ranch’s fodder building. Growing fodder definitely takes some time but it allows us to provide our horses with green grass all year round, even in the dead of winter with 2′ of snow on the ground!
Why grow fodder?
A few years ago, Townsend and I went to a DRA (Dude Ranch Association) Conference in California and while we were there, we were introduced to the fodder concept through a demonstration. As soon as we got home, we started digging in and doing our research to see if growing fodder was a good option for us. Turns out it was!
After figuring out all the benefits and making an (obvious) decision, we got started on building our own personal fodder barn. The barn we chose is designed to house one of the largest fodder systems available. We figured for this purchase, it was either go big, or go home! The system includes four racks and makes 2.5 tons of fodder a day! Even though it is big, the fodder barn is located on the west end of the ranch and most guests don’t even notice it. Once we got started building, it only took 4 months to get up and running and churning out fodder!
Not only is growing fodder cost efficient compared to hay, it is also keeps the horses in great condition! With high nutritional value, it keeps them “nice and fat and pretty.” The extra hydration that the fresh grass provides keeps their manes, tail and coat shiny and healthy. A fodder diet also provides extra nutrition to help them gain the fat they need to stay warm in the winter and get ready for the summer’s busy riding schedule. And there is an added bonus that fodder doesn’t need any chemicals or fertilizer to grow…it is a super clean operation that provides a natural diet for our horses.
How to grow fodder?
The process of growing fodder is quite simple. We pour barley seeds into plastic trays and slide them into the back of our custom made racks. While on the racks, the trays are provided UVB lights 24/7 and are watered for 11 seconds every hour. Each day we will harvest the trays of grass in the front of the racks, wash the trays, reseed them and slide them into the back, pushing the rest of the trays closer to the front. The most important aspect of successfully growing fodder is getting the humidity and temperature of the fodder building set very specifically to optimize growth.
This operation allows us to harvest fodder daily for our horses, snow or shine, 365 days a year. Growing fodder ends up being quite a process. Usually, there is more than one of us but if not, it can take up to 5 hours for 1 person to harvest, wash trays, reseed and clean the building! It is totally worth it though! Take a look at the video Caree, Townsend and Christine put together to show you how it is done:
Since starting to feed the horses fodder, we’ve seen a huge difference in them. All the benefits we were promised when we made the decision to ‘go fodder’ have proven true. We’ve never had a healthier heard…and they absolutely love it! It is like a special treat that they get every day.
We’ve also started letting our guests get in on the action. At the end of the day, we allow several guests to join us on the wagon as we drive out into the pasture and feed them the fodder. It’s quite an experience for them to watch as 130 horses swarm around the wagon to get their fresh fodder for the day.
I hope you’ll join us on the fodder wagon!
PS: Just in case you are wondering (because we get asked all the time)…in addition to their daily fodder intake of 40 pounds each the horses also receive 30 pounds of hay and 8 pounds of custom made grain pellets.